Editor’s note: Please welcome University of Virginia lacrosse legend Chris Rotelli to LaxAllStars! Chris recently sat down with Kevin Corrigan for an interview about coaching NCAA Division I lacrosse. Enjoy!
Earlier this year I had the chance to interview Notre Dame Head Coach Kevin Corrigan one-on-one, and today I’m excited to share my conversation with the worldwide lacrosse community.
Coach, thanks for taking the time out to chat. Here’s one for you: How do you explain the difference between winning and losing close games?
Kevin Corrigan: You know Chris I really don’t know, and if I knew the answer we’d win all the one goal games. But seriously, each game is different and the reasons that led to those outcomes are different every time, what you were capable of doing that day and what you’re not. But I will say this: the key to being your best in any game is not giving away goals and plays throughout a game, and making sure that people have to earn everything they get against you. And I feel that is something we haven’t done consistently throughout this year in a lot of games; some we won and some we lost. But this something that we’ve typically been very good at and need to get back to.
How do you replicate that kind of close game atmosphere at practice in order to get your team prepared?
Kevin Corrigan: We practice in-game situations beginning with the first practice of the year. So it’s all about understanding what everybody’s job is. Being on the same page, then exhibiting poise during the moment. If that guy who needs to make that poise play is a freshman, or a guy who hasn’t played much, then it’s still part of a learning process for him. But I think the thing that is key to being consistently good in those moments is that your guys have a plan, that they all know what they’re doing. That comes from practice and repetition. So we employ those situations at practice almost every day.
You have been at Notre Dame for 29 years now, how has the game of lacrosse changed over that period?
Kevin Corrigan: It’s probably changed two or three times over that period. Sometimes it’s about tempo and the way people are playing. Sometimes it’s about defensively the way people are playing, with their consistent take-aways, that sort of thing. I think the biggest thing is that there are so many good lacrosse players now and so many more teams that are capable of doing so many things well, it has resulted in very few “days off” anymore. Certainly not with the schedule we play at Notre Dame (the teams we’ve played thus far this year have won 70% of their games). Every day is a challenge, the reality is that anyone in the Top 5 can lose to anyone in the Top 40 nationally. And you have to show up ready to play, it is a much more challenging environment than it was 25 years ago.
Do you think it will continue to get more competitive in the coming years?
Kevin Corrigan: Here’s the thing Chris, the growth of Division I lacrosse is being stymied for a lot of different reasons. The number of D1 teams is not growing linearly with the growth at the youth and high school levels. Those spots on the D1 teams have become more and more dear to prospective high school student athletes from a bigger and broader base of kids. Whereas 25 years ago there may have been 200 kids playing for those spots there are now probably 2000 kids competing to make those same teams.
Do you think that the NCAA tournament will grow to accommodate that depth? It seems that this year there are some really good teams that could win the whole thing that conceivably will be left out of the tournament. Do you see the tournament eventually growing in size?
Kevin Corrigan: Not particularly, I think the tournament will grow as the number of teams playing expands. The NCAA has a mandated ratio that reflects the number of teams playing in a given division. The NCAA has to have a broad perspective that reflects across all sports and both genders. The fact that lacrosse has become more competitive alone is not going to impact the number of teams that are selected for the tournament.
Have you changed as a coach during your 29 years at Notre Dame?
Kevin Corrigan: I think I’ve changed in some ways. I know I’ve grown smarter as a result of some hard knocks over the years. My biggest change is probably how we develop our guys both on and off the field. The idea that college and lacrosse are great experiences in their lives, and if done right can be one of the seminal experiences in their lives. And as a coach I see my role in their experience as very, very important. Our coaches and I spend a lot of time working to improve the experience of our guys.
With the stuff outside of lacrosse, what are some of the things that you focus on to help the players on your team? How do you cultivate the culture of your team?
KC: I guess it is probably in a couple different buckets. One is the networking opportunities across the country that can help them prepare for professional interviews after college. This network is made up of both the ND family and fellow lacrosse players from other schools. It can often lead to internships and other opportunities to help build their professional portfolio.
