Category Archives: Parents

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

That’s A Stupid Rule

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“That’s stupid.”, “That’s a stupid rule.”, “We don’t use those rules, they’re stupid.”

When I hear these comments from players, coaches, fans, parents, program administrators, or tournament organizers I always take a breath to settle myself. This prevents me from starting an argument that I have no hope of winning. I usually hear the following from each group:

  • A player after calling him for withholding when he loses his crosse with the ball in it:
    • “What?! I get a chance to get my stick back! That’s a dumb rule.” 
  • A coach after flagging his #1 player for delay of game when he rolled the ball away:
    • “You’ve got to be kidding me, he was rolling it to where the restart was going to be anyway! That’s a ridiculous rule!”
  • A parent after I flag his nine year old for launching his body like a SCUD missile into the helmet of an unaware opponent:
    • “You guys take all the fun out of a physical game with these stupid rules!”
  • A program administrator explaining to me that I am to play the game without NOCSAE balls:
    • “I don’t think there is any real difference between NOCSAE balls and non-NOCSAE balls. That was a stupid rule they put in, and we choose not to use those balls in our games.”
  • A tournament organizer on goalie arm pads at the youth level:
    • “It doesn’t protect the goalies from shots, and it’s unnecessary equipment. It’s a stupid rule that doesn’t do anything.”

Ask anyone that knows me and they’ll tell you that I love a good rules discussion. I like bouncing weird situations off my fellow officials and then seeing who is right. If I’m right I have a mini-parade in my head complete with Matthew Broderick singing “Twist and Shout.” If I’m wrong I feel bad and try to remember if I misapplied the rule in any earlier game I reffed. Those are great rules discussions because there isn’t much emotion involved since officials look at the rules as nothing more than the rules. We just want to know how to apply the written rules in the fairest way possible.

I prefer to look at the rules from an officiating perspective because they make the most sense from that perspective, which is why some rules grate on every other group involved in the game. I know because I’ve been in every one of the positions listed above except for parent and can understand those perspectives. However, as soon as someone tells me that a rule is stupid I lose a great deal of respect for their position, especially if that is their only reasoning.

The argument of “that’s stupid” worked brilliantly for me and my friends during recess in elementary school. Somewhere between learning how to write a five paragraph essay and balancing an algebraic equation it was impressed upon me that the argument “that’s stupid” is pretty stupid. It doesn’t work in school, higher education, or any planning meeting I’ve ever sat on. I can’t tell a client that his idea is stupid without also having a very well-reasoned argument behind my position (and telling the client that his idea is stupid is rarely a good way to win him over to my position). Yet for reasons unknown to me “that’s stupid” is the fallback position for most people who disagree with youth rules, and their follow up argument generally goes one of two ways. Either, “that’s just how I feel,” or, “they’re ruining the game.”

I think it is time to destroy both of these tired arguments:

  • “That’s just how I feel.”
    • I get this one. I feel strongly about lots of issues. It’s the nature of being human, but feelings are terrible guides for rules. Some people feel youth goalkeepers should not be required to wear arm pads during games because they need to learn how to deal with getting whacked in the elbows when they reach an older age level, and elbow pads don’t provide protection against really hard shots and tend to limit a goalkeeper’s movement. That’s the feeling. The reason this rule was put into place is because across the country moms, dads, grandparents, coaches, and players from the opposing team would shout “Elbows! Goalie is out, get him!” whenever a goalkeeper ran out of the crease. Which led to several youth goalkeepers getting their arms bruised and broken. Feelings should never be a reason to disregard safety rules or required equipment, which, contrary to public belief, have solid logic behind them.
  • “They’re ruining the game.”
    • Ah the mysterious cabal of cloaked people who meet in a darkened alcove during a full moon and discuss how best to ruin lacrosse as we know it. The group of which everyone speaks but no one researches is the Men’s Game Rules Subcommittee, and that group is listed on the last page of the 2014 US Lacrosse Boys Youth Lacrosse Rules PDF, and unlike the Illuminati they ask for feedback: “Please send all comments or suggestions regarding the Rules for Boys’ Youth Lacrosse to the US Lacrosse Men’s Game Rules Subcommittee […] to boysyouthrules@uslacrosse.org. Please do not contact NFHS about these rules.” Here is a helpful hint: don’t send emails saying that a rule is stupid. A more reasoned argument is necessary.
    • To the other part of this poor argument – If you believe that the Men’s Game Rules Subcommittee, the NFHS, or the NCAA is trying to ruin the game with new rules then I want to know exactly when the game was perfect. Was it where it needed to be prior to being discovered by French Jesuit missionaries? Or were the rules William George Beers established in 1869 plenty? Wait, I’ve got it. The argument isn’t that the game is being ruined by new rules because if that were true then the game was ruined well before the 20th century. In fact, this really isn’t an argument. It’s just whining.
    • The one gripe I hear the most is that “they’re ruining the game by taking out hitting.” I hate to burst the bubble of these individuals, but William Beers, who wrote the first standard rules of lacrosse, stated that: “‘The perfection of checking is to check without hitting your opponent’ and that actually hitting an opponent with a check [or body] was indicative of bad or unskillful play (178, 201).” Hitting was never in the game to start with as a legal action and happened to be looked down upon. So in a sense, the game was ruined by the introduction of hitting, and all these groups are trying to do is make a contact sport as safe as possible for your child to play. What a horrible group of people.

The rules are going to change. The only reason I don’t like the rules changing is that it’s more work for me. I have to read each book and study up on how to apply new rules as fairly as possible while remembering the numerous exceptions to the old ones, but I don’t reflexively say “that’s stupid” when I come across a rule I personally disagree with because that accomplishes nothing. Do some research, come up with a better argument and then we’ll talk.

Cheers,
Gordon