Fall Ball scores and records don’t mean a whole lot, especially at the collegiate level. Teams can give new schemes a look, use new personnel and try things they might never try in the Spring. They can stick to basics and keep their fancy pants in the closet for when it counts. The options are endless.
However a team plays in the Spring, one thing is clear. Programs are trying to get something positive out of the extra time. So how a team goes about their practices speaks volumes on how they will approach the Spring, and it brings up the question about which practice route is better: heavy scrimmaging? Or lots of drills?
Some mix of the two probably creates the best results, and I’m a bit of pro-scrimmage kind of guy, so instead of trying to call one a clear winner, I will lay out the best, and worst, aspects of each methodology. I’ll start with the positives of both, and then get to the detracting factors. And then show you how to mix the best of the two, to chase perfection.
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Drills are great for coaches because drills provide as much control as possible. They get to see the players they want to see in the positions they want to see them in. The possibilities are unlimited, and certain drills also double as fantastic conditioning exercises. Coaches can see how players react to similar situations time and time again, and for the players, they get to practice important aspects of the game over and over again. For skill building and timing, repetition is key.
Drills seem like the route to take when seeking slick stick perfection for all the reason I’ve laid out above.
Scrimmaging creates scenarios and situations that only an active game can produce. Thinking ahead is harder, and true game play forces guys to be in the moment, and succeed when they get their shot. There is no replication of true game situations, but scrimmage play comes as close as possible and prepares players well for the “real” stuff soon to come.
Scrimmaging can also be great for team conditioning and bonding, especially if it is up and down and competitive. Coaches can see who can get the job done when it counts, and can get a much better idea for overall lacrosse IQ on the team when taking in a scrimmage.
While both drills and scrimmaging are brimming with positive aspects, they also have their downsides.
Drills can be repetitive, sometimes even predictable, and everyone knows of at least one kid who shines during drills but flops in real games. Drills can be boring. They allow players to focus, but often don’t force players to see the big picture. They are great for the practice of a skill or scheme, but can fail to prepare a group for how to properly use it in a game.
Scrimmages often lack structure and meaning. They can easily devolve into “just playing lacrosse”. Without a concrete goal in mind, and an engaged coaching staff, scrimmages could conceivably even hurt a team, especially if it allows players to reinforce bad habits, doesn’t stress team concepts, or is not evenly matched.
The key here is taking the best aspects of one way of practicing, and transferring it on to the other.
When players are engaged in drills, the drills can made more game-like. Don’t just give the ball to the offense every time, but instead, make the teams fight for a ground ball to start it off, then when the offense possesses, the drill begins. Adding in aspects of game play to drills increases IQ and helps players better understand the game. It also keeps everyone honest.
When scrimmaging to learn and improve, control must be exerted. If the team has been working on a new clear, then both sides should be required to use that clear every single time, otherwise it is a turnover. If you want to work on fast breaks, every time someone gets slashed, give them a fast break from midfield, but like in a game.
Work on what you want to work on, and if you don’t like how something happened, stop the scrimmage and review it. By creating drills within the scrimmage, players get to see how things develop and how the scenario fits in with the overall plan.
The truth is that each team out there probably needs a different mixture of drills and scrimmaging. Each coach has a preference or style, and none are necessarily right or wrong. As long as the best concepts, laid out above, are taken into account, success should be yours.
For more on practice planning, check out Mark Schindler’s posts: The Pros and Cons of Traditional Line Drills, A Lacrosse Coach’s Guide To Limited Practice Time, and Mercersburg Academy (PA) Lacrosse Blog: Use Tennis Balls! It’s all super helpful stuff!