Earning a Starting Spot in Lacrosse
Buried on the bench. Riding the pine. Benchwarmer. Those aren’t exactly terms of endearment. Earning a starting spot can be one of the tougher challenges you’ll face in your lacrosse career. Some players are simply handed spots based on athleticism and the potential that they could become great players, while others have to work extremely hard to crack the starting lineup. If you find yourself on the outside of the starting lineup looking in, there are a few simple and straightforward things you can do to improve your stock in the eyes of your coaches.
Nothing frustrates a coach more than a player who makes a nice play, and then turns the ball over the next time he touches it. Most coaches would take a player they can trust to be steady and consistent, without screwing up routine plays over the course of a game, instead of one who inspires uncertainty. Identify the things you do consistently well on the field and find ways to stick to that. Do your best to avoid situations where you are more likely to make a mistake that could cost your team.
Start by chatting with your coach (when there is some downtime) about things you can do, as well as things you are doing to be in the starting lineup. Make sure your coach understands your desire to improve and show him the value you bring to the team. Don’t be shy about asking the coach the weak areas where you need the most work.
Next, you should begin to emphasize your strong suits in practice. For example, if you’re a strong takeaway defender, but not a great ball-handler, go against the top attackman in one-on-one’s whenever you can. At the same time, don’t go out of your way trying to dodge hard-riding attackmen when the team is working on clears. Your coach will see your strengths but not your weaknesses, and will have that fresh in his mind.
Show Up Without Showing Off
Once you’ve found ways to showcase your good qualities while masking the bad ones, you’re going to have to get a bit selfish. It’s okay to be selfish, so long as you don’t damage relationships with teammates in the process. You should approach practice with the attitude that you are going to out-compete the person who currently has the spot you want. If you have to do things to make yourself look better than that person, then so be it. Just be careful not to rub it in or damage your standing with that teammate.
Pay extra attention to out-working the person who has the spot you want. Generally when two people are competing for the last starting spot, the nod from the coach will go to whoever consistently works harder, so long as talent is relatively equal.
Good competition in practice makes everyone better, not just you. If you approach this situation with the attitude that you are going to be making both yourself and your teammates better, everyone wins. Ultimately, you are going to have to show up your competition if you want the starting spot. Understand though, that team chemistry is more important than individual achievements. You should be mentally prepared to deal with not getting what you want, while still having a positive overall impact on the team.
Always be Prepared
Lacrosse is a very physical sport, and injuries to top players will inevitably occur over the course of the season. Also, not everyone who starts the season in the starting lineup will play effectively enough to stay there. As someone waiting their turn, do your best to be mentally and physically prepared to step into the starting lineup and make a play when your time comes.
Cody Jamieson was a reserve attackman for Syracuse’s 2009 National Championship team for most of the season. Stuck on the bench with academic issues after transferring from Onondaga CC before the season, Jamieson cleaned up his act and was ready to go come tournament time. After not even starting a game until the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Jamieson scored 11 points (eight goals, three assists) in the tournament. On top of that, he scored the game winner in overtime of the championship game. This is a player who was prepared to step in and make a difference!
Study the playbook like your history final’s cheat sheet; know that thing inside and out. When the time comes for you to step onto the field, the worst thing you can do is not be mentally prepared and miss a golden opportunity. If you’re an attackman or midfielder, be sure to know your team’s man-up plays in case the coach calls your number for the man-up unit. Defensemen should know the man-down defense like the back of their hand, as well as slide packages for both crease and adjacent slides.
Proper preparation is imperative to making the most out of your sudden opportunities for playing time. Once you get that chance, you’re going to want to keep it.
Make the Most of an Opportunity
Make it your goal to get in, and stay in. Play with a chip on your shoulder and show your coaches how serious you are about keeping the spot. Do the little things that show coaches you know what they’re looking for. Hustle plays like shot backups, ground ball pickups, and hard rides and clears all send the message to the coach that you mean business.
Don’t be quick to defer to teammates or shy away from the ball in a big moment. If you want to assert yourself and take full advantage of the opportunity in front of you, you’re going to have to make a play or two. Confidently take an open shot if you have it. Push the ball up the field into the offensive zone when the space is there for you. Be confident that you are talented and prepared enough to be able to make the necessary plays over the course of a game. If the worst that can happen is you end up in your old position backing someone else up, you really have nothing to lose. Give your best effort and play the game with confidence.
Mental makeup plays a big part in whether you thrive in your new role as a starter. Be confident in yourself and your abilities, and don’t hold back when you get that opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Focus your practice efforts on working as hard as possible, both to outwork the competition and also to validate your abilities in the eyes of coaches. Always be mentally prepared to play, and understand that everyone else who is starting is working hard, too. Be a team player and push your teammates to be better players through healthy competition in practice.