Tag Archives: athletics

Stop Turning Youth Athletics Into More Than It Actually Is

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stop-turning-youth-athletics-into-more-than-it-actually-is

Heads up parents, this post is going to sting.

Your child:

  • Is not going to play professional lacrosse
  • Is not getting recruited to play at Maryland, LeMoyne, or Lynchburg
  • Is not scoring the winning goal in the high school state championship
  • Is not getting All-American honors as a freshman on the Varsity roster
  • Is not getting “Most Improved Player” on his youth team

Your child is not getting any of this. At least not right now. Or even tomorrow, or next week, or a year from now. All your child is doing tomorrow, next week, or next year is playing and practicing lacrosse along with homework assignments, other sports, sleep overs, pool parties, movie nights, and family vacations.

AYL has posts up about recruiting and parental responsibility regarding a child’s athletic development. We maintain a strict policy on how every fan should behave at all of our games, practices and league events. We put a great deal of responsibility on the young players to bring their own gear and take ownership of the game they are coming to love. As I’ve said in numerous posts I do not have children so I am not about to make this post about how to raise your player because I don’t know the first thing about child rearing. What I have is an outsider’s perspective, separate from winning and losing, that I want to share with every parent who has one or more children in any youth extracurricular activity. That perspective is one of a sports official who has seen many kids start playing the game in middle school, grow through high school, and head off to college. I’ve seen the successful players and the not-so successful players go on with their lives, but I noticed that the successful players tend to have one thing in common: their parents got out of the way unless asked.

I’ve seen middle schoolers stunned speechless by their parents critiquing their ground ball technique after a game, and other kids reduced to tears because their mom or dad thought the kid should’ve scored that goal in the third quarter. Parents who do this adulterize their child’s sport. They swoop in like some out of town interloper and steal the game away from their kids. These parents are sport-adulterers and they’ve gotten rid of the “youth” in “youth athletics.” Now it’s just “athletic development pursuant a full collegiate scholarship, professional contract, or some high accolade.” See the problem? The sport-adulterers become their child’s agent. I’ve spent season after season deprogramming young players from their overly excited and demanding parents to just relax when they are on the field. It’s like every game is a tryout to these kids because of the pressure imposed by the parents.

I had one player that I constantly reminded to not pay attention to his parental unit on the sideline. I got him to understand that I as the coach was the only adult voice that he cared about when he played. The best part is how great the young kid played when he wasn’t beholden to some arbitrary performance level. His parents wanted him to score three goals a game and they let him know it – he never scored. When I rebuilt his operating system I wanted him to relax, have fun and smile – he scored five goals in our next game. Suddenly I’m a great coach who understood the value inherent in the young kid that his parent’s thought never shined in the old coach’s system. Not the case. I simply allowed the young player to play like a young player. Oh, the kid was eight and a half by the way.

The worst part is how innocent-sounding these parent’s justifications are:

  • “I just want little Johnny to have more confidence on the field.”
    • Translation: My kid needs to go to the goal more often.
  • “I just want little Timmy to get tougher”
    • Translation: My kid never gets ground balls. Maybe we should invest in an athletic trainer so he gets more explosive.
  • “I’m just not seeing any improvement.”
    • Translation: What if a scout sees my player now and isn’t impressed? His whole chance to get a scholarship will be ruined!
  • “He/she doesn’t seem to be having fun anymore.”
    • Translation: I don’t get it, I’ve invested thousands of dollars over the last three years in his athletic development, he plays all year for two different travel teams, and I’m sending him to a recruiting camp for four days. He just seems to be going through the motions and I’m worried all of this money I’ve spent is going to waste because he is spending more time playing flag football with his friends in the park.

