Hot Pot Training

Hot Pot: A Reply To Brian Silcott

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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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About the author

Connor Wilson

Connor is the Publisher of LacrosseAllStars.com. He lives in Brooklyn with his better half, continues to play and coach both box and field lacrosse in NYC as much as possible, and covers the great game that is lacrosse full-time. He spends his spare time stringing sticks and watching Futurama.

6 Comments

  • As a player last year on my highschool team and then a volunteer this year on the sidelines, I think that the only issue with drilling players is that they get bored quickly. If the players get bored they are less likely to execute the drill correctly for longer periods of times. My only argument is really that, with none of my coaches actually playing the sport, I’ve had to develop myself. Which came from hours and hours and hours of practice. Whether it be wall ball or going to the field and shooting on the goal(with on the run, time and room, off hand, etc.) until I couldn’t move. You can drill players all you want but if you have players who aren’t dedicated then drilling isn’t going to help. I’ve heard countless times “To be great, always keep your stick in your hand.” I still believe that because I graduated highschool yet I continue to practice and bust it when I do. Which has gotten a lot of guys from my house school team to come out with me and practice or be amazed at how much better I’ve gotten because I’ve just practiced. Whether it be in drills or in “just playing the game.”(which sounds like a twitter hashtag) All in all, my argument is that players cannot and will not improve if they are not dedicated. No matter the drilling or playing but that’s when you have to make it a fun experience for the players. -Vaughn

  • Of course we are all entitled to our own opinions, but critiquing the views of a guy like Brian Silcott is like telling everyone how your investment strategy is different and better than Warren Buffet’s. Your approach might be very rational and well-conceived, but at the end of the day I’ll trust the insights of the guy who has been there and done that at the highest level, and thank him for taking the time and effort to share some of those thoughts. (And BTW: Silcott is not a buddy of mine. Never even met him. But the guy knows lacrosse).

    • Brian critiqued my views originally, and now I’m responding to his critique. And as you can see by the scoring (which I did) I also gave him the win in this argument.

      The point here is not me trying to be right, it’s just an exercise in looking at the game in a new way to see if there is anything there.

      I tend to trust Brian’s insights as well, and thought it was pretty darn awesome that he responded to my original post.

  • My Son has the privilege of being coached by Brian Silcott
    and I can say without prejudice that he is a better man than Lacrosse guru (and
    we know how much he is known for being a lacrosse guru). I hope my Son grows in to a man half as good! Thank you Brian! Skip

  • I think a few people missed the point of this article. I don’t think Mr. Wilson was really questioning Silcott or trying to prove he is still right but just continuing the conversation and adding a different view again. Now just because someone legendary doesn’t mean you should follow everything they saw. But does mean you should listen to them, thinking about what they said then decide if you agree with them whole or partly or not at all. As for the way to coach through drills of playing the game. I agree with both (even though I prefer playing the game a lot more) Each is very useful and helps educate the player haw to react in games. Certain people need more drill and structure to better understand and others need more a free flowing way of teaching. I believe it depends on the player. Like one person said already it mainly comes down to if they what to learn and have the desire. Can not make someone learn if you don’t want to. I picked up the game late as some would say. I started my freshmen year of high school. I hated practice ( mainly because of conditioning) but loved games and the pressure. I learned more in games than drills i believe. And when we scrimmage it was harder than games because my teammates knew my tendencies so they blocked those off and forced me to get better. But at the same time I know all those passing and fast break drills helped me understand the game. Either way a great article and great response by Mr. Brian Silcott. I am not knocking either person. Both Connor and Brian I believe are great players and know a lot about lacrosse then me and I trust their opinion greatly and I love this site.

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