Editor’s Note: Please welcome Mark Schindler, of Nexus Lacrosse, back to LAS! Nexus is a proud LAS partner, and Mark has wowed us in the past with training tips and drills, and some great perspective on the game. Now he’s back with a post on how to deal with a two-team (varsity and JV) program!
Making cuts is by far one of the hardest things for a coach to do. Not only is it hard to be a source of disappointment for a player, but there are also those kids who we describe as “bubble” players who are hard to make a decision for. For example: kids who are on the verge of being talented enough for the varsity, but maybe they aren’t big enough or mature enough quite yet. You’re not sure if they will be better served by playing in practice every day with the older kids, or logging valuable game time (and leadership experience) on the JV.
It’s never an easy call and there’s never one right answer.
I have one main philosophy, not dissimilar from other coaches, I’m sure, when making these decisions. It sounds easy and simple, but in fact is not always easy to execute:
- What practice + game situations will provide the best opportunities for this player to be better in May than he is right now? [An easy cheat for making these decisions: “Better in May than today?”]
Our program at Mercersburg is not unique in that we have a wide range of talent. We have Division I caliber seniors who are committed to play at the next level, all the way through to novices who have never picked up a stick before this spring. We have two teams in our program, and although it would be expected to try and divide the program into a varsity and JV, or perhaps designate a few swing players who will play on both teams, we have found a different type of system that not only achieves the above-stated goal (“Better in May than today”) but also takes into account the emotion and psychological aspects of dividing players onto teams.
NOTE: For anyone who has coached sophomores in high school, you know that this can be a very divisive situation for peers. The 10th graders who make varsity puff their chests out, and the kids who play on JV are disappointed. Meanwhile, if the kids who play JV embrace the situation (aka: work hard, take advantage of leadership and experience opportunities), they are often the ones who end up being better players. But that’s a big “if”…
To account for these physical, emotional, and psychological dynamics between “making the varsity” or not, we’ve decided to use a three-tiered approach to organizing our players. The best players will be in the A group, the talented but young players will be in the B group, and the less experienced players will be in the C group.
Simply put: we don’t have enough players for three teams, but we have three tiers worth of talent.
Here are some ideas and concepts for practices using the A/B/C model for a 2-team program:
- Groups are fluid and transparent. Kids should know where they stand and have an incentive to move up to the next group.
- Everyone has the same practice gear and warm-up routine. This not only allows for ease of movement between groups, but also establishes program culture and expectations.
- Practices should be coordinated so that everyone is doing the same drills and is using the same terminology. This requires a lot of pre-planning by the coaching staff. You can divide the players into three stations (A/B/C) or have three slightly modified versions of the drill based on talent. [See Part II of this post for an example practice plan.]
- If/when you need more players for a certain drill (e.g. full-field rides and clears) you can combine two of the groups and have a modified version for the third. The overlap in talent between A/B and B/C should allow for this if you have kids designated correctly.
- Coaches can rotate through the various groups in a given practice to not only gauge talent and adjust the groups, but to keep the younger kids motivated. It’s never a bad thing when the varsity coach works with JV players. See bullet #1.
Here are some ideas and concepts for game-day using the A/B/C model for a 2-team program:
- Everyone has the same game jerseys, helmets, and executes the same warm-up routine. The only difference is which bus do they get on.
- In our program we have between 12-15 kids per group. Obviously one group alone is not enough for game-day. Which team(s) have a game on that day determines how we divide up. If it’s varsity only game day, we might dress all A’s and B’s together. If it’s just JV, we might dress all the B’s and C’s together. And if both teams are playing at the same time, we decide which B’s get divided between varsity and JV depending on needs, injuries, who’s been working hard, etc.
- If a particular kid ends up with the next group for more than two weeks (aka: a B player playing with the A’s in games and practices for two weeks) then it’s time to switch their designation.
Overall benefits to the A/B/C model:
- Includes incentives for kids to work hard and move up to the next group.
E.g. A young C player might eventually move up to B, and therefore have a chance to play with the college-level A’s for certain drills. What better thrill for a new 9th grader who has worked his butt off throughout the season?
- Allows for peers in the same grade and who are comparable in talent to not necessarily be separated for the whole season. It’s less uncomfortable to say, “I’m in B, and so are you (even though I sometimes play with the JV and you play with the varsity)” than it is to be set in a varsity and JV dichotomy.
- It allows for your B players – those who arguably would develop best from a combination of playing time and competition (something that’s hard to create sometimes) – to get lots of reps and have that exact opportunity.
Overall drawbacks to the A/B/C model:
- Day-to-day or week-to-week movement between groups for B players could be confusing.
- Lack of materialistic incentive to be on the next team. (E.g. Varsity gets sweeter gear, etc.)
This is still a work in progress for us, but we’re excited about the potential. Leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions!
Mark Schindler is the Founder and Program Director of Nexus Lacrosse. A product of the nationally recognized St. Paul’s School (MD) lacrosse program and the current varsity head coach at Mercersburg Academy, Mark has committed to restoring the foundation of the current lacrosse market by establishing Nexus; a new enterprise designed to provide premier, developmental lacrosse opportunities for elite pre-varsity players.
Based upon a foundation of traditional lacrosse principles that includes fundamentals and discipline, Nexus Lacrosse and its programs is focused on providing college-level skill, technical, and tactical development for players who currently play at the highest level within their age group.