Tag Archives: youth player

Avoiding Penalties in Youth Lax

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Penalties are a part of lacrosse. In the youth game, penalties are usually a big part of the game for two reasons. One, young players mature at different rates. U13 is always the worst grade for me to officiate because half of the kids are Davids, the other half are Goliaths, and the Davids do not have throwing stones. Because of some kids are bigger and faster they will, fairly or not, get the majority of the fouls. Second, youth players do not always remember the best way to check, which often results in big swings, cross-checks, and pushes. Over the years, I accumulated different methods of avoiding penalties, and I share a few here.

Slafkosky - Defensive Wizard

Slafkosky - Defensive Wizard

In tenth grade I attended a camp that Dave Slafkosky, a legendary defensive coach from Maryland, was teaching at. I inhaled his lessons about defense. He spoke about positioning, communication, and hard sliding, but he gave one nugget of information that I will forever remember. He said, “Gordon. Your first check should always be a poke check right to the guy’s stomach.” In the context of a youth game, this is very good advice. Typically, young players cradle with both hands. As a result, their stick runs diagonally across their body, which makes aiming a poke check at the stomach area a very high percentage check.

The other reason for throwing the first check at the center of your opponent is a mind game with the official. I usually remind our AYL coaches that my hand goes to my flag when I see a player wind up for a big check, since, more often than not, the stick is coming down hard on the helmet, shoulder, or back. When I see a wind up I profile that player as someone I need to watch, but when I see a player throw a hard poke check towards his opponent’s stick I profile that player as a safe/smart individual. Often, my first observation on a player’s behavior prove correct. So coaches, remind your player’s that officials pay attention to the high, wind up swings, and will focus on players who repeat that checking motion.

Now let’s talk about the “I’m Beat,” or desperation check. Here’s the situation:

  • Red player gets burned by Blue player on a roll dodge. Blue player spins around and chases Red player with his stick outstretched behind him with one arm. Red goes to shoot, and in the process of shooting, Blue swings his stick overhead. He hits Red’s stick and then ricochets hard into Red’s helmet, drawing a one-minute slash penalty.
^ Think This is a Cross-Check?

^ Think This is a Cross-Check?

I defy any coach to comment that none of their players have ever committed the above infraction. The problem here is the nature of youth players. They get beat so they panic. They know they cannot let the other player score, so a gigantic wind-up check might redeem them for getting beat. Honestly, I might as well throw the flag when I see the wind up because nothing good is coming from it.

For the coaches, there is a method of teaching the desperation check that will almost always prevent a flag, and there are three parts to it:

  1. When your player gets beat the first thing they need to do is run as hard as they can to catch up to their opponent. The distance has to get picked up before a check can be applied.
  2. Do not worry about getting in front of a shooter. Why? Because the shooter is going to do one thing, and that is draw his stick behind his body in preparation for a shot. Drawing that stick back turns it into a huge target for your defensive player.
  3. Swing the final check up to the sky, not down to the ground. It is very difficult for a player to hit his opponent’s helmet checking from below the helmet. Nearly all slash calls result in the stick coming down on top on the helmet, not the other way around. In all of my private instruction sessions, I teach players to swing up on the desperation check because the chance of hitting the helmet hard enough to draw a flag is miniscule.

I have gotten beat more times than I care to remember, but learning how to properly do a desperation check saved many goals from hitting the net. Remember, the only way to eliminate the panic from getting beat is to teach effective methods of dealing with it. If coaches do not do this, the first thing a player will do is wind up and swing down wildly. So teach them the better method, and you should see your team’s penalties decrease over time.

*Note – There will be future posts expanding on this topic.

Featured Image Credit – www.ctpost.com


The Mansion

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This will mark the 100th post on Atlanta Youth Lacrosse! Thanks to everyone who sent kind words and encouragement to me. I’m working to make this blog a destination for youth players, coaches, and parents. But none of it matters without dedicated readers – so thank you!

This post needs to have a special message. I decided to retell a story that I heard as a young boy. Be prepared, this story has a moral, and I think it is a very good one for young players to learn about. This lesson stuck with me for over a decade. I hope it will do the same to at least one player in our league.

*** The Mansion ***

For over twenty years Stan worked as a contractor for a fabulously wealthy real-estate developer named Jonathan. Stan’s job was overseeing the minute details of the mansions his boss built all over the west coast. He worked himself ragged, building nearly a hundred mansions over his twenty-year career, each one more opulent than the last. He was rarely offered vacation time, and he had not been given a raise since the nineties. While he chaffed under his boss, Stan had a passion for building the best homes, but then Stan’s life unraveled in an instant.

