The Post-Game Handshake

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post-game-handshake

There is something sacred about the post-game handshake. It is a time when players and coaches put their competitive natures aside and congratulate one another on the game they all participated in. I always enjoy walking off the field as an official watching both teams cross and give one another a handshake. It is a special moment that epitomizes the ideal of respect for your opponent.

Then there is this:

That video of an adult coach tripping two youth hockey players is one of the most despicable actions I have ever seen. SportsCenter did a piece on this video, and apparently the coach was sentenced to fifteen days in prison for assault, 12 years of probation, and a lifetime ban from youth hockey coaching. One of the players that he tripped suffered a broken wrist.

I do not have enough negative words to describe the depths of my contempt for this coach. All I can really say after watching that video is that he broke the sacred trust between teams to not carry resentments from the game into the handshake. He also assaulted at thirteen year old – let’s not forget that.

In nearly every lacrosse game I have participated in as a player, coach, and official I have witnessed two teams cheer the efforts of their opponent and shake hands like gentlemen shortly after the final horn. I believe it is an essential element of a lacrosse game. Those handshakes put the game firmly in the books, and signifies the transition from competitors to citizens.

That transition is important for players of all ages. The handshake marks the end of all the trials that the players and the teams went through during the game, and shows that all the players on both teams are willing to move on no matter how the game ended. The hockey coach in that video decided to sully a sacred moment while the players on each team had their guards down. That is cowardly, cheap, and flat-out dirty.

Let’s all commit to giving the respect our opponents deserve by giving a firm handshake, and congratulating one another on a game well played.

Cheers,
Gordon

Observations From The First Day Of Practice

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practice-observations

Before I get into my observations I want to give a hearty congratulations to all of our players, parents, and coaches! We had a wonderful start Tuesday evening to the first of many practices for the spring season. The players shook off some rust from the offseason, and the coaches taught their players well. I am very pleased with how the first day of practice went for our U11 and U13 age divisions. As I told the coaches, I will be at each practice for the first two weeks to observe and help out any coaches that need an extra hand. So for the next two weeks get ready for a deluge of coaching posts!

The goal of the following notes is to provide our coaches with another resource to improve their coaching and teach their players more effectively. If anyone has any additional strategies that they’ve found useful over the years please comment in the comments section below!

Practice Observations (2/5/2013)

  • Warm ups
    • If you’re at a loss on what to do to warm up your players here is a short warm up that I’ve been using for years: http://ayllax.com/dynamic-warm-up. It is important to get your players moving their bodies in preparation for the work they are about to do. Take five minutes at the start of practice and get everyone warmed up.
  • I liked the ground ball work
    • Many coaches started right off with ground ball drills, which I’m a big fan of for youth players. Let’s face it, it takes players time before they are humming the ball in the air, and it makes sense to teach players how to effectively pick up a ground ball. There were many different drills that each coach preferred, but they all taught the same technique. Here’s a post on proper ground ball technique if anyone needs a refresher: http://ayllax.com/the-basics-ground-ball-pickup
  • Two minute explanations
    • I felt that there was a lot of explaining going on at both age levels. This is a common occurrence on the first few days of practice, but it can be a practice-killer if a coach takes too long explaining what the drill is. A good tip is to practice how your are going to explain a drill to your players, and try to keep that explanation under two minutes. Any longer and kids start going off into la-la land instead of paying close attention to you. Here is a post on keeping your explanations short and to the point: http://ayllax.com/three-steps
  • Have a practice plan!
    • I cannot emphasize this enough. Put your practice plan on your phone, on paper, or on and index card. Plan out drills that are eight to ten-minutes in length. Any longer and the kids get bored. Any shorter and the kids don’t have enough time to work on the skill.
  • The basics
    • You can’t go wrong if you focus on the basics for the first two weeks. There is no need for complicated drills that have a lot of moving parts. Before you graduate to transition work all your players need to be able to pass and catch. Focus on drills that give players lots of touches on the ball. Partner everyone up and pass and catch for ten minutes. In that amount of time they’ll get over a hundred touches on the ball.
    • Passing and catching, ground balls, running to space, shooting, and breaking down on defense. Those five things should be what a youth coach focuses on for at least the first two weeks. Let the experienced kids shake off the offseason rust, and let the beginners get a bunch of time with the ball in their stick.
  • Standing around
    • If you have a drill that involves half of your team standing around and watching the other half participate in the drill you are not using your time effectively. Use drills that get everyone working at the same time and keep standing time to a minimum. That means having four line drills instead of one. If you have more than three or four kids in a line you have a problem. The kids standing around will not be paying attention to anything. Remember, kids want to move so keep your explanations short and involve everyone in the drill.
  • If you are unsure – ask
    • If you are not 100% certain that what you are teaching your players is correct then wave down Coach Halperin or I. We are there to help you coach your players if you need some assistance. If you want to work on passing and catching but aren’t sure which drill would work best then get our attention and we will get your players into a new drill.

