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4 Keys to a Successful Lacrosse Practice

I have been blessed with this lacrosse website for coaches project. After spending an hour or so each this year with 8 out of 11 of the top ranked NCAA DI (USILA) Coaches, I have learned a lot of interesting philosophies about the changing nature of how successful college coaches structure their lacrosse practices. These new philosophies according to these winning experts are applicable at every level of coaching, beginning with youth through college players.

First let me suggest, that if you are not planning your practices in writing in advance you are not maximizing the potential and probably falling short of putting your players in the best position to be successful. This planning is not a key to a successful practice, it is far more, written planning must be a standard operating practice for coaches. If you might think this does not apply to you as a lacrosse coach, and I used to think that, then no use reading the rest of the article…[private]

(1) Drills Need to be Game-Like Situations

A key common denominator of all the successful coaches we have interviewed is their creativity in taking lacrosse drills and making them snapshots of game situations. This is not a slam on traditional 3 Man Ground ball Drills, nor a ‘dis’ on traditional Line Drills. But I wonder how many times in a game we roll a ball directly away from our teammates. And all the coaches talked about time efficiency in practice.

Just as a metaphor, coaches use line drills to get the kids loose. This can be done emulating game scenarios with full field running/passing drills, or our circle drills, or in the case of many of the NCAA Coaches we have interviewed; they use shooting drills also as a warm up drill. And many coaches, since it is a warm up drill, incorporate their poles and even Goalies in these drills. The focus is on shooting, but the focus is also on multiple touches.

They get the kids loose, and work on skills that are directly applicable to getting the kids more game ready.

(2) Fun

Ok, I can sense you are rolling your eyes at this one. Traditional coaches often do not equate practice with fun, after all when we played practices were work. It is amazing how often the top coaches we have interviewed have talked about evolving their practices to be more fun/engaging for their players. Even those NCAA coaches raised in the ‘Old School’, Pietramala from Hopkins (and listen to the podcast about the candy jar), Beville from Cortland State to name a few, and almost all others have made a conscious effort to engage players in practice. Not the other, more traditional way around.

This takes a little planning on our part, but the key elements are changing drills day-to-day, shorter drills, and drills incorporating some level of competition. In addition most of the top coaches we have interviewed spend a higher percentage of their ‘scrimmage-type’ time in practice in unsettled scenarios, i.e., 3V4, 4V5, etc, and usually in progression. The kids then play faster and ball movement is at a premium. And it is more fun. I was amazed in out interview with Coach Tiffany from Brown, a great coach and a great interview, as he told our listeners that he ends practice everyday not with sprints, but with each rotating player responsible for a joke or antidote. Can you imagine? Many of our high school coaches from 30 years ago would be rolling over in their graves, but the facts are that the kids are different and need to be handled differently to be effective.

(3) Fast Paced

You might think you run a fast paced practice, but would your players agree? Can you honestly say that in a two-hour practice you are running at least ten to twelve different drills? Do you analyze the structure of your practices? The opinions of the great coaches we have interviewed on the website and consistent in that their drills range from 7-12 minutes each, and then they move on. The is radical change from my old style where for example if a drill was not working or the kids were struggling we kept doing the drill until we got it running effectively.

I can remember running a two middie fast break drill for an hour until we converted four in a row. That day it was a long wait, frustrating, disappointing, and most importantly, ineffective. I was so wrong. Let the drill go and run it again later in the week. And of course if we are going to run more drills in a shorter period of time, we may need to go find more drills. We offer some new ideas in our eBook, Changing Philosophies in Coaching Lacrosse, our DVDs, as well as the reference links we have at www.laxcoachmike.com, and you must visit Berkman’s Shooting Drills at the Salisbury Site.

(4) Focus on Touches

Of the expert coaches we have interviewed, very, very few do their talking/coaching on the field. The days of 15 kids watching while you talk about the slides or the offense for 30 minutes have passed away and good riddance. Today’s coaches understand that today’s kids learn by doing. Most of the coaches suggest separating the two functions. If it is ‘whiteboard’ type class instruction, do it in a classroom, or before practice, then when you get to the field keep it moving, all the time.

If you feel as though you are ready to go to the next level, when you plan your practices on a spreadsheet or whatever is your preferred style, make a column for estimated touches per player. We challenge ourselves to give each kid at least 200 touches (right and left) in the first hour of the practice, and the stick skills improve exponentially.

Planning your practices, challenging yourself to be creative, and working at maximizing these four keys, will minimize your frustrations during practice, I promise. And the end product will be players more engaged in practice, faster improvements, more fun for all, and ultimately better teams. After all that is what we do, we put kids in a position to be successful. I look forward to your comments, which I am sure are coming…


2 Responses to “4 Keys to a Successful Lacrosse Practice”

  1. apaquette Says:

    Mike I can’t agree more to all your points in this article. I would like to add one thing to help young coaches when planning your practices. The thing I would like to add is a question that I ask my coaches before we work on the practice plan. The question is “what are we trying to accomplish with this practice”. Are we working on one major thing or a couple of small parts.

    You really need to have a clear understanding of what the practice is trying to accomplish.If you have that clarity the players will have it also and it will make for a better practice.

    Coach Andy

  2. Cklinker Says:

    Coach Mike~
    Great article and “dead-on” the mark! If coaches don’t understand these very simple key points…., it’s going to be a long (or should I say short)season for the kids….

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