Tag Archives: coach

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

Why Kids Should Take Care Of Fish

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I know what you’re thinking. How am I going to link caring for fish to lacrosse? Well, here I go:

I was in fifth grade when I started taking care of a few freshwater fish in a tiny ten gallon aquarium. My first fish was a little catfish that zoomed to the side of the tank and swam erratically against the glass when it saw it’s reflection. I named it Frisky.

As I got older I went to a twenty gallon, and finally a forty gallon aquarium through most of high school. I kept Frisky, the algae eater, Spot, and most all of my fish alive for a good six or seven years. I did this by reading up on how to keep a freshwater aquarium ecosystem running well. I changed the water regularly, kept the light on a timer, and did not overfeed the fish. At a young age I learned how to care for an entire group of small creatures that relied on me. I also learned that small mistakes repeated over time can drastically harm the tiny ecosystem.

The smaller the ecosystem the greater the impact of every change so it is important to make very small changes. This same principle applies to a youth lacrosse team of 18-22 players. If a coach wants to change many things at the same time the team’s players will not respond well. Say you want your players to throw better checks, break down better, have better footwork, and slide better. If you try to teach all of that at the same time you will fail. The team ecosystem will break down with the flood of too much new or different information. Instead, institute your changes gradually. One week just work on better footwork. The next, better checking. Over time your team will improve defensively because you broke down a big change – Better Defense – into a bunch of smaller, easily digestible, changes.

Another lesson I learned from fish is that you cannot introduce new fish into your tank by just pouring them in. When you get a fish from the store, the employee puts the fish into a small bag in the water it is used to swimming in. That water is different from your aquarium water in chemical levels and temperature. Imagine how you would react if a stranger picked you up from school, drove you a distance you couldn’t measure, and then left you at a new school in a different state. You might be a little shocked.

The correct way to bring in new fish is to float the bag in your water so the temperature equalizes. After fifteen minutes, pour a little bit of your water into the new fish bag so the shock is lessened. Then use a fish net to scoop up the little fish and gently deposit him in your aquarium. The fish will be less shocked, and you don’t have to worry about introducing a bag worth of store aquarium water into your aquarium.

Players must understand that they will not get better after one practice or one game. You can’t shock your system into learning anything. Just as coaches must be gradual in teaching new concepts, players must take a consistent approach to learning new skills. If you want to get better at winning face offs, you don’t try to master every face off move at the same time. Remember what Bruce Lee famously said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Get really good at the basics, and then add to your skill set slowly and consistently. If you do that, the only person getting shocked by your skills will be your opponent.

The last reason I have for young players taking care of fish ties in with the main AYL message: Player Responsibility. We put a huge emphasis on players at every age level to be responsible for their gear and their practice off the field. Our staff does not like seeing players handing their gear to their mom or dad for the short walk to their car. It is your gear, you wear it, you carry it.

The trouble with responsibility is that kids have to be given something to be responsible for, and adults can never be sure how the kid will handle it until given the chance. That is why caring for one or more fish in a tiny aquarium is an awesome way to teach kids responsibility. You can get small aquariums for very cheap, and freshwater neons cost less than $2 per fish! If a fish dies the parent isn’t out a bunch of money, and neons are not tough to keep alive because they are hardy little guys.

The young player taking care of fish learns how to take care of creatures that are completely dependent on the young player for their survival. That is a huge lesson in responsibility for a kid, and if the kid fails early on you get a few more cheap fish and try again. Very little is at stake, but the kid learns how to be more responsible, and if they demonstrate the responsibility to take care of a few fish then they prove to the adults that they can take on more important tasks.

Alright! Fish to lacrosse link accomplished! I wonder what other obscure non-lacrosse related things I can link to lacrosse…

Cheers,
Gordon Corsetti

Busting The Myth Of Equal Playing Time

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I love Mythbusters for three reasons. One, Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman, Grant Imahara, Kari Byron, and Tory Belleci make science fun. Two, the show confirms or busts commonly held myths. And three, most episodes end with something blowing up.

In the spirit of Mythbusters I am busting the myth of equal playing time in this post. I’ve written about The Coaches Lie, Sweating and Smiling, and Equal Playing Time over the last two years, but I don’t believe I’ve fully explained my position on why I believe equal playing time is a myth. This post delves into my position, and explains to parents the best way to approach the concept of equal playing time.

Equal playing time sounds great and that is the point. Who could argue that equal playing time is a bad idea? It sounds so nice and good, and if you come out against equal playing time you sound negative no matter how you articulate your point. I am not stating that equal playing time is bad, but I do state that most coaches and league administrators say they believe in equal playing time without putting in any structures to promote it. This happens because equal playing time sounds so darn good, and that phrase draws parents into the league.

The problem as I see it is that someone came up with the concept of equal playing time; then everyone bought into what a great idea it is, but nobody actually thought about how to make it happen. So every youth sports league promises equal playing time without saying how. If you as a parent are looking into a youth league for your child the first question you should ask if the league offers equal playing time is: “How do you ensure equal playing time?” If they do not have a reasonable answer then move on to another program.

Atlanta Youth Lacrosse does not guarantee equal playing time in our recreational lacrosse programs because we would be lying. Instead, we use two key strategies to help increase playing time for all players:

  1. Small team sizes capped at twenty-two players per team encourages more substitutions as players will get tired. We’ve found that adding players beyond twenty-two significantly decreases playing time for most of a team’s players.
  2. The 24-Hour Rule gives players and parents an opportunity to think through their concern about playing time (or any other concern) and then contact Atlanta Youth Lacrosse. During the next game, our experienced staff watches the team the player is on and prompts the coach to substitute their lines more frequently. We often do this with new coaches who are learning how to substitute players and manage game strategy.

That is how AYL builds more playing time into our games and manages concerns over playing time. The goal is to aim for more playing time, but I believe we need to remove the word equal out of phrase.

I would prefer saying Fair Playing Time because that is a more attainable goal, and it is more applicable to the real world that we want to prepare young kids to enter. The definition of equal is, “the same in number, amount, degree, rank, or quality”. Equality is the bedrock concept upon which a free society rests, but as many adults know, we don’t always get treated equally in the real world. We may be as skilled as another person at work, but we get passed over for a promotion. We may be more passionate than another person during an interview, but we don’t get a call back due to a possible bias from the interviewer. That is a depressing fact of life but if introduced slowly at a young age, a child can grow into an adult knowing how the real world operates, and, more importantly, how to handle unequal setbacks.

Equal is the same thing as perfection. We may never get there as human beings, but there is no reason not to try. However, I believe that prefacing “playing time” with the word equal prevents us from coming up with ways to actually get there. Which is why I like Fair Playing Time. the definition of fair is, “treating people in a way that does not favor some over others”. Treating players fairly is a much better word. Children are not identical and they should not be treated as identical people because what works for one child may not work for another, but every child should be treated fairly.

Is it fair that when one child misses a full week of practice that he gets the same amount of playing time as the child who attended every practice? I do not believe so. Giving the absentee child the same amount of time on the field as everyone else who showed up is not fair to the team because that player did not practice what the team worked on that week. The fair treatment would be keeping that player on the bench for one half. This teaches that absenteeism has consequences, and in team sports, the team comes first.

Equal is a strong word. Our country’s founding fathers stated, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. Nations have risen and fallen on the basis of equality. Leaders have emerged in the just fight of equality for every human being born on this Earth. I believe equal is too strong of a word when we talk about playing time. Fair is much more manageable.

Cheers,
Gordon