Editor’s Note: For the fastest game on two feet, it takes more than fast feet to become a good or exceptional lacrosse player. Given the fast paced nature and how quick a game-time situation can change, it’s important for a player to always have his or her head in the game, and to be mentally prepared to respond to any situation a game may bring. “Up Your Game” is our newest series for lacrosse players who wants to not only gain the mental edge, but play the game with greater concentration, composure and confidence.[mks_separator style=”solid” height=”2″]
In working with lacrosse players, I often talk about the importance of visualizing how you want to play. In developing the “Mental Prep Playbook” for players, I designed a format or process to help them learn how to visualize and mentally rehearse their performances. Here are the 5 steps to developing this skill:
- Identify the specific play or game-time situation.
- Identify your primary role and responsibility for that play or situation.
- Identify your personal strengths as a player for that play or situation.
- Identify a series of visual & verbal cues for the mental rehearsal of the successful performance.
- Identify a positive feeling from that performance.
It’s important that you practice these visualizations or mental rehearsals on a regular basis. You can incorporate them in your practice seasons as well as doing them on a morning of a game. The more you practice these visualizations the more you will feel mentally prepared for whatever may happen in an upcoming game, and you will find yourself playing with more composure and confidence.
Q&A with Damon Legato
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to Damon Legato, who just finished his fifth season as the head coach for the boy’s lacrosse team at Haddonfield High School, New Jersey. Damon played lacrosse at Moorestown High School (NJ) and then went to Greensboro College (NC) to continue playing the game. After graduating from college, he returned as a coach at Moorestown High School and helped the team win a state championship. When you read this interview, you will know why Damon was recently selected as the top boy’s lacrosse high school coach in Southern New Jersey.
What do you think are important qualities, with regards to mental skills and mental preparation, for a lacrosse player, especially those in high school or for those who may want to play up at the collegiate level?
DL: I think it is important for an athlete to set goals. It is then equally if not more important to visualize these happening, staying focused on the goals no matter what and reflect on the attempts to reach those goals.
As a former player, what were important mental skills for you (how you mentally prepared yourself to play) when you were playing in high school and college?
DL: I prepared myself in practice physically so I had confidence in my ability going into games. I don’t think I had a great understanding of the game honestly. I would focus and memorize our scouting reports and visualize how I was going to execute different schemes based on the scouting report. When I visualized I would do it with as much detail as possible. Literally thinking of how it would look down to the grass being torn up from my cleats. I felt that as a player if I would prepare mentally it would reduce the amount of stress involved in a game which would allow me to focus on other aspects. Mental preparation was and is still a big part of my game.
As a high school coach, what mental skills do you work on with players, and how do you help them get mentally prepared to play?
DL: Stress can reduce the ability to think, communicate and make quick decisions. I try to reduce the mental stress in our players by helping the players to understand how and what we are going to do, what our strengths and weaknesses are vs the upcoming opponent, and how to recover from mistakes.
I start with making sure they understand what “we” need to do. From running an offensive set to sliding in a specific defense, we need to know how to execute. While doing this, we try to create the intensity of a game in practice every day. The coaches will increase and sometime decrease their intensity to prepare the players for the stress of a game.
I feel the more we can simulate the level of competition we see in a game, the less stress our players will feel during a game. For example, we will drill our players on the last two minutes of a game frequently as this can be one of the most stressful times.
Then I try to teach why we are doing it to an upcoming team and give our team a scouting report so they can start mentally preparing themselves on what they need to do individually. This is where personal performance, personal goals and team goals are reflected upon by our staff and players. We set specific goals for each team we are playing and it is up to each player to be accountable for contributing to these goals.
For instance, our face-off middie has a percentage that he needs to reach in order for us to be successful. Our defense might have a goal of shutting down a player and keeping the opponent to 5 or less goals, and our offense may have a goal of scoring in transition two times.
There is a level of expectation from the coaches and players that puts pressure on all of us to perform but I try to reduce the stress of making a mistake. In practice, we might increase the intensity when dealing with players who make a mistake.
I think it is difficult sometimes to make a player accountable for their mistakes but still have them understand that it’s ok to make a mistake. We all make mistakes but its how we recover from them that makes us successful in a game.
My goal is to have the team feeling confident when they step on the field because they have a clear understanding of who we are facing and what we need to do to win the game. After that, I want them to play fast and give their maximum effort without worrying about making a mistake.
During a game, what do you think are the biggest challenges to a player’s mental game and what can a player do to keep his head in the game?
DL: I think that the biggest mental challenge for a player during a game is having confidence in their game and being able to control their emotion while executing the game plan. I think that as a player I would enter each game with a lot of emotion coupled with some anxiety. I found that when I would calm myself down I played better and was able to think better.
During the game, we have a few things that we do to keep the players’ head in the game. We establish goals for each game, quarter, position and player. These goals help the players to work towards more than just a win. We also try to mentally prepare the team by providing them with objectives prior to each quarter as well as during time outs. Not getting caught in the emotion, staying focused on the game plan.
Given your experiences with the Braveheart program, would you have any thoughts or recommendations as to what lacrosse players can work on to improve their mental game while playing on a summer lacrosse club?
DL: I think the summer can be more difficult than the regular season. I would recommend the players focus first on keeping their emotions in check. This usually occurs when they are confident in their ability and their teammates. Being that there are different levels of summer ball I would recommend players work on different aspects of mental preparation prior to and during the game.
If the player is on a team where they are attending showcase tournaments and camps for recruiting purposes then they will really need to focus on multiple aspects of their game. Mentally their approach to each performance is critical as well as how they react to live situations. In this case, visualizing prior to games is important. Visualizing not only how to perform during good times but also how to react to adverse situations that may arise. You never know when the college coaches are watching.