Coaching a Lacrosse Team to New Heights
You’ve been the head coach for a few years now. Your team has steadily been improving, but just can’t get over the proverbial hump. The local big shot team has beaten your guys a couple of times in a row in the playoffs, and you and the team are ready for greater heights. From creating a culture and atmosphere of winning, to developing players properly, there are some things you can do to build up your program to the point where you are a legit championship contender.
A huge part of becoming a top-tier team is having players who come into your program ready to play, already well-versed in the ins and outs of the game. A solid feeder program can’t be built without strong leadership from the top, and enough oversight to make winning games at the lowest levels a lesser priority. The priority should be on fundamental skill development.
Well thought out plans must be in place for your feeder program to thrive. Players should be taught the most basic skills before they are taught the intricacies of the game. Throwing, catching, cradling, and shooting should be the first things every player learns when he enters the program.
As players grow and advance through the age groups, you can increase the complexity of the skills and concepts being taught to them. Once the young guys have a good grip on the basic stuff, move on to things like teaching offensive sets and defensive slide packages to them.
One final point to consider with the feeder program – make sure they play against top competition game in and game out. There’s no need to schedule an entire slate of games against championship caliber teams, but the more that your guys play against top competition, the more prepared they will be to face elite players and teams at the high school level.
Convincing athletes from other sports to pick up lacrosse early in their high school career is a great way to see an immediate improvement in the talent and athleticism in your program. Football, basketball and soccer players often already have in place the basics of footwork and off-ball movement that lacrosse players need to be successful.
With football players, try to get the skill position players to come out for the team. Running backs, wide receivers, defensive backs, and linebackers all make great lacrosse players. Football players are taught from an early age to play with passion and have a certain intensity level that lacrosse players occasionally lack. Also, they love to hit and make a physical impact on the game.
Basketball players excel in the footwork and defensive areas of lacrosse. Because lacrosse defense is so much like basketball defense with the lateral movement and need to stay in front of the ball carrier, basketball players have an easy transition to lacrosse. Add in the fact that you’re allowed and encouraged to play physical defense in lacrosse, and the hoopsters find that lacrosse may even be more fun than basketball.
Team offense and defense are also very similar in lacrosse and hoops, so you shouldn’t have to do much teaching of team concepts to basketball players just picking up the sticks for the first time.
If any soccer players join your team, you’ll quickly find that they are in fantastic shape and can run for days. Soccer players make great midfielders as they are such horses running up and down the field effortlessly. The one drawback with soccer players is that they are often not used to the level of physicality in lacrosse. It may take a bit of an adjustment period for a soccer player to become comfortable with getting knocked around and beaten with metal sticks, but once he does, you’ll have a very dependable and athletic player at your disposal.
Lacrosse is a sport that a good or great athlete can pick up very quickly, so adding athletes of this caliber can quickly strengthen your program. In some areas, lacrosse still has a reputation as a sport that people who either didn’t play other sports or who weren’t good enough to make other teams can come out and play. An increase in your program’s overall athleticism can quickly change that perception at your school and in your program.
The offseason is the time when players have the most time and opportunities to improve their game. Players should work both on their own, as well as with teammates to get better during the offseason. Express to your players just how important it is for them to work hard in the offseason and not leave their sticks in the closet to collect dust for eight months.
Give your players plenty of opportunities to attend a team camp or tournament during the summer. The players have a great chance to bond at these events, without the pressure of winning every game and having to do homework every night looming over them. Players should also be encouraged to attend as many summer camps as they can stomach and their parents can fund. Camps offer top coaching and top competition, and no one ever got worse being coached by or playing against the best of the best.
Staying in shape and improving overall fitness over the offseason is huge, too. Summer break offers players quite a bit of free time with which they can work out to get stronger and faster. Come up with an offseason conditioning program that outlines goals and routines for players to follow in the offseason to improve their general fitness and athleticism. Let players know that you are paying attention to who is working hard, and that those people will undoubtedly be rewarded come lacrosse season with captainship, playing time, and leadership roles on the team.
Creating a Culture
One of the most frustrating things that a coach can have to deal with is an attitude within the program that losing is acceptable. There has to be a culture of competition in the program. Players have to hate losing. The most important thing is that you convince the players that they are good enough to win a championship and beat the big boys. From the first day of practice you need to preach with conviction that your goal as a coach is to guide your team to a championship. Do not settle for less. Do not preach about moral victories. Moral victories are for bad teams who overachieve. If you want your team to be championship caliber, they must expect to win every game. There are no moral victories for championship teams.
Putting the right leadership in place can do wonders for the intensity and drive of your team. You have to pick captains that exemplify the type of leadership and attitude you want your team to have. They must be players who not only are respected by teammates, but who get it done on the field as well. Try your best to pick seniors who have been in the program working hard all four years. This sets an example for younger players that if they work hard and give their all to the program, then they will be able to lead the team as seniors too. Strong leadership comes from the top, so make sure to conduct yourself in the manner you want your captains to emulate with their teammates. Don’t be condescending, but don’t let them walk all over you, either. Assert yourself as the top dog often and early.
Chasing the Championship
There are always going to be quarters, games, and seasons when things don’t go your way, or when your team doesn’t get the breaks it needs. There will be games that your team loses on a fluke or blown call. If your program is strong, and your players are driven, it will make the next season that much more rewarding. Don’t ever lose sight of your goals for the team, put strong leadership in place with the players and assistant coaches, and the rest should take care of itself. Stay hungry, aim for the top, and don’t ever be satisfied with second place.