Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Creating better stick skills

I was lucky enough to have a chat with a local area HS coach, now retired, at a youth event in our community. His grandson was getting started in the game and he came to support him. I asked him to give me some words of wisdom, based on his vast experience which included a stop at the state finals during the 90s. His message was a simple one. "If you don't have a good stick, you don't play". In today's world of  playing time drama, and the unfortunate "entitlement" era being upon us, parents and players alike feel showing up is enough to get in games.
It's important to communicate to the parent and player precisely where their stick skill level lies.
These are students and understand grades, tests and being evaluated. We are doing every player a favor by evaluating and grading them. Giving players a goal and a plan always beats the "you need a better stick" comment.
The great news is lacrosse is one on the few sports that a lesser skilled player can catch up and even surpass fellow players with wall ball. It only takes three 20 minute sessions weekly to vastly improve and gain a spot on the next line.
There are plenty of great wall ball routines on line. You Tube for example is loaded with great routines. I like Casey Powell's stuff and Rhino Lacrosse, but there are numerous other great demonstrations to see.

Here is a wall ball workout I use. Print it, laminate it and hand it out. By the way wall ball is a great pre-practice drill, but I don't see cutting into practice time with wall ball. Teach players to do this on their own time. It why the great ones are great.

1. 5 yard drills
    a. quicksticks    b. one hand quicksticks    c. quicksticks changing hands with ball in midair

2. 10 yard drills    a. 1 hand throw catch and cradle    b. throw, catch, face dodge (don’t switch hands)

3. 15 yard drills    a. throw, catch, split dodge (switch l to r or vice versa)

4. 10 yard drills again    a. backhand (right hand high on stick, stick on left side,or vice versa)    b. throw behind the back, catch in front    c. fake overhand, throw sidearm (15 reps each hand)    d. Denvers (10 reps each hand)*

5. Try to learn some kind of new stick trick for about 10 reps with BOTH HANDS.

Now get on that WALL!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Breaking Bad Habits

"me ball". Thats the term I hear for kids who won't pass, play with their heads down and try to dodge two, three and sometimes even four defenders. Coaches complain about it all the time. I heard one story of a player who hogged the ball for an entire quarter, and when his coaches finally pulled him from the game, he quit the team at half time! Two days later he was begging come back on the team. Here is my view in the subject. The reason it happens is two-fold. Many players in "non-hotbed" regions of the country simply don't know good lacrosse, have never seen good lacrosse and have never played against good lacrosse teams. In many areas of the country kids start playing at all different ages, creating the good, the bad and the ugly on teams. This leads to the "studs" holding the ball and not passing to players who may cough it up. Many are just coached poorly by our peers who want wins and goals. When that becomes the priority, the "hogs" are rewarded by cheering parents and pats on the back from coaches on the sideline. The truth is, this isn't helping players prep for the next level. Although a great individual effort is commendable, I suggest we let kids know we appreciate the effort, but would like to see some assists and display of lax IQ instead. Here's a plan of action to kill the me ballers. First put in tempo in practices. Based on skill level, I put in the "three second rule". (make it four or five if the kids are younger or less skilled). In practice and scrimmages, I simply blow the whistle and reward the ball to the other team if someone holds the rock past the time limit. The ONLY exception, is if we are climbing the ladder to to dodge. Secondly stress "ONE MORE" in every scenario. Teach kids "dodge to feed" over "dodge to shoot". Lastly park kids who don't obey the concept. Taking away playing time works on the cement headed types. Make sure its a reasonably time off the field, not too short or too long. Make sure to reinforce why they are off, and they give their word to work the ball. One waring, do not put in the "get three passes in" before you shoot drill. This teaches another bad habit, passing when you are open and in the hole for a shot. We want kids to move the ball but also develop the IQ to know when to finish.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Train your goalies

