January 23, 2016
Participants in a US Lacrosse Coaching Education Program session at LaxCon. (Photo by John Strohsacker)
Participants in a US Lacrosse Coaching Education Program session at LaxCon. (Photo by John Strohsacker)

Saturday School: Nine Lessons From LaxCon

by Paul Krome, Brian Logue and Paul Ohanian | Twitter

The US Lacrosse National Convention is all about learning. Here are nine lessons from some of the leaders of the sport from Saturday's sessions at LaxCon.

#1 Shoot Inside the Funnel

Jeremy Sieverts is a star midfielder for Major League Lacrosse’s Denver Outlaws. When he began his high school coaching career, he wanted all of his players to play like him. It didn’t take him to figure out that not all of his players could be as good as him. So, when it came to shot selection, they had to be a bit more choosey. He draws a V-shaped funnel coming out from the goal. When you’re inside that funnel, he’s fine with pretty much most shots. But when you’re outside the funnel on the wings, your feet better be set and the shot should be coming off of the catch from a pass.

“I want to take a quality shot every time,” said Sieverts. “In the MLL we have a 60-second shot clock. A lot of times that’s a 40-second shot clock by the time you clear the ball. You’re not going to score every time, so we say, 'let’s at least get a quality shot every possession.'” 

#2 Nobody is Arguing for the Status Quo in Recruiting

Last fall, the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) forwarded proposals to the NCAA to ban college coaches from having recruiting contact with prospects prior to Sept. 1 of the junior year. US Lacrosse has publicly supported that proposal and Carter Abbott and Melissa Anderson, two high school coaches, furthered the discussion on Saturday.

“This trend is weakening the strength of high school athletics,” Abbott said. “It’s forcing kids to specialize when they would instead be playing multiple sports.”

With most high school freshman and sophomores ill-equiped to make college decisions, recruiting is increasingly becoming more about the relationship between college coaches and parents. Athletes are being squeezed out of the equation.

“These proposals provide kids more time to mature into the college search process and have a better understanding about recruiting,” Abbott said. 

“We want kids to stop having one foot in the present and one foot in the future,” Anderson said.

#3 Coaches and Officials Have to Work Together

Lissa Fickert, an official and chair of the US Lacrosse Women’s Game Rules Subcommittee, and Kristen Murray, a high school coach and vice chair of the US Lacrosse Board of Directors, presented on the mandatory card for dangerous contact. Murray explained to officials how she coaches defense so they know what to look for and Fickert explained what officials should be looking for when they make the call.

Two big takeaways from the session: 

1) For officials - "Protect defenseless players."

2) For coaches - “Call the foul consistently in practice.” That’s the only players are going to get used to what’s a foul and what’s not.

#4 Drills Can Come From Many Places

Coaches have a thirst for drills and York (Pa.) College head coach Jen Muston gave some great examples of how she creates drills. One is simply by watching the school’s basketball team practice and finding drills she can translate to women’s lacrosse. One of her favorite ways is by watching game film, finding things they’ve done incorrectly and creating a drill to work on the proper way to execute. She thinks having her players see how it can be applied to a game situation helps it sink in more.

She also likes to learn from her players. She had a player doing an unconventional split dodge, but it was effective for her. Instead of two hard moves, she was doing three, either left-right-left or right-left-right.  Rather than tell her she wasn’t doing her split dodge correctly, they adapted, turned it into a drill and shared it with the rest of the team as a new offensive move.

#5 Culture Trumps Strategy 

After 30 years of coaching and 400-plus victories, Hank Janczyk, men’s head coach at Gettysburg College, has figured out his primary purpose – culture. After back-to-back 9-6 seasons, subpar by Gettysburg’s standards, Janczyk led a full evaluation of his program that included hard discussions with his assistant coaches, team captains and his players.

“We had some brutally tough conversations,” said Janczyk, but he took the messages to heart. “When the pain of staying the same is worse than the pain of change, you change.”

Gettysburg made a number of changes that weren’t always popular. He posted a weekly depth chart so players knew exactly where they stood. They created a travel team, where players had to earn their spot to make the roster for road trips. The results were dramatic – Gettysburg won its first 20 games before falling to Lynchburg in the NCAA semifinals. 

#6 Chippy Games Can Easily Spiral Out of Control

“Is a game a ‘little bit chippy’ like being a ‘little bit pregnant?’ Games get chippy because we pass on too much. Officials must referee the taunting/baiting rule like any other.”

Alan Goldberger, a 35-year sports official, partner in the law firm of Brown, Moskowitz and Kallen, and nationally recognized authority on sports law, urged a gathering of men’s and women’s lacrosse officials to manage risk while working games. This particularly applies to actions involving unsporting conduct. If officials penalize taunting or baiting early, when they must disqualify a player or coach later, they’ll be “nothing to point to that says you lost control of the game.”

“No player or coach can be permitted to embarrass, ridicule or demean an opponent, even once.” Goldberger said.

#7 Confidence is Based on Focus

Brian Baxter, from the Sports Psychologist Institute NorthWest, delivered the keynote address for men’s and women’s officials. He likened the development of an official to the development of an athlete where confidence is the ultimate goal at the top of the pyramid of building blocks.

“Confidence is based on focus – knowing what to focus on and the ability to control and change focus,” said Baxter. “The key is you have to focus on things in your control.”

He described the four primary things you have in your control as effort, attitude, preparation and staying in the present moment.

#8 The Three Keys to Passing

Team USA and Major League Lacrosse start Paul Rabil can rip a shot as hard as anyone in the sport, but one of the things he focused on in his skills presentation was passing.

“Passing comes down to three things,” said Rabil. “The accuracy of your pass, the pace of your pass and the trajectory of your pass.”

He expounded on how important accuracy was in that getting a pass to a teammate in precisely the right spot was the difference between success and failure. And it isn’t the same for every player. His Team USA teammate Kevin  Buchanan liked to receive the ball right in his chest, while his former Boston Cannons teammate Matt Poskay wanted the ball higher and a little more outside. 

#9 A Leader’s Positive Emotions Are Contagious

Creating a positive coaching environment requires leadership fueled by vision and powered by culture. That was the central theme from Jim Thompson, CEO of the Positive Coaching Alliance.

Thompson noted that research indicates that youth athletes want three things: feeling connected to teammates and coaches, believing they can improve, and feeling proud about acting with integrity. Leadership focused on developing better athletes and better people will help young athletes accomplish these goals.

“Leadership is a role, not a position,” Thompson told his audience. “Vision is the sense of possibility. It’s getting people excited about what could happen. Culture is the way things are done.”

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