If you want to be your child’s agent then go all the way and actually hire an agent. I’m sure the big names agencies are stoked about signing your twelve year old who shows great potential (sarcasm). I’m being sarcastic because it is the only way I can discuss this issue without breaking down into tears. I’ve seen too many young players quit before they turned thirteen because the adults around them were more interested in the final outcome than the process. It is the adults that care which team wins or loses the U13 championship game at a summer tournament because they think it means more than it actually does. What does it actually mean? I say it means less than the plastic the trophy was made out of.

I won championship games in the spring and summer during my youth lacrosse days. I know I won because I have warm, happy feelings thinking back to those games. What I don’t remember is more significant:

  • I don’t remember what my team name was for any of the championship/playoff teams I was on
  • I don’t remember what the final score in any of those games were
  • I don’t remember what the championship t-shirt looked like
  • I don’t even remember if I had a good game or not

I do remember that I had fun, and because I had fun I stuck with it past thirteen and got to be a pretty decent player. These days I officiate, which has completely changed my understanding of what achievement and accolades are all about. I was the Chief Bench Official for the Georgia 1A-4A State Championship Lacrosse game in 2013 between Westminster and Northview. It took five years of hard work to become the best official I could be before I was made the fourth man on a championship game crew. In my mind it was a huge accomplishment and a just award for the work I put in.

Here’s my point for this backstory – After the game no one cheered my name, no one asked for an autograph, no one gave me a trophy or a medal, and no one told me if I had a good game or not. All I knew for certain was that I did an exceptional job for my role in the crew. Officiating crews don’t get many accolades outside of the officiating world, but my internal knowledge that I did a good job was worth far more than any plastic championship trophy. Let’s teach our young players accurate self-evaluation, it will pay off better in the long run than pawning that plastic trophy.

What I love most about AYL is that we do everything with one core concept in mind – “it is all about the kids.” Everything we do is put up against that belief and that is why we are successful. I want kids to win, improve their game and grow as individuals. However, I will not stand for any adult that puts professional-level pressures on an eight and a half year old. Matt Ryan is paid to be under pressure and scrutiny, while your eight and a half year old probably doesn’t realize that you are paying for him to play. Keep that in mind next time you are on the sideline.

Cheers,
Gordon

Youth Statistics

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Youth Statistics

I accidentally pissed off someone a few weeks ago. I was coaching a youth lacrosse team at a tournament and while the team was warming up I was on the sidelines watching my players. A gentleman with a scorebook wearing the apparel from the other team came up next to me and asked where my team was from. I told him and then he asked what our record was. I responded that I had no idea. I think he assumed that I was not the person in charge and asked to see my team’s Head Coach. I stated that I was the Head Coach, and he seemed a little taken aback by my statement.

He asked again what my team’s record was. I again responded that I did not know and I did not personally keep track of that information. After hearing what I had to say this individual became quite angry and stormed off to his other team’s bench. It took me a second to realize what was going on but then it hit me – he was fishing for information about how good or bad my team was. When I didn’t give him the information he wanted he went away and pouted. When I realized all of this I was shocked, but after the game I was downright angry.

Just to be clear my team’s record and some basic statistics are kept on a spreadsheet on a computer somewhere, but I have never looked at it. I was very forthright with this individual when I told him that I do not keep track of records or stats on my team, but he thought I was hiding my team’s record to give my team some kind of advantage or to disadvantage his team. Eventually, I moved from anger to sadness. Sadness because I’ve seen this kind of behavior before on the sidelines and in the stands, but it was never fully brought out into the open until that game.

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics” – Mark Twain.

That Mark Twain quote should tell you everything you need to know about my feeling on keeping stats at the youth level. They are not necessary and can be down right dangerous. I dislike statistics because they confirm what is already known. This player is better than that player. This team is worse than that team. When I officiate youth lacrosse games I can usually tell within the first five minutes which team is likely to win and I never look at the stat book. I look for two things. One, does the team communicate well, and two, are they going for every ground ball? That is all I need to determine whether or not one team is better than another.

