Is making a deep run into the playoffs as simple as just doing what you’ve already been doing some more? Or is there something else going on, that remains mostly unseen, for successful playoff teams? I played in a bunch of NESCAC and ECAC playoff games during my college career, and I remember certain playoff runs going better than others, but I’m still not 100% sure on why that was…
Was it just that my team was different each year? Was it just different competition and circumstances? Or did we actually do something differently those years? What was this intangible thing pushing us along? This question has stuck with me for almost a full decade now, and seeing as it’s playoff time for 2014, it’s high time I try to answer it.
Since I have not made any clear decisions on what the grand enigma of playoff success must be, I will defer to people with much more experience and success in this matter. It’s good to have friends who are smarter than you! Let’s take a small sampling of what it means to make a successful playoff push, from some of the best minds in the game:
Peter Baum – Ohio Machine – Adrenaline
I was only in the playoffs once (in college), but we did make the quarterfinals, so I guess I’m qualified to comment somewhat. Success in the playoffs depends on understanding that lacrosse is a game of runs, and that no matter what you do, the other team is good, and they’re going to make some runs. We went down 7-2 early to Umass in 2012, only to storm back with a big run of our own. You need to stay even keeled and play the full 60 minutes.
Dylan Sheridan – Denver Pioneers Assistant – Thailand Head Coach
The teams with great leadership, and the resolve to push through fatigue and adversity, are the ones that generally have success in the playoffs. You’re playing against great teams, and they are going to get their runs. Successful teams believe in what they do and stick to the plan. There is no one formula to success, but everybody buying into “the” formula, at that moment – whatever it may be, often times determines success or failure, especially in high pressure situations.
Paul Carcaterra – ESPN Analyst – Lacrosse Legend
Championship lacrosse comes to fruition when a group fully embraces the true concept of “Team.” Egos and individual success take a backseat to what is most powerful, a collection of players coming together and sharing the realization of what is a life long dream. Seniors need to lead, freshman need to play like upperclassman, hunger and drive need to be at a season high. Teams that understand that, regardless of what happened during the season, good or bad, now is irrelevant. The chase is one 60 minute battle at a time.
I hope Carc uses that on ESPN this weekend. That’s pure gold!
Peter Lasagna – Head Coach Bates College
The most successful playoff coaches find the balance between “let’s keep getting better at what got us here” and turning the competitive dial up a notch. NCAA playoff games bring an enormous amount of their own pressure so managing to keep things fast paced, positive, fun is essential to keeping players loose enough to perform at their highest potential. Coaches will typically shorten practice, valuing maximum competition for an hour and a half over fluctuating competition for 2 hours.
The coach that finds the perfect compromise between pushing to that “extra level” that playoff success requires, while maintaining fresh minds and legs after the long haul of the regular season likely wins the last game.
Anthony Kelly – Denver Outlaws – Resolute Lacrosse
Playoff ready teams have already braved the ups and downs of the regular season. As a group, you know what needs to be done and what it takes to reach your ultimate goal. The most successful teams during the post season are the teams that have players that go out and do each of their individual roles effectively, allowing the team to be as strong as possible as a whole.
Ryan Powell – Syracuse Alum – Rhino Lacrosse
As a former Division 1 player and a Syracuse Lax grad, I realize that there is no time like May! You realize that a full season of fall and spring ball can all end with a loss. A feeling that your team has not experienced all year. So the stakes are raised and so is each player’s energy for the game ahead. A true win or go home mindset is in place. You think about the team, the friends that you have made, and the bond that you have built. This adds to the emotions of the playoffs and you realize this could be your last run with your senior class. Those thoughts are what drove me in May to be prepared mentally, emotionally, and physically.
That being said, you are not looking ahead and thinking about winning the title. You have to stay focused and take care of one game at a time. With the Division 1 landscape this point is probably the most important. Take care of biz one game at a time! There are 8+ teams this year that I think have a realistic chance at winning the title; the field has never been so deep with so many true contenders.
Chazz Woodson – Florida Launch – Game Grower
I’m sure there are numerous thoughts on what the formula for playoff success is. There are two things that I’d point out. First, there’s got to be an elevated level of consistency in everything that the team does. Rarely does a team all of a sudden get significantly better at playoff time. They either continue to improve (as they have been doing), or they maintain the high level of play that they’ve already exhibited. Abandoning everything that’s gotten you there, or trying to create a new identity is not the way to go about it. Mistakes, particularly mental mistakes, cost teams BIG TIME. Mental consistency and consistency of focus are tremendously important. Secondly, some matchups are between teams that have not played one another yet. The team that can make adjustments on the fly are generally better off.
