December is the loneliest month. Let’s take a look at December, and the time period between final exams and the first day of practice in January.
“We don’t get a chance to be with the guys in December, because of finals,” said UNC Head Coach, Joe Breschi. “We hope to maintain through voluntary workouts what we’ve built in the fall. It’s mostly a chance for the team leadership (captains/seniors) to take hold the next six weeks as we prepare for the spring.”
Academics are front and center. Suck it up. Finish the semester the right way. Right now, lacrosse takes a back seat to studying.
“We will balance the progress of fall with respect for academic demands (at a time when NO program can do required activities once reading days start) while endorsing the developmental and mental health benefits of exercise during winter and stress of exams,” said Harvard Head Coach, Gerry Byrne.
Contact with coaches dwindles as mandated by the NCAA. “We can’t have any countable athletic related activity after one week prior to first exam,” said Providence Head Coach, Bobby Benson. “For us, that’s December 5th. So after December 5th and until January 9th, our players are on their own. We only have one week with guys before the NCAA mandates we stop for exams. So we just finish up winter workouts and review some of the winter agendas and continue with strength and conditioning. Most of December they spend without us, preparing for start of practices and finishing school.”
Cast aside, lacrosse athletes must train solo or in small groups until the first day of practice in January. Their is no reliance on the formal structure of the team as they head home for the holidays.
The home phase is critical. “During the home phase, maintain momentum from fall, staying connected electronically after being physically together since August, while finding your internal motor for growth (strength, conditioning, skill) when no one is around to push you,” said Byrne.
The home phase is when the great ones create an edge. Some players come back to campus ready and others come back fat, softened by Mom’s pecan pie. Holiday cheer and hanging out with old friends who may not have similar demands. Athletes who accept suffering achieve greatness.
PLL All-Star Marcus Holman (Archers) provides priceless advice. “For me this was (and still is) the best time of year to create advantages. People get into the holiday doldrums and become complacent. This is your chance to prove to yourself and your coaches how much you actually care. It’s easy to tell as a coach after break who was putting in work.”
“College players need to make connections with their hometown high school coaches for gyms and field usage,” said Holman.
Skill development is most widely ignored. Bench pressing 225lbs ten times has limited relevance if you can’t scoop, carry, pass, catch and shoot at game speed. Squatting 315lbs for reps may have the strength coach pumped up, but it’s not a substitute for running, improving your footwork, your hips, your change of direction, acceleration, and deceleration.
“Don’t forget to run,” said Holman. “I know being strong is important now more then ever in lacrosse. But it’s a running sport. You can’t neglect that piece.”
Tip-toe the line between sharpness and burnout. Goalies must stay in harmony with their muscle memory. Wall ball paid for college.
“Find your shooters, reach out to fellow local players with similar goals,” said PLL goalie Adam Ghitelman (Archers).
“Feet-Set’ shooting has its positives, but nothing is better than simulating patterns that occur on the field. Dodging from X, the wing, alley. Ask for multiple moves or COD’s to track your feet and positioning. Having 2+ shooters always pays dividends to re-create passing patterns to work pre-shot movements. If you only have one shooter, be creative and visualize/imagine offensive motions prior to the shooter taking his shots,” said Ghitelman.
“Keep your stick in hand and remember you are a D1 athlete at a top 15 program,” said Byrne. “Finding the balance of rest and nutrition with the two hours of work that should comprise each day. Finding ways around weather issues, indoor access, people to play with challenges. The best players and leaders find a way or make a way.”
December is perfect for cross-training. “I also loved taking a step away from lacrosse and felt that playing other sports provided balance and still gave me the feedback I desired to feel in shape and I was working on things that I wanted to translate to lacrosse,” said Ghitelman. “While being subconsciously cautious, I loved to play football, pickup soccer, pond-hockey, and basketball during the break. You can never stop working on your spacial awareness, communication and anticipatory muscles.”
It’s okay to have fun, just be smart.
As predictable as Christmas and New Year’s Eve is the annual tradition that somebody on your roster won’t run, instead marinating during the break on too many cookies, too much booze, and too much time chasing a good time. It always happens. That undisciplined player comes back to campus in January trying to make up for lost time and then invariably tweaks a hammy, has sore shins, a groin, maybe back spasms; it’s always something nagging. He or she plummets down the two-deep and rationalizes the failure as an injury. In reality, the diagnosis is an insufficient commitment.
“The maturity is learning to say no,” adds Ghitelman. “There are so many micro-decisions that can have short and long-run impact on your focus on training. Not all your friends have the responsibilities at stake when you’re looking to compete for a national or league championship.”
Complete the required assignments to keep pace with your peers. Find a way to make it fun. Do a little extra to find true success. Do a lot of extra work if you desire to be elite. Those sacrifices get paid off.
December is also a get healthy month. If the lacrosse athlete is banged up, don’t neglect rehab while away from the school’s training room. Communicate with athletic trainers at school to find the best at-home solutions and remedies. Avoid repetitive exercises that irritate existing soreness.
“Our athletic trainer has guys doing rehab to get ready. Some of those can be monitored because of safety,” said Benson.
For freshman and transfers, December film work is helpful prep for the upcoming spring. Watch some games from late 2022. For veteran players, I recommend the PLL. To play fast, you must know the schemes cold.
Coaches will use the month to start clipping film of the first few opponents in 2023. They’ll tighten their spring calendar and take a moment to reflect on their “why” and team pillars. It’s the perfect time to bank schematic, personnel, and motivational commodities. For players and coaches, it’s a month to find a great book.
Time spent away from the program and teammates can be rejuvenating, refreshing and mentally invigorating. “Distance makes the heart grow fonder,” said Byrne. “Having a break from each other tests the trust and culture in a good way and has players longing for the community and the return to the work together in January. The same is true for staff.”
It’s 30 days that makes a huge difference especially in lacrosse. The more sacrifices you make, the more successful you’ll become. The work you do in December shows up in January when the whistle blows for the first day of practice.