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Coaching: Building The Best Players, Practice Implementation and Skills. 1. What level team are you? Youth? Middle School? High School?.
BuildingThe BestPlayers, Practice Implementation and Skills
Youth: Youth coaches are the real money earners in the coaching profession. Your practices need to be the perfect combination of fun and instructional. The emphasis should be on skills—stickwork, groundball drills—and small-field games. Lacrosse is lacrosse no matter what size field you play on. NO LONGSTICKS UNTIL KIDS ARE AT LEAST 13.
Middle School: This is where you begin to have serious lacrosse players. The conceptual side of the sport becomes more important. Skills have been mastered, now it’s time to think outside the helmet.
High School: Coaching at the secondary school varsity level should be approached with the same organizational intensity as college coaching (if not more). You are preparing with winning games in mind, and you’re adjusting your plans depending on performance. At the JV level, you are trying to mirror what is done at the varsity level, while also understanding skill limitations.
Building Blocks: A practice plan, like the team it represents, is a fluid, organic creature. Your last game, win or lose, will dictate your emphasis in your next practice.
Be Goal Oriented: Identify macro and micro goals for your players (goals for a season, goals for a week, goals for a specific practice). 65% EMO/EMD, # Ground-balls per game, goals per game, etc…
Be Progressional: Start small. Think from micro to macro, or if you think macro, start micro. Small sided, small field, small numbers.
Each practice should generally have a specific goal in mind: All drills will be tailored towards that end. All drills need not be specifically related to this, but any time you’re addressing your team directly in a “concept” based talk, have it be related to your core goal.
What time does practice start? Is your start time close to the end of the school day? Is it late at night? Are players driving in? Busing in? Carpooling? Parents driving them? Recognize and consider your players “life” realities and plan for them (and how they’re going to effect what you try to do at practice).
Assume…there’s almost always a fifteen-minute, post-school, post-day, post-arrival hangover. Recognize that your players are going to be sluggish at first and figure out how you want to deal with this so it doesn’t make you completely crazy. My advice: HIT ‘EM HARD EARLY!
The Wave Concept: managing your action, intensity, instruction and play as a series of waves with highs and lows.
Things to be aware of… When do you instruct? When do you up the pace? When do you sense attention waning?
Balance…your high intensity, “fun” drills with your instructional segments. Make you instructional segments brief and manageable. Small units.
A good way to manage pacing is: THE WAVE CONCEPT
Don’t assume your players have attention spans beyond five minutes (at best). Make sure that your drills and instruction—and how the two are dispersed throughout your practice—take into account the fact that kids get bored, BORED, BORED. Pacing is the key to any
good practice. For you AND your players.
Strike a balance: You don’t want to hold back your skilled players, nor do you want to put your weaker players in positions where they are clearly behind in their skills. At the same time you want to make sure your weaker players are being pushed and your stronger players are understanding how “TEAM” means having to provide leadership and guidance to younger/weaker players.
Use Stations/Groups Where Possible: Anytime you can divide the players into smaller groups where they’re working with like-skilled players.
Assume the players know where they stand: If you know whether a kid is strong or weak, chances are they do as well.
Remind these players that the goal is always to
get better. Improvement. Improvement.
(The really important things!)
BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. And more BALLS. Spend whatever money you have available to your program on balls. Don’t EVER buy rebounders. Kids can find brick walls. Use that money to buy BALLS. At the end of practice be an absolute tyrant about your BALL HUNTS. Every ball is not a ball it is an opportunity to get better.
Whistles. Don’t ever come to practice without one. Keep extras in your car for your idiot coaches who always forget.
Cones. Kids are attracted to orange cones. No one knows why, it’s a mystery of biology and science. Put cones down all over the place.
STOP WATCH. I run all of my practices off a stop watch. I time passing drills, stick drills. A clock counting down creates a sense of urgency that keeps players focused.
Did I mention BALLS?
Today’s Practice: Stickwork, Stickwork, and More Stickwork. Oh…and fun.
