Improving During the Lacrosse Offseason
The offseason is normally the time when a player makes the biggest strides in his game. The importance of picking up that stick and being active during the dog days of summer or the coldest stretches of winter is crucial.
Going to camps and exposing yourself to top coaches, and taking the time by yourself to step up your game pays huge dividends come springtime. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some smart, practical ways to help you notice improvement in your game:
Every player has heard this from the day they started playing lacrosse, yet few believe in the power of hitting the wall. This is easily the best thing players can do to step up their game. Stick skills are the foundation of being a great player, and athleticism will only take someone so far. Some of the best lacrosse players rely almost solely on exceptional stick skills to be great players. Great speed or size can’t be learned, but stick skills most certainly can.
Develop a routine for hitting the wall, and do it three to four times a week in the offseason. Be sure to spend equal amounts of time on the strong hand and the off hand. Doing this for a half hour a day can go a very long way to turning you into a highly skilled stick-handler. No matter what position you play, hitting the wall will help your stick skills immensely.
Use your free time to get yourself in better shape to be ready for the grind of a lacrosse season. Focus on both cardiovascular exercise, as well as weight training. Being fast and agile and having endurance are generally a bit more important in lacrosse than being hugely muscular and strong. That is not to say that strength isn’t important, though. If you’re going to lift weights, do so with the intention of getting toned, rather than just bulking up to be as big as possible.
Players who aren’t in shape at the start of the season will have an uphill climb to get themselves in the necessary condition to endure a whole season. Those who show up in shape will have a leg up, both from the speed and strength standpoint, but also in the eyes of coaches. Coaches can always tell which players are dedicated, and which ones are out there going through the motions, and you can bet that they will play the guys that they know are dedicated.
In addition to your workout routine, try to remember that diet plays a big part in your overall health. Do your best to lay off the sodas, candies, and junk foods that may seem so tempting. An easy way to lose weight and improve your conditioning is to cut out the processed foods and the drinks that are high in sugar. Drink water in place of sugary sodas or juices as much as possible.
Getting a feel for the game from the coaching or instructing perspective can really add to a player’s overall lacrosse knowledge. A great way to do this is to volunteer to coach a youth league team in your area, or work at a summer camp for young players. Working with kids will place an emphasis on strong fundamentals and hard work – two things that carry over to the more advanced levels of play.
Most importantly, you’ll be helping to build the future of the game. The more kids that fall in love with the game every day, the better the game becomes. If you can reach even one kid and help him grow that passion, the game will be that much better from it.
Team chemistry plays a huge part in whether or not a team is successful during the season. The ability to trust one’s teammates and always have that unspoken connection with them on the field can be the difference between a good team and a great one. Ten guys have to play as one for a team to achieve ultimate success on the field. Hang out with teammates, and try to find common interests. Even things like having meals or working out with them can go a long way towards building not only chemistry, but also lifelong friendships.
Playing for a club team offers players the chance to play with different and perhaps more skilled players than on their high school team. Club lacrosse also affords players the opportunity to travel to different regions to play in games and tournaments. Playing with better teammates will automatically help any player’s game improve. Plus, you’ll make many more connections in the lacrosse world – and that could come in handy later in life.
Watch the professionals play the game, and try to learn from how they do it. ESPN shows Major League Lacrosse games at least once a week during the summer. Find a player that plays your position, and learn from his game. Pay attention to the little stuff, too. Watch how hard players go after ground balls, how they dive to back up shots, and how loud they call out plays and commands on the field. The little stuff that makes players successful at lower levels is just as important to the pros as it is to a high school freshman trying to make the team.
Athleticism can’t be taught or coached, but it can be built up over time. Since lacrosse has elements of so many other sports, playing those sports can only help laxers reach greater heights on the lacrosse field, both from the mental and physical standpoints. Playing other sports and practicing lots of the same motions and actions that the body experiences on the lacrosse field will quickly lead to improved muscle memory and agility. Lacrosse players rely heavily on footwork. Because of that, playing basketball is great practice for refining footwork. The lateral movement on defense and the quick first step needed offensively very closely mirror movements on the lacrosse field.
Jim Brown is widely regarded as one of, if not THE greatest football players of all time. What many people don't know though, is that he was also one of the greatest college lacrosse players ever. Brown starred at Syracuse and was a first-team All-American for the Orange. He was known to prefer lacrosse to football, saying "I'd rather play lacrosse six days a week and football on the seventh."
Brown was singleghandedly responsible for TWO rule changes in the sport due to his ridiculous physical dominance in the college game. The first being that players must cradle the ball away from their body and are not allowed to trap the ball in the stick against their chest. The second was a stick length rule stating that players must have a stick at least 40 inches long. If only there had been a professional league around for Brown to showcase his talents in after college...
Reaching new heights as a player can’t happen without setting goals higher and expecting more of yourself as a player, and more of your team as a whole. Setting goals during the offseason that can be reached through a commitment to training hard and being prepared for the season can elevate your game to new heights. Write goals down on paper, on the computer, wherever. Have something that you can see every day, to remind yourself about what you expect to achieve. Set fitness goals – a certain mile time, a particular amount of reps on the bench press, or a new best in the 40-yard dash.
Setting personal performance goals is a good thing, too, as long as they don’t get in the way of team success. Set goals that reflect your team’s good performance. Winning the league title can be a personal goal, as can getting a harder and more accurate shot, or improving your split dodge. Don’t set goals like “I want to score X amount of goals,” since these can potentially get in the way of what the team is trying to accomplish. A player who is on the field selfishly trying to score a certain amount of goals or pile up stats will be frowned upon by teammates, and especially by coaches.
Camp, camp, camp and more camp. Go to as many as possible. If your parents offer to shell out the dough, take them up on it and get out there to the camps! Get all the instruction you can stand to get from top coaches, or just anyone willing to offer advice and teaching. The more input you can get about your game, the better. Going to camps allows you to play with and against great players, and offers you the chance to improve your game without having to worry about making mistakes in a game situation. Everyone is there to get better, and making mistakes and learning from them is a huge part of the process.
Another big reason to attend camps is because college coaches often are there watching the players and looking for potential athletes for their teams. Play well or show lots of potential and you’ll surely get noticed by the right people.
Learn all that you can about the game of lacrosse. Watch other players, and see if you can identify things about their game that are effective. Pay attention to coaches, and how they handle different situations with players, referees and other areas of the game. Really become a student of the game. Basketball players who spend tons of time in the gym when they aren’t at practice or a game are often called “gym rats.” Become a lax rat. Dedicate yourself to learning as much as you can about the game, and you’ll find that your field sense and rapport with teammates and coaches will increase exponentially.
Now that you’ve got a good idea of how to refine and improve your game during the offseason, get out there and put in the work! Don’t let the TV (unless there’s an MLL game on) or snack bar tempt you into laziness. Be proactive in improving your game and you’ll be leaving teammates in the dust when tryouts start in the spring.