Jonathan called the contractor into his office and informed Stan that he was retiring from the real estate business. With the housing market taking a swan dive and home prices in the gutter, there was no good reason not to retire. Stan was stunned. All of a sudden he was out of a job, but there was a silver lining. Jonathan required Stan’s services for one final project.

The two men drove out to a magnificent bluff in California. Jonathan purchased nearly twenty acres of land overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He told Stan to forget about every mansion he had built and create one that would be more magnificent than any mansion in California. Stan accepted his last contract, but he had other plans in mind for his uncaring boss.

For two weeks Stan put the architectural and landscaping plans together. He told himself he would build this mansion to look incredible, but that would be a façade. To get back at his boss, Stan hired men he knew did poor jobs. He called the worst construction workers, the most abysmal electrician, and an awful plumber. Those men spent months completing substandard work that was just barely in the limits of California’s housing code.

Yet Stan knew the mansion had to pass Jonathan’s inspection, but his boss only gave the most cursory of glances to the finished product. So Stan hired the most skilled painting company on the West Coast, and the best landscaping crew that money could buy. One week later, the mansion looked phenomenal, but it shook more than a building made out of playing cards. Every day Stan smiled to himself, certain that this would be the ultimate payback for a boss that only cared about Stan’s work, and never his worth as a man.

The week before the mansion was to be put on the market, Jonathan announced he would be coming for an inspection. Stan was certain that Jonathan would fall in love with the mansion, never knowing how poorly constructed it was. He was right. Jonathan stepped out of his limo with his mouth agape. He stood for a full minute without saying a word, before exclaiming:

“You exceeded my wildest expectations Stan! This mansion stands far above every other one in California.”

Stan smiled, pleased that his deception was working.

Jonathan spoke again:

“I have not been the best boss in the world to you Stan. For over twenty years you faithfully worked for me, building homes that made me wealthier than I could ever imagine. I never gave you much of a raise and I rarely gave you time off, but you never complained and I respect that more than you know.”

Stan replaced his smile with a look of confusion. This was not what he expected. Jonathan reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a gold key ring with a silver key dangling off it.

“Stan, this final mansion is not going on the market. I am giving you the keys to your new home. I hope this makes up for treating you poorly in the past.”

Stan’s hands trembled as he grabbed the key from Jonathan’s outstretched hands. All he could say was



The lesson from this story is to always do your best. I do not believe that what we do defines us. Instead, how we do our work speaks volumes about our character. You may be the least appreciated player on a team one day, but that does not give you an excuse to give anything else than your best effort. I will praise a player who does their best and fails, but I can never respect an individual who chooses not to work hard because of their personal feelings against a coach, team, or teammates.

So remember this story the next time you are tempted to take shortcuts in practice. If you only use your left hand when the coach is watching you are only hurting yourself because, one day, the coach is going to send you on the field, and your skills will be as shaky as Stan’s mansion.


Just a Flesh Wound

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If you never watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail you will not understand 1/4 of Coach Lou’s jokes. One of the most memorable scenes is when the King meets the Black Knight on a small bridge. The Black Knight denies passage without a fight and the two men enter into combat. The King hacks off each of the Black Knight’s limbs until he is reduced to a stump on the ground. The classic line of the film is “it’s just a flesh wound!” That term quickly became a classic phrase to say whenever a person ignores a serious injury.

I bring this up because one of our players was hit in a game over the weekend. He appeared to be in good shape with no ill effects after the hit. Unfortunately, he began suffering some symptoms of a concussion during the drive home. His parents were especially attentive of his behavior and quickly took him to the local emergency room. From their report, the doctor decided the player had a stress reaction, not a concussion, resulting from the hard hit.

Now, I know his parents were just being responsible parents, but I must commend them for being aware of their son’s peculiar behavior following the game. While we do not have certified athletic trainers at our fields, our staff follows a common sense approach to serious injuries. If we do not feel comfortable about a player’s injury we find the parents. If we cannot find the parents we get an ambulance down ASAP.

While the AYL staff and officials do their best to ensure player safety there will always be the potential for injury in a lacrosse game. I hope all of our parents and players will practice constant vigilance if a teammate goes to the bench after a hit. If you feel something is amiss please get the attention of the AYL staff quickly.

To end on a more humorous note, here is the famous scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Parents I will warn you that this clip has some adult phrases. I would suggest viewing the clip before your players if you have not seen this movie before. You may make your own judgement as to it’s appropriateness:

Featured Image Credit – www.starsandpopcorn.com

Cheers, Gordon