I hear coaches all the time say " I dont know what to do with my goalies" The reality is most youth and HS programs goalie routine is ONLY a brief warm up then jump in shooting drills! Expect poor results from the keeper if this is you. Training goalies is not rocket science. You do not need to have played the position to be a goalie coach. Here some simple tips to give your goalies a well deserved daily workout. My regiment is based on the what I call the "P.A.S.S" system. Prepare, Agilities, Saves, Stickhandling. PREPARE- Goalies need to get some daily work in that does not involve a shooter ripping from 9 yards to start their day. I like to mix up some drills to get them prepared first. Yoga stretches, Tennis ball tosses, walking the arc, walking the line, mirror drills, and other non shooting drill can all be done without helmet and gloves before they suit up. AGILITY- The best goalie are extremely agile. No matter how quick you hands are, you need legs to "get there" first. Agility train every day, all season. Jump Rope is #1, ski jumpers, ladder work, squat thrusts, cone work, more cone work. Youtube has a ton of great stuff to build speed and agility. Create a program of drills on paper and mix it up daily. SAVES- A proper warm up is CRITICAL. It needs to be built up from a medium to hard shots over the duration of the warm up. Dont let players shoot on cold goalies. Don't allow shooters to rip inside 12 yards. At the next level outside 12 is on the goalie, inside 12 is on the Defense. Some coaches work on specific areas in progression (stick side high, off stick high, stick side hip, off stick hip, stick side low, off stick low, 5 hole,then mix it up.) I prefer high shots mixed, hip shots mixed, low shots mixed, 5 hole, bounce shots, and finally mix it up with some feeds from behind. It is EXTREMELY important to get feeds from behind and teach game like saves, blind saves, screens, in tight crease shots, in close garbage or hockey shots, rebound and saves, etc. If they get reps seeing all types of shots in practice, they will make saves on all types of shots in games. USE TENNIS BALLS for close in stuff, it saves on wear and tear on the keepers and creates soft hands, reducing rebounds. STICK WORK- Goalies need to pass and catch well, they need to work on both hands to build confidence and simply handle the stick. They need to know how to FACE DODGE, ROLL AWAY and throw ON THE RUN. They need to perfect "touch" passes and "frozen rope" passes. They need to throw to moving targets. Get them in SHOOTING DRILLS as a shooter. Its fun and is stick work in disguise. One other key point is COMMUNICATION. Work on building your goalies ability to run the Defense. He needs to be the leader. Calls should focus not only on Ball Position, but other important calls, such as "TURN HIM or HOLD" at GLE, "CHECK,CHECK,CHECK" when balls are fed into the hub, and even slide calls for a more accomplished keeper. I like Defense to call slides or even a coach on the sideline at the youth level. I have been working on my goalie e-book forever, I do promise to complete it one day soon. It will feature 50 goalie specific drills. Email me at 313lax@gmail.com to be put on the wait list or if you have any questions about the drills mentioned here or other questions feel free to drop me a note. B

Friday, February 1, 2013

Watching Lacrosse DVDs

I have to admit, I ve spent the rent money on Lacrosse DVDs. Some are outstanding, some are outstanding at putting you to sleep. Anyone new to the game can go to Championship productions and browse a huge library. A lot of them have excerpts on Youtube. If you go on the site and see one thats interesting, search youtube first to see if you can catch a preview. Out of respect to some great coaches who I pale in comparison to in experience, I will only list the ones that I have found useful. I’ve see approx. 40 different instructors (which is not all of them) to come up with a short list. #1 Jim Berkman, Salisbury - everyone of his are awesome. I ran a JV team an entire year with ONLY his drills and they improved ten fold. #2 Mark Millon (U Mass, Baltimore Bayhawks) - offensive wizardry- any one who plays offense, teaches offense or want to learn how to teach offensive skills needs this video. Its been out there awhile and is still unsurpassed. 3#Dave Pietramala (Hopkins) - Developing on ball defenders - A classic. Very basic, but if you watch it and really listen you will see what exactly is important in defense stance, footwork, and how to. Hopkins defensive drills, taught by the greatest defenseman that ever lived. I’ve watched literally 50 times. When I run a D clinic for boys, I mirror his DVD. 4# Anything from Starsia (Virginia), Danowsky (Duke) or Corrigan (ND) has merit and are worth the price. Starsia’s and Danowsky’s stuff are keen on fundamentals and techniques, Corrigan's show more of an advanced level of drills and terminology. If you have and extra $100 laying around the full access 3 DVD sets are really cool. You actually see a full practice run by the top lacrosse coaches on the planet. Again no disrespect to coaches I haven’t seen all of them...but I’m working on it. B

Monday, December 17, 2012

the TWO MAN game

The buzz at all of the latest clinics...the Two man game. What does it mean and how do I get a dose? The two man offensive game is “hot” in D1 lax with Loyola leading the way. Its simple to run, easy to teach, hard to defend and effective. Todays defenders are athletic, quick and recover well. On ball pressure and locking off adjacent’s used to be reserved for special situations. Now its commonplace. Coming from a basketball playing and coaching background, this concept is right up my alley. The concept is simple. Two offensive players work together to set picks on defenseman resulting in finding space and attacking the goal. Defense pays deeply for getting picked off on the perimeter. In basketball we worked on pick and rolls and slips. We set screened “off ball” to free up teammates for open looks. My favorite basketball coach of all time John Armstrong,(my 8th grade coach) had a great line we all LIVED by. After you pass “DO SOMETHING!” That meant set a pick or screen away. (He taught pick was on ball, screen was off ball)The terminology can be whatever you choose. Here’s some basics. 1. Start in what is called “pairs” Simply make kids aware of who their partner is. The simplest way to teach is in the 2-2-2 set in my opinion. The two behind partner, the two on the crease partner and the two top side do as well. When your partner gets the ball set a pick for him. If you pass to your partner set a pick for him. Thats simple enough. Make sure they are covered first. No use setting picks if a defender in not on a guy. 2.Teach what a moving pick is. Get reps in drills to eliminate moving screens. Unfortunately if you have inexperienced refs, they will be blowing a ton of whistles. In U15 and younger, I suggest talking to refs before the game letting them know you are teaching the two man game and asking for some warnings. As a rule I let opposing youth coaches know we will picking quite a bit, to prep them to teach how to defend and eliminate collisions that may get a kid blind-sided. 3.Run drills to teach the concept. I like pairing up kids and doing pick and rolls with no defense (skeleton). Make sure to run these drills from X, the wings and top side. Also 4 on 4 is an excellent drill for teaching the concept as well. Start with pick and rolls. Next blog I will talk about pick and pop, fade cuts, goal cuts, slips and how to defend the two man game

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The playing time dilema

Check out this recent question from a concerned parent...

