Tag Archives: coaching

Observations From The First Day Of Practice

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Before I get into my observations I want to give a hearty congratulations to all of our players, parents, and coaches! We had a wonderful start Tuesday evening to the first of many practices for the spring season. The players shook off some rust from the offseason, and the coaches taught their players well. I am very pleased with how the first day of practice went for our U11 and U13 age divisions. As I told the coaches, I will be at each practice for the first two weeks to observe and help out any coaches that need an extra hand. So for the next two weeks get ready for a deluge of coaching posts!

The goal of the following notes is to provide our coaches with another resource to improve their coaching and teach their players more effectively. If anyone has any additional strategies that they’ve found useful over the years please comment in the comments section below!

Practice Observations (2/5/2013)

  • Warm ups
    • If you’re at a loss on what to do to warm up your players here is a short warm up that I’ve been using for years: http://ayllax.com/dynamic-warm-up. It is important to get your players moving their bodies in preparation for the work they are about to do. Take five minutes at the start of practice and get everyone warmed up.
  • I liked the ground ball work
    • Many coaches started right off with ground ball drills, which I’m a big fan of for youth players. Let’s face it, it takes players time before they are humming the ball in the air, and it makes sense to teach players how to effectively pick up a ground ball. There were many different drills that each coach preferred, but they all taught the same technique. Here’s a post on proper ground ball technique if anyone needs a refresher: http://ayllax.com/the-basics-ground-ball-pickup
  • Two minute explanations
    • I felt that there was a lot of explaining going on at both age levels. This is a common occurrence on the first few days of practice, but it can be a practice-killer if a coach takes too long explaining what the drill is. A good tip is to practice how your are going to explain a drill to your players, and try to keep that explanation under two minutes. Any longer and kids start going off into la-la land instead of paying close attention to you. Here is a post on keeping your explanations short and to the point: http://ayllax.com/three-steps
  • Have a practice plan!
    • I cannot emphasize this enough. Put your practice plan on your phone, on paper, or on and index card. Plan out drills that are eight to ten-minutes in length. Any longer and the kids get bored. Any shorter and the kids don’t have enough time to work on the skill.
  • The basics
    • You can’t go wrong if you focus on the basics for the first two weeks. There is no need for complicated drills that have a lot of moving parts. Before you graduate to transition work all your players need to be able to pass and catch. Focus on drills that give players lots of touches on the ball. Partner everyone up and pass and catch for ten minutes. In that amount of time they’ll get over a hundred touches on the ball.
    • Passing and catching, ground balls, running to space, shooting, and breaking down on defense. Those five things should be what a youth coach focuses on for at least the first two weeks. Let the experienced kids shake off the offseason rust, and let the beginners get a bunch of time with the ball in their stick.
  • Standing around
    • If you have a drill that involves half of your team standing around and watching the other half participate in the drill you are not using your time effectively. Use drills that get everyone working at the same time and keep standing time to a minimum. That means having four line drills instead of one. If you have more than three or four kids in a line you have a problem. The kids standing around will not be paying attention to anything. Remember, kids want to move so keep your explanations short and involve everyone in the drill.
  • If you are unsure – ask
    • If you are not 100% certain that what you are teaching your players is correct then wave down Coach Halperin or I. We are there to help you coach your players if you need some assistance. If you want to work on passing and catching but aren’t sure which drill would work best then get our attention and we will get your players into a new drill.

Too often we coaches can get wrapped up in getting our young players to execute a ridiculously complicated, but very cool, new drill. Remember to start with the basics and lay a strong foundation for your team by getting everyone to a level where they can perform those fundamentals consistently. Only then can you start coaching the more complex strategies of lacrosse.

If anyone has any questions you can put them in the comments section below or email me at rules@ayllax.com.

Cheers,
Gordon

Stop Scrimmaging

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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.

Cheers,
Gordon

The Coaches Lie

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Right now all across the country an army of youth lacrosse coaches are gearing up for the regular season. They are putting their practice plans together, memorizing their players names and deciding if their kids are old enough to understand a zone defense. Many are head coaches for the very first time, and many still are looking forward to assisting their team’s head coach. I think I can safely say that all of these coaches are excited for the upcoming season. Which is why this post is necessary.

