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Hot Pot: A Reply To Brian Silcott

6 - Published May 8, 2013 by in Hot Pot, Training

Last week’s Hot Pot was all about Travel, and how it will do you good. I had just returned from Prague, and couldn’t get it out of my head. However, the week before that, I had posted a Hot Pot talking about Rethinking The Game, and Brian Silcott, living lacrosse legend, responded with a comment that blew my mind. Now, 14 days later, I’m finally getting around to addressing it. I really did need the two weeks to think about this!

You can see the original Hot Pot post here, but the gist is that now that I’ve seen, coached, and played so much lacrosse that I’m starting to think of the game differently. I believe that getting away from drills, and just playing the game, will benefit players more. I believe that less structure creates better players, and potentially better teams. And I pretty much left it at that.

Here is Brian Silcott’s response:

I have to ask which teams you are referring to that “just play the game” and don’t drill specific skills, techniques and situations. I believe you need to use both to become a great player or a great team. There are things that are best learned through well designed drills that mimic game situations, and more importantly, game speed. They allow you to give athletes lots of reps in these critical skills and situations in a short period of time and correct mistakes immediately after they are made.

Even if players have mastered the basics like catching, throwing, shooting etc (all of which are things best mastered through high reps) there are still lots for more intricate and team based skills and situations that need to be drilled.

However, playing the game is equally important. We all have seen the guys who are great at drills but for some reason just cant transfer it into game situations. Getting the flow of full field play both as an individual and as a team is vital to success.

Let’s look at fast breaks. I think this is a good example of something that needs to be drilled through high repetition but also needs to become part of your natural game flow. The fast break is essentially a quick set play within the flow of the game. Teaching your players how to line up, what their looks are and getting them both comfortable with those positions and precise in the execution of their responsibilities is best and most efficiently achieved by doing it lots of times in a short period of time.

However it is also important that players learn to anticipate the break, communicate what is happening get to their spots and execute the break in an “unplanned” situation, this is what happens by “just playing the game”.

I believe there are a few critical elements to effective drills and their execution in practice:

1.  Make them game like.  Don’t drill things that don’t really ever happen in games.  There are lots of ways to get repetition on stick skills in practice, line drills may be the worst I have seen.

2.  Push players to play at full speed all the time.  Obviously new skills need to be moved through at a slower pace first but the goal is to get to game speed as quickly as possible.  This makes the drill more effective, more fun and hopefully reduces the need for additional conditioning.

3.  Use three 10 minute drills rather than one 30 minute drill.  

4.  Be creative.  Find drills that are best for you teams style of play and what you want them to do on the field.  All drills were made up by someone if you have something you need to drill and don’t know a good one, ask other coaches or sit down and figure out something out yourself.

5.  Always give the kids a chance to “just play the game”.  While drills are great for mastering specific elements in the game, this is not football.  In the end you need to get comfortable in the full field flow both as individuals and as a unit.  Not to mention scrimmaging is lots of fun.

Ok, now that you have read Brian’s entire comment, you can see why I posted it! It’s filled with TONS of great information, questions, and tips for success. It’s possibly the most intelligent comment on their entire internet. It’s freaking genius!

I can readily admit that Brian is right, especially at the higher levels, that drilling is still a useful tool that every team uses at some level. I clearly went a little overboard in my argument, but I was trying to make a point, and head in a new direction. Thankfully, Brian brings me back down to Earth. It’s an especially good thing that he did, because in the process Brian also provided a balanced approach to coaching, and now the people out there have something they can use in the real world, with concrete examples.

But just for the fun of it, and the mental exercise, I’ll go through Brian’s questions and arguments and provide an alternate view. Hey, if my crazy ramblings two weeks ago elicited a response like the above from Mr. Silcott, maybe this week’s post will help release his magnum opus on lacrosse philosophy. We can always hope!

– I have to ask which teams you are referring to that “just play the game” and don’t drill specific skills, techniques and situations. Ok, I don’t know of any teams that JUST play the game except the high school team I coach. I don’t believe we’re at the point where drills would help us yet. We need to get a more natural feel for the game first, so all we do is scrimmage and play trash can lacrosse. I don’t think any college team would be willing to even try this method, so I have no examples to point to. Brian 1, Connor 0.

