Tag Archives: Practice

More Games! More Games! More Games!

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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.

Cheers,
Gordon

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

lacrosse-skills-nutrition-plan

Remember – Prek-K, U9, U11, U13 spring 2014 registrations are open until January 31st. Register now at www.ayllax.com/register and join our family!

Featured Image Credit – www.lakehighlandstoday.com

Cheers,
Gordon

It Is Not The Stick Or The Ball

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I’ve noticed a curious thing in my high school games of late. A player takes a shot and the ball goes out of bounds on the end line. His teammate is closest to the ball where and when it goes out and is awarded possession for the next restart. Instead of quickly grabbing an available ball on the end line for a quick restart to attack the goal, the player picks up and drops one ball. Then picks up and drops another. By the time he finds a ball he is happy with the defense has re-set themselves and the quick restart advantage is lost.

The advantage is lost because the offensive player didn’t want to play with a slick ball, or, to use the lacrosse term, a “greaser”. I’m seeing more and more players shoot the ball fifteen or twenty yards above the cage and look at the head of their stick as if blaming the string job or complain to me that the ball was too slick. Let me be perfectly clear:

NFHS Rule 1.5.1 – The ball shall be white, yellow, orange or lime green and meet the current NOCSAE lacrosse ball standard. White balls shall be used unless both coaches agree prior to or during the game to use a yellow, orange or lime green ball.

I am a lacrosse official. I care about what the rules tell me, and the rules and NOCSAE standards tell me that there is no requirement for the lacrosse ball to be “grippy”.

This is a curious evolution of the player mindset. My father and his teammates played with older lacrosse sticks that did not have a lot of research and development money put into them, but the ball was still round and about the same size. When I started playing in the mid 1990’s, the stick shafts and heads were still in the infancy of development, but the ball was still about the same. As I continued playing more and more crazy lacrosse sticks came out. One shaft was wrapped in Kevlar. One head had a patented “floating sidewall”. Money was getting poured into better materials and better structural designs of lacrosse sticks as lacrosse became more popular.

This is where the curious mindset is coming from. Many players are spending $80 on a brand new lacrosse head and $30 for someone to string it up. When you spend $110 on a stick you expect it to do what you want. I played with a hand-me down stick when I started off. If my pass went awry I might have been justified in looking at my stick with a perplexed look, but as soon as I did that the opposing team would pick off the next pass and be on a fast break towards me and I would be out of position because I was staring at my stick.

The money going into lacrosse technology has removed the stick as the primary culprit in bad passes. Now, if the pass is poor it must be a slick ball that caused it. No way the $110 stick could be at fault, and there is certainly nothing wrong with a player’s passing skills. Nope, got to be the ball’s fault.

Let me be perfectly clear again:

It is not the stick or the ball. Your passes and shots are poor because of your poor skills.

Here is the good news about having poor skills. Practicing to improve your skills is free.

There are brick and cinderblock walls all over the place for a drastically price-reduced, completely free wall ball session. There are players on your team would would likely run out their front doors to go have a catch with you for absolutely zero dollars down.

The best part about this free practice opportunity is that every time you practice you invest in your lacrosse skills bank for future games!

Remember that you are not a professional tennis player who gets to choose which ball feels the best. If you get awarded the ball on a shot, pick up the closest one and step onto the field. Because if you keep screwing around to find the perfect ball I am going to bang you for a Delay of Game and turn it over to the defense for wasting everybody’s time.

Featured Image Credit – http://www.sporting-goods-stores.info/lax_subpages/lax_sticks.htm

Cheers,
Gordon