I attended a meeting on Tuesday for the relatively new public high school lacrosse program where I have been a volunteer coach. It will be my third year helping out this new program, and it will be the team’s first year as a varsity squad in New York City’s Public School Athletic League (PSAL). It’s an exciting time, but also a HUGE potential turning point, fraught with the peril of mediocrity.
We had great attendance and hit up the usual angles for a preseason meeting early on, as the coaching staff focused on constantly improving academic grades, preseason running and lifting, the importance of wall ball workouts, study hall programs, and overall expectations for the year.
After all of the cut and dry information had been disseminated (wall ball 7 days a week, number of push ups per week, grade requirements, etc.), we got into a more esoteric conversation where we started talking about the concept of TEAM, and how gosh darn important it is.
In PSAL lacrosse, a couple of pretty good players can make a big difference. A team with 3 or 4 good players can win a lot of games and see some pretty solid success on the field, especially if the rest of the team can do the basics of their job. And we have a couple of pretty good players on the team already… but is “pretty solid success” the end goal here? What do the truly great teams in the City do? More importantly, what do the truly great teams do anywhere? Let’s set our sights a little higher!
First off, great teams are just that… teams. They aren’t a couple of good players and others who can do their jobs. That is not greatness. That is just sliding by. True teams are singular units capable of greatness, whose sum is greater than its parts, and I’ve encountered them before.
I remember playing against Concord-Carlisle HS in Massachusetts back in the late 90s. This team had 5-7 guys go on to play high level NCAA lacrosse, and we knew who those 5-7 guys were by name before the game started. But I had a hard time really telling who they were once we got out on the field, because everyone on that team was good, and they all played the same way: hard and fast. They all passed, they all ran, they all played good defense, they all shot the ball hard and overhand. If you focused on their “stars,” their “role players” would kill you instead. I think we lost 19-2. We had a couple of good players, and a bunch of guys who could do their jobs.
The same thing could be said about some of the Middlebury teams I played against in college during the early 2000s. These teams had their “studs” and All-Americans, but once you got out on the field, all the players who got run for them were impressive in their own right. It wasn’t just about the stars… it was about everyone, always. Star players passed the ball to role players and vice versa, everyone was on the same page, and working towards the same goal. There was no evident strife between players, and it was clear that they trusted each other completely. It was a well-oiled machine. It was a true team. A thing of beauty.
This year, I want my high school team to be like CC and Midd. And I hope that the veterans on the squad make it happen, because as always, it is up to the players to buy in and lead the way. They will be the ones playing on the field in the Spring, so if they want to see success, they need to use the tools we are giving them, and then find ways to help each other.
Some of the kids who want to play this year are a LONG way off from being good lacrosse players. AND THAT IS TOTALLY OK! Everyone has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is usually at zero. So how can the veteran players help out here? The simple answer is to say “show them how to play wall ball,” but that leaves way too much room for error. Starting out with lacrosse can be frustrating. It’s a tough sport to master, and new players often need someone to support them. So not only do vets need to teach the basics of wall ball, they need to be supportive “older brothers” who WANT to see their new teammates succeed.
Don’t dog a kid because he is struggling… HELP HIM and tell him how much you struggled too, because you did. I know I struggled early on. I am pretty sure everyone does. Be a leader with your actions, and a friend with your words. There is no such thing as a stupid question. Go out of your way to invite new players to go out and shoot or play 3-on-3. If they can’t hit the net, work with them until they can. Drop knowledge bombs on people, but not in a derisive way. Make those around you better, and they will make you better. This is probably more true for top level players than anyone else.
If a new player can’t throw a crisp pass when the season comes, how many assists will they dish out to you? My guess is none, and that means less goals for you and everyone else. If your defenseman can’t clear the ball or pick up a GB, you get less reps on O, or more shots on your cage. If your midfielders can’t run, or your attackmen are too lazy to ride, you play more defense. Making members of your team stronger makes you stronger and gives you more opportunity. It really is as simple as that. Buy in and the world can be yours.
Right now, if my high school team played a game you would be able to tell who the veterans are and who the newer guys are. But if my squad does the right thing over the next month or two, works together, and becomes a unit, then it will be much harder to tell, and we will be much more prepared to win games come Spring time.
One of my players needed a new stick on Tuesday and another offered him one of his (he only has two). That right there makes me hopeful that these boys are going to grab this opportunity of TEAM by the horns, and wrestle it to the ground. We can’t play games for them, and we can’t make them love each other. It is 100% up to them. And you.