Tag Archives: georgia

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

Ender’s Game

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Many coaches cite coaching legends as their inspiration for their particular coaching style. While my Dad and John Wooden are my two favorite coaches, I gained many insights into working with young players from the book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. If you are unfamiliar with the novel, here is a brief synopsis from amazon.com:

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

I’ve read Ender’s Game at least a dozen times over the years, and every time I learn something new about the characters or plot that I didn’t pick up on in an earlier read. On my most recent reread I realized that the character Ender is an excellent example of how a youth coach can manage a team.

In the book Ender is given a team of young soliders to train and compete against other teams in the Battle Room. His team is filled with what the instructors’s at the Battle School believe are the dregs, or least capable soldiers. Under Ender’s tutelage his team, Dragon Army, goes undefeated in the Battle Room. They beat other armies by unheard of margins and still win even when the instructors stack the odds against Dragon Army. From this book I learned the following principles that I believe can be applied to any group of young players:

  1. Be loud for the group and quiet for individuals – Whenever Ender spoke to his army he always projected a commanding and strong voice. He gave orders loudly so everyone could hear, but did not scream angrily to get his point across. However, when he spoke with individuals he lowered his voice to a calm, measured level and gave easy to follow instructions for the members of his army that were having trouble with a concept. As a coach you need to be loud with the group, but there is no need to yell an answer at a player who asks a question.
  2. Find the leaders on your team and use them – Dragon Army was unique at Battle School because Ender gave a lot of control to his subordinate officers, known as Toon leaders. He wanted an army that was autonomous, could think for itself and adapt to changing situations. He did not want a group of automatons latched onto his commands without any deviation. Try to find the leaders on your team, or allow your team to vote on captains. Then use those captains in practices and games by telling them to give the orders on the field instead of you yelling them out to everyone. If you have a play called “Nitro,” have a captain on the field or on the sideline yell out the play. This will involve the leaders of your team, and give your voice a break.
  3. Keep things simple – Ender always gave simple orders. Be early. Be ready. Be focused. Youth players do not need to know the intricacies of a zone defense or an overly complex offensive formation. Plays should be simple to understand and easy to execute.
  4. Give broad orders – Specific orders tend to be restrictive. Ender always gave orders that were open to interpretation on how to achieve the objective. In lacrosse a broad order would be to pass the ball twice after picking up any ground ball. A specific order would be to always pass the ball to the left when starting your offense. Well what happens when the defense starts overloading the left side? Specific orders stifle creativity and ingenuity. Give your players broad orders and you’ll be surprised at what they come up with to score a goal or get the ball back.
  5. Your players are smarter than you think – When at the fields, I am constantly astounded by how smart and intuitive the kids are. One thing I’ve found after years of coaching youth players is that they can absorb a large amount of information if the instructions are simple (see #3) and direct. If your players are not getting what you are teaching it is not because they are stupid or slow. It is because something is amiss with how you are teaching/coaching. Remember principles 1-4 and you’ll be well on your way to coaching a successful team.

As I said earlier, I’ve read Ender’s Game many times for two reasons. One, I love to read and I thank my parents profusely for instilling a love of the written word in my life. Two, it is an excellent read that both kids and adults can enjoy.

Go read!
Gordon