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A Night With Tufts Lacrosse Coach Mike Daly

Last Friday evening I was fortunate enough to get the invite to a PSAL (Public School Athletic League) coaches’ clinic in New York City, where Tufts Lacrosse Head Coach, Mike Daly, was presenting, and educating NYC coaches on the game. Great job by the PSAL and CityLax to get a coach of that caliber down to teach!

Editor’s Note: this post originally ran on Feb 6th, 2013.

As a bonus, even after Coach Daly learned I was a Wesleyan alum, he didn’t kick me out of the session. Our two schools have a “contentious” rivalry, but he was happy to have a Wesleyan guy in the room. Open and willing to share… that was a great start all by itself.

Daly has coached some great players, like Bryan Griffin.

The first thing I noticed was the saying on the front of the packet that Coach Daly was handing out… It read:

Success is not magical or mystical, it is the natural occurrence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals!

After seeing that, and realizing that was already part of my coaching philosophy, I was all ears, and 100% ready to learn.

Tufts Lacrosse Coach Mike Daly

Coach Mike Daly had a heck of a lot to teach, and I’m glad I was paying attention. While I played against Tufts in my college days, they are a different animal now. What I saw from them was very good, but since those days in the early 2000s, Tufts has only gotten better. Now they’re a national powerhouse.

Here are FOUR of the main takeaways from Coach Daly’s talk, and how you might be able to use them on your team:

1) How To Be Successful

It’s covered in the quote above pretty generally, and it was a topic Daly hit on time and time again. For example, while Tufts does not do a ton of regular line drills, they do stand 5 yards apart at the beginning of practice and throw one handed passes to each other, working on form. If coach Daly (who played baseball growing up) can’t throw a one hand pass from five yards, with your stick, then your stick is deemed no good, and has to be changed. It’s simple, and one of the many places Daly looks for key fundamental abilities.

For my High School team, fundamentals will be a much bigger focus this year. Why teach kids a complicated offense when they can’t catch and pass extremely well? It’s a great point, and Daly shows how it has a benefit at the college level. Clearly it will also help my team. If Tufts barely runs an offense, and focuses more on fundamental skills, I think we will benefit from the same approach.

2) The Right Attitude

Mistakes WILL happen. Daly said that over and over again as well. So why yell at a kid for making a mistake? Instead, Daly focuses on HOW players react after making a mistake. If you dodge, and get stripped, but don’t put your head down, and instead hustle back on D, then that is OK. Poles shooting and dodging is also OK with Daly, as long as they do the fundamentals correctly and hustle. Mistakes he can live with, but compounding mistakes with a bad attitude and lack of hustle? Daly can’t stand that.

I love this coaching concept. My HS players definitely make mistakes, but most of them are still learning the game. I have vowed to not focus on mistakes AT ALL this year, as long as the attitude is good, and the hustle is there. My kids will react well to it, and practices will be harder, but also more fun. That’s a win-win right there.

3) Don’t Micro-manage Practice

Can you stop a game midway and go out and coach your kids? No. Can you yell at each kid during a game and tell them what to do? No. So why do that at practice? Kids need to learn what works for them and what doesn’t on their own to some extent, and having a coach breathing down their neck over every little thing doesn’t allow for that creativity, or confidence, to develop. No player wants to get stripped… so what good does yelling at a kid right after it happens do? No good at all.

Building players into high IQ players is the goal, not controlling every action on the field. Help your players become better and focus on what they are doing right, and you might not have to yell at all. It’s how Tufts rolls, it’s how Loyola rolls, and it’s how you should roll if you want to be great.

4) Be Different!

Originally, Daly said he wanted to create a team at Tufts that ran the Princeton defense, and won games 7-5, through pure control, and precision. When he realized that almost EVERY OTHER team in the nation was doing very similar things, he decided to change things up. He credited his outside approach to lacrosse here as beneficial, which makes a lot of sense. It speaks to how effective a coach can be, even with no direct lacrosse experience, as long as they think about things in a creative way.

For example. VERY FEW teams would let d-middies dodge after clearing the ball, but not Tufts. Instead, the PROMOTED that type of play. Then Loyola used it to win a D1 NC. Or, how EVERYONE ran a structured offense, but not Tufts. It’s basically just their transition offense slowed down a bit. EVERYONE else is recruiting earlier and earlier now, so can you guess what Tufts is doing? You guessed it, they’re waiting even longer to go out and contact prospective players.

By doing things differently, you find new ways to be consistent, and stick to fundamentals. You find ways to be creative within your basic structure, and as Daly laid out on Page 1, those are some of the biggest keys to success.

If YOUR team wants to be better this year, and try a different approach, I strongly recommend thinking about all of the above, and how you can bring it to your squad in 2013, and beyond.

If you have more specific questions, leave them in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to share more of the wealth of knowledge Coach Daly shared with me.