I’ll be coaching Youth Lacrosse in New York City this Spring. The opportunity to pass on knowledge, and help kids grow as both players and people, is a huge one and I’m extremely excited to get back to basics! I’ve coached youth, high school and college kids before on teams and at camps. But I haven’t coached a team of kids, who are relatively new to the game, in a number of years. I know it’s a different type of coaching so I was excited when Mat Levine of Doc’s Lacrosse in NYC organized a coaching clinic, where Chuck Ruebling of the Delbarton School in New Jersey would lead the way and give us some tips.
He did not disappoint. Not one bit. Ruebling has been the Coach at Delbarton for years now and is a 1979 graduate of the School. Ned Crotty is a graduate of Delbarton and fromer Ruebling player. Interestingly enough, Mat Levine started the team there as a young teacher. And Matt grew up in Manhasset on Long Island, which as well all know, is a legendary lacrosse town. And now I get to be heavily involved with this group in NYC and I truly believe, with the quality of people involved, NYC lacrosse is on a great trajectory. Mat and I are already discussing new ways to take these players to the next level skill-wise, but I’ll drop more on that later. For now, let’s go over how to coach youth lacrosse.
KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. Coach Ruebling didn’t say this, but he could have. It’s not about teaching 6 on 6 concepts, motion offenses or fast breaks when you’re dealing with kids. Even simple man-ball drills are misguided attempts at teaching too much. Focus on the basics and you’ll do much better. Coach Ruebling had 5 points to follow (really six) and if stick to these guidelines, the kids you’re coaching will certainly benefit.
RULE GROUND ZERO: LOTS OF BALLS
don’t waste time chasing after the three balls you bring to practice. Lots of balls are a great investment, one of the best you can make. Continuous action, kids always have a ball in their stick, and lots of repetitions. A big bucket (or two or three) of balls is a big ally. Kids need to actually PRACTICE the skills. More balls helps that happen.
Rule #1: Move The Feet
Don’t let the kids stand around but don’t run them. Just make every drill involve running and moving. Catching and throwing on the run is ideal. Start from an early age. The following is what you DON’T WANT TO DO:
See how the kids catch and then pass standing still and then run? Why do that? It’s crazy. And why are they going from outside of the line towards the middle? Usually teams pass the ball around the outside of the box, so mimic that as well.
You have a hub, with 3, 4 or 5 spokes with 3 players in each spoke. As the ball cycles around the outside of the spokes clockwise, players will step out, receive the ball righthanded, switch hands on the outside, like they would passing around the outside on offense and make a pass lefty. All on the run. Then they run back to the end of their line. Keep the spokes short, with 3-4 players per spoke. If you have 5 spokes and the kids are doing well, add in a second ball. See what happens.
Rule #2: Move The Ball Off The Ground
Youth lacrosse games where the ball is on the ground much of the time are ugly. Lots of kids bumping into each other, stabbing at the ball, falling over… it’s not the fastest game on two feet by any means. So teach your kids to get the ball of the ground and teach them to move it once they pick it up. Man-ball drills reinforce the cluster around the ball so when you do 3 on 2 ground balls or 2 on 1 gbs, don’t teach man-ball. Teach them to pick up the ball and move it to the other man. This will create 2 on 1s open looks and prime your kids for next level concepts.
Here is why we do this: Teaching a kid to add in the man part before breaking to the goal on a 2 on 1 in High School is easy. It’s an extra step that can be added in. But teaching a kid who is always going for the man to then break to the cage, catch a pass and then score is a much taller order. Focus on the skills are scoring first, the physical play can come later.
Simple drills breaking the kids to the goal, giving one O player a slight advantage on the ball and then forcing him to move it after scooping it under pressure will create good habits, and make for a lot of assisted goals. These are true lacrosse fundamentals.
Rule #3: North-South Dodging
In Basketball, kids will crossover, cross back, hesitate, cross again and then make their real move. Do not let your lacrosse players do this. Because lacrosse players can play more physically on defense than basketball players, this just doesn’t work that well, unless your kids are Ussain Bolt fast. And I doubt they are. Teach them to attack the cage hard. DODGE HARD is something I’ve been telling kids at clinics for years now. I hate the fancy-foot dancing from side to side some kids get into. It just isn’t effective. In order to do this, you have to teach your dodgers to initiate contact. Weird, rigth? Well, it makes sense. Contact is going to happen on most dodges, so if the O player is the one creating it, and eliminating (and then creating) separation, they are then dictating the interaction. That’s where you want to be!
