With the end of the regular season almost upon us everyone’s attention is turning towards summer travel ball. I have several trips in the works to officiate different summer tournaments because it is a great way for me to stay in touch with many of my officiating friends in different states. I was also fortunate to be selected to officiate the festival games in Denver that are going on alongside the 2014 World Lacrosse Championships, which I’ll be heading out to in July and I’ve been geeking out about that since I got the assignments. In my officiating travels I’ve noticed a strange mindset creeping into youth lacrosse: it seems that games have taken on a greater importance than practice.
I want to be clear on what I think the relationship between practice and games should be:
Practice > Games
Games < Practice
I hear over and over again the need for more and more game experience for youth players. It’s as if playing more games accelerates skill development. It doesn’t, and a personal lesson from my high school algebra class demonstrates this.
A math test and a lacrosse game are surprisingly similar. Math tests require a student to demonstrate proficiency in a particular area of math after learning it in class and solving problems while studying. Lacrosse games require a player to demonstrate skill in their particular position after learning it at practice and working repetitions in their free time. Math tests are rarely passed without consistent study, and lacrosse games are rarely won without regular practice.
I imagine I would get many ludicrous looks if I suggested the best way to get better at math would be to take more and more tests at the expense of more and more study. Tests and studying are not the same. Tests are designed to prove that you know the material you practiced on your own time. They are not designed to teach you new information. When I was in high school I performed very poorly in algebra. I did not study much and the tests reflected my lack of preparation. After getting suitably chastised by my teacher and parents I found a way to pass by spending hours working as many problems as I could so that solving for “x” was burned into my brain. If I just took the tests without studying I would have had a lot of “test experience,” and a failing grade in the class. But I learned to study and the test just became confirmation of information I already knew.
Games have become more important than they should be at the youth level. Youth lacrosse is meant to light a fire so a player has fun playing the game and so they understand the importance of carving out time to practice. High school and college coaches do not care if a player was in 200 games over the course of their youth playing days. They want to know if a player logs 200 hours of wall ball each off season because anyone can get up to play a game. Getting up to practice is much harder.