Category Archives: Parents

Investing In Blowout Scores

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The summer tournament season is nearly over, and I, as usual, am grateful. The summer grinds on players, coaches, refs, parents, and organizers. There is a lot of travel, it’s freaking hot, and the days are long. With team fees, tournament fees, travel fees, hotel fees, and buying yet another tournament t-shirt the adults at tournaments easily throw down a few thousand dollars by the end of the summer. All of that money generates momentum to crushing less-skilled opponents by obscene scores. The more summer tournaments I officiate the more I see the pressure to win games by large margins, and it is because of a very adult idea: investing.

A few thousand dollars represents a decent investment for pretty much every working adult, and we have the adult idea that putting money down will result in a reward later on. Kids do not understand this no matter how often they are told. I didn’t fully understand the importance of money until I got my first utility bill – that brought a lesson my middle school history teacher Mrs. Woods expounded on in almost every class: “there is no such thing as a free lunch in this world.” The players want to play, and the fact that you put down money for them to play does not factor into their experience or drive their on-field performance. The monetary investment parents make in summer tournaments creates an incentive to reduce the risk of losing as much as possible by the adult coaches.

As an official, I experience my fair share of running time games during the regular season, and in nearly all of them by the time the goal differential is ten or twelve goals most of the starters are sitting on the bench. Typically the final score ends up something like 13-4, 12-5, or 15-10. The winning team is never in any real danger of losing the game. Contrast that to the common final scores I run into during the summer like 22-0, 18-1, and 17-2. Those are scores played with the mercy rule in effect where the losing team was at least six goals behind and got the ball in lieu of a face off. To hammer this point home consider these two situations I ran into this summer at the U11 age level:

  • Final Score 18-3: The winning team kept all the starters in (roughly 22 players on the team), and doubled the ball at the midfield when the losing team was given the ball at Center X. Most of the players on the losing team didn’t have a solid skill foundation, and each time I blew the ball in the losing team midfielder got stripped and watched his counterpart on the other team waltz past stationary defenders for a point-blank shot.
  • Final Score 17-2: I purposefully did not call a technical foul against the losing team. Their player released early from their penalty early in the 4th quarter and the winning team coach was beside himself that I would permit such a travesty. I had heard enough and told him I saw the early release, but was not going to make the call. To which he replied – “Goal differential is important in this tournament sir.” Now he had a legitimate point, but goal differential happened to be the third tiebreaker behind head-to-head and goals against. Sometimes it is the job of a youth official to save an adult coach from himself. Also, the ball had crossed to the other side of the field all of five times by the end of the game, and I was tired of watching the losing team goalkeeper getting shelled. I didn’t feel bad about ignoring that technical, and I still don’t.

Teams are silently, and not-so-silently, encouraged to run up the score whenever they can just so they don’t risk being on the losing end of a tiebreaker by the end of pool play. I see this consistently from U11 all the way to U19A division games over the summer. Every time I look over at the winning coaches and want to say – “Really? Does #12 really need to score seven goals? Is there no one else who can shoot on the bench?” It is possible to sub players out when the game is well in hand, or at the very least switch up the lefty attacker to the other side of the cage so he can practice shooting with his right hand.

I also get confused by the parents cheering for their team’s eighteenth goal just as hard as they did for the first goal – “Congratulations, your team can score against zero defensive pressure! This is a marvel to be celebrated!” To these parents I ask what is the greater accomplishment – scoring two natural hat tricks against a defense that cannot talk or move and a goalkeeper that is facing the wrong direction, or scoring two goals against a defense that slides well and a goalkeeper who tracks the ball?

When I played my coach had a rule for the starters and second stringers every game – do your job. Against lesser-skilled teams we had to go to work. Once we put up eight goals and shut down the opposing offense our job was done, and he subbed us out for the sophomores and freshman. We were never worried that we’d lose the game, but we also weren’t going to go out of our way to show our superiority. Beating a team by such wide margins is not a demonstration of skill – that was demonstrated when the winning team scored six goals in the first four minutes. Put in players that need more experience, slow down the offense a bit, and don’t do a ten man ride because it might be a good idea for your defense to see at least one settled possession before going up against a better team in bracket play.

