“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” – Robert Burns
“Coach, these guys don’t want to drill, they want to PLAY.” – Wade Hoag
Play Lacrosse, Even When You Practice It
Wrapping ourselves up in our professional pursuit is our magic feather. If we feel like we have done everything possible to prepare, then we have done our job, but what do our kids want to do?
I learned this from Wade Hoag, and I am embarrassed to say that with all my preoccupation with preparation, I never would have thought of it if I hadn’t asked. Wade had the guts, as a freshman, to tell me the truth. I knew what he meant right away – sports are fun. Playing is the best part of our day. Practice should be that way. So, whatever we do to plan practice, plan on making it the best part of our players’ days.
Sometimes, as coaches, we get detail obsessed, losing ourselves in the machinations of a hip turn or hand placement. We believe that the details are key to performance. We have made a science out of lifting weights and have created shrines for us to sweat in. We worship THE GRIND, doing tough things every day, and embracing our manly inner stoic. Coaches will geek out on a “great drill.” and at some level we should. It is our job, and there is no shame in appreciating professional preparation.
But, have you ever heard a kid say, “That was a great drill!” I am not talking about fourth graders playing steal the bacon. How many times have you heard a college-aged man, who has sat through class all day, been up late studying film and organic chemistry, come to practice looking forward to the third drill in your practice plan? We humans are emotional creatures, and it is tough to be passionate about kaizen when we don’t make time to play.
Jamie Munro has some great thoughts on free play and how this can help structure our improvement. So as we plan for practices, we try to build in competitive situations that begin with a ground ball, follow up with pressure, and the opportunity for our guys to make a lot of decisions, and mistakes, at full speed. We can then debrief by position group, squads, rookies versus veterans, or however we choose to group our players that day, allowing players to take ownership of the growth process. Fast, intense drills followed by a thoughtful debrief becomes part of the rhythm of practice. Eric Kapitulik of The Program has some excellent thoughts on working to build this culture in your training.
We also try to put time on the clock, turn the shot clocks on, and keep score. Every day. Every man on our team gets to play lacrosse every day. I have made a real effort to use my “coach voice” booming across the whole field less and to talk to more people one-on-one, in the context of our play. I will coach them up on the things they can control: their eyes/hands/feet. They will use my guidance to play lacrosse better, because they want to win, and they get the chance every day.
At the beginning of practices, especially the ones where we are wearing two pairs of sweats and climbing over a snowbank to get to the field, our kids talk about practice being “RECESS.” This is a quotation from Gino Battaglia, an excellent recent alum, leader, and captain of our program:
“Time to play, kids!”
Thanks Wade, Gino, and all our PLAYers.