Mitch Belisle – Boston Cannons – Trilogy Lacrosse
The key to all playoff teams I have been a part of has been players stepping up and dominating the role they play. Whether that is a goal scorer scoring important goals, a defenseman winning his match up, or even a practice player pushing everyone during training, everyone needs to embrace what they do and do it well.
Joe Vitale – Adelphi Alum – New York Lizards
One of the most underrated attributes that makes for a successful run in the playoffs is sacrifice. I’m not talking about physical sacrifice as in training, conditioning, or giving up your weekends. I’m talking about sacrificing your personal goals for the betterment of the team. In order for a team to be successful players have to accept roles. These roles may not be what that player particular wants to do but it is what is better for the team. If you have a team full of players like this, I believe it is a great attribute to ultimately fulfilling the team’s goal of taking home a championship.
John Raba – Head Coach Wesleyan University
Staying injury free with your key players, and having a light academic work load are keys. At Wesleyan, our guys have so much academic work to handle first, especially towards the end of the season, when things matter most. It is extremely difficult for even the strongest players to stay one hundred percent focused. We try to lighten the work load on the field, and keep the guys mentally excited to be playing lacrosse. It is all about staying mentally and physically strong throughout the entire season. Some years we are able to grind through it, and some years we aren’t.
Greg Gurenlian – New York Lizards – Face Off Academy
Every year, the team that wins the championship is the team with the best “Locker Room.” (Professionally speaking) the owners, the coaches, the players all respect each other and put the team’s success in front of what they want. The locker room is whole and filled with guys that get along. Every team has talent, but the question remains: does that collection of talent respect each other and work well together?
Brett Hughes – Virginia Lacrosse Alum – LTN – Under Armour Ambassador
It’s funny to even say this, but I think a team has to be excited. The lacrosse season can be long, school is out, and everything that has kept your routine is gone in regards to school and friends not on your team. It requires discipline and a good locker-room atmosphere. I always look to see the level of excitement that comes in May. It used to be that 5 or 6 teams had a real shot and they would walk into the Final Four. Now, if you don’t come out with great enthusiasm, even a great team can be bounced in the first round.
For the coaching staff I think it requires structuring days and making practice a lot of fun, and not just grinding players with how serious of a time this is. Reminding the team how everyone’s role becomes massive, backups need to provide looks and keep competition white hot, even after depth charts are settled and conference championships are over.
Matt Schomburg – Adelphi Alum – FogoLax.net
Two words -“extra possessions!”
Efficient and effective possessions are key. Teams that trust each other will play for one another, and it has got to be a “we is greater than me mentality.” Little things like backing up the cage or chasing out a ground ball all add up to extra possessions. Win the hard ball. Get 50/50 balls.
Malcolm Chase – RPM Lacrosse
Playoff, and Championship-caliber teams for that matter, are made up of guys who know their roles and are willing to do what it takes to get the job done. This time of year is all about T-E-A-M. If everyone buys in and executes, the hero plays will happen, when required. If both teams are dialed in to this concept, then you’ve got what we all hope to see and that’s one hell of a lacrosse game!
Steve Dircks – New York Lizards
I believe you need to fully understand what enabled your team to make the playoffs in the first place. Hard work, discipline, and fundamentals may be some of the reasons why. If that is the case, don’t try to be someone you’re not just because you’re in “the show.” Come playoff time, NCAA lacrosse players are professionals. Finals are over and all there is to focus on is lacrosse. Preparation and hydration will surely aid the journey to the Final Four.
While reading through all of these wonderfully thought out responses, I was sure that at some point, people would start talking about elevating their personal game, or playing that much harder… but we got none of that. Every comment is about team, coming together, and doing things the right way. There are clearly no shortcuts to success in the playoffs, and if anything is THE answer, it is this:
Commit fully to what you are doing, realize the dream your squad is chasing, and not just on the field. Commit to your coaches, your teammates, the training staff, the team, and your school. Remember that while other friends may be acting the donkey around the pool, you and your lacrosse friends are going after something bigger… and the pool will still be there after Memorial Day.
Work hard, but allow yourself to smile at times, because you are on an awesome journey, and that is part of the experience. Know that you will never have this experience again after you are done with school, cherish every moment, and give it your best effort! Sometimes that really is the best path.