I’ve participated in dozens of different practice plans run by coaches of different styles. Traveling to many different colleges, high schools, and youth programs each year I’ve developed a good feel for an effective practice plan. At the youth level I can typically determine how good a team is just by watching their pre-game warmups. Those warmups are a byproduct of effective practice plans, which almost always feature new ways to teach fundamental skills.
I believe there are four fundamental skills in lacrosse:
- Picking up a ground ball
- Running and dodging while cradling
- Passing on the run
- Catching on the run
You’ll notice that I did not list shooting. That is because I do not consider shooting a fundamental skill.
I see many youth coaches waste time on the same shooting drills practice after practice. While other teams are getting ground ball and passing reps while in motion. Your first practice plan and really the first week should include very little to no shooting drills at the youth level.
Now that I’ve riled up the offensive coaches, consider this: Shooting is important. Good shots taken at the right times lead to goals, which determine who wins and who loses. I’m not writing that shooting is not something to work on, but I consider shooting to be the last thing a team needs to work on because shooting is usually the last thing that happens on a settled possession or transition.
Running shooting drills in your first few practices is the same as eating dessert before the rest of the meal. Ground ball and passing drills are the vegetables and protein necessary for a good diet of lacrosse skills. Successfully completing those drills and demonstrating good skills leads to the reward of taking a shot. In twenty years, I have yet to witness a shot taken that did not occur after a pass, picking up a ground ball, or a dodge.
Players don’t just shoot. They pick up a ground ball off a deflected pass, run down the field in transition, dodge the slide, pass the ball to their teammate who is cutting up from the crease, who catches the ball, turns, and shoots.
Notice the four fundamentals:
- Ground ball pickup leads to:
- Dodging the incoming defender leading to:
- A pass to the cutting offensive player, which leads to:
- A catch while moving towards a better shooting position
Shooting requires one of those four and usually all four, but too many youth coaches serve a desert buffet of shooting drills on the first practice. Then their players get bored the next week when they have to slog through ground ball drills after having spent 4 hours running different shooting drills the week before.
If you feel you absolutely must run a shooting drill (you don’t) during your first week then incorporate a fundamental skill into the shooting drill. Have the player pick up a ground ball, run and dodge, then take a shot from a good angle. You need to prepare your young players to be able to do everything necessary leading up to the shot, not just the shot itself.
Another thing I’ve seen from teams running too many shooting drills too early is that their offensive strategy usually involves giving the ball to one player and have them run down the middle of the field for a shot. Sometimes this works, but most of the times it doesn’t, and I hear their coach yelling, “pass the ball! You’re covered!” The kid doesn’t pass the ball because he’s been fed a steady diet of shoot, shoot, shoot.
Compare that to the team practicing moving the ball twice off of every ground ball pickup. They don’t practice shooting as much, but their ball movement out of a loose ball scrum is fantastic. That leads to two or three passes to a player parked on the top of the crease for a layup shot that most players can make. That is a team that follows a proper lacrosse nutrition plan full of ground ball drills, passing, and running with the ball.
The Lacrosse Skills Nutritional Pyramid
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