One objective of lacrosse is teaching kids how to channel their emotions into something positive. I firmly believe that young players learn best through their mistakes, but only if they are called out on their mistakes in a way that creates positive change. Take for instance a player slashed during a game. This player decides to turn around and punch his opponent in the helmet, in full view of the official. He did not think through his actions, and as a result cost his team the ball, plus a three-minute penalty and expulsion from the game.

Here are some better modes of thought to replace the original vengeful ones:

  • Inform the official that his opponent should be watched for illegal actions away from the play. (providing a number is even more helpful to the official)
  • Walk away. (often the smartest move off the field as well)
  • Resolve to get a great stick check against his opponent on the next possession. (the best option because it focuses the mind on positive action for the team)

Lacrosse, like every other sport, is a game of emotions. Good and bad emotions arise every moment, and at higher levels of play the onus is on the player to behave like a good sport and not retaliate when slighted.

What counts in retaliatory situations is the reaction by the coach, who must now call out this improper behavior. The best line I ever heard was from a youth coach that said:

“I love that you play this game so passionately, but the official is almost always going to see you retaliate. I want you to promise me that if another player wrongs you that you come right to me, so I can handle it.”

Notice also what the coach did not do to his player. He did not yell, scream, or berate his player in any way. He took a big negative that hurt his team and turned it into something positive. Remember coaches, if your player retaliates against an opponent, do not make the mistake of retaliating against your player. Coach them up and provide tools to better handle a similar situation in another game.

The role of the official is vital in these situations as well. I have missed the initial foul and flagged the retaliation. I do not feel good when I only catch one of the perpetrators in an on-field drama, but with a 110x60 yard field and usually only one other partner, I’m limited in what I can reasonably see every play.

That said, penalizing the initial foul, if you see it, and the retaliation, sends a crystal-clear message to both teams that the crew will not tolerate foolishness. This has the added benefit of taking both fouling players out of the game for some time to think about their actions.

If you only see the retaliation, then penalize it, but do not be overly officious about it. Your job is to report the foul and explain to the coach what you saw, not to upbraid the player’s lack of sportsmanship. That would be the equivalent of a police officer giving you a ticket for speeding, and then talking down to you as if you made the most egregious error ever witnessed. You are there to enforce the laws of the game, not to make comments on what you perceive to be a player’s moral failings in a heated moment.

When the officials make the appropriate calls, and the coaches make the appropriate adjustments, then any player has an exceptional opportunity to change their future behavior into actions that help their team.