Youth lacrosse should not include specialized players. I do not mean the specific positions of attack, midfield, defense, and goalie. I focus on the increasing trend in youth sports to pigeon hole a player into one super-specialized position.
The problem with super-specialization in lacrosse, and any other youth sport, is that it cripples a player’s game. For example, I reffed a game where one team had a FOGO, or “face-off/get-off” player. This player’s sole job was to win the face-off, toss the ball to his teammate, and run off the field. Now, that is all well and good at a competitive JV or Varsity level, but this kid was in fourth grade. His entire year consisted of sitting on the bench, facing off, and sitting back on the bench. While I am sure he developed solid face-off skills, he spent more time riding the bench than any player on his team.
That FOGO’s coach was more interested in winning a game by taking advantage of a young player’s skill in one area, than he was in exposing the kid to the entire game of lacrosse. That kid suffered because at the end of the season, all he could do was face-off. He had zero skills in passing, playing defense, or communicating to his teammates. All of the basic skills that are critical to long-term development at the higher levels were not there because his coach did not live up to the responsibility of teaching the game first.
But, Coach Gordon, my FOGO, long-stick midfielder, or lefty-feeder is critical to my game plan. How can my team possibly compete if I do not have my super-specialized player? Simple. Spread the skills around.
I do not care if your game plan calls for a FOGO or some other specialized player as long as that position is shared by two or three other kids. Guess what happens when a team relies on a single player to face-off and that player gets injured? The team is now incredibly weak at facing off because the coaches poured all of their face-off knowledge onto one kid. By specializing one player, you create a single point of failure. Defined as an “element or part of a system for which no backup (redundancy) exists and the failure of which will disable the entire system” (www.businessdictionary.com).
Developing redundancy allows your team to adapt. Injury, lateness, sickness, penalties, and tiredness can affect any player. Including your super-specialized kid. So if your game plan requires a long-stick midfielder. Teach three different players how to properly play that position and you create a game plan that is not bound to a single player. Then, when one of those specialized players is out on the field, the other two should be playing offense or defense. That way, they learn how to play the game beyond their specific slice of the game.
Instead of having a player who can only face-off or play long-stick midfield, this strategy creates a balanced player who has a sub-specialty in one part of the game. That is a player who will succeed at the higher levels because they have basic skills, but they also fill a niche that a coach is looking for.
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