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Hot Pot: The Risks Of Being Creative

When creativity is done right, it can manifest unbelievable, must-be-seen-with-your-own-eyes moments, but truly creative approaches don’t always work. Sometimes the fundamentals get the job done just fine, and excess creativity only gets in the way. So what are some of the risks of creativity, how can we counteract those risks, and where does creativity fit into the sport of lacrosse?

Being Creative – The Good

Creative play, or coming up with something not often done, can throw another team off balance. When it all comes together, it can result in magic. But all alone, creative play will not win you every game. You also need a strong foundation of skill, athleticism, and teamwork. Denver has been a really good example of creative play in college lacrosse recently. They can hold the ball for long periods of play, and do run a recognizable offense, but they also score some nifty goals, which are bred from talent and creativity, being used within a system. Duke players were also allowed to do some creative things when dodging last year, but they didn’t just launch right into it. The Duke players used a system of offense to set up the D and then got creative. Both teams embody a right way to do it.

Duke vs Denver mens lacrosse 2014 Final Four NCAA Championships Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan

Being Creative – The Bad

I won’t single a team out here because we’ve all seen them, and they show up at every level: The Recklessly Creative Team. This group will force everything, and set up nothing. It’s a lot of flash, much of it needless, little organization, and a lot of forced creativity. Behind the back passes for no reason, dodges in short man situations that result in turnovers, lots of 1 on 1 dodging… you know what I’m talking about.

It’s creativity overload, where everyone just does whatever they want. When the team is athletic and skilled, it can work up to a certain point. When they face off with an organized team of similar ability though, this reckless team often crumbles. I actually celebrate this free-wheeling style of play, and enjoy being a part of teams like that, but I also know it does not help to win the big game. Cohesion matters, and too much creativity can disrupt that badly.

Not Being Creative At All – Also Bad

Speaking of not winning the big game, let’s talk about teams that seem to lack creativity altogether. I have never been a fan of this style of lacrosse, and while I believe it results in winning the games you should, I’m not a big believer in playoff success with this model. Consistency is great, but only to a point, and that point is predictability. Eventually, you will run into a team that prepares well, runs schemes as well as you do, and can prepare for your approach. Without any creative play, or change in scheme, my bet is that the predictable team will go down.

Maybe the first time this happens, your team wins. But at some point you’re going to be down 2 goals with a couple minutes left and you’ll need to pull out a win. A predictable team can struggle greatly here. For a while, it seemed like Hopkins was going down this road, but last year was a real change, and I was incredibly impressed with what I saw. When the Blue Jays realize and implement change, you need to pay attention. Last year’s Hop squad played more freely than they had in recent years. Expect more of that this year, and more success.

Duke vs Johns Hopkins mens lacrosse 2014 NCAA quarter final creative

How Is This Done? Practiced Creativity

As a coach, you can’t just tell your players to “go be creative”. It won’t pay off. Practice presents the opportunity to practice creativity. For example, if you want to encourage players to engage in more 2 man games off of ground balls in the offensive zone because you think that your team can handle chaos well, then practice it. A lot. Spend 15 minutes a day running 2 on 2 ground ball to 2 man game possession with your middies and then watch that show up in other places on the field during games.

Want your attack to run more pick and roll from behind the cage? Set up your shooting drills so that every pass from an attackman is off of a pick and roll. Drill the movements into their heads. Repeat, repeat, repeat. This allows players to become comfortable doing something, and enables them to see it from multiple angles and at different speeds. If you want your poles to work on double teams, allow the poles to play 3 on 3 or 4 on 4 half court and keep track of goals AND successful double teams. Both count for points and push ups.

The point for coaches is to find the aspects of the game where they want more creative play, and then create drills and situations to nurture comfortability in those exercises.

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Of course players don’t get off that easy! They need to do work on their own outside of practice. No one has ever been able to throw a flip pass perfectly right away. It might not take a ton of time to learn how to do, but it does take practice. The behind the back may take even more practice, and so on. These extra skills, which can be seen as flashes of brilliant creativity, are really just practiced habits for the greats. I would bet Lyle Thompson had passed the ball one handed in his backyard a couple hundred times before he did it in a game. Same goes for Casey Powell, or John Grant Jr, or any of the other creative players of our day.

Creativity Comes From…

At the end of the day, creativity really comes from comfort. The game slows down, and your skill and comfort allow amazing things to happen. For those watching at home (including yours truly), these amazing feats zoom by in a flash. For those doing them, it’s just time as it normally passes. This all comes from skill-derived comfort, athleticism, and understanding of the game. It’s not a gift. It’s something you work at tirelessly because you love it.

Iroquois Nationals vs Australia Sharks 2014 World Lacrosse Championships creative

If you’re asking what makes me qualified to write a story like this, it is from speaking with those who show true creativity and comfort. It is not from personal experience. If you put a team of “me”s out there on the field we would very closely resemble the aforementioned Recklessly Creative Team. Lots of awful BTBs. Not good.

Creativity is a natural part of lacrosse, and like all other skills in the game, it can be practiced. So get to it. Understand the game, master your stick, play together, and creativity will come.