This spring, Jon is coaching a 5th and 6th grade lacrosse team in Lake Forest, IL. This is the second in a series of posts about his season with the Jr. Scouts
During a media interview for Western Open Golf Tournament several years ago, men’s golfer Phil Mickelson was asked how he best prepares for a tournament.
“Practice like hell then wing it,” he said with a smirk on his face.
It’s a slogan that should be adopted by all youth sports coaches.
After two weeks of practices on rain soaked, grass fields, the boys played their first lacrosse game April 22.
All nine of them.
You need 10 to play a lacrosse game (three attack men, three middies and three defenseman, one goalie).
So we started with a man down.
The game was played on a field turf. We hadn’t practiced on field turf. Because field turf absorbs water and rests above a drainage system (two important utilities to thrive in wet, Midwestern spring seasons), a lacrosse ball rolls faster. Players must react more decisively, make snappier decisions. And half the kids in the line up that day are playing the first competitive lacrosse game of their lives.
As a coach, my thought is, ‘we didn’t practice for this. We won’t be prepared.’
“Did you know I forgot my stick, coach?” said Murf, one of our most athletic and free-spirited kids.
“Did you check your mom’s car?” I asked, thinking we had to scrounge up a stray stick.
“Nah, I got it. Just messin’ with you,” said a laughing Murf as he leaped onto a large cushion just off the field used for track pole vaulters. “I like it better on turf. Easier to scoop up.”
I feel better. In the 30 minutes we have for warm ups, the boys look just fine. One less player? We’ll switch a few things around. We’ll be OK.
A few minutes before the opening face off (lacrosse games start with a face off, much like hockey), the brother of one of our players walks up to Charlie DeYoung, our head coach.
“Do you need an extra player? My dad is driving down now with my gear,” the boy said, also named Charlie.
We’re up to 10. A full line up.
We start the game. There are many rules in lacrosse, some involve the protection of players from bodily harm from others (using sticks as blunt force weapons, for instance. A no-no). Others are of the save-them-from-themselves variety (men can relate to these rules especially). In this category, two are about pieces of equipment that must be worn at all times:
- Protective cups
Midway into the game, an official asks our goaltender if he is wearing said protective cup.
“No,” says Jonathan (bless his heart for his honestly but there is a lesson to be learned here about selective candor. For another post).
The game is stopped until we can produce a cup. Or a new goaltender wearing a cup. The later is not an option. The official gives us two minutes to come up with a plan. We have no plan.
“Hey!” yells one of the coaches from the other team. “I have a spare throat guard in my bag. You can use that if you want.”
Bingo! In front of his giggling teammates, Jonathan puts the throat guard to a use for which it was never intended.
“Don’t worry, Jonathan. I’ll make sure I delete the photos,” I say to him as he sprints back onto the field.
“What???!!!” he shrieks.
“Just kidding,” I said back. “Now go out there and stop some shots!”
I’m reminded of something about 11-year olds: If it’s about them, they are not quite old enough to get the joke (it won’t stop me from making them).
A few minutes later, another stoppage.
“No mouthguard,” said the official. He’s talking about Charlie, our late free agent acquisition.
More scrambling. We find a latex glove in the first aid kid.
“He might swallow it,” coach Charlie said.
“That wouldn’t be good,” I concur. We scrap the idea.
At each game, a parent brings a tray of orange slices. For kids, the Vitamin C acts like a protein shake would for exercising grown ups. The chewed up slices are still on the tray sitting near a sideline bench. There’s only a few minutes left in the game. All we need is the illusion of a mouthpiece.
“Charlie! Put this in your mouth!” as I hand him a gnawed orange peel.
He puts it in, no questions asked.
Gotta love this age.
Down a goal, we tie the game with a few seconds left. We win the face off, the ball rolls into the pocket of Charlie’s stick. He sprints towards the goal and as the clock expires, he fires a game-winning goal. We win. The boys jump up and down (us coaches do the same, avoiding muscle pulls) and celebrate what was a hard fought and, ahem, resourceful win.
We have eight games on our schedule this spring. I don’t know if we’ll have another one quite like our first one. But we might. I can’t help but think of a quote from John Wooden, the legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach.
“Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.”
Sounds about right.