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Maintain Your Mouth Guards!

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Maintain Your Mouth Guard

I’ve always been perplexed by players who don’t wear mouth guards, and even more perplexed by the adults who don’t stay on their young players to properly wear and maintain their mouth guards. Maybe I’m perplexed because of the mouth guard discipline instilled in me when I was learning kickboxing as a teenager. Rule of the gym was – no mouthguard, no spar, and I wanted to spar so I learned to bring a mouth guard to practice and wear it the right way because it doesn’t matter how good the mouth guard is – it won’t do a darn thing if it isn’t worn correctly.

According to the American Dental Association’s May 27th, 2010 article American Dental Association Says Mouthguard Important Piece of Athletic Gear: “The most effective mouthguard should be resilient, tear-resistant and comfortable. It should fit properly, be durable and easy to clean, and not restrict your speech or breathing.” A regular boil-and-bite mouth guard bought from your neighborhood sports supply store will work  to reduce facial and dental injuries, but I would encourage players at all levels to go for a fitted mouth guard. I wore an OPRO Mouth Guard during my high school playing days and I never had a more comfortable mouth guard that I could also speak through.

properly-wornProperly Worn Mouth Guard

The image on the left is a young chid wearing a mouthguard correctly. How do you know that you are wearing the mouthguard correctly? – It fits in your mouth. This should be the easiest piece of equipment to wear correctly besides cleats, but many players wear their mouth guards like the hockey player below.



Improperly Worn Mouth Guard

This is commonly known as the fish hook, and wearing your mouth guard like this is about as effective as an actual fish hook in protecting your teeth. The device designed to protect your teeth will not work as designed if you do not wear it properly!



Maintaining your mouth guard is just as important as wearing it the correct way. The follow pictures are from actual AYL players from various age levels showcasing good mouth guards and not so good mouthguards.

bad-mouthguard_2Bad Mouth Guard #1

This mouth guard has been chewed repeatedly on one side. While this is not the worst mouth guard I’ve seen it is not going to do a great job if the player is hit during a game because the grooves that the teeth are supposed to fit into are no longer there.


bad-mouthguard_3Bad Mouth Guard #2

This mouth guard is a worse version of the one above. I can’t imagine this is even comfortable to wear, which will likely lead to the player fish hooking the mouth guard. While I’ve never found molded plastic to be a particularly tasty substance to chew on I have ground my teeth on mouth guards that I’ve worn if I was stressed out during a game. This mouth guard is not going to protect the player when the player needs it.

bad-mouthguard_1Bad Mouth Guard #3

This is one of the worst mouth guards that my mother photographed. Each side has been bitten repeatedly and there is no way this fits into the player’s mouth as designed. Do not wait to replace your mouth guard when it gets to this point.


good-mouthguard_2 Good Mouth Guard #1

This mouth guard is in excellent condition. Notice that all of the impressed bite marks from the player’s original fitting are still intact, which means the mouth guard will fit comfortably and give the greatest degree of protection that it is designed to provide.


good-mouthguard_1 Good Mouth Guard #2

This mouthguard is even better than the one above, and the player has a back up mouth guard! Both mouth guards have been molded to his teeth, and they are kept in a container so they don’t get squished by other gear or stepped on while the player is suiting up. This player is probably going to save his mom and dad a lot of money in dental bills if he wears these nice mouth guards properly.


The April 1st, 2013 ADA Press Release Play it Safe: Prevent Facial Injuries With Simple Sports Safety Precautions noted a disturbing result of a AAO (American Association of Orthodontists) survey: “67% of parents admitted that their children do not wear a mouth guard during organized sports. This raises a question: if mouth guards offer a simple and relatively inexpensive solution to help dramatically decrease the risk of oral injuries, why aren’t more kids wearing them?”

I have an answer to that question: it is because mouth guards are not expensive.