Cheers,
Gordon

If you don’t recognize the featured image check out my favorite Mayhem commercial:

http://youtu.be/PVo0eoIUFVU

We Forgot

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This post was inspired by The New York Times Article “Sports Should Be Child’s Play

We forgot how hard the game was starting off. We got to a point after a few years of playing where the game clicked and now we have trouble relating to those who don’t get it yet. We lost the perspective we had as children putting on unfamiliar equipment and stepping onto a large playing surface. We did not fully understand the game we were playing, and we weren’t supposed to. We were children, and then we grew up and forgot.

Every so often when coaching young players the thought “how the heck have you not gotten this yet?” passes through my head after a player continues to struggle in some aspect of the game. It’s a thought born out of frustration and a lack of control. At least once a season every coach will put their hands on their hips, look at the ground, and slowly shake their heads. This happens at the highest levels of lacrosse, but is most frequent in the U9 and U11 age levels. The frustration comes from a lack of perspective when dealing with players that young. I can relate to players in college and high school because I have distinct memories from those times in my life. I get where those players are coming from, but I have a hard time understanding what is going through the mind of a nine year old because I’m too far removed from that age.

Despite coaching young players for the last several years I still don’t know how to think like a little kid. I can coach them and recognize when they need a breather from instruction, but I definitely get frustrated when a player keeps passing into the double team despite three weeks of explaining why that pass is a bad idea. I have to bite back from yelling at a kid “this isn’t that hard!” But it is hard, and that’s why the game is both fun and challenging. It is difficult to learn how to catch and throw on the run while being pursued by opponents wearing hard plastic equipment, and be expected to make the correct decision with the ball under pressure. I constantly remind myself to be patient with youth players because I don’t remember how I used to process new information at that age. I can either assist the player at their individual level or I can try to force the player to learn like a few coaches I observe.

During summer tournaments I see a wide range of coaching styles in a single day. By far the most effective youth lacrosse teams I see have a coach or coaching staff that gives specific instructions to their players for the game situation, and does not accuse players of screwing up. I do not write effective to mean these teams win every game and beat the spread. I consider effective teams as ones where the players play the best lacrosse they can between the first and final whistles, and the coaches don’t abandon instruction at the first sign of trouble. Along the same lines I do not believe in accusing players of screwing up. That does not mean I do not hold players accountable for their mistakes at any level, but I do scale down the level of vehemence in my voice to the age of the players. I expect a high school player to be able to take a verbal tongue-lashing, understand why his screw up hurt the team, resolve to not make the same mistake again, compartmentalize my comments as being in the heat of the moment, and then go onto the field and make a good play. I have yet to see a nine year old respond in a similar manner to a coach pulling him up by his facemask (yes I have seen this), and wondering out loud how this particular player could even consider making such an egregious mistake. It’s not that these coaches are bad people. Most of them just forgot what it was like to play a competitive game as a child, and attempt to apply motivation in the same manner they received it when playing a sport in high school or college.

In an effort to remind adults how big the game used to feel, “USA Hockey […] recently invited adults to play on a 310-by-130-foot ice rink to show them what it’s like for an 8-year-old to play on a regulation rink. The grown-ups’ assessments: “too much time between the action”; “it’s hard to communicate because everyone is spread out so far”; “you end up spending a lot of time in open space.”

