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A Lacrosse Coach’s Guide To Limited Practice Time

Editor’s Note: Mark Schindler is the head lacrosse coach at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania, and he always has excellent ideas on how to best prepare his team. Coach Schindler’s goal is to make Mercersburg extremely competitive again, and he’s letting us in on the process! In the past, he has covered how to use Tennis Balls as an effective training tool, and how fall ball can be a difference maker.  

Today Coach Schindler is covering preseason work, and how it can make or break a season.

Lacrosse coaches are tasked with the challenge of managing their players throughout the off-season, even while they are hopefully playing fall/winter sports.

As coaches, we want them to be developing their skills and playing lax, but we also want them to be playing other sports and staying in shape. The fact that lacrosse is a spring sport, and thus the third of three seasons, is a challenge unto itself since some (borderline) athletes lose motivation, interest, or energy by the spring.

Mercersburg Academy Lacrosse Training
Coach Schindler puts the young troops through their paces.

We have already highlighted two strategies for keeping lacrosse players engaged in the off-season – tennis ball skill workouts, and out-of-season tournaments or clinics.

But what happens once you get into the real season?  What are the challenges that lacrosse coaches face when Day #1 arrives and you are managing a group of players – some just coming out of a winter sport, some having worked the entire off-season, and some novice players?

Below you can find the three main challenges that we face at Mercersburg Academy and our strategy for taking advantage of them, rather than letting them get in our way.

Challenge #1: Reality Check!

The off-season is about developing skills, encouraging new players to join the ranks, and keeping kids engaged. This often involves more “fun” activities that are still productive without being a deterrent to novices. However, the real season is the reality check. Especially for programs like ours that have a limited number of practices (5 total) before our first game – we literally have to “hit the ground running.”

Midfield Scramble Lacrosse Drill
Get them running with game-like scenarios!

One of the best ways to make the switch from off-season to in-season is to be incredibly organized and deliberate with your drill selection. Have a minute-by-minute practice plan, and try to stick to it. Don’t just do line drills for 30 minutes because that’s what you used to do when you played.

My philosophy is choosing lacrosse drills that emphasize individual skill work rather than teamwork during the first day or two. The reason for this is it gives all players – experienced through novice – a chance to work and develop at their own pace. No “Drill Busters” inhibiting the flow of practice since everyone is working through the drill individually. Think: lots of GB drills, shooting drills, and footwork drills.

I also think it’s important to do the same set of drills two days in a row – this saves time of teaching a whole new set of drills on Day #2 and enables coaches to get a closer look at every player on the field.

It goes without saying that these drills are “high RPM” drills in which even the most novice players need to put forth 100% of their effort at all times. At the bottom of this post is our Day #1 practice plan so you can take a look at it.

Challenge #2: Maximizing Practice Time

Boarding schools like ours often have required dinner after practice, and thus we have a very finite amount of practice time in which to work. Therefore the drills we do (see above) are usually multi-purpose drills. In other words, they work on more than just one skill at a time.

One of my favorites is the Waterfall Drill – a progressive transition drill in which you set up A/D at each end and groups of midfielders on either sideline. Balls start out in each goal; one goalie makes an outlet pass to a streaking middie and that team goes 4 vs. 3 for a fast break. When the play is dead, the other team adds a middie from their sideline and it’s 4 vs. 4 the other direction.

Once a middie comes on, he stays on for both offense and defense. Add a player each time possession changes (5 vs. 4 the original direction, then 5 vs. 5, then 6 vs. 5, and eventually 6 vs. 6) and then reset. Start the opposite direction so each team has a chance to play man-up or even strength.

The Waterfall Drill accomplishes a few things: conditioning, fast breaks, slow breaks, outlet passing, settled and unsettled defense, and more. Each set takes about 3 minutes so you get a lot done in a little bit of time.

Challenge #3: So Much To Do, So Little Time

With so few practices before our first game, we simply can’t get to everything we need to cover. We can’t do skill work, conditioning, 6 vs. 6, transition, rides and clears, face-offs, EMO/MD, in-bounds plays, and substitutions. There just isn’t enough time to do it all in 5 days (or even 7-9).

Evaluating lacrosse players
It is a coach's job to evaluate, but also run a smooth practice.

So, what are the most important things to spend time on? More than half of all lacrosse goals are scored in non-6 v 6 (aka: unsettled) settings. That means transition, unsettled GBs, or EMO/MD, etc. Although working on settled 6 vs. 6 is important, it’s arguably not as important face-offs and wing play, or taking advantage of transition (see “Waterfall Drill” above).

Lacrosse drills that focus on unsettled ground balls that THEN morph into a 6 vs. 6 settings are even more important than static half-field X’s and O’s.

Lastly, EMO and MD falls on the priority list because you’re not even guaranteed to have those situations in your first game (even if it’s likely). If you have enough skill, just run your basic offense or a simple 3-3 in front of the goal and you’ll get your shots on EMO to start with.

Day 1 Practice Plan