Tag Archives: field

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


The Litany Against Fear

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My favorite book of all time is Dune, by Frank Herbert. This makes me a definite science fiction nerd, and I am not ashamed to admit that one bit. I don’t remember when I first read Dune but the story captivated me and I had to keep rereading it. I have probably read the entire Dune series, roughly 15 books, about for or five times, and every time I learn something new about the Dune universe. If you are interested in an epic story and well crafted characters I highly recommend picking up a copy.

Now why am I talking about a science fiction book on a lacrosse blog? Well, there is a lesson I learned from these books that has helped me overcome my fears on and off the lacrosse field. Let’s face it, lacrosse can be a scary experience for kids. Especially kids just starting out. I remember being afraid of screwing up or disappointing my coach. I was really afraid of looking like I didn’t know what I was doing out of the field or at practice.

These fears were perfectly normal for a young kid learning the sport. The more I played and practiced the less powerful those fears became, but I also had a mantra that I borrowed from Frank Herbert’s writings called The Litany Against Fear.

The Litany Against Fear goes like this:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the litte-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Eight short lines with a powerful message. Face your fear, let it pass over you until only you remain. Sometimes I would just repeat the first line when I was especially nervous before a big game. Stating “I must not fear” was my way of telling myself that fear was a natural thing and that I can choose to not let it hold power over me.

While my playing days are over I still have fears as a lacrosse official. The fears are still the same: fear of screwing up and the fear of looking like I don’t know what I am doing. Every official gets butterflies in their stomach before a game. It is human nature to get nervous, the trick is turning that nervous fear before a big game into fuel that will improve performance.

I have used The Litany Against Fear many times over the years on and off the lacrosse field. The point is to directly face whatever it is you are afraid of. If you are afraid of using your off-hand during the game because you are pretty sure you will drop the ball, then start practicing with your off hand. If you are having trouble catching the ball over your shoulder off an outlet pass from your goalie, then practice those over the shoulder catches.

One little tip if you are afraid for whatever reason at practice or at a game. Just show up and start moving. Action tends to create more action, whereas inaction allows your mind to think and dwell on the negative.

I’d like to know how the readers of this blog deal with their fears on and off the lacrosse field. So if you’re interested in sharing feel free to comment below!

Featured image credit – http://lsgg.deviantart.com/art/DUNE-SIETCH-211570558


Chess Club

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I’m not sure if it was my idea or my parent’s idea for me to join the Esther Jackson Elementary Chess Club, but I am  glad I was introduced to chess at a very early age. I started learning chess in the fourth grade and I’ve been playing ever since. I don’t remember my chess teacher’s name, but as far as I was concerned he was a chess master. I never beat him, but he always taught me something new about the game.

I started competing in chess tournaments around Roswell in fifth grade. I lost my fair share, but I also placed at a couple of them. If nothing else, I was a tough opponent because I learned something from every chess match that made me better. Win, lose or draw I got better at chess by being a student of the game. Which, as far as I am concerned, is the only way to approach any game. If I looked at chess as a game where I knew everything I would not have learned anything.

It is important to remain a student of the game throughout your playing days. For chess that meant playing against my computer ever chance I got, watching “Searching For Bobby Fischer,” and playing against my best friend often. For lacrosse that meant practicing my off-hand for a whole month until it was better than my strong hand. It meant watching the best defensemen in the NCAA championship games on Memorial Day weekend, and asking tons of questions whenever I went to a lacrosse camp. I wasn’t the fastest, the strongest, or the best stick checker but I could see the entire game.

I remember playing with a bird’s-eye view of the field. I played the game like I was playing chess, directing my teammates around on the field with different commands because I knew where the ball was going to be before it got there. My dad calls this game sense or Lacrosse IQ, but really it is just anticipation. Because I was a student of the game for so many years I could get into the flow of the game better than most. This helped me earn playing time despite my lack of size and speed.

My experiences with chess taught me patience, and my experiences with lacrosse taught me decisiveness. When combined those two qualities create a solid chess player and a capable lacrosse player. However, if you are not a student of your game then all you will learn is frustration. Even if you are the biggest, strongest, fastest player out there. You must combine patience and decisiveness in order to become a complete player. If you lean too heavily on patience you will never be in the right spot at the right time, and if you don’t learn decisiveness you will never get to the right spot fast enough.

If you are serious about becoming the best lacrosse player you can be I highly recommend learning and playing chess. You will learn strategy and increase your ability to see the big picture, which will serve you well on the lacrosse field.