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.