Athleticism – No explanation necessary…
Lacrosse specific skill – Includes (but is not limited to): the ability to throw and catch with both hands, the ability to shoot and pass accurately with both hands, the ability to pick up groundballs, the ability to play on-ball and off-ball defense, the ability to play on-ball and off-ball defense…
Lacrosse Specific IQ – Includes (but is not limited to): having an intellectual and strategic understanding of the above mentioned skills on both a “micro” and “macro” level…
General Sports IQ – Includes (but is not limited to): having a basic intellectual and strategic understanding of how sports—in general—work and function on a strategic basis. I.e. possessing the ability to understand that a 2v1 is a 2v1 is a 2v1…
Character/Intangibles – See athleticism…
Macro – Given our understand of a “micro” sensibility, we will thus define a “macro” sensibility as a players ability to understand how their micro sensibility interacts with greater lacrosse context of a team, a game, and a given play… “As a player I am aware of how my own dodges, passes and shots, function within the greater context of the team concept or whole…”
More simply understood as a players ability to understand why a team does what it does and how the individual’s participation decisions to do it affects team play.
A player can bethe bestasset to a team for any number of reasons, be them positional—i.e. as a fogo, or LSM—or purely skill based—i.e. as a feeder, a shooter, a dodger…
No one skill is that much more important—in the grand scheme of things—than any other, in that they all function together in order to succeed. Shooters need feeders, feeders need dodgers, dodgers need…face off guys...
Part of being a good youth lacrosse coach is helping your players to develop as many of these skills sets as possible, while also—and at the same time—determining what skill set or role represents them best. Putting players in a position to succeed requires both.
*At the youth lacrosse level (and even at the college to a certain extent), players simply play offense. Versatility is far and away the most valuable asset in a lacrosse player.
Athleticism – Speed, agility, balance, strength, coordination
Lacrosse specific skill – Passing, Catching, Shooting, Scooping, Dodging
Lacrosse Specific IQ – Understanding off-ball movement as it relates to on-ball movement, understanding balance and spacing as it relates to a team offense, understanding how the “micro” and “macro” interact (a.k.a.: why we do what we do when we do it.)
Character/Intangibles – Intelligence, unselfishness, patience, composure, all-round dedication to being a PHD player (poor, hungry, driven).
*Shooting is essential as important as these. It’s nothing more than passing at a higher rate of speed.
1) Teaching kids to properly handle their stick without losing our minds: We are trying to develop “two-handed” players, but we’re frustrated by their lack of facility with their weak hand. They can’t switch hands. They can’t execute dodges. They don’t know how to move.
2) Developing “good” muscle memory: The key to building perfect lacrosse players is reps, reps and more reps. Too many drills require us to stand around in lines while not getting repeated reps that will effectively develop our skills.
3) Keeping kids active busy: Idle hands are the devils…yeah, you get the idea, a kid standing around yawning is a kid not doing anything productive.
Put kids in drills where they are repeating the same rep over and over and over
Keep lines short
Develop drills where players repeated multiple skills in every rep
BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS. BALLS.
Make this fun: Keep a stop watch. Do this in short segments (two minutes). Do something else, come back to it.
Don’t let the kids make it boring: Kids want to make this drill boring. It’s not. And shouldn’t be.
Count passes: Get players in the habit of counting passes, setting goals for themselves, breaking records. This will help build those intangibles.
Keep track of the victors: Reward the players who excel, but every once in a while…
Force people to switch partners: You don’t want the same kids dominating each time, but you don’t want them to get bored or frustrated throwing with lesser talented kids (or vice versa for the weaker players). But every so often, doseydo (slide everyone one partner to their right.)
Focus on the pass: This is (still) most important.
One Handed: Right
Two Handed: Right
One Handed: Left
Two Handed: Left
Canadian: Catch Right/Backhand Throw Left – Catch Left/Backhand Throw Right
Bad Pass: Throw Right to Leftside/Backhand Catch/Bring to Right and Throw – Throw Left to Rightside/Backhand Catch/Bring to left and Throw
Back to Back: Catch Back Shoulder Right/Twist Throw To Back Shoulder Right – Catch Back Shoulder Left/Twist Throw to Back Shoulder Left
Switch Passing: Catch Right/Face Dodge/Throw Left – Catch Left/Face Dodge/Throw Right
Progression: Move on the Face and throw while on the run
Roll Back: Catch Right/Roll Back/Throw Left – Catch Left/Roll Back/Throw Right
Progression: Move on the Roll, protect the stick and throw on the run
2 Ball: Each Player Throws a ball at the same time to catch
Quick Stick: No cradle, Catch and Release
The player who comes up with the ball and throws it back to the coach remains “Gladiator” and the other two return to the line and two new challengers step up. 4 consecutive wins = a Gladiator nickname (basically add “imus” or “aximus” to any regular name: Chrisimus…Mikesimus)
This drill is set up for a right to left split (at the first cone), into a roll-dodge (at the second), into a right-handed attack-dodge. At the island, coaches can determine what sort of move they want attackers to use: hard topside, inside roll, question mark, rocker, etcetera.
