Parsimonious is a scientific term that effectively means to phrase something as simply as possible. The longer and more convoluted a statement is the less parsimonious it becomes. Now why am I drudging out scientific nomenclature in regards to youth lacrosse? Put parsimoniously, I want coaches to stick with the basics.
In my ten years of coaching and officiating youth lacrosse I have seen a lot of varying coaching styles. Some successful, and others not so successful. Please note that I equate successful youth coaching to how much their players improve over the course of the season. Not how many wins or losses a team accumulates due to the coach or coaching style. The best youth coaches I see generally do two things very well. One, they maintain discipline. One coach uses a particularly effective technique where he shouts out “Ready!” When he says “ready” all of his players snap their eyes to him and shout back “Focus!” I’ve seen this coach calm down an entire team with that one technique. The second thing that the best youth coaches do well is they have a simplistic game plan.
Here is where some youth coaches and I part ways. I personally think that the simpler an offensive and defensive scheme is, the more efficiently a youth team will perform. This goes against a lot of youth coaches that dream up cool plays, or zone defenses for their teams, and then whiteboard them to the whole team on game day. I have seen a lot of confused looks on many players trying to remember their job on the “Indigo Blue 31″ play. This does not mean that a team should not have some set plays, or set defenses. What I am stressing here is the need to keep things simple.
For instance, last season a coach was unable to show up to coach his team. No problem, we are lucky enough to have staff on hand for these instances. It just so happened that my name was next in the rotation to coach so I strolled over to the team as they were warming up, and got them into some passing drills. I had no idea what their head coach had told them about offense or defense, so I went to my old standby: “players, remember that when we are on offense we are spread out like fingers, when we are defense, we are close in like a fist.” Every dead ball I repeated that mantra of spread and tight. Every time out I zeroed in on becoming like fingers on offense and being like a fist on defense. The kicker here is that the kids got the concept beautifully.
They played a tough game and wound up winning, more in part to their effort than my coaching, in a one-goal game. The coolest part was how the entire team latched onto two very simple concepts, and translated them into good lacrosse. I gave them no plays to run, or slide packages to consider. I just said stay tight on defense and stay spread of offense. This became a team mantra for that game, and I could hear players on offense saying “get wide, get wide,” and players on defense saying “come in tighter!” The defense kept the goal guarded by protecting the middle of the field, and the offense got the ball around nicely by staying open and cutting naturally.
Tight. Spread. Two words that all of the players focused on, believed in, and executed well. At the end of the game I told them how great they looked as a team, and how they played the game well. I wrapped up question to every team I coach after a game, “did everyone have fun?” I got a big “yes” for an answer.
Finally, I will end with a quote by one of my favorite philosophers – Mike Tyson. Who said that “everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.” Coaches – ask yourself if your game plan is simple enough to survive a punch in the mouth. If it has a lot of moving parts, and is very convoluted it will likely break apart. However, if it is strong, direct, and simple, your team will always have a fighting chance.
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