While statistics confirm what anyone can figure out if they get their eyes out of the stat book and onto the field, they are also of no benefit for the youth player. Statistics benefit parents and overzealous coaches. That is it. Do they validate all the lessons the parent is paying for? Do they confirm to the coach that he is right keeping only his first lines in the game while everyone else rides the bench? Probably both. Statistics do nothing for the youth player except quantify his abilities at an age when he should be more concerned with the quality of them.

I have two standing rules with every team that I coach: The score is always “zero to zero” and I don’t care if they make a mistake as long as they are running as hard as they can. I do not care what Johnny’s shot percentage is. I do not care what my goalie’s save percentage is. I do not care what our team’s faceoff percentage is. I care that they are going after every ground ball as hard as they can and that they keep playing as if the score is perpetually tied. This approach allows for kids to make mistakes without fear.

Statistics create fear because statistics lock kids into predictable behavior. I want the kid who is eager to win his next faceoff, not the one more concerned about keeping his 80% win record going. The former kid is going to go after every faceoff with tenacity, while the latter is likely to implode if he loses one or two faceoffs early in a game. I want the goalie who forgets about the last goal he let in, not the one who is worried that the team stat keeper just put another mark in the “Goal’s Against” column. The former plays without fear, the latter turns into a hole in the net.

Truthfully, I do care about one statistic and I’ve hinted at it this entire post. I care about ground balls. In my opinion, ground balls should be the only statistic kept by teams. Let the league keep the win/loss record, but if a team wants to keep stats they should only keep ground balls. Ground balls are an effort statistic. They show how consistent your team is at getting the loose ball off the turf and into a workable possession. Without GB’s, shots and goals are simply not possible. Ground balls are the true measure of a team.

I believe we have one goal at the end of the day in youth athletics. That goal is to get the kids to want to play again the next day. That should be the statistic we are measuring – which kids stay and which kids go. If they leave because they found a different passion then more power to them, but if they leave because adults started ranking and quantifying them then shame on us.

Featured Image Credit – www.murraystate.edu

Cheers,
Gordon

 

Off The Book Rules

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If you run lacrosse league you need to cover all of the rules that will apply to every division. Atlanta Youth Lacrosse uses the USL Boys Lacrosse Rules, which are slightly modified from NFHS rules, as our foundation governing play at all levels. The general AYL rules may be found on the “Complete League Rules” page.

Next, you need to specify the rules in each division. We find it convenient to split the first and second grade rules apart from everyone else since the differences are significant. The third through twelfth grade rules govern play for each of these age groups, because the rule changes are slight for each age level. So it is simpler to keep these rules together and highlight the differences.

We covered the general rules, and the division-specific rules. Now, we can cover what I call “off the book” rules. These are the rules that pertain specifically to Atlanta Youth Lacrosse.

We borrowed some from other leagues, and created a few of our own. These rules help AYL staff and coaches improve player development, and they help create a relaxed atmosphere that promotes good sportsmanship. If you run your own lacrosse league, or are a parent involved in one, I highly suggest finding a way to use these rules in your program. We have used them for years and they always benefit our league. Just remember to apply them consistently if you want them to work.

  • Rule 1 – This is Youth Lacrosse
    • You would be surprised at the amount of people who think a fifth and sixth grade lacrosse game is equivalent to the NFC championship. I officiated a game at a different league years ago, where people were hanging off the stadium guard rails to yell at the coaches, officials, and players.
    • This rule is critical to follow if you want to establish an atmosphere that is about the kids and not the people yelling in row C. All of the following rules are really ways to remind players, coaches, and parents that we are playing a game at the youth level.
You Do Not Talk About Fight Club