Again, this drill is about reps. Don’t have too much space, don’t lag. Go, go, go. Stay on them. Switch lines after every shot. Midfielders must be threats righty and lefty.
5 on a Die Shooting: Alley Shooting
5 on a Die Shooting: Split Rolls (Sprolls)
The “Sproll” is a split-roll, combination dodge. The assumption here is that the middie has been flushed into the alley (by good defense) and must now try to roll back. This can be either a time and room shot, or a shot on the run, depending on the situation.
5 on a Die Shooting: Split Rolls (Sprolls)
(Rollback & Re-Dodge)
3 Steps More: The best way to teach shooting on the run is to insist kids take at least 3 steps after every shot and end up running backwards. Don’t let them stop their feet.
No shuffle, shuffle, shot, shot: Kids have a tendency to want to get their feet into a crow-hop, or shuffle step, much as in shooting time and room—don’t let them!
ALL SHOTS MUST BE OVERHAND: On the run HAS to be taken overhand.
Think about the upper and lower body doing two different things: Lower body runs, upper body, turns, twists, shoots…
It’s actually more of a bend than just a twist: A good shooter on the run gets exceptional torque on their shot from both twisting at the waist, bending (or arching back) on the shot, and snapping the through with the aid of the driving leg and ending with full body turn and running backwards.
Plant the outside leg first: The next stride is key.
*At the youth lacrosse level (and even at the college to a certain extent), players should probably play both offense and defense. Versatility is far and away the most valuable asset in a lacrosse player.
Approaching the ball: Come in at an angle, take away “the most dangerous area of the field”.
Break down: into good body positioning. Butt down, chest up, stick in front.
Footwork: First three steps are always back. Think of yourself as a DB in football, drop step, give ground, then engage!
Limit Stick Checks: A 1v1 match-up is, in many ways, a staring contest, don’t blink first. In other words, don’t be the one who makes the mistake. Feet, body then stick .
If you are going to throw checks: Keep your feet moving at all times.
Be physical: Initiate contact with your dodger before he can get up to full speed.
Close ground: If you’re guarding an especially quick offensive player, engage them before they can take a run at you.
Dictate Where the Offense Can Go/ Protect the middle of the field: : A good defender plays an aggressive positional style. Dictating where an offensive player can and cannot go will make slides and defensive packages more efficient and predictable. Breakdowns occur when the offense dictates play.
*It’s not the will to win, It’s the will to practice to win
Half Step Behind: Take away the roll-back, don’t over pursue or over-commit to the dodgers attacking hand or lane.
Drive to the least dangerous area of the field: (More on this next)
Stick on back shoulder: Waiting for trail or lift
Never stop your feet: As soon as you stop your feet (whether throwing a check or while engaged with an offensive player), you’re effectively beaten. You are no longer in a fair fight—the offense has the advantage!
Drive with your legs: No leaning over your stick with your arms extended.
Your job is never done: Once your offensive player moves the ball on, your job is never done. Your roll just shifts.
Preventing Topside Dodges
Attackmen can’t get a high quality shot: Unless they’re able to get far enough above the cage (5&5, which is really 3&3) attackmen won’t have sufficient angle to be efficient and effective shooters.
Attackmen can’t look to feed: If a defender engages with his offensive player before allowing him to get top-side feeding becomes more difficult, because no slides are necessary.
Pinch between crease and slider: By reducing the amount of room a midfielder has to attack the goal (shrinking dodging lanes) a defender is able to use the crease as an additional defender.