Many coaches are preparing to tell their payers and their parents this line: “Everyone will get to play as much as everybody else.” Don’t say that because you will fall short. In the heat of your last regular season game which determines whether or not your team gets the higher seed or the lower seed, you will leave your best players in at the expense of your less talented players game time. Am I judging you in saying this? No, because I have done exactly the same thing. I have told my players and parents that I will play everyone equally regardless of circumstances. Then, during a close game, I favor some kids over others. This is the Coaches Lie, and I believe it has to stop.

It needs to stop because equal playing time is a myth at the youth level. While we say we will play everyone equally it is usually the last thing on our mind when the whistle blows to start the game. We become more concerned with our team’s win/loss record than with what is best for all of the players on our team. Consider the following statistics from Sports Illustrated for Kids:

95% – said that the number-one quality in a coach is the ability to help the payers improve their athletic skills.

64% – said that they would rather play on a losing team for a coach whom they liked than to play for a winning team with a coach whom they didn’t like.

62% – said that they wanted equal playing time for all the kids on the team.

61% – said that it was okay for the coach to yell during the game – but only if the yelling was of a positive nature.

93% – said that they wanted and needed the coach’s full support, regardless of the kid’s athletic ability.

Ninety-five percent of young athletes surveyed said that the best quality in a coach is that coach’s ability to help the player improve athletically. Winning a lot of games wasn’t even in the ballpark for the players surveyed. One statistic that I find telling is that kids would rather play for a coach they liked and lose, than play for a coach they didn’t like and win. This data tells us that kids do not rank winning as high as adults do. So why do we as coaches feel the need to win at the expense of all of our players? It could be simple human nature. Perhaps it is our win first ask questions later culture. I think it is our mistaken notion that kids want to be on a winning team, despite the data showing us that the kids truly do not care about winning. They care about getting better.

How then do kids get better? Getting onto the field is a good start. Regardless of their athletic ability or sport-specific skill set, every player deserves to play as much as their buddy next to them. I will go so far as to say that every kid has a right to see the field. Who are we to say that Johnny doesn’t get to play as much at Michael because he is less skilled or can’t run as fast as Michael? As one astute young player quoted in Sports Illustrated for Kids said,”Everybody should play the same amount so that everyone has the same amount of fun.” Is that not the most perfect statement on the necessity of equal playing time in youth sports? Our job as youth coaches is not to win games. It is about improving our players as athletes and as people.

I’m not going write about the importance of equal playing time without leaving you any guidance on how to successfully play all players in a lacrosse game. So here it goes:

  • U9 – The best trick I’ve learned on getting little U9 players as much playing time as possible is called “The Bump,” which is a simple substitution process that occurs every three to four minutes. When it is time to substitute the players from the box go onto attack, the attack players bump to midfield, the midfielders bump to defense, and the defense bumps off the field. “The Bump” continues every three to four minutes and guarantees that the little players will get maximum playing time.
  • U11 – Now we are playing full-field with a substitution box, and most kids are gravitating to the position they like the most. “The Bump” may still work well if your players have not found their favorite position yet. However, if your players are set on their positions and are happy with them it is important to have a stopwatch. Every time you substitute you start your stopwatch again. Every three to four minutes do a wholesale substitution. Switch out your midfielders with the middies on your bench. Tell your defense to switch up with whatever poles are on the sideline. Finally, get your attack group to sub out for any short sticks who are still on the bench. Whenever possible, do a wholesale substitution. It is a great idea to talk to your opposing coach about your substitution plan and see if he is on board with doing the same with his team every three to four minutes.
  • U13 – Now most of your players are probably set in the positions that they most enjoy so the bump will not work for your team unless it is a brand new team with players who have no idea what position they like. Now it is time to start subbing your players piecemeal instead of wholesale. Sub your midfielders every four minutes or whenever they are slowing down. Every six minutes sub your defense and attack through the box while they stay onside. This will teach your players how to properly substitute through the box, and get them ready for their middle school teams when they will be doing that kind of substitution often.

To recap: Kids want to play, they would rather get better than win every game, and they would rather play for a coach they like and who is confident in them. Do  kids want to win? Certainly, but there isn’t a kid in the world playing pickup soccer or basketball that is keeping track of their group’s win/loss record throughout the spring. They just go out there and play and then do the same thing tomorrow. It is about playing not winning.

So if you are going to say anything to your players and parents do not tell them the coaches lie. Instead say the following, “I promise that I will do my best to play you all equally, but if I mess up one game and don’t get everyone in I want you to let me know so I can fix it for the next game.” That is a promise any coach can live up to.

Cheers,
Gordon