Out of Bounds

A good player does not necessarily make a good coach, just as a good coach does not necessarily make a good referee.  I played lacrosse in high school and college and currently coach a JVC team for a lovely and civilized private school just down the road, and we have a great time.  We work on skills, we learn drills, we perfect plays, we grudgingly condition, we tease one another, we laugh a lot, and we are undefeated.

I have a tendency to overcommit, in ability, time, energy, interest, whatever.  Things I enjoy seem easier and closer, whereas things that I do not seem to be the opposite, and reality does not always follow these seems of mine.  In fact, oftentimes, I find myself in situations that I’d much rather not be in, doing things that I have no business doing.  Which leads me back to last week where I was asked to help officiate an eighth grade girls lacrosse game, and I happily agreed to be a second referee in a match that turned out to be unexpectedly competitive.

Being an enforcer of rules is not exactly a natural position for me, as I am a firm believer that generally there are just too many rules, most of which do nothing but hassle good people who normally make responsible decisions.  Rules encourage people to explore beyond them, to look for loopholes, they become benchmarks to work around, something to keep attorneys busy (I may or may not be projecting here).  Those who think we are under-ruled are the same who constantly propose new ones, and who insist on enforcing obsolete ones, and these are the most annoying people on the planet, and the world would be a much happier place if they would all go away and live on an island together where they could boss one another around endlessly.

I was determined to defy my rebellious and opinionated nature and to be the best referee that I could possibly be.  Who knows?  Maybe this could be the beginning of a lifelong career, traveling all over the world as a black and white striped portable judge and jury with a monogrammed silver whistle and a closet full of pressed identical track suits.  Maybe I could become so good that I could predict offenses a split second before they happened, and my razor sharp eye would pick up every infraction no matter how far away down the field.  I’d just sit in a chair reclined on the sidelines with one eye open, emitting a varying crescendo of chirrups and doling out yellow cards, free shots and turnovers.  But as I researched this science of field policing, I began to realize that I just may have over-committed myself.

I sensed my limitations closing in on me.  The rules are complicated and there are a lot of them, and they are accompanied by various sounds and gestures, an animated shorthand that enables you to communicate wordlessly, but as a talker I found this daunting.  All of this is designed to keep the girls safe, or so the enforcers say, but players still occasionally get hurt and it frequently has nothing to do with a rule infraction or ill intentions.  Feeling overwhelmed, I narrowed down the five most important, or most frequently called offenses, and wrote them out on an index card that I studied and repeated, and at the game I clutched it in my hand to reference, just in case.  I tried to remember other referees and their demeanors that I could perhaps channel.  I confessed to the main referee that I was out of my element, and offered her a preemptive apology.

The game began without incident, and as it rolled along I sprinted dutifully up and down the field, clutching my index card, never taking my eye off the ball.  I remembered the girls names, I studied their styles, I winced when they slashed and gasped when they crashed their sticks and the real referee, Shorty, was a busy bee; thankfully, she didn’t need my help.  I fought the urge to cheer when the draw was won, when a great shot was taken, and when the goalies made a save.  I clutched my whistle tightly as I ran, never missing a beat, watching every ball roll out of bounds and brought back in by the faster player, and if Shorty didn’t call it, who was I to argue?  I was the supportive referee, new-age with a Tony Robbins flair, encouraging players to be their best and congratulating them when they were, instead of focusing on the negatives.  I saw the three seconds, the shooting spaces, the face cradles, the empty cross checks, the cross in the sphere, the out of bounds, the restraining and holding, and the pushing, but it just never seemed right to blow the whistle and stop such marvelous action, that was Shorty’s job, and if she didn’t call it, well I certainly wasn’t going to second guess the pro.

The heckling occurred in the second half with three minutes left and the score tied, 11 – 11.  A dad in the bleachers yelled, Out of bounds, ref!, as if I didn’t know that.  Of course I knew, I was standing right there, I’m not blind.  A blind ref would make even less sense than one with anarchic tendencies and authority issues.  Why stop a perfectly good run for accidentally stepping six inches beyond an arbitrary white line?  It didn’t make sense to me.  Shorty smiled and laughed continuously and blew her whistle with precision, but mine was just ornamental.  She was the professional enforcer, and if I had been half as zealous, we would have been there for hours;  I had to counter balance.

Lacrosse is a marvelous sport that is fast and graceful, and is a joy to watch when well-played.  The game ended in overtime and half the parents were pissed, the other half were elated.  I thanked Shorty for her hard work and dedication, I thanked the coaches and the told all the girls what a wonderful job they did on the field, and then I ran up the hill to the parking lot as quickly as I could.  Parents do crazy things, I know, because I am one, and I wasn’t convinced that something wouldn’t be thrown at me.  I waved casually to the remaining spectators as I raced across the track in the opposite direction of the bleachers.  I got in the car and locked the door, then sank into the seat as a wave of nausea rolled through me from head to toe.  I unclenched my hand and peeled from my palm the worthless and soggy sheet of rules that I had so carefully crafted and threw it on the floor.  Then I made a mental note to cross officiant off the list of potential mid-life careers for me, not that I needed this experience to come to that conclusion, but sometimes the not-so-subtle reminders of our limitations help to redirect us to more gratifying pastures.

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