Long before I took a photo of a hot air balloon in a Temecula Wine Country vineyard or Joshua Tree National Park at night, I photographed my two sons playing soccer and lacrosse for about ten years. During that time, I took thousands of photos using a series of digital cameras. 
After I started using a Minolta digital SLR camera with a zoom lens, I thought I was ready to learn more about photography, so when a course on sports photography taught by the team photographer for the Anaheim Angels was offered by the University of California Extension Center, I signed up. At our second class meeting, students brought their gear to class. Much to my surprise, I had the least capable camera and lens combination in the class -- evidence that I knew much less about photography than I thought I did. Others had multiple high quality zoom lenses which cost as much as my car was worth and cameras capable of high frame rates. Some were already selling their images to parents at baseball and soccer tournaments while I was posting mine online where they could be downloaded for free!
Our course included two photo outings at UC Riverside sports events - a women's softball game and a men's baseball game. After each game, we printed 3 images and shared them at the next class meeting where we got feedback from our instructor. I was surprised that my images were generally among the best in terms of timing and composition, but sometimes were not as sharp as I expected due to the low quality of my lenses. Following the class, I bought a used 300mm f4 lens which had an immediate impact on the quality of my images and served me well for several years.
Our instructor shared tips for photographing every sport imaginable, from golf to baseball, football, softball, soccer, and even auto racing. He spent a lot of time on where to position yourself for the best shots and emphasized staying out of the way of referees along the sidelines in sports like soccer and football. "Don't become part of the game" was something he repeated a few times. I tried to follow this advice and just be a spectator/parent with a camera at soccer games on the weekend.  At one of my son's games a year after I completed the sports photography course, I made a mistake and became part of the game in an unexpected way. I was positioned on the sideline near the top of the 18 yard box at the end of the soccer field where the goal for my son's team was located. The game was being officiated by two teenagers who were only a few years older than the players on the field. The goalie for my son's team saved a shot then kicked the ball very high in the air towards the other goal. The ball bounced once then came down near the top of the 18 yard box, parallel to where I was standing. I had my camera ready on a monopod as the fastest player on my son's team (in blue) crashed into the goalie as he tried to catch the ball. As they crashed together, the player on my son's team put his hands out to avoid a head to head collision. I managed to capture the crash at the right moment, but my mistake came next. The sideline referee, a guy about 13 years old, asked if I saw what happened and I told him I captured the moment of impact. He came over and looked at the image on my camera's LCD screen. So far, no problem but then he yelled to the head referee, a 15 year old to come over and look at the image. Then they both decided that the player in blue had head-butted the opposing goalie, much to my surprise. It got worse, very quickly. The head referee went over to the player on my son's team who had chased the ball down, pulled out a red card and ejected him from the game. I was horrified and told the sideline referee I did not think there was a head-butt on the play, but it was too late. The game ended a few minutes later, so the red card had no impact, but I spent the rest of the day thinking about how I had become part of the game. I even asked everyone I saw in a referee's uniform the rest of the day if they would give a red card based on a photo on an LCD screen. Every referee I asked was surprised by my story, but that didn't make me feel any better about what happened.
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