We also look at service opportunities all over the world, trying to make sure that we are looking beyond ourselves and our sometimes myopic view of the world. We try to instill a broader perspective amongst our players, highlighting the great privileges that they enjoy that a lot of other people are not fortunate to have. That obligates us to do more for other people when we are in that privileged position. This is the kind of culture that we want, and it reflects the kind of recruits we want to bring into Notre Dame.
What kind of skills and attributes do you seek when recruiting players for Notre Dame?
KC: We always try to seek four different things when recruiting: his athleticism is extremely important at the D1 level. Secondly, lacrosse skills. Does he have a good stick, left and right? Can he shoot? Can he play defense? Is he nifty & crafty? Third, his lacrosse IQ. It’s a fluid game, it is a game of constant & unrelenting decisions. Guys who can make better decisions are better players. If you get a team full of guys who can make decisions on that level, you are probably gonna be a very good team. Lastly, the personal character of the recruit. How resilient and tough minded is he? What is the character he exhibits? How does he handle success and disappointment? What is his work ethic? After all, we don’t want to spend time at practice “pushing rope” to get guys to work hard.
What’s your approach to recruiting players from the West?
KC: There are without a doubt some great lacrosse players coming out of the West. With the evolution of lacrosse on the West Coast, more and more kids playing year-round in that region and have got some skills. What is perhaps lacking in West Coast recruits is lacrosse IQ. Players that come out of the Baltimore area, for example, generally have a good lacrosse IQ because he plays every day against other kids who have grown up watching & playing at a high level, they really understand the game. His decision making may be better than a similar player from the West Coast. Sometimes when recruiting a West Coast player we look to see if he can understand the game well enough to continue to grow in that area. We also look to see if he has some transitive skills that are applicable to lacrosse. For example, is he a good basketball point guard that understands the concepts of seeing the floor and distributing the ball? We also look to determine if the player demonstrates a commitment to getting better.
What would your advice be to a kid in the West who is committed, loves the sport and wants to go play at a good school?
KC: First thing, impress the people you play for and with every day. After all, as coaches, we are going to talk with those people first in order to develop our understanding of that player. Generally speaking, we are only going to get a limited number of times where we meet directly with a recruit. We therefore interview a variety of people from that recruit’s environment as part of the recruiting process.
Secondly, we are going to watch players at the various tournaments across the country. I remember one time in particular we were at a tournament and it was brutally cold. We recently took a kid into Notre Dame largely because he competed very hard in those conditions, or in any condition for that matter. He didn’t have a cold versus warm weather mode, he only knew one thing and that was to compete. And that’s the kind of guy we want.
You and Coach Byrne have both coached your respective sons at Notre Dame. What advice would you give to a dad who is coaching their son at the youth or high school levels?
KC: I only ever coached my son at the college level, which was probably fortunate. I was primarily a spectator when he was growing up, and I told him I wouldn’t critique his lacrosse game unless he asked me. My only question was whether he had fun, and really tried not to give him unsolicited advice when he was young. I just wanted to be his dad when he played at that level. By the time I coached him in college, he had already chosen to play at Notre Dame and he knew who I was and what it was going to be like. For us it was easy at that point, and truthfully he made it easy. He was not a difficult kid to coach. Pierre Byrne is the same way, just a great kid who works hard every day. So we’ve both been very fortunate with Will and Pierre, even with the hard times along the way.
So, you made a conscious decision not to coach your son when he was younger. Would you therefore recommend that a parent not coach their son at the youth level?
KC: That’s a great question. I never did so I don’t think I can give advice on it. I would say that if you aren’t currently coaching your son, don’t coach him again when he comes home. My feeling is that the kid probably doesn’t want to come home from being coached only to get coached again. Unless they do ask for it, and then it’s fair.
Wow, thanks for your honest and open answers, Coach! It’s awesome to get your perspective.