Editor’s note: Originally published in January 2010, this article from coach Dylan Sheridan about defining toughness in college lacrosse is even more relevant in 2021. We hope you enjoy!
After reading [an old] article on “toughness” in college hoops, I instantly put it in terms of college lacrosse. As a player in college, I, (like Mr. Bilas) thought I was tough. I wasn’t. If it weren’t for some incredible teammates my career probably would have fizzled out after my sophomore year. I’ve had old coaches tell me that lacrosse is a game wasted on the youth. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’m starting to see their point. My biggest regret as a lacrosse player “is that I didn’t truly ‘get it’ much earlier in my playing career.”
Now, as a coach, my feeling about the composition of a truly great player has much less to do with size, strength, and athleticism and much more to do with character, toughness, and dedication.
At the end of last season, not much was made out of a kid like John Glynn (Cornell ’09). But every kid that first picks up a stick has been exposed to Mikey Powell. Marketing isn’t ahead of the curve in today’s lacrosse culture, it controls the curve. What’s been lost in the shuffle are the truly tough lacrosse players, the students of the game, the kids that make the smart play; plays that help their teams win.
Quite frankly, I feel there is a lack of toughness permeating throughout our sport. I believe in many ways style has transcended substance. The sad irony is that our sport, once considered exclusive, is actually losing its toughness during a period of huge gains in mainstream credibility.
Call me old school… but tilt, flow, and eye black don’t make you tough and won’t help you get a W. I’m a firm believer in the philosophy “look good to play good”, but lacrosse players today spend more time studying each other’s kits than they do their scouting reports. In an attempt to bridge the gap, I thought about some players from my generation that defined “toughness”. Guys like Will Patton (UCSB ‘05) and Steven Merrell (USD ’06).
Surprisingly, one of the toughest players I’ve ever been around is a product of Chapman University. By most accounts, Chaptown is Mecca for all aspiring lax bros: “babe city,” home of the undyrun and the flowbucket. Don’t get me wrong, the Panthers have had their share of great players, but as a fan and an opponent, Danny Metoyer was TOUGH.
Completely average height, a buck fifty (soaking wet), and yet the kid absolutely dominated the MCLA ranks throughout his career. Danny was perpetual motion; like Rip Hamilton or Ray Allen, but on the lacrosse field. Other than Chad Donnelly, there is nobody more integral to the growth of Chapman Lacrosse. Without Danny, there would be no Con Bro Chill. He was the embodiment of west coast lacrosse – adrenaline named socks after him – but make no mistake, Danny was all substance; Danny was the part, and looking the part came naturally.
Here are some ways toughness is exhibited in lacrosse:
Tough lacrosse players are smart. They hustle. They are constantly thinking ahead of the play. Tough players work hard to concentrate on every play. Nowhere is this more evident than in the clearing game. The tough player communicates who has onside responsibility. The lazy player uses dead ball situations to catch his breath, jogs, and his team gets burned by the quick whistle. The tough player understands the importance of being pre-whistle ready, sprints to his spot, even if it’s from the box to the far corner…especially if it’s to the far corner.
Tough attackmen ride hard. If defense wins championships, the toughest attackman realizes he becomes a defender the second the ball is turned over. Riding creates extra opportunities, often times easy transition goals. Riding disrupts substitutions and adds a dimension of pressure that wears down an opponent.
The lazy attackmen trails the ball carrier, throws a one handed hack, and hurts his team with penalties for slashing. Tough attackman do the work, take good pursuit angles, turn the ball carrier back toward pressure, and force them to make an extra pass. Tough players go as hard as they can for as long as they can. A tough player is not deterred by a missed shot. A tough player values his performance first by how well he defended.
NEVER STAND STILL
Toughest players rarely make skip passes. They communicate and carry the ball with confidence until a safe pass can be made. They seldom put their teammates in a bad spot to receive the ball. On the flipside, the toughest players never stand and watch. They keep their defender engaged at all times, making it difficult for their defender to talk and identify slides. They never wait on the pass; they always run to the ball. They understand how to use their own momentum to gain a step, even though it usually means absorbing a check.
WEAK SIDE D
The toughest defenders are in and out on a string. They understand team defense. They fill on the weak side no matter how quickly the opposition moves the ball, and they communicate what they’re seeing. When on defense, the tough defenders move as the ball moves. The toughest players move on the flight of the ball, not when it gets to its destination. In lacrosse, like basketball, defenders cannot see the ball and hug their man, because they are afraid to get beat. A tough defender plays the ball and sees his man. There is a difference.
STICKS HIS NOSE IN THERE, HENCE THE EXPRESSION “TOUGH NOSED”
Whether it’s at the X or right in front of the cage, the toughest players aren’t afraid to get hit. They’re usually in the middle of a GB scrum or catching and finishing in traffic. Tough players get hit, hard, a lot, and they pop right back up.
Whether it’s just getting the ball around or after a shot attempt, the toughest defensemen are in position to finish with a hard check: legal, annoying, often painful, reminders that they are gonna be there all day.
They don’t give up on a play or assume that a teammate will do it. A tough player plays through to the whistle. Tough players study the opponent. They understand the match ups, they work to exploit the mismatch, and they execute whether or not it means points in their stat column. Hockey assists aren’t a stat in lacrosse; however, the toughest players regularly draw the slide and unselfishly move the ball setting up his teammate two passes away.
TAKE AND GIVE CRITICISM
Tough players can take criticism without feeling the need to answer back or give excuses. They are open to getting better and expect to be challenged and hear tough things. You will never again in your life have the opportunity you have now at the college level: a coaching staff that is totally and completely dedicated to making you and your team better. Tough players listen and are not afraid to say what other teammates may not want to hear, but need to hear.
Tough players take nothing for granted. They keep their foot on the accelerator. Tough players don’t waste time celebrating a good play or lamenting a bad one. They don’t care about the weather. They don’t whine to officials, coaches, or teammates. They never react negatively to a mistake of a teammate.
They make the extra pass. They chase shots to the end line like their lives depend on the next possession. They move the ball immediately after getting it off the ground. They always look coaches and teammates in the eye, because if they are talking, it is important to them and to you. They treat the locker room better than they treat their pocket.
Tough players never cheat the game.