ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FALL BALL?!?!?! Sorry for yelling, but I get excited about this kind of stuff. We put up a post over the weekend that quickly touched on what fall ball was like at some of the LAS staffers’ colleges and universities, and we’re still looking to hear from you on what your school’s fall lax scene is like! So email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your set-up! It can be a great way to showcase your program, or even offer constructive criticism, if you have the stones!
But the real questions is: How can one judge Fall Ball? After all, it’s a season of prep, not games.
It’s always interesting to see and hear what other teams are doing in the fall for a couple of reasons, and those reasons differ greatly, depending on the audience. Opposing coaches and players want to learn what their opponents are going to look like in the Spring, so many programs try not to give away, do, or say, TOO much. But at the same time, teams also want to attract recruits to their program, so going completely silent on your fall ball isn’t really an option either, at least not for a lot of programs out there that can’t get by on name and reputation alone.
Finding the balance between an exciting and positive fall, and going too far can be tough, and this is evidenced by the wide variety of options and approaches we’ll see during this “season two seasons before the actual season”.
Some programs have over 100 kids interested in playing each and every fall, and this isn’t limited to the D1 NCAA squads either. Salisbury (NCAA DIII) regularly has over 100 kids at fall tryouts. A team like Oregon will likely have over 70. I can only imagine how many players will be at Michigan’s first NCAA varsity tryout or practice. 400, perhaps?
While the 400 is obviously an exaggeration, it is clear that there is a lot of interest there, and the same is true at many other schools. But of course, this isn’t always the case. Some schools probably don’t even have fall ball because their numbers are so low. So if teams fall into an infinite number of points along this hypothetical two-dimensional line of interest, how do we judge everyone’s fall ball on an even footing?
Photo Courtesy Troy Record (2009)
The regular season is easy to judge, because you can point to wins and losses. But judging the season before the season before the season? Well, that gets a little harder to really pull off accurately.
On the other hand, while it is harder to judge whether or not a fall ball season was actually a good one, it still quite easy to define a positive fall ball. If your team leaves for Winter Break as a more cohesive unit than when you entered fall ball, and everyone knows everyone else’s name, and tendencies, and you all became better team players, it was good. If your team is actually functioning better than you were at the end of the last season, then you fall ball was GREAT. It is also quite possible to have a bad fall ball, but that can really only be judged after the regular season ends. Did you go 0-16? Probably not a great fall.
The tough thing is being able to tell where you actually stand during the fall. Outside competition is limited to one or two tourneys or scrimmages at most, and this makes it easy to lose perspective. Small problems can seem incredibly daunting, and large holes can be completely overlooked, depending on how your team stacks up, especially against itself. So how can a coach, or player, keep the fall interesting, beneficial, fun, and use it to achieve their goals, and the goals of their team?
For a player it’s really quite simple. Show up every day, and be happy to be there. You only get 4 years of college lacrosse, so make every minute count. If your coach is a hard ass, and that’s not your bag, then you must find ways to enjoy the little things, but still go 100% on the rest of the stuff. Hate early morning runs or workouts? Well, it’s time to start rethinking that mentality. Embrace what you hate, pride yourself on hard work and buying in, and set the tone for the Spring.
This is your chance to be seen, increase your role, and lead. Keep looking at fall ball as an opportunity, and always remember that what you do in the fall can make the difference between starting and riding the bench, winning and losing, or even a good season and a bad. It’s amazing how much of a difference a positive attitude can make. This is true from the best player on the team to the worst.
Now for the coaches, the task is a little harder. But it should be. After all, these guys are getting paid!
Fall Ball practices are typically used to accomplish a couple of major things for a team: 1) It can be used for tryouts, and to actually select the team 2) It can be used for conditioning 3) It can be a time to install basic schemes on offense and defense 4) It can used as a skill-building and individual improvement period.
Of these 4 typical focal points, I find 2 of them to be useful, 1 to be useful depending on how it is utilized, and one to be a huge waste of time.
Putting in BASIC offensive and defensive schemes is a no-brainer. If you run a lot of man to man, the kids should know what style of man you play. If you only play zone, it makes sense to let the kids get comfortable with that sooner rather than later. It doesn’t have to be the whole scheme, but a solid teaching of principles on O and D let the players know what they need to work on, and where their focus should be. It also makes the players pay attention to communication, and this only helps things down the line.
Using the Fall for tryouts is great if you have 100 kids who want to play, but if you only have 50 in the fall, tryouts are probably a waste of time. This is one of those tricky lines you have to walk. But in general, just make the practices challenging enough and the kids will sort themselves out. Plus you won’t be left with any skilled, but lazy kids, who only go hard when it’s tryout time. They never pan out in the season anyway. Better to make practice hard enough that they just quit. If you do have some guys who aren’t cutting it right now, but have potential, the fall is a great time to offer small group instruction as well.
In fact, the fall is a great time for small group instruction period! Players have time to work on the things they need to work on in the fall, and even more so during the winter. So taking some time out each fall to meet with each player, on the field if you can, is key. Show them where they are lacking, and what they could do to improve. You will find that they players appreciate it, and will use it to become better.
And this is why fall tryouts can be a major harm to a program. There may just be a couple kids who don’t tryout that well, but are good players. Maybe they need time to adjust to the college level of play. Maybe they’re still young. Or nervous. But cutting kids in the fall isn’t that great of an idea, because you never know who might emerge from the pack as the year goes on. A bigger window of opportunity can make all the difference, but if this is the route you take, remember to keep the practices challenging. There is truly nothing better than a self-wedding garden of challenges!
But whatever you do, don’t do pure conditioning in the fall during practice. Just don’t. You only get so many days with these kids when they have sticks in their hands, so take advantage of it! Get as much stickwork and playing in as possible, and save the conditioning for the strength coaches, or for Captain organized workouts. Or get it in during stickwork. Full field ground balls, one on ones on as many cages as you have goalies, tons of scrimmaging… all these things get kids in shape. Now, I understand that coaches want their guys to be in great shape; that makes total sense. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of seeing kids just PLAY.
So how do you get players in shape, and while not just running them during practice? It’s quite simple. First, do early morning running, plyometric and lifting workouts. These can be done as a team, or in small groups. Make it each player’s responsibility to be in shape. And be up front about it! Tell them if they don’t come in to the Spring season in-shape, they won’t play. And have your style of play REQUIRE them to be in good shape.
Again, this motivates the guys who want to be there, and lets the slackers expose themselves. I understand D1 teams probably don’t think this way, but if you’re a school like Providence, or St. John’s, what do you really have to lose? Switching it up might not be the worst idea in the world. Now the Syracuses and Marylands of the world probably don’t even read this blog, but even they could benefit from re-examing fall ball. Anything to get an edge! And the fact is, a lot of teams condition outside of actual practice already. Why? Because it works.
Fall Ball isn’t the Spring. And while no team wins a National Championship at the end of November, the eventual winners often have great fall seasons. And it’s usually not because the fall was run just like the Spring. It’s because the fall prepared them for the Spring, and got everyone excited to chase their dreams. Make the fall challenging, make it fun, and get people excited for the Spring. The fall builds to the spring, so make your foundation strong, and players will come back ready to go to work, excited and feeling like they’ve earned it.