Tag Archives: plan

Nutritional Practice Plans

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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:

  1. Picking up a ground ball
  2. Running and dodging while cradling
  3. Passing on the run
  4. 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:

  1. Ground ball pickup leads to:
  2. Dodging the incoming defender leading to:
  3. A pass to the cutting offensive player, which leads to:
  4. 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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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.


Practicing With A Plan

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In yesterday’s post, “When Less Really Is More,” I stated that my next post would be on focused practice. I already established that without consistent practice no one in sports or any other activity will improve beyond their current level. I found, through a lot of trial and error, that consistent practice is not enough. It must be combined with focused practice to break off whatever plateau you are currently on.

Going back to the jiu-jitsu analogy from my earlier post, I used to train like a madman. While I got better it was at a very incremental rate and I was still getting tapped by the same moves class after class. Enter Uncle Craig. Uncle Craig is not really my uncle, but he was a great role model for a young teenager. He was also extremely analytical, which is no coincidence that he worked as an Industrial Organizational Psychologist. He came to Tiger Academy after I had been training for three years and quickly moved up the belt rankings. He became the dominate jiu-jitsu practitioner whenever we rolled (the jiu-jitsu word for wrestle), and I was more than a little stunned that he moved from getting tapped by me to regularly beating me with innovative wrist and leg locks.

Here I was, seventeen years old, getting beat by a guy almost in his thirties who started training much later than I did. How the heck was he beating me? Why was he so darn good? Simple – he had a plan for every class and every roll.

Craig carried around a ubiquitous notebook to every class and made notes whenever our lead instructor went over a move. He moved around so he could better see the instructor demonstrating a very tiny, but crucial detail to a submission’s success, and he kept track of every time he got tapped or tapped someone else. He also noted what submissions he tapped someone with and the ones that he was most susceptible to. When he got home he would enter his notes into a computer program that he designed which tracked what he was doing well at and what needed the most work. I trained with Craig for almost two and a half years and I never saw him without his notebook.

It took me until 2010 to fully apply Craig’s data entry method, but instead of jiu-jitsu I put it towards improving as a lacrosse official. Every lacrosse official I work with will tell you that I am rarely far away from my brown leather three-ring binder. This binder holds a printout of the current season’s NFHS and NCAA rules for easy reading, a laminated sheet of every GLOA official’s contact information, and, most importantly, a lot of notebook paper.

I write down self-evaluations constantly because I do not have the benefit of practice like players or jiu-jitsu practitioners. Officials train themselves in the classroom and then prove themselves on the field, but until virtual reality simulations are developed for sports officials the best way we have to practice is constantly marking how we are doing.

Since I can’t practice calling a game like a player would practice shooting, I use every game to practice one or two things at a time. Typically I focus on a mechanic that I didn’t get quite right in my earlier game which I wrote down in my “needs work” section on my three-ring binder.  For example, whenever a lacrosse official throws his flag he is supposed to yell, “Flag down!” This informs everyone who may not have seen the flag that there is a flag. Every few games I get a little lax about yelling “flag down,” so I note it down and make it a priority for me to do the next game. Predictably, the more I make it a priority the less I forget to yell it.

I don’t write down just my mistakes or omissions either. It is critically important to keep track of what I did well and what my state of mind was during the game. If I had a poor game, my notes are not absent a reason for that poor game. I might have been sick, had a rough day at work or a personal issue that was sticking in my mind. Keeping track of how you feel during whatever activity you are trying to improve on is a huge data point that often goes missed. Let’s face it we all have bad days, so it is important to keep them in mind when looking at a game with a lot of negative marks in it.

That is how I practice my officiating and how I made it deeper into the postseason every year since my second year. I don’t just practice, I practice with purpose.

Lacrosse players, violinists, computer programmers, and virtually every other skilled activity or job can be improved on with consistent, focused practice. Here are a few ways that a youth lacrosse player can track himself and work his way to a new plateau of ability:

  • Write down exactly what you want to accomplish each practice session
    • Not – pick up ground balls better, but – “I plan on bending my legs more on every ground ball in practice today and keeping my stick almost parallel to the ground.”
  • Set attainable goals
    • Not – I’m going to do 100 wall ball repetitions as fast as I can, but – “I plan on doing twenty wall ball repetitions with my left and right hand as perfectly as I can and as fast as I can with good form.”
  • Write down everything
    • Not – I was terrible at shooting today, but – “I had a really bad day at school and I didn’t pay attention well in my shooting drills. Tomorrow I will try to pay attention better by putting everything but shooting out of my mind.”
  • Get composition notebooks
    • If you don’t want to shell out money for a brown leather three-ring binder I highly suggest multiple composition notebooks. Different colors for different skills that you are working on.
  • Don’t focus on at least one practice session
    • I don’t mean go mess around during practice, but it is good for the mind to take a break from regimented practice. Go try out a new stick trick, or an unorthodox face-off move. You may never use it during a game, but an unfocused and relaxed practice will be a good reward for a week’s worth of focused, planned practice.

There is no substitute for consistent, focused practice. Develop a plan that works for you, but above all have a plan!