I’ve seen returning players come into a spring season with brand-spanking new lacrosse gear. Brand new gloves, shiny helmets, top of the line arm pads, and cleats designed to “accelerate” them on the field. But they still have the same mouthguard they used when they started three years ago. Mouth guards should be the least expensive piece of required equipment that parents need to purchase for their young players. Sadly, many parents will shell out a couple hundred dollars each year on new equipment, but leave the mouth guard off the new gear list because, hey, it’s just a mouth guard. Well, if you or your player think that then here are two fun images for you all to think about:
Busted Teeth


Get a good mouth guard. Maintain it. Wear it correctly
… and you’ll lower your chances at having to shell out a few thousand in corrective dental work

Featured Image Credit – http://www.dentalgentlecare.com/dental_tip_april.htm (Apparently this post is well timed as April is National Facial Protection Month!)


Breaking Down Average Playing Time

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For many new players, parents, and coaches lacrosse can be a difficult game to find the rhythm. Particularly regarding player substitutions. Football has very defined start and stop periods followed by substitutions, baseball has lineup cards, and basketball has a very loud horn for subbing. The closest sport to lacrosse in terms of substitutions is hockey, but hockey puts six players per team on the ice while lacrosse has ten players per team on the field. More players in a bigger playing area requires a greater amount of managing from the team’s coaches.

To illustrate how to give each player the most playing time possible I am going to create a hypothetical U11 team playing according to our AYL rules and game time regulations. Here are the specifics of our imaginary U11 team:

  • Head Coach: Gordon Corsetti
  • Assistant Coach: John Danowski
  • Substitution Coach: Ryan Boyle
  • Team Size: 20 players
  • Team Breakdown:
    • Two goalkeepers
    • Six defensemen
    • Six attackmen
    • Six midfielders

Now that our U11 team is set let’s dig into the particulars of AYL game time rules:

  • Game Length: two 20-minute running-time halves
  • Halftime: five minutes
  • Horns: substitution horns may be called for when the ball goes out on the sideline

If you want to coach youth lacrosse players properly you need to take the mystery out of substitutions. That starts with having a written list of players and the lines that they are in for your next game. For the above team a coach will have two lines of attack, two lines of defense, and two lines of midfielders.

I do not use the designations Line 1 and Line 2. I like to use Red Line and Blue Line.

  • Red Line – Good player, decent player, learning player
  • Blue Line – Good player, decent player, learning player

In recreational youth lacrosse I like to split all of my available players into Red Lines or Blue Lines and to make the lines as balanced as possible based off of each player’s ability. Having a good player who may be more experienced and understands the game on each line is important because you ensure that there is always a player who can perform lacrosse moves on the field. Having a decent player who can become better through more work on each line is needed because the decent player will get better playing with the good player on his line. Having a learning player on each line lessens any negative impact that the learning player may have on the game because he is covered by his other two teammates on the line who have a little more experience, but the learning player also gets better by playing with those better than him.

This Red/Blue Line set up turns every better player into a de facto mentor for a less skilled player:

Good Player > mentors the Decent Player who mentors > Learning Player

Now that you have your list you need a cheap wrist watch or stopwatch for your substitution coach to use. I hate worrying about substitutions as a head coach. I need to be focused on what the on field team is doing, and I need to know from my substitution coach when it is time to sub. I also need to know that a player is ready to sub if I need to give an on field player a rest before our regular substitution time comes up. All of this should be handled by the substitution coach to free the head and assistant coaches to deal with game strategy.

When To Sub:

  • In a game with twenty-minute running-time halves these are the approximate times to substitute per half using our made up team:
    • Midfielders – sub every four minutes (4 line changes total each half)
    • Attackmen – sub every six minutes (3 line changes total each half)
    • Defensemen – sub every six minutes (3 line changes total each half)
    • Goalkeepers – sub every half (One goalie starts first half, other goalie starts 2nd half)
  • Call for a horn if the ball goes out on the sideline to do a full substitution
  • You may substitute everyone after goals, after penalties, and after timeouts
  • All other substitutions must be done on-the-fly through the substitution box

When Not To Sub:

  • Here are the times when you should not substitute:
    • Do Not substitute while your team is on defense. If your players are tired they need to learn to stick it out until the next available sub opportunity
    • Do Not substitute everyone when the ball goes out of bounds on the endline. You may only substitute through the substitution box in this scenario

Admittedly, what I have laid out in this post is a substitution plan for an ideal youth recreation team with balanced numbers and an equal number of good, decent, and learning players. This ideal team appears rarely at any youth level, but the model that I’ve set forth can be adjusted based off the make up of your team. Try and get as close to this model as you can and you will be able to provide your youth players more equitable playing time in all of your games.