Coach B,

Read an article on your blog and have a real scenario and inquiry for you. My son is in 8th grade with one year experience playing LAX. He is middle level compared to the other players. He made the school team(8th grade, 7th grade, couple of 6th graders) for a total of 18 boys. He has attended every practice(and has been practicing at home). My son was dressed and ready for the first game(with no reasons not to play), but I watched my son stand for 4 quarters on the sidelines, not having played one second of that game. The coach played his choice of players, little rotation, but again my son, was not assigned by the coach to play in the game.

My response...

This is a huge problem nationally at this level. I recently polled the top coaches and lacrosse minds in my database the following question:

1. in your opinion what should is the most important element of a middle school lacrosse program?

to teach players technique and how to play the game correctly 87.5%
to be highly competitive and develop a winning attitude 0.0%
to have fun and make friends 2.5%
to be a feeder program for JV and Varsity programs 10%

0% said wins and being highly competitive was important.

I have coached the U15 level for over a decade. My organization's and my personal philosophy is that playing time is way more important than wins at this level.

I have had 2 sons go through a middle school program. One is 20 and a college player now. What the coach may not know, is the kids don't remembers wins, scores, games, or even coaches for that matter when they get older.

They do remember being benched, being humiliated by coaches, and feeling horrible about not getting on the field. Its the MS coaches job to teach the game and create a love of the game, in my humble opinion.

Playing only a few kids will create the opposite. We carry 23-25 per team and get them all in. In big games we double shift first lines, when playing lesser opponents we bench the first line guys. They are the athletes and have thick skin. If anyone can handle some time off its the gold line guys.

One of my tricks of the trade is I assign newer players to experienced players. The 'captains" are responsible for mentoring the new guys. They have to answer to the coach about the progress of younger a new guys progress. It creates am inclusive atmosphere. Now players learn a teaching role, leadership, and take pride in the progress of "their guy". They no longer feel excluded.

I personally never want to be remembered as a the coach who benched kids or had a win at all cost mentality. What your coach may not know is that will be his legacy.

What happens is kids start believe that standing on a sideline all game while first line players have fun is what the game of lacrosse is all about. Its NOT.

The most important kids on a team are the ones that can't. Its our job as coaches to find out where they can. The game has so many positions that can be utilized by a coach to get kids in. Face offs, wings on face offs, defensive midfield, man down team, man up team, long stick midfielder, crease attack, back up goalie, etc.

The only exception is if a coach, organization, or team explains to all parents and players BEFORE the season they are focusing on wins alone, and that equal playing time will not be addressed,then its the parents and players choice to be part of that and decide.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Offense that works for youth

Lets face it, you need goals to win games. You can be the best defense on the planet, but if your team is unable to put it in the back of the cage, you will have a long season.

There is no "right" offense or formation. There are things that work and don't work based on your skill level and personnel. When it comes to young lacrosse programs and youth clubs, unfortunately talent and skill are sometimes hard to find.

Instead of blogging about a system that works, I will give you a list of thing that may NOT.

1/ Trying to complete too many passes - Attack the cage. Its great watch Virgina on ESPNU bang it around the horn, but most likely our guys will drop it, throw it away or force a pass to someone who is covered. Get the ball to Mids or Attack who can cradle and drive the cage with out getting stripped.Teach them to make easy feeds to the open man when a slide comes.

2/Running set "plays". Multiple picks, you go here, you cut there, you pass, you don't,etc. usually results in failure with unskilled players. Teach stick protection, moving to open space, rolling away from pressure, climbing the latter and dodging. "Find the fish"-isolate a weak defender long pole or otherwise and iso him.

3/Sets with 2 on the crease- "duces (222) and 141 sets look great on the whiteboard. The problem becomes you need 4 solid players on the perimeter of these sets who can pass the ball the extra distance, who can move to throw and catch and who can feed guys in tight spaces. Any time I see a young team put two on the crease I pressure out on ball and adjacent and watch it implode. Stick with one one crease or even a circle offense with no one on the crease. "wheel" offense means kids are closer together and passes are easier to make.

4/Settling the ball frequently - In youth lacrosse that just might mean "wait until the opposing defense is set up". Teach transition, transition, transition. Practice odd man scenarios all the time. Push the ball hard, especially if you have some kids with wheels on the squad. Catch the defense off guard with players stuck up field who are gassed or not dropping in. I suggest settling a bit only when your defense needs a rest.

Some other key points to youth offense is teaching players how to shoot and more importantly WHERE to shoot. I spend a lot of time and energy on instructing changing planes on shots (high to low) and what I call the "red zone", the area off stick and back pipe on a goal. Make sure shooters learn to shoot for specific areas of the cage and not to see the goalie, but see the twine.

Put every player in the cage for a few tennis ball shots. They will quickly learn what is an easy save and what is not.

more soon, take care