A regulation hockey rink is 200ft x 85ft. For the rink in the video above they multiplied the length and width by 1.5. Doing the same to a regulation lacrosse field at 110yds x 60 yds, we get a scaled up field of 165yds x 90yds! That would make the distance from goal to goal, normally 80 yards, a whopping 135 yards. A clearing midfielder would have to run over the length of a regulation lacrosse field just to play defense on the other side of the field using these scaled up measurements. That is a long, long way to run for any adult on a midfield line, but run that a few times and you’ll see just how tough it is for a young player to get settled on a field that feels much larger to them than it does to us. Then you’ll be reminded to take a breather the next time your player passes into double coverage.

He’ll learn eventually but you’ve got to be patient, and try to see if a different way of explaining or demonstrating will work better. It sounds strange, but we as adults must remember to not forget. These are just little kids playing a game, and we best serve our players and the game by keeping that perspective.

Featured Image Credit – http://www.usahockey.com

Cheers,
Gordon

No Biting

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I never thought I’d have a reason to write a post titled “No Biting” but I was wrong. Luis Suarez of Uruguay was recently suspended for nine matches and four months for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in their World Cup match. That is quite the hefty suspension, but considering Suarez was suspended twice before for biting an opponent I’m not surprised at the length of this suspension. You know, that bears repeating. This individual has bitten opposing players more than once before! Wow.

What I find worse than the bite is the foolish defense his coach gave after the game. “Óscar Tabárez, the Uruguayan coach, also said he had not seen the incident (nor any video or photographs of it afterward), but he leapt to Suárez’s defense anyway, vehemently attacking journalists for, in his opinion, unfairly targeting Suárez. Tabárez added: ‘This is a football World Cup, not about morality, cheap morality‘ (www.nytimes.com).” That last line is telling. This coach, in defending his star player, wants us all to believe that the ends justify the means at the World Cup. This blithe comments does a lot of damage because it implies that winning a game or being a remarkably good player is more important than the manner in which the game is won.

Lacrosse has a long history of honoring the game, but those of us in lacrosse do not have a monopoly on honor in sports. Every team and individual sport I’ve participated in reinforced the ideals of:

  • Modesty
  • Courtesy
  • Integrity
  • Compassion
  • Gratitude
  • Perseverance
  • Self Control
  • Indomitable Spirit

Those are the words I recited before and after every youth kickboxing class at Tiger Academy, and every other sport I played growing up helped instill those words to my core. Biting his opponent means Suarez had zero self-control, no courtesy, very little compassion, and a complete lack of integrity.

As someone who coaches and interacts with youth players on a regular basis I cannot tell you how much damage the win at all costs mentality does to young players. If we as the adults do not strongly condemn the public actions of players like Suarez and then sit the kids down to explain that poor behavior and actions leads to severe consequences, we will see more players acting poorly on the grandest stages.

I remember a practice from my high school days where a few of my teammates got detention for not tucking their shirts into their pants during the school day as per the dress code. After detention these players came to the field, got dressed, and joined us late. Our coach put us through our paces as usual, and then the last fifteen minutes of practice were spent running Sprints with Wisdom.

My teammates and I sprinted the full length of the field down and back. We were provided a short rest after each sprint during which our coach espoused the hidden meaning behind the dress code:

“You are men! You are not supposed to care what you look like! If you are supposed to wear a belt you wear a belt! If you are supposed to tuck in your shirt then you tuck in your shirt!”

whistle

“You do not give a teacher attitude when you get called out for ignoring the rule!”

whistle

“You don’t get detention for dressing like a fool when you have a job. You get fired!”

whistle

“You are wasting practice time because you cannot tuck in your shirts! You are men, you do not care what you look like. Tuck in your shirt, wear a belt, and un-pop the collar!”

Those are Sprints with Wisdom. The violation was small. Not tucking in your shirt is not on the same level as biting someone, but tucking in your shirt demonstrates Modesty and Self-Control. When young players are given the opportunity to screw up on little things the adults around them are responsible for correcting them until the lesson sticks. That way players learn to demonstrate attitudes and attributes that are valued in society before they start biting people because they got bumped into on the lacrosse field.

Featured Image Credit – http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/28023882

Cheers,
Gordon