Force him into the slide: We already know the slide is coming from the crease (we’re a crease sliding team), staying top-side brings the defender directly into the slide.
Making defense predictable: Defense is played by individuals who are part of a team. By taking away the top-side you’ve eliminated the number of options an offensive player has.
Your job is never done: Once your offensive player moves the ball on, your job is never done. Your role just shifts.
Slide to where he’s gonna be: Not where he is.
Slide to meet him at the edge of the most dangerous area of the field: Take away the roll back, stick on back shoulder ready for trail or lift
Slide under control to stop the ball: Breaking down like you would to any dodger
Stick then body then stick: (unless they don’t see you and then it’s body, then body, then body.
Double until dodger is no longer a threat: No leaning over your stick with your arms extended.
Release original defender: (almost always)
And remember: Your job is never done…once you’ve successfully eliminated the threat your job is NOT done. Your role just shifts.
Approaching Your Man: Defenders are taught to “come in at an angle, take away the most dangerous area of the field…” (usually the middle). Part of being a good dodger is recognize how our approach to our defender is going to “open-up” the parts of the field we want to attack.
The North/South Attack: Every dodge should start with a split or bull-dodge! Too often players begin their dodges by going east west, or side-to side. This concedes the offensive advantage from the start. Every player wants to attack his defender directly, by going right at him.
Recognize the Tendencies of Your Defender: Within your first one or two runs at a defender, you should get a feel for his tendencies. Does he poke then drop? Does he throw a lot of heavy slaps? Does he play with his hands behind him? Does he throw overheads at goal-line extended? The more you know, the better prepared you’re going to be to attack him.
Recognize What Kind of Dodger You Are: For the most part, there are three different types of dodgers. The slow, smart, reactive dodger (he lets the defenders make mistakes), the aggressive attacking dodger and a combination of both. Players should understand their strengths and weaknesses. If you’re not fast, you’re going to have to be smart. If you’re not smart, you’re going to have to be fast.
Understand Your Counter Moves: Every 1v1 is like a prize-fight. For every punch, there is a counter punch. As an offensive player, you want to be able to read your defender and react accordingly. If you’re playing against a guy who likes to throw overheads, maybe you’re going to drag your stick and bait him, then when he bites, you tuck and go. Be as smart as you are aggressive.
As an offensive player we want to establish and dictate where we are going. In order to do this we must understand how our angle of attack will open things up for us.
5&5 is the Goal: As attackmen we’re trying to get to the islands in order to shoot and/or feed. How we get there depends on what type of player we are. If we’re faster and quicker, we can try to beat our defenders behind the goal, if we’re bigger, we’re probably going to want to attack our defender at 5&5 using an inside roll, a Question Mark Dodge or maybe a rocker step.
Pick Your Spots: A lot of attackmen like to dodge from X; others like to dodge from the corners of the field. There are benefits to both.
Use the goal and crease to your advantage: Run defenders off the tangents of X in order to trip them up.
Understand how your initial move is going to open up something different: Most good defenders can stop your initial move. With this in mind, our desired goal is often going to come off our second or counter move.
Remember: Punch, counterpunch. For every move there is a complimentary move. Drive topside, inside roll, rocker, question mark, fake question mark. Know your weapons.
*Using a defender’s momentum against him…
Again, this second move, or counter-move, can be achieved using a roll-dodge (safest), a split-dodge (harder) or dip-under (hardest). The goal here is to change direction as soon as the defender “hops” over the back of the cage.
Using the Back of the Cage
The goals differ depending on what you want: A good alley dodger and shooter, might be content to get into the alley and shoot. A player looking to create and feed, will probably be trying to attack the middle of the field. Know what you want before you go after it.
Pick Your Spots: A lot of middies (and a lot of offenses) call for middies to dodge off the high corners. Get as high as possible, and to the middle of the field if that’s what you want.
Understand how your initial move is going to open up something different: Most good defenders can stop your initial move. With this in mind, our desired goal is often going to come of our second, or counter move.
Remember: Punch, counterpunch. For every move there is a complimentary move. Drive topside, roll dodge, split -dodge, split-roll back, swim move and rocker. Know your weapons.
Dodge the man, not the grass: Don’t just run into the alley because that’s what the defender is giving to you.