1 on 1 dodges from up top will allow you to work on this. Set up cones 7-8 yards apart that run straight from the restraining box to the goal. Make kids dodge. If they go over the cones, their turn is over. You can also line the sides (along the cones) with other players who can check the O player if they get too close. Don’t let the side checks get out of hand, but it reinforces the need to dodge to the middle, and dodge hard.
Focus on a good cradle, getting in close to the defender, slipping by them (while keeping them on the O player’s back), protecting the stick and finishing overhand on the run. Putting the D players on their heels is key for the dodger. Feel free to take the D guys sticks away and make them use their feet to play defense and force the O player to the sides.
Rule #4: Moving Without The Ball
A patterned or organized offense can be tough to install with younger players so focus on concepts over schemes. A scheme is a triangle offense. It’s hypothetical. A concept is more concrete, e.g. if someone is dodging towards you, cut through! Creating and finding space are the biggest keys to teach. Your players need to realize, if someone is going to dodge, they need to create space for their teammate to dodge. They also need to find openings on the field where the Defense is not. This requires kids to constantly keep moving, looking for open space and trying to create space for their teammates.
To simplify things, take 2 O and 2 D players out. Run 4 on 4 instead of 6 on 6. Get the kids to play with the 4 of them outside in a box, moving the ball around. Then a kid can dodge and others can work on cutting through or filling empty space. As the kids grasp the concepts, you can add in a crease player, then another on the outside and get into a 2-3-1. This might not happen until mid-season. When it happens is not important. The kids understanding the concepts is important. Practicing 4 on 4 will prepare you just as well as 6 on 6 since the concepts are the same. 4 on 4 is just simpler and it doesn’t let kids hide. Everyone needs to touch the ball, everyone needs to play good D.
Rule #5: Teach BASIC principles of 1 on 1 D and Team D
Teach the kids that when you play 1 on 1 D, you need to move your feet, run with your man and ALWAYS maintain inside position. Between your man and the goal. That’s a great start right there, and it will take a long time to just get the kids doing this. Once they get this, THEN work with them on pushing guys down the alley or under GLE. At the beggining, stick to just staying between the O player and the goal.
With 2 on 2 Defense, teach kids who are off ball to slough in a couple of steps and help out in case their teammate gets beat. 2 on 2s are a GREAT way to force kids to dodge hard, then make the 2 on 1 pass. I recommend doing a lot of 2 on 2. It forces kids to play together and pass the ball. Great stuff. This can then be done with 3 on 3, 4 on 4, etc. 4 on 4 may be the highest you want to take it. Again, 6 on 6 should often be avoided because that’s a scheme and not a concept. Stick to concepts!
A simple D for one on one D that doesn’t even involve a lacrosse ball is kick the cone. An O player without a stick is guarded by a D players without a stick. The O player is trying to kick a cone on the ground and the D player is trying to stop them. Move your feet, use your hands to push the guy out. O player has to dodge hard to get to the cone. Everyone wins.
Some people will say, “well, what about fast breaks, or clearing?” Good questions. Fast breaks break down to multiple 2 on 1s being executed. If you’re teaching your kids proper 2 on 1 play, fast breaks will come on their own. Trying to execute an L break is somewhat ridiculous. The D will probably not be executing a triangle slide package. Stick to concepts, not to schemes.
Clearing is the same thing. You’ve taught your guys to find space, find the 2 on 1 and move the ball. Clearing shouldn’t be an issue. If it is, give it to a middie and have him run it up the field. Still teaching the kid to move the ball if he finds the 2 on 1.
For Ground Balls, it’s pretty simple. Force the kids to put their high hand on the plastic when they scoop. This actually makes it almost impossible to not get your head over the ball, foot by the ball and your backhand down. Good form comes quickly. I’m partial to making the kids do the gorilla walk where they shuffle from side to side, scraping their knuckles and picking up a GB on the ground with every step.