You Do Not Talk About Fight Club

  • Rule 2 – This is Still Youth Lacrosse
    • I can’t give up a Fight Club reference, but I want to stress the point that we are playing a game. Coaches, parents, and staff always need to remember that this is about the kids having fun. Keep repeating this mantra, and everyone will join the youth lacrosse train.
  • Rule 3 – No One-Handed Stick Checks
    • This is generally reserved for the first through fourth grade leagues, but it can be applied to any age division if checking gets sloppy. Any and all one-handed stick checks are considered a “slash” if this rule is enforced.
  • Rule 4 – The Uncontrollable Stick
    • Any stick check that the official feels is uncontrollable is a “slash.” Even if the stick does not make contact with the other player. This is a great rule if you are trying to cut down on stick swinging. Inform the players that two hands on the stick, and raised to the shoulder is more than strong enough to dislodge a ball. Baseball bat swings, golf-ball swings, and behind the back checks, can and should be considered uncontrollable if this rule is applied to a game.
  • Rule 5 – No Horns. Mandatory Substitutions
    • This is a new rule for AYL that we are moving to for our first through sixth grade divisions. Every five or six minutes the clock is stopped for mandatory substitutions. Whoever is on the bench goes onto the field, and the players on the field go to the bench. This helps to enforce equal playing time and gets coaches used to the usual substitution flow for lacrosse, which is usually five or six minutes. This rule only applies when the ball is settled or dead. We will not stop the action of a potential shot on goal to get a mandatory substitution. Wait for the shot to be taken, then stop the clock.
    • Teams can still sub on-the-fly at any point during the game. Just no horns.
  • Rule 5 – Goalie Clears the Ball after a Goal
    • We usually apply this rule during Winter Ball because it gives kids less down time after a goal. Generally, a faceoff is set and ready to go after fifteen seconds. If each team scores five goals thats 150 seconds of dead time. By clearing the ball after every goal, the players get roughly two to three minutes of extra playing time.
  • Rule 6 – The No Rake Rule
    • Raking the ball results in a turnover. This is my personal favorite because after two weeks of consistent enforcement, nearly every player, at every level is running through the ball instead of stopping to rake it into their sticks. Players get the hint that they are supposed to run through the ball instead of stopping to pick it up. This speeds up the game and drastically decreases the amount of scrums that can occur at the younger age levels.
    • Atlanta Youth Lacrosse will apply this rule in the fall for all grades under seventh.
  • Rule 7 – Positive Cheering
    • I went into lots of detail with the Positive Cheering Post a while back. The short version of this rule is that whenever spectators get overly excited in a negative way. By which I mean: any type of cursing or “knock him dead” comments. If this happens, the game stops but the clock runs for one minute. If the person/people act up again, the game stops but the clock runs for two minutes. After the third stoppage, we ask the individuals to leave. Nothing calms a sideline down more quickly than messing with every kids’ game time.
  • Rule 8 – No One-Handed Ground Balls
    • I believe this is a coach’s best friend during a team practice, but it should not be implemented during a game. After all, sometimes it is appropriate to pick the ball up with one hand, so long as the player is running through the ball. Enforcing this rule during practice by having everyone do pushups or run a lap when they do a one-handed scoop will condition players to get low and run through the ball with two hands. Which is the method that gets the highest likelihood of success.
  • Rule 9 – The 24 Hour Rule
    • AYL implemented the 24 Hour rule a few years ago when handling concerns, complaints, or issues after a game/practice. Anytime anyone has something they want to say about how a game or practice was handled, they must wait 24 hours before emailing our office. This provides everyone on both sides of the issue time to cool off and gain perspective on the problem. Additionally, we do not allow anyone to accost a coach, official, or staff member in person while at an AYL event. We want anyone who has an issue to contact AYL through appropriate channels, and the 24 Hour rule helps accomplish this.

That covers the off-the-book rules that Atlanta Youth Lacrosse has enforced in the past. Don’t try to use all of these at once at your own league. Pick one or two, but make one of them the no-rake rule (seriously, it does wonders). Then have your officials and staff enforce them consistently. These rules do no good if they are applied every so often. They must be applied with conviction if you want them to work.

If you have any questions about these rules, or have an off-the-book rule to suggest, please comment below.

Featured Image Credit – www.tbloa.org

Cheers,
Gordon