Shoulder Angel vs. Shoulder Devil

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Good versus Evil. Right versus Wrong. Morality versus Immorality. Shoulder Angel versus Shoulder Devil.

All of these capture the inner struggle we all have to do the right thing. This struggle is characterized as our conscience, and we all have one. Yet, for young players their conscience, like themselves, is immature. This is not to say that young players do not have a conscience. Just that is is currently undergoing construction.

Parents and immediate family members lay the deep foundation of conscience. My father and mother constantly told me that being a good person meant doing the right thing when no one was paying any attention. Those messages permeate deep into the minds of young players, as it went deeply into mine. The next level of conscience-building comes from forces outside the immediate family. Friends are the first that come to mind. Players, have your parents ever told you to choose your friends wisely? My parents told that to me constantly, and I chose friends who liked me for me and always had my back. I avoided the kids that wanted to party all night, drink, and try drugs. Instead, I was lucky to have friends that cared about me and I continue many of those friendships to this day. It is my hope that your teammates become close friends to you today and remain that way for years to come. Because I believe that good friends will keep you on a good path.

The last force that helps to develop a good conscience are teachers. I use that term broadly to encompass actual teachers, coaches, church-leaders, role-models, etc. For the purposes of this post, I will be focusing mainly on coaches and our responsibility to ensure that kids listen to their Shoulder Angel.

I have said before that sports are a microcosm of life. It allows kids to experience victory and defeat, and all the emotions and feelings that come with each. However, every sport has a dark side which if left unchecked, will ruin any kid’s experience on the field. That dark side is evident when players don’t listen to their conscience, and allow anger, rage, and frustration to rule their minds. When that happens cheap hits and fouls are committed, often with an intent to get back at another player for a perceived slight, or, even worse, to injure another player. These moments have happened, do happen, and will continue to happen. Sorry to say, but players lose control over themselves sometimes and will occasionally do something that is just plain wrong. So how can coaches use these dark side situations to their advantage? How can we teach young players to control themselves when everything around them seems so chaotic?

Option 1, Fight Fire With Fire:

Fire With FireSometimes, a player will do something so blatantly unsportsmanlike that the only thing to do is call the player out on it. Put simply, there is a lot of power behind a coach using his own dark side and scaring the heebie jeebies out of the player. For example, I did something downright ugly in a game many years ago. My coach (also my dad) got right into my grill and demanded that I explain myself. I was so taken aback by how angry he was that I chose to be the most sporting player I could be after that. Do I remember what I did that set my father off? Not at all. I just know that I’ll never do it again and I’m incredibly sorry that I did it. The point here is there is a place for anger as a coach, so long as it is used effectively.

Option 2, Create A Safe Place

Safe PlaceEvery player should feel comfortable coming to their coach with a problem. Especially if that problem is occurs during a game. If communication lines between players and the coach remain healthy, then players can talk through their issues with their coach. Coaches, especially at the youth level, should strive to become a safe place where players can voice their opinions and concerns. If you do this, players will think to tell their coach about unsportsmanlike behavior on the opposing team, so that he can handle it properly, and without the player having to get revenge against their opponent. Work on ensuring that players can come to you with any issue, and they will come to you if they have a problem in a game. Tell your players, “if someone is playing dirty against you I want to know about it, and don’t take it into your own hands.”

Whichever option you choose, remember they are not mutually exclusive. You are more than welcome, and encouraged, to use both.

To all of the players reading this blog, I want to request something from all of you – Do Not Sully This Game. That means, when you are fouled in a game, you don’t go looking for retaliation. That means, when one player calls you a bad name, you don’t reply in kind. That means when you step onto the field you leave the game better than you found it by your actions on the field.

Finally, I will leave you with a great and humorous video that showcases the contrast between the Shoulder Devil and the Shoulder Angel. Here’s a hint, the best part of this video is when Kronk tells his Angel and Devil to leave him alone and he goes with his heart. That is what conscience is really about.