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.