Editor’s Note: Please welcome Charlie Congleton to LAS! Charlie is currently an assistant coach at Wesleyan University, his alma mater, where he was a 2x All-American goalkeeper as a player. Charlie went down to the IMLCA in Baltimore, and came away with three major lessons learned. Use Charlies experience for your own team’s benefit!
After a great weekend in Baltimore, I had a rainy 350-mile drive back to Connecticut to mull over the events and themes of the IMLCA Convention. Overall, this event was very well run and organized, and once everyone figured out which ballroom was which on Friday, getting from presentation to presentation was also very easy. Everything took place in the Waterfront Marriott, which was great because the weather all weekend was pretty gross and we didn’t have to go outside much. We’ll save that for the Spring.
Unfortunately, this also meant fewer scenic views of Baltimore than I had hoped for, but with its friendly denizens and delicious crabs, it still reminded me why it is one of my favorite cities during my short stay.
The weekend was marked by coaches and other speakers who delivered presentations on topics ranging from defending the two-man game to taking a face-off, and everything else in between. The convention is as much a social event and networking exercise for us as it is educational. It is the best way for coaches to meet other coaches and talk about the past, present, and future.
For me, it was great to catch up with old coaching buddies, friends I grew up with, as well as meet new coaches from all over the country, and talk about life and lacrosse. However, the presentations, and what you can learn from them, are still unquestionably the main event. Along with some great drill ideas and a renewed anticipation for the spring, I took three things away from the weekend that will stick with me as our staff prepares for the season.
Starting with the presentation given by the Loyola staff from last year’s national championship team, the first thing I began thinking about this weekend was discipline. The topic was everywhere, which made sense as the Loyola staff put up on the screen, “Discipline is an all the time thing.” It was refreshing to hear coaches talk about the standards that they hold their players to.
Richmond Head Coach Dan Chemotti talked passionately about study halls at 7am, academic standards, immaculate locker rooms, dress codes, toes behind the line on sprints, and team punishments for individual violations. It was refreshing to hear that this squad had achieved what it did last year through hard work and discipline along with skill.
Too often we hear about the negative things lacrosse players have done, but it’s rarely talked about how much time, effort, and discipline it takes for kids to grow into men and win a national championship.
In many other presentations the theme of Discipline persisted.
Georgetown Head Coach Kevin Warne shared many drills he uses to develop footwork in his defensemen. Each one takes discipline to perform correctly, and if done right during practice, will reap benefits within a defensive scheme in a 6 on 6 situation. Anthony Gilardi from Towson did the same in his presentation as he shared his bottom-up skill developments on the offensive side of the ball, focusing on proper dodging techniques.
When players run through a skeleton drill, it takes discipline for them to force themselves to do the right thing and not the easy thing to get better. Discipline is something you always think about and talk about with your team. But is your program really disciplined? All coaches should take a look at how disciplined their team is and what they can do to teach their players to be more accountable.
Lacrosse Needs To Be COACHED Fast
The rule changes are a start, but the jury’s still out on whether or not they will make an immediate difference on the boring things we don’t want to see on TV, like subbing through X or referees demanding 5 yards after a horn on the sideline. It is much more important how coaches coach their teams to play, and in this regard, the rule changes are nothing more than a band-aid on a broken leg.
However, I got the sense that now the trend is swinging towards playing fast again because the proof is in the pudding. Just look at who is winning championships. Tufts and Salisbury in DIII recently, and Loyola last year (who call their up-tempo offense “Jumbo”). They are all playing fast, push-the-envelope lacrosse and winning championships doing it.
Head Coach of Towson, Shawn Nadelen, concluded the weekend with a talk about lacrosse Darwinism, and how the strong programs adapted to stay ahead of the curve and maintain success. He showed the 1976 championship between Maryland and Cornell:
… and the 1990 championship between Syracuse and Loyola:
… as examples of what fast lacrosse looks like. And how awesome are those clips? Although it looks a little sloppier and chaotic, the stick skills are incredible and the excitement level is there. Deeper pockets and offset sticks in the 90’s led to poorer stick skills, fewer turnovers, and changes to defensive and offensive coaching strategies. All of these events have slowed the game down over the past 20 years, so now there is an advantage to playing fast because fewer teams play that
So, although the rules committee is trying to speed the game up by changing rules, coaches who take the risk and challenge of teaching their players to play fast are the only ones who really have control over whether the game speeds up again or not.
There Are Lies, Damned Lies…
And then there are statistics.
There’s always a statistics talk at these conventions and they always intrigue me and scare me at the same time. What measurable statistics are important in a lacrosse game? Which ones are not? Can you predict things are going to happen or practice certain things more to gain an advantage? What scares me is how much time I will have to spend putting data together and watching film to find a trend.
James Piette, from Krossover, talked about analytics in lacrosse in a well-attended presentation. Although his knowledge of the game itself could improve, he came with some pretty solid ideas about what’s important and not important in lacrosse and backed them up with numbers.
According to him, the most important statistics (the ones that correlate the most with winning percentage) are offensive and defensive efficiency, which is a measure of how goals for or against you have per possession.
This takes some real legwork in the film room and on the stat sheet to really analyze unless coaches purchase the services of his company, Krossover; then I suppose they do it for you. One of the things that correlates least with winning percentage is face-offs (which is why I felt bad for Stevenson Head Coach Paul Cantabene during his face-off talk on Sunday, which was really well delivered, by the way, and informative to a non-face-off guy like me).
Apparently, at least according to the math, face-offs tend to be a little bit better than a weighted coin flip, meaning that you could have the best face-off guy in the world, and it will still only give you a slightly better than 50/50 chance of winning the game. So although important at certain times in the game (e.g. winning the face-off helped Duke in the 2010 national title game), it’s far more important what you do with the ball once you have it because most of the game is played away from the face-off X.
This is only one of the interesting stats he put on the board. I could go on about statistics but that is a whole other post for the future. The real take away from this is that there are a lot of numbers out there that tell us a lot about what’s important statistically. His main point is that coaches have the tools to find the statistics that help you put the ball in the net and track them.
They can look at shots, offensive efficiency, shot placement, or assists and track their personnel and their opponents during the course of a season. It’s up to the coach to figure out which ones he wants to look at and drill with his team to give him the best chance of winning. Although interesting, this talk confirmed a lot of what we already know, however; that when you have the ball, you should put it in the net and when you don’t have it, you should not let the other teams score, and then try and get the ball back. At a basic level, it is still just simple stuff.
Along with the many other complex ideas and drills taught by the presenting coaches during the convention, the overall simplicity of our game was apparent. Although the game of lacrosse can be quite complicated, if you are a coach at a middle school, high school, or college, prepare for the 2013 season by keeping it simple.
Be disciplined in everything you do, play fast and with a purpose, and if you prepare your team to take care of these simple things, you will see a lot more goals and wins on the stat sheet this spring.