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The Importance of Skill Development

Editor’s Note: After a brief hiatus, Scott Umberger is back with revolutionary thoughts on training to become a better lacrosse player.  If you think he’s just going to promote more time in the gym, you’re wrong. This guy knows what he’s talking about… so listen up laxers – little and big laxers alike!

The Set-Up

It’s that time of year, boys and girls.  Your season starts in a month.  And after the season starts, it’s off to summer leagues and then back into fall ball.  Before you know it, you’re getting recruited as a high school Junior or you’re trying to get noticed as a late bloomer your Senior year.  The time flies by.

When I coached high school football, I would always tell the seniors that the next 10-12 weeks (camp) will be the fastest of your life.  When I coach/develop athletes, regardless of their sports, I always try to look at their development on an annual basis. I would actually prefer to develop athletes on a multi-year basis, but our athletic system doesn’t really permit proper development, like Russia and other “Eastern Bloc” countries.

Even the Russian Prime Minister works out every day!

For a high school Junior or Senior, weight training usually goes into a maintenance mode during the season.  Weight training needs to be done in season, however it’s done to keep the athlete strong and healthy as well as keep them familiar with the strength training movements.  My point is that some time needs to be spent in the weight room the ENTIRE year.  If you take the “season off’ then you will loose many of the gains that you worked so hard to make in the offseason. Like your skills, strength is developed through years of hard work that is built upon monthly. For your information, an athlete CAN NOT be explosive if they are not strong.

Summer and Skillz

A proper training program can be structured to utilize summer weekend tournaments for speed work and skill execution. But right now, I’m going to drop something on you that you aren’t used to hearing from an American coach.

Your skill development should be #1 on your list of priorities.  In the US, we spend 80-90% of our time on tactics and strategy (playing games).  The rest is left for skill development.  For a quick anecdotal example, when I was a kid growing up playing YMCA basketball we would spend 2 weeks on skills and then play the season.  2 WEEKS!   No wonder so few of us could play defense, shoot, or be effective in 2-on-2’s.

On the other end of the spectrum, Robert Morris University’s Lax team has two players that were named pre-season All-Americans.  They are both Canadians.  In RMU’s very young program they have come out of nowhere to “be a game” for any team in the country.  The cornerstone of the team consists of Canadians whom have grown up playing Box Lax.  These players aren’t great athletes for the most part, but they are ridiculously skilled.  I’m talking freak-nasty here, boys.  Their exceptional skill has allowed them to play with and beat teams with much better traditional talent and better athletes.

So what does this mean to you?  Practice your skills.  Practice them in a way in which you are going to use them in the game.  Think about it: When is the last time that you took a shot without someone hacking the hell out of you? Long poles, when have you made a zone clearing pass to a middie who is wide open standing still?

victorias-secret lax chicky-1
Models date guys like Tom Brady (skill) not Ray Lewis (strength) even though both are very good.

My point is that 80% of the passes in Lax are from moving players to moving players.  Does your skill work reflect this? How many of you shoot on empty nets from a stand still without anyone covering you or in your face?  The answer is ALL of you!

The Big Picture


ref ball shot
Don’t drop the ball on your skill development.

This was your year before you read this post…

– Your pre-season starts around mid January with maybe some skill work
– Season starts around March with the majority of the time spent on installing systems
– You play around 20 games plus playoff in your high school season
– Summer hits and you play a game or two a week with 3-5 weekend tourneys
– Fall Ball has you practicing once or twice a week with a game or two a week
– You spend way to much time looking at your flow in the mirror.

At what point in this schedule do you become a better player?  Learning a coach’s system makes you better at that system.  Guess what? Coaches Dave Pietramala or John Desko don’t care how you run some high school or club offense/defense.  Coaches in the NLL /MLL don’t care what you did in college.  Pro Lax is another level.  What determines if a player can play at the next level is their skill set.

How often do you improve your skills?  At least 80% of your year has been spent on games and the implementation of team systems.

Coach K (Duke Hoops) only allows his players to spend 25% of their summer playing games.  He doesn’t seem to do too bad with the “Larry Birds” he has on his team

You’re all Laxers and you with have iPhones and/or Flip cameras. Take videos of yourself doing your skill work. Watch the pros who are hard working technicians.  (Not the guys who are pure talent that are plain lazy.)  Then compare yourself.

If you improved your overall skill 5-10% per year, you’ll be pretty nasty in 5 years.  NO ONE makes those kinds of consistent improvements because NO ONE spends time on their skills!

I’m not a Lax Coach, but I study human performance ad nausea; what I say it true.

If you want to be like everyone else, do what everyone else does.  Regardless of the sport in the US, we don’t spend enough time mastering skills.  Be different.  Become the best athlete that you can be, with the nastiest skill set in the country.

(Main photo credit: Con Bro Chill Boomtown Commercial)