Grow the Game®

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The Freshman Challenge 

The freshman challenge varies from player to player, but it’s fair to surmise that time management, speed and complexity of play and the massive amount of time invested as a D1 college lacrosse player are the three biggest mountains to climb. 

The speed of games is exponentially faster in college. Therefore, the speed of decision-making, with smaller windows of opportunity – is a severe upgrade from slower high school ball. This requires improved processing power, speed of hands (ball in/out of stick) along with foot speed, that is lateral and straight ahead. Your brain has to fire faster. There are lots of decisions made in less time. Stick work is best when executed tight, clean and quickly. In most instances, side-arm shots should be replaced by overhand releases. Keep stick by your ear, learn to play with it there. Ball carriers should dodge/carry less and pass more. There must be an understanding of how quick the college game is. Most of them have no idea how to play because they never play without the ball. You’ll experience it right away. Remember, D1 action combines the best players. Lacrosse becomes less forgiving as you step up levels from pee-wee to hit school to college to pro.

In college, mechanics matter more. And practice matters most.

“One thing I’ve spent a lot of time telling our freshman this fall – is the carryover – drill to drill, practice to practice. It all adds on top of each other. There is intention behind the drills. They build and owning proficiency in the basics, the building blocks are essential for advancement,” said a D1 assistant. 

For defenders, schematics are a quantum leap. The multiplicity and complexity of slide packages and the variety of defenses employed make playing defense more complicated. That’s a critical element to earning playing time as a freshman and yet mostly an unknown during the recruiting process. Understand, communicate and move. You must learn to play with your eyes, your mouth and your feet. The only way to play fast is to have full compression of the team defense. 

For all freshman student-athletes, a willingness to be coached is essential for survival. And I’m not just talking about by the lacrosse coaches. You have new authority figures in every phase of your life – from tutors, to professors, to athletic trainers. weight and strength staff and nutritional experts.  Your willingness to listen and learn is imperative. There are a lot of people telling you what to do – can your ego handle it?  Can you absorb it all and incorporate it into your arsenal? Or are you resistant to change? Trust them. Learn from them. They are your allies. 

To accelerate growth, learn from the mistakes of others. Listen to the coaches when they are giving teammates individual teaching points. Don’t make the same mistake twice. Listen to the captains and seniors. Follow their lead. Zero in on the programs non-negotiables and adhere to those staples.  Play to your strengths and mask your weaknesses. Don’t be stubborn or adverse to new ideas. Take care of the ball. The ball is the program. The coach’s job and livelihood are tied to the fate of the ball. Understand it’s value. Respect the ball. 

At the core – understanding how much goes into being the best college athlete you can be, is easier said than done. The time commitment for freshman is often overwhelming. You can’t waste time.

Developing a regimen is necessary and important for survival and growth. Budget 2.5 hours a day for practice. An extra 30 min a day to hone your craft, an extra 20 minutes a day for film extra work, usually 3 hours for home work and studies. Those who can plan their day out in advance, their week out in advance, their month out in advance have a procedural edge. Put Sundays to work for you. There is no time for mindless video games and tik tok. Keep a journal. How much extra time are you putting into your craft? Focus on your strengths, making them unstoppable and attack your weaknesses. 

Michigan Lacrosse Film Room

Watching film, largely overlooked by most clubs and high school programs is a college staple of preparation. Get used to it. Learn how to effectively watch film – how to look for strengths and weaknesses of an opponent, formational tendencies, cues, and tips while breaking the game down into pieces. Watch film to self-scout your play and that of your unit. Watch film to study a pro in your position. Watch film of prior championship game or a rivalry game and dream. 

The more you pull together the demands of freshman year, the more you realize that club lacrosse doesn’t really prepare kids for this process. Club doesn’t prepare the athlete for the months of practice. The hours of film. The sweat, strain and discipline thats mandatory in the weight room. In college, you practice a ton each year before you even play one game. Players prepare all fall and then in January and February before the games matter. So practice matters.

In high school, the process is better prepped by playing multiple sports – those that play high school football, basketball, soccer, wrestling, or hockey are more ready for the overall challenge of big time lacrosse. They’ve been more exposed to the process.

Freshman year will be the longest year of your life. Strength and maturity are pre-requisites. Many first year players wear down over the course of the spring. They hit the freshman wall. Most haven’t learned the importance of eating and nutrition. Prioritize your health. High school kids think they can eat whatever junk they want. It usually takes some time in college to realize that what you put into your body matters. And that sleep is your friend. It’s the king of recovery. Combining these new demands with academic pressures is no easy task. 

Celebrate the small victories. You need to have fun. Don’t binge drink or do drugs. Find a work / life balance that allows you to achieve your goals.

Manage your limited free time. Find a release/getaway from the grind – an activity that grounds you, that fuels you from the inside out and make that activity a foundational part of your weekly schedule. 

Many freshman will miss home. That’s normal. Some will struggle finding their place in the new hierarchy of the locker room. Understanding your place on the team, that new identity is the beginning to carving out your spot on the roster. Be patient. Managing self and outside expectations is a tricky business. Are you being hyped? Doubted? Avoid social media. None of that matters. When you figure that out, you’ll be free to grow. 

You belong. You’re good enough. The race is actually against yourself. You have four years to maximize your talents. So don’t rush, but don’t waste a day. Those who make slow and steady progress usually win the race.