I don’t know what it is about the year 2013 for me, but something is different. Maybe it’s just that I’m older now, or that I’m coaching and writing more than ever. Perhaps I’ve just been exposed to “enough” lacrosse at this point in my life. The point is, I can’t help but look at the game a little differently now, and this becomes more true day by day.
I’ve played in, and still believe in, complex team systems, like zone defenses. I don’t knock them, especially at higher levels. I’ve also seen kids develop and focus their skills in specialized areas, and seen these kids become some of the best FoGos, shooters, d-mids, etc in the country. I can’t knock their success, or the methods they have used to get where they are.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t still believe there is still something better out there… for everyone.
However, when it comes to preparing players for complex systems, better competition, and potentially specialized roles, I don’t know that drilling and specialized training are always the best way to get there.
Instead, I am beginning to believe that nothing prepares players better for in-game success than a focus on just playing the game. Sliding, feeding, dodging, winning face offs… all of that can be drilled and practiced. No question about it! But all of the above can also be learned by simply playing the game, and it is now my belief that this latter method reinforces good habits overall, and helps players understand small pieces of the game within the larger framework.
Here is an example of two teams, and how they prepare. Which do you think will see better results?
Team A starts practice with a warm up lap, stretching, and then line drills. Everything is done together and is regimented. Then the team breaks into one on ones, structured fast breaks, some six on six, and finishes with man up vs man down, and some sprints.
Team B begins practice with 5 minutes of partner passing in two lines, then moves to a more chaotic throw around, where players pass in groups of three of four, trying to avoid each other as they move around the playing surface. From there, the team does one shooting drill, where longsticks also participate, and then the team plays a game for an hour and calls it a day. The coach works on man up, man down, fast breaks, etc as they come up in the pace of play.
For years, I wanted to push players and teams I was involved with into Team A’s Model. I thought structure bred success, and that everything could be planned for in advance. However, I am less sure of that than I have ever been before.
I’m not saying line drills are useless. I’m also not saying man down work isn’t important. Or that sprints can’t be good for a team. All of those things can be really good.
What I am saying is that a team can work all of those things into just playing the game, AND get an added benefit.
Want to work man down a lot this week? Call penalties when the kids play. Call a lot of them. Call penalties that weren’t even there. Now you’re also teaching your kids to roll with the punches and bad calls that are sure to come your way. Want to focus on fast breaks? I can guarantee some will develop during the play of practice. That’s a perfect time to coach kids up in real situations. Take advantage. Want to work on feeding off the dodge? Make a rule that assisted goals count for twice as much. Losing team is on post practice ball hunt and trash pick up duties. See how fast the players start passing the ball then.
Sprints and conditioning are worked into the play. Trust me, if your kids are playing games of lacrosse five days a week, they’ll be in great shape to… play lacrosse. Exactly. Stick skills get tuned up right away with partner passing, but skill development outside of practice is a requirement. An addiction to wall ball makes all the difference. Preach that point, especially when kids are frustrated. “Wall ball makes it better”. Say it with me.
The new college rules have pushed the game back to its roots of an up and down sport at that level. The men’s post collegiate scene has long been that way. And now we’re seeing it again at the high school level, and at much younger levels.
The teams with kids who can just PLAY THE GAME are some of the best out there right now, and that trend is not going to change. It’s not about component pieces anymore, save for a couple guys here and there. It is about a true team collection of overall lacrosse players and athletes. So how do you develop players that can simply play? Let them play.