How does a player get better to make a select/elite/travel team if they don’t make the team? This is a problem. The kids who make the team get concentrated lacrosse knowledge and the vision of a capable lacrosse coach. The kids that don’t are left to their own devices. Generally, the kids that make the team get better than the kids that don’t make the team. Then the next year rolls around – guess who makes the team? The same kid that made it last season. It’s a cycle that is a problem with select teams at the youth level. The question is how does a driven kid who was on the bubble at last year’s tryout break the cycle?
Notice that I said driven kid, not just a kid. If a player has drive and determination, at any level, I am paying attention to him. However, determination is not enough. That quality trait must be backed up with skill and as my good friend Andy says, “everyone can stand to have a better stick.” I believe that both drive/determination and skill can be improved upon by any kid, but it takes practice. Not just any practice, but focused practice.
What do I mean by focused practice? It is practice with a purpose. Anybody can go out and throw a ball against a wall, but not anybody can make a select lacrosse team. Those that make select teams improve their skill by:
- Hitting the wall with his off hand for fifteen minutes, five days per week. Focusing on hitting the same brick every time.
- When the player watches TV, he does it with a stick in his hand and a tennis ball in the stick.
- During Fall Ball, playing almost exclusively with his off hand.
- Asking coaches questions during practice, or for clarification on a technique after practice.
- Taking group or private instruction lessons (you can email requests for those to firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Watching games on ESPN or film clips on YouTube.
- Buying a rulebook and reading the rules.
That covers just a few things that players who make select teams do before tryouts. Now lets switch gears on improving drive or determination with a little story:
When I was seventeen I earned my blue belt in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. This was a big moment in my life. I spent three years training to earn that blue belt and it felt great when I finally got to tie it around my waist. A belt, though, only covers two inches of your rear. Your skill covers the rest of it. A short time after receiving my blue belt I went to wrestle with one of the older white belts in the class. I was overly confident that I could beat him.
We shook hands and he immediately leapt forward and sunk a quick choke around my neck. I tapped out in about three seconds, completely devastated. Here was this sixty-five, I’m not kidding, year old man who was a white belt, and he just tapped me. I didn’t know what was wrong so I sat on the side of the gym and watched for the two hours as this old man kept rolling. After the live roll was over and everyone was sweating and exhausted I had a lightbulb moment. He had tapped me because he had the determination to keep wrestling win, lose or draw.
I learned an important lesson that night, and I vowed that I would be the last person off the mat for as long as I trained. I spent the next two years sticking to that vow and I saw my skill and conditioning reach higher levels than I ever thought possible, but it never would have happened if I hadn’t gotten tapped out in three seconds by an aging white belt.
My experience is that determination can be learned and improved upon if one thing happens. You have to lose. You have to fall short. You have to fail. I believe that failure is only permanent if you allow it to be so. I am reminded of a quote by Michael Proust – “Happiness is good for the body, but it is grief that develops the strengths of the mind.” I’ve grieved over my failures when they occurred. I was crushed when I got tapped by that old man, but it was good for me. It helped me develop a deeper reserve of grit and desire. Going through failure, though, is not enough to improve your determination. You must also do something about it should you want to succeed.
I am a personal fan of writing down goals and objectives for life, work, and my hobbies. I find that if I don’t write them down and stick them in a prominent place, that I forget about them. For example, I have a lifetime goal of running an ultramarathon. On the wall in front of my bed I have dozens of pictures of ultrarunners in some of the most beautiful and harsh environments on Earth. Every morning I am reminded of that goal. Those pictures fuel my desire to reach that goal when I feel like it is a million miles away.
So to all the players out there who didn’t make the travel team last year, and to all the players who may not make the team this year I have these steps for you to follow, should you wish to:
- Write down why you want to make your particular travel team. The why is important, you don’t want to forget why you are driven to do something.
- Write down how you are going to make that goal a reality. This can include practicing, watching film, sleeping with your stick, or anything that you can think of to make you a better player.
- Print out pictures of your favorite lacrosse player and post them in a wall in your room. Use that for fuel on days when you don’t feel like practicing.
- Finally, stick your written down goals on the wall right next to your bed. Every morning, right when you get out of bed, go read your goals. This will remind you every day what you are striving for and why you are sacrificing your time and energy.
I wrote this post because Atlanta Coyotes tryouts are coming up in November for all age groups. Not everyone will make the teams. If you do not make the team I want you to look back on this post and, if making the team is your goal, to follow the steps outlined above. I sincerely believe they will make you a better lacrosse player, but also a far more determined individual than you thought you could be.