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The Division 1 Lacrosse Fall Ball Experience

Every Division 1 college lacrosse team has identical goals for fall ball. The physical piece stems from the weight room and is extremely important in the fall for injury prevention, athletic growth, confidence, and team building. Teams are looking to improve individual speed, install team schemes, build team chemistry, assimilate the freshmen, experiment with player position changes, develop team strategy shifts, and construct a rough depth chart for the first practice in January.

The approach to achieve those goals varies.

Fall practices should have equal parts individual skill development, team scheme install, and free play. Getting up and down the field while playing for stakes brings out the best and worst of both the individual and the unit. Mindless drills are a joy killer. Every drill should have a why. If you’re doing a shooting drill, make sure the line isn’t 20 deep. You need multiple lacrosse goals. Coaches who design practice and fail to understand the repetition robbery going on in this age of the 65 man roster, will be golfing in May.

The practice itinerary that worked for a 35 man roster isn’t tailored for 60 plus bodies. I’ve watched too many stand around and do nothing practices over the past five years. Script practice for maximum reps and touches with little idle time. That means having extra goals ready. It means using more than two half-fields. Every team member must be engaged in activity for the entire practice. Welcome to a new age that requires thoughtful practice logistics and more real estate.

That’s my vent. We return to the scheduled programming. For new Providence Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach Bob Benson, this fall ball season is a first look at his Friar roster.

“We have to install our new schemes and philosophies while establishing a baseline for fundamentals.”
– Bob Benson, Providence Head Coach

Providence is learning a new system and new standards while auditioning for roles. When a new coach shows up, all jobs are on the table.

“Now, as we get going, the aim is to develop a culture of excitement (practice, extra work, drive, effort.) To improve our skills and slow down and think. To develop a stronger lacrosse IQ.”
– Bob Benson, Providence Head Coach

How many, if any, outside competitions are the right amount? This answer varies. 

“We have five weeks where we are in 20 hours. I like outside competition.”
– Bob Benson, Providence Head Coach

Fall ball events trigger motivation and create a sense of urgency in September and October. Playing two teams in a single day is also beneficial.

“We will play everyone or almost everyone in every fall game. I like them playing against different teams and styles so they see teams that slide quick or don’t slide or invert or alley dodge or pick a ton. I think playing two teams and adjusting to styles and game-like conditions is beneficial.”
– Bob Benson, Providence Head Coach

The University of Maryland and John Tillman know how important it is to tackle all of the challenges that come with being back on campus. Every fall is a new opportunity for the Terrapins to find its own identity and build on the lessons learned from years prior.

“We always start all over again. We start at zero and build up from there.  We’ve lost a lot of guys so we want to see who is ready to take on new roles as players and leaders.  We are looking to see if we need to adjust our schemes to suit our players and play to their strengths. We do a lot of individuals and fundamentals.  It’s all about improvement and growth. We will make mistakes.  You won’t be perfect. Have fun and take joy in improvement and playing the game we love.  It’s a long year.”
– John Tillman, Maryland Head Coach

On top of developing skills on the field, the Terrapins also focus on giving back to the community while maintaining relationships with alumni.

“We played the Alumni last week, Cornell Sunday and USA next week. Build relationships on our team and with our alums.  Community service.  We are doing the wheelchair lacrosse Play with love for the sport and not with fear.”
– John Tillman, Maryland Head Coach

At Georgetown, a playoff team from 2022, the autumn challenge is different. They welcome in a freshman class and a handful of notable impact transfers in Tucker Dordevic, Nicky Solomon, Jacob Kelly, Brian Minicus and goalie Daniel Hincks.

“Figuring out personnel (who fits where) is imperative. Off the field community service and alumni relations (alumni game, job networking) take center stage in the fall.”
– David Shriver, Georgetown Assistant Coach

At every program, freshmen are learning a new way of life. Helicopter parents aren’t around to shepherd. Understanding time management is tricky.