– Even if players have mastered the basics like catching, throwing, shooting etc (all of which are things best mastered through high reps) there are still lots for more intricate and team based skills and situations that need to be drilled. For me, all of these skills listed above are things players should be drilling and working on themselves, outside of practice. Same goes for conditioning. I like to put it on the players’ shoulders, maybe that’s just the NESCAC in me. Brian 1, Connor 0, NESCAC 1.

– However, playing the game is equally important. We all have seen the guys who are great at drills but for some reason just cant transfer it into game situations. Getting the flow of full field play both as an individual and as a team is vital to success. I think it’s fair to give myself a point here. Brian 1, Connor 1, NESCAC 1.

– Let’s look at fast breaks. I think this is a good example of something that needs to be drilled through high repetition but also needs to become part of your natural game flow. The fast break is essentially a quick set play within the flow of the game. Teaching your players how to line up, what their looks are and getting them both comfortable with those positions and precise in the execution of their responsibilities is best and most efficiently achieved by doing it lots of times in a short period of time. 

I love that Brian picked fast breaks because this is the exact type of example where I believe that drilling hurts teams. How many true 4 on 3 fast breaks do you get in a game? 1, 2, maybe 3 or 4 if it’s an up and down affair? How many slow breaks do you get in a game? 12? 20? How many 4 on 4 breaks do you get in a game? 5 on 5s? The point I’m making here is that drilling narrows the focus on transition to a set play, whereas my belief on transition is that it is constant.

Subbing a guy off? That is transition. Is a guy locked off by the other team? Transition. Did the other team just switch from man to zone? Transition! It’s ALL transition play, and “fast break” situations can materialize in a million different ways. 3 on 2s, 2 on 1s, and other variants come up ALL THE TIME, and by playing the game, kids see the situations as they come up, and begin to recognize them only as another part of the pace of play, and another opportunity to score.

I trust my players to do what they do all the time much more than I trust their ability to form a pattern, run a play and score off a traditional fast break, all after recognizing that it’s happening, or by me yelling. I’ll take some non-traditional fast break screw ups, because I know I’ll also get a couple fast break goals where other teams would have pulled it out.

I literally can’t provide a scoreline on this, as I’m way too biased. We’ll keep it all tied up at 1.

– However it is also important that players learn to anticipate the break, communicate what is happening, get to their spots, and execute the break in an “unplanned” situation, this is what happens by “just playing the game”. Oh, so Brian does take all that I said above into account. I guess he wins this one too. Brian 2, Connor 1, NESCAC 1.

– 1.  Make them game like.  Don’t drill things that don’t really ever happen in games.  There are lots of ways to get repetition on stick skills in practice, line drills may be the worst I have seen. Agreed. Brian 3, Connor 1, NESCAC 1.

– 2.  Push players to play at full speed all the time.  Obviously new skills need to be moved through at a slower pace first but the goal is to get to game speed as quickly as possible.  This makes the drill more effective, more fun and hopefully reduces the need for additional conditioning. Agreed. Brian 4, Connor 1, NESCAC 1.

– 3.  Use three 10 minute drills rather than one 30 minute drill.  We’ll split this one. I consider trash can lacrosse a drill, at least to a certain extent, and we do that for 45 minutes sometimes. Can we call this one a draw? I’m going to. I can’t take another lost point. Brian 4.5, Connor 1.5, NESCAC 1.

– 4.  Be creative.  Find drills that are best for you teams style of play and what you want them to do on the field.  All drills were made up by someone if you have something you need to drill and don’t know a good one, ask other coaches or sit down and figure out something out yourself. Agreed and I love it. Make drills, if you will do them, like games. Creativity is good too. Brian 5.5, Connor 1.5, NESCAC 1.

– 5.  Always give the kids a chance to “just play the game”.  While drills are great for mastering specific elements in the game, this is not football.  In the end you need to get comfortable in the full field flow both as individuals and as a unit. Not to mention scrimmaging is lots of fun. I’ll give myself a point for this one as it is the driving force behind my thesis, but that’s not enough to close the gap. Brian 5.5, Connor 2.5, NESCAC 1.

Honestly, that wasn’t too bad! Sure, Brian outargued me in the realm of reality, but I think we both offered up some interesting thoughts on coaching the game, and hopefully the back and forth will help you become a better instructor and coach. Want to argue any of these points further? Defend the NESCAC? Drop us a comment below and we’ll see where it takes us!

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