This spring, Jon is coaching a 5th and 6th grade lacrosse team in Lake Forest, IL. This is the third in a series of posts about his season with the Jr. Scouts
So I arrived at the practice fields five minutes early this week.
Two of our players, Kirby and Mikey, were warming up, just tossing the ball around. My instinct was to get out of the car and start telling them what to do.
“Get your stick higher, Mikey!”
“Give him a better target, Kirby!”
But I didn’t (acknowledging and suppressing potentially counter productive instinctive actions is one of the cognitive joys of adulthood). I let them play. And I believe coaches need to exhibit more of this behavior.
Structure is essential to youth sports. Boys (and girls) need an environment on the playing fields akin to a classroom. That can only happen when there are assigned tasks, verbal feedback (positive/constructive) followed by repetition. Lacrosse season is short—basically six weeks with two 90-minute practices a week and 1-2 games on the weekends. There’s a lot stuff to cram in. But I’m starting to think an important reason our boys are improving rapidly is because we are simply letting them play.
We won two games last weekend. The boys played well, and we looked like a cohesive team for the first time this spring.
“We made lacrosse plays,” I told our head coach, Charlie, and assistant coach Mac after we beat the Jr. Lions Saturday (May 6) a team we had lost to two weeks prior.
“Lacrosse plays” are the following:
- Scooping a ball off the ground and securing in the pocket or netting of the stick.
- Throwing the ball in the air (not the ground, which can cause said ball to stick to wet, grassy, muddy surfaces) to a specific target
- Target catching and securing thrown ball
- Shooting ball
- Scoring (if all goes well:)
Reads like a recipe, right? It kind of is, the idea being that when all ingredients mix properly, the end result is a palatable creation (not an opus…more like a pleasant middle school band concert). You know its working because your senses tell you so.
We won both games because the boys were more comfortable making basic lacrosse moves like scooping, throwing and catching. But outside the confines of those fundamental tenants of the sport, they are winning because they are embracing free play.
Each day, we practice on a field adjacent to the 3rd and 4th graders. Since the first week or so of practices, a few of our more verbose boys (that’s Murph and Ryan) asked to scrimmage the younger team.
We finally did last week. I’m so happy we did.
The experience freed them from structure. We did officiate the scrimmage, and the coach, Mark Milliman, did call penalties (sticks to the head are bad). Aside from making substitutions, us coaches were mostly silent. We trusted the boys to apply what we’d been teaching them and simply let them play.
We did the same during a May 9 practice.
As coaches, we try and fix things. We should spend just as much time normalizing. Encouraging them to play with each other, against other competitive boys, and all the joys and anxieties that go along with that, is normal.
Minus the adult voices.
HUMOROUS (I THINK?) EXCHANGE OF THE WEEK
“Matt, you’re in!” Coach Kerr said.
“My name’s Potato,” Matt said.
“What? Did you say ‘Potato?’”
“Yes. Everybody calls me that.”
“Is ‘Potato’ on your birth certificate?”
“I don’t know.”