Too often we coaches can get wrapped up in getting our young players to execute a ridiculously complicated, but very cool, new drill. Remember to start with the basics and lay a strong foundation for your team by getting everyone to a level where they can perform those fundamentals consistently. Only then can you start coaching the more complex strategies of lacrosse.

If anyone has any questions you can put them in the comments section below or email me at rules@ayllax.com.

Cheers,
Gordon

Stop Scrimmaging

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Every coach hears the question, “Can we scrimmage today?” Here is your answer: “No, we have a practice plan to follow.” Helpful hint: actually have a practice plan on paper or on your phone that you can refer to during practice.

If I’ve learned one thing coaching lacrosse it is that kids do not like being told no. They also forget that you said no very quickly if you get them moving into some sort of drill. Then they’re more focused on the drill than the fact that they aren’t scrimmaging. You have to be strong as a coach to resist the urge to scrimmage instead of completing drills because scrimmaging should be used sparingly.

Look at high school teams in Georgia. They usually scrimmage another team once prior to the regular season starting up. In practice they rarely do full-field scrimmages unless they are working on a particular transition from defense to offense. What I find strange is the number of youth coaches that just scrimmage their kids on almost every practice. Just scrimmaging is the mark of a poor coach and an even poorer teacher.

Our job as coaches is to teach the game, not officiate a scrimmage each and every day. If all or most of what you are doing at practice is scrimmaging you are doing your players a disservice because you have no control over what happens. Drills allow coaches to put players in unique situations that they are likely to face in a game but in a concentrated way that get the players focused on what to do when something happens. Drills, especially when conducted in a confined area, teach players that space is valuable, which translates to kids finding space when they play a game. Practices where the bulk of time is spent scrimmaging is a very passive way to coach a team. You cannot focus on teaching the kids any one thing because as soon as something happens, something else happens that demands their attention.

Drills are a scalpel, while scrimmages are a broad paintbrush. You can accomplish so much more in a practice that has ten drills designed to simulate in-game situations than scrimmaging ever will. Even more, you will be able to focus on individual players more often because you will see their mistakes more clearly. For instance, in a scrimmage a couple of kids will shoot the ball, but in a shooting drill every kid will shoot the ball over two dozen times. That allows you to see the problems in their shooting mechanics and correct it immediately and then the player can apply your teaching for the next two dozen shots.

My other beef with scrimmage-happy coaches is that scrimmages tend to highlight the better players at the expense of the less-skilled ones. The better players tend to get the ball more often and the less-skilled players are often left standing around wondering what they are supposed to do. Drills include every single player regardless of ability. So what if your least-skilled player misses every pass to him in a line drill? He at least got to see passes. If he were in a scrimmage he would likely never be passed the ball because the more-skilled players don’t want to chance him dropping the ball. These scrimmages reinforce to the better players that they are better than they think they are, and tell the less-skilled players that they aren’t worth much.

Finally, my biggest problem with scrimmages is that it is a telltale sign that the coach didn’t put in any work for the practice. Forget to put together your practice plan? Scrimmage! Don’t know what to do? Scrimmage! It gets the kids moving and the coach barely has to invest any energy for the entire practice. As I said earlier, doing this is a disservice to your players. They deserve more. Coaches need to plan out their practices. Spend an hour on Sunday night planning out the three, four, or five practices you have that week. Your players may be bummed that they don’t get to scrimmage, but they will appreciate a well-run practice that keeps them moving and learning something new.

Cheers,
Gordon