Our players, coaches, and parents survived Snowpocalypse #1 and Snowpocalypse #2! We waited inside for two weeks chomping at the bit to get out and practice, and the last week and a half our young players have been going strong at Hammond Park and Dunwoody Springs. As teams prepare for their first day of games this Sunday I wanted to send a brief message to each group in the AYL family to help keep this 2014 spring season in perspective.
To our brand new players: welcome to AYL and the sport of lacrosse! We love introducing our favorite sport to new players, but we also know it can be a little scary suiting up to play an opponent. It’s okay to be a little scared or nervous before your first game or first couple of games. I played for over 10 years and every game I got butterflies. Those are a good feelings – they let you know you’re alive! As my one of my favorite characters, Ms. Frizzle, from The Magic School Bus said: “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”
To our returning players: welcome back! We’re glad to have you on the field for another season and we’re excited to see you improve from last fall or spring. Do you best to make new friends with our new players both on your team and on other teams. I still talk with my old buddies from my playing days, but you don’t get to have old friends without making new friends! Relish your mistakes in this game as much as your successes, and no matter what happens remember to honor the game.
I truly hope you all enjoy this spring season. Please make our new parents feel welcome and remember that we rely on all of you to maintain a positive game atmosphere for all of our players. Remember to please observe our 24 Hour Rule if you have an issue you feel needs reporting. This allows parties on both sides of any issue to discuss it with cool heads away from the heat of an intense game. Also, we love dogs but the facilities that we lease do not permit dogs at the field. Please be respectful of our host facilities rules regarding animals.
There is a greater than average chance that your player will either get knocked down, take a shot off his body, or sustain a good bruise over the course of an entire season. There is a reason we require the players to wear all that protective gear. The adult and youth officials we’ve requested from the GLOA will officiate the games with player safety first and foremost, but even with the very best officiating and under control play, the players can still get banged up. Pleased don’t be scared by this, but understand the reality that placing twenty ten-year-olds in a 110×60 yard area with body armor and metal sticks might result in a good bruise. The best thing my parents ever did for me besides having me practice a firm handshake was give me the chance to get hurt while being supervised. I beat up my body a good bit in youth ball and a good bit more in high school games, but my parents never tried to shield me from a little pain. I learned at a young age the difference between a little hurt and a big hurt, and I always told someone when I got a big hurt.
Don’t forget that your U9, U11, or U13 player isn’t getting recruited by a college program just yet. A mistake at this level is not marked down by a graduate assistant coach on your player’s permanent lacrosse player record. Let them know it’s okay to make mistakes so long as they work hard to not make the same one in the future.
I tend to have the same message for coaches every season: Simplify, simplify, simplify. Basic is better at the youth level, advanced technique and plays should be saved until every player has demonstrated mastery of the basic foundation of playing lacrosse. High school coaches don’t want to teach the fundamental way to pick up a ground ball in the open field. They want the players coming into their JV or HS program to have these skills from their youth ball experience.
There is a reason I don’t play Madden Football. I hate not scoring on every play and I broke a few controllers while getting sacked by the computer on the lowest setting. Don’t treat these games as anything more than an opportunity for your players and you to improve. Identify what needs work on after your first game, prioritize the top three and practice those the next week. Then repeat the process after each game. If a pass isn’t perfect or a defender doesn’t slide correctly don’t pull them off the field immediately. Give them a chance to self correct and if they’re still making the same mistake sub them off an explain a better way of doing it: “Johnny, I love how hard you’re going for those ground balls. Try getting your bottom hand closer to the ground before you pick it up and you’ll get the next one.” Save shouting instructions to your team on the field. Slow down and reduce your voice’s volume when speaking one-on-one or to your team at halftime.
Know your team’s priorities. If your goals are to score seven points a game, never let your opponent score, or “Championship or Bust!” then you will never have a successful season, and even if you do win the ‘Ship’ your kids, parents and you will be nervous wrecks every game. Focus on the process of continual improvement and you’d be surprised how much production you get out of your team.
As I mentioned earlier we are using adult and youth officials assigned by the Georgia Lacrosse Officials Association. Andy and I’s schedules between work and officiating are too hectic for us to regularly offer shadowing opportunities to our STARs this season. Both Andy and I have trained every adult or youth official that is going to ref games this spring. They know what they are doing and when the game ends the game ends. There will be no reversing of judgment calls after the final horn sounds and AYL will back up the on field decisions of each adult and youth official that comes to ref. We provide a hospitable environment for our players and I expect that to be extended for the referees. These gentlemen are Andy and I’s professional colleagues and they have told us how much they respect the environment and message of AYL.
Whenever Andy or I do not have game assignments we will work to be at the fields. I’m always available to answer rules questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out the rules document that breaks down rules per age level and includes the new 2014 rules here: 2014 Youth Rules And Differences Summary.
Our STAR volunteer program has been a bastion of community service since Mary Jo created it back during our YMCA LAX days. Remember to contact Mrs. Corsetti at email@example.com if you are interested in becoming a STAR. Mary Jo only communicates directly to STARs and interested STARs. It is the responsibility of the young players to email Mary Jo themselves or through their parent’s email. We do this to encourage individual responsibility and to help teach our young volunteers to budget their time and let us know when they are available.
Our STARs are fantastic mentors to younger players and they provide an invaluable service in maintaining the cleanliness of our facilities, running the table, filling in as last-minute goalies, and eating all of our snacks. Just kidding, we always make sure to have plenty of snacks!
I think that covers everyone so I’ll wrap up with this:
I believe the goal of every youth sport is twofold. One, light a passion for physical activity and hard work in the youth player. Two, help teach that player to be responsible for their own actions and reactions through their on-field experiences. I want our players, parents, coaches, officials, and STARs to share in my family’s passion for lacrosse but to also remember that, at the end of the day, it’s about the kids.