“At Georgetown, freshman have a “big brother” who’s responsible for them from the summer on. They make sure the freshman are on top of things/know what to do. We also have mandatory study hall for rookies twice a week to encourage them to do their work because some young men show up to college and see all the free time and think it’s awesome and don’t manage time well.”
– David Shriver, Georgetown Assistant Coach

Time is a precious commodity. Freshmen must embrace the pain of discipline, sooner better than later. Cementing a culture starts in September. Bonds are built on relationships and trust. Coaching the person before you coach the player establishes trust. Good coaches know X’s and O’s. Great coaches know their players.

“We finish practices with one team member a day telling us their “why” and each week we have a coach meet with a small group of 7-8 guys for 15-20 minutes to just catch up and have non-lacrosse conversations.”
– David Shriver, Georgetown Assistant Coach

Meanwhile, the Notre Dame lacrosse program continues to use fall ball as a time to foster a sense of team culture and gratitude by getting involved with community service projects at the South Bend Boys and Girls Club and the Dickinson Middle School.  

Regardless of the school, fall practices now seem to matter more than ever. Navy Head Coach Joe Amplo makes sure that the Midshipmen are learning to play faster while the staff coaches, evaluates, and sculpts the depth chart.

“We are putting a very large emphasis on playing fast and attacking in all different ways. The unique thing for Navy is that we start fall later than most programs. We have done it the past few years and I am starting to see a little trend with other teams. We just started fall ball this week, while some others have been at it for a few. We do this to focus on the individual development early on and give our freshmen as good of a chance as possible to assimilate and then compete.”
– Joe Amplo, Navy Head Coach

Freshmen have a lot going on in September. Without question, letting them adjust to their new structure before introducing lacrosse would appear to be prudent. On the field, they must learn to bounce back after they make mistakes and play to their strengths. 

“What most fans don’t realize is that the depth chart is built in the fall. With how early teams are competing in the spring, if you don’t establish your place on the depth chart by the end of the fall, it is a hard climb to make in January.”
– Joe Amplo, Navy Head Coach

Navy plays Penn and St. John’s on October 29.

Yale gets 12 days on the field together in the fall. Two of those will be designated for outside competition. The Bulldogs played their alumni last Friday. Yale has a bunch of key players who are taking a leave of absence during this semester to preserve a year of eligibility, a continuing navigational carryover from the lost COVID-19 season.

“In the Ivy, we don’t get a preseason. Our goals are to overachieve relative to our talent level every year.”
– Andy Shay, Yale Head Coach

Yale will be a top eight team in 2023, and a top five team if they can tighten their defense. If you visit New Haven this season, Modern Pizza is the spot. 

For a decade, Duke has abstained from playing outside competition during the fall. That may change in 2022. They also might go old school and play a preseason scrimmage before their 2023 opener. Imprinting the team culture is a daily staple in Durham.

“How we roll, what we stand for and what we won’t stand for. Those are big. What are the operating standards, the schematic rules and terminology – that’s essential in terms of the fall. Speaking the same language, mastering the base schemes, that’s the foundation.”
– Ron Caputo, Duke Assistant Coach

Sloppy high school and club habits must be broken. What proved effective at lower levels may no longer pass inspection. Rookies must be willing to change. Veteran players should continue to grow.

“Championships aren’t won in the fall, but foundations of champions are built in the fall.”
– Ron Caputo, Duke Assistant Coach

Coaches are constantly evaluating and tinkering. Let the seniors lead. Freshmen, mimic the captains. Coaches, don’t squeeze the lemon dry in the fall. Athletes need to have time to be normal students and immerse themselves into campus and social opportunities that won’t exist in the spring. Finding the perfect balance between work and play is key to a fruitful college experience.

For the players, today is the only day. Get off your phone, work your tail off, gel into a team and keep the fall fun. Go outside while the weather is accommodating and sharpen your craft. The extra time invested, the sweat equity, makes a difference in February. You will find fulfillment in hard work. Solitary practice is the most important aspect of training.

This week’s episode of the Quintessential Podcast features Yale Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach, Andy Shay