Don’t settle for bad shots: The defender wants you shooting low percentage shots from the alley. Fight to get the BEST shot, not the first shot.
You dodged the grass and not the man, and you settled for a bad shot. This is a loss!
Attacking the Most Dangers Spot on the Field
On this secondary countermove, players can either roll-dodge (safest), split-dodge (harder, but quicker), or use the “swim-dodge”.
Attack the Alley to Get to The Middle
Set up for “mirror” option. Key to remember: Crease player stays high and waits for dodger to draw slide, then finds a seam to get open.
Set up for Attack 2-man game. Key to remember: Verticality on the pick (set picks on a north/south line).
Remember: When a player is “off ball” he is generally cutting through to create space. When setting a pick we want to create the illusion that we’re doing exactly this. (Pick Inside Out)
The Midfield 2v2
The 3v3 rotation is the basic component of almost any lacrosse offense around. The basic rules are:
1) On ball: I’m either dodging or feeding. If I feed, cut immediately looking to get a pass back.
Off Ball: I’m either setting an “on-ball” pick, setting an “off-ball” screen or cutting through (clearing space for the dodger).
Key Things to Remember:
1) Balance, Spacing, Balance, Spacing, Balance, Spacing
2) STAY SPREAD! FIGHT THE “VORTEX”
3) Where are our “Dodging Spots”?
There are any number of ways to set up a 3v3. Here are four different options. Name them so your players know which one you want. And always use cones!
Notice: The player at X has remained “spread” but he is also “beneath” or “ahead” of the ball carrier. If he is “outside” or “behind” the ball carrier this forward pass becomes extremely difficult.
*With the midfielders we can start the dodge out with a V-cut.
The 2v1, 1v1 Drill
When deciding who the “recover” defenseman will be, you can do one of two things: 1) designate a line that will return each time, or, 2) have it become a last touch drill.
The 2v1, 1v1 Drill
This is a small field (full-field) up tempo transition drill, sometimes known as the “West Genny” Drill.
The purpose of this drill is to get players comfortable executing transition concepts in a small, compact field. This is a continuous drill that—once started—will provide opportunities for players to play in and out of position. Defensemen will be handling the ball on offense, and offensive players will have to learn defensive concepts.
The keys to this drill from a coaching standpoint are 1) making sure the point man on the break stay “high” forming the point of the offensive triangle, 2) making sure you clearly identify which two lines will be recovering each round on defense (use the outer two lines), and 3) making sure the defense recovers, sets up in an “I” formation and COMMUNICATES!
(aka The 444 Drill)
This is a small field (full-field) up tempo 4v4 game that is designed to get players moving and competing.
Teams are split into two colors and dispersed around the four corners of the field.
The coach starts by rolling a ball in from the sideline, then we are live. The two teams play to a goal or until the coach decides to reset with a new ball.
The key is to get players understanding how to play positional lacrosse. Each team must have someone protecting “the house” and each team will want to send a player up field in transition immediately. The speed of transitions from goal to offense should be emphasize.
This is a small field (full-field) 3v3 drill that is designed to get kids playing in a scrimmage type atmosphere while in smaller numbers.
The 2v1 ground ball will turn into a 3v3 with six players on the field going to goal. The 3v3—the bedrock of any 6v6 offense—is highlighted in this drill. For younger players this allows them to create better spacing while at the same time running up and down the field.
For older more advanced players the triangle concepts begin to come into play. As always in any offensive scenario the keys are balance and spacing.
This is also a good way to begin to teach players the concept of positions and jobs. By encouraging players to make sure someone defends the “house” or their own goal, you will begin to cut down on the “pack”, “ball-following” mentality that is common to young players.
The middle school level is where fun and strategic development coincide. It is imperative to continue developing skills and an appreciation/love of the game, while simultaneously increasing the functional knowledge of the middle school lacrosse player.
At this age players begin to play “official” positions. A lot of the drills here are designed to put players in different situations, but the goal for this is to develop stick skills and “all around” knowledge from lacrosse players. Everyone plays D, everyone plays O—regardless of position.
Higher level concepts such as the “two-man” game and general offensive positioning and slides should also be further explored at this age level.