September 18, 2007

Sept. 18, 2007

Note: This article appeared in the "Lacrosse Classroom" section of Lacrosse magazine in February 2007. If there's a topic you'd like to see covered in the "Classroom," e-mail section editor Matt DaSilva at mdasilva@uslacrosse.org.


by Matt DaSilva, Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Amy Appelt won a Tewaaraton Trophy at Virginia by abrasive means. She toppled defenders like dominoes on her way to the cage. Even she admits, she had one move and one direction: forward.

Since then, the 2007 U.S. Elite team member has reinvented her game, with assistance of former Team USA player Crista Samaras, to include elements of finesse. These days, she's a sleeker version of her college self, more apt to be found on the sideline popping stick tricks, catering to the masses like a street performer - when she's not dominating on the field, that is.

"When I was in college, I kind of moved based on the catch-and-throw, and this one-on-one move. I wasn't a finesse player," Appelt says. "When I started working with Crista, she started teaching me all these cool ways I can become a finesse player. Now, I'm a finesse player or a power player."

Appelt always had the muscle; now she has the muscle memory, to boot. It's all about hand-eye coordination, repetition and variation. In this "Classroom" installment, she discusses new ways to improve hand-eye skill on your own time.

A new GB approach: push, pull

They call it the "bloody knuckles" school of ground-ball skill. You've probably heard the term before. It refers to getting your body and hands low enough to the ground when scooping a loose ball that your knuckles actually graze the surface in front of it.

First, a concession.

"The knuckles to the ground," Appelt says of younger players, "that's the way you should learn it from the beginning."

But?

"That's a little difficult. You're never going to be that far down. They tell you to get your butt low and knuckles to the ground, but it's a lot harder to get up from that position now and go into a full sprint."

So for middle school-aged players and above, Appelt prefers what she calls the "push-pull" motion. Get to a zenith point, where you have more of a bird's-eye view of the ball, keep your eye on it, and let your hands do the work.

It's quicker, she explains, if you push your bottom hand down and pull your top hand up when the ball is at the lip of your stick. Use your top hand to "pop" the ball into your stick, so you're immediately cradling and bringing it to your shoulders for protection. (Note: There needs to be an appropriate balance of push and pull to make this work. Examine yourself mid-scoop. Your hands should be parallel to the ground.)

It's less of a scoop-through motion and more vertical, but ultimately, it favors the athlete who can break more quickly into a sprint. Instead of stopping and restarting your momentum out of a crouch, you're picking up the ball in stride.

Once you pop, you can't stop

Speaking of popping, those sideline stick tricks you see Appelt performing have a name and purpose. It's called the "popping series," from the Samaras school of lacrosse.

"It's what we always teach kids at clinics to develop hand-eye coordination," Appelt says. "Popping the ball is a way to get clear of your stick and work with it so you're comfortable, to the point where if [in a game] someone throws you an awkward pass, you can adjust to it real quickly."

It can start simply enough. Put the stick in your right hand, and pop your wrist, releasing and catching the ball, your eyes fixed to it the entire time. Then, go left. Get used to it. Allow your stick to become an extension of your arm. Since the technical skill required here is minimal, Appelt says, zero in on the ball's movement.

"Have you ever seen when a basketball player lies on his back and watches the rotation of the ball as he follows through? It's kind of like that," she says.

But the real value of this drill is in its variations. Pop it between your legs and bring your stick around to catch it normally; or pop it up normally, but catch it behind your back or between your legs. Now pop it between your legs and catch it between your legs; or pop it behind your back and catch it behind your back.

When you've mastered popping while stationary, you can further challenge your hand-eye coordination by doing it while off-balance or alternating hands. Your muscles will remember this in game situations.

Concession No. 2: OK, so it's not going to happen that quickly, or even in that sequence. Odds are you'll look ridiculous at first. You may even whack yourself in the head a few times. (Just try not to strain any important muscles.)

But if you can master three or four of these pops in series, and develop them into a routine, your mind will become trained to think sequentially. In a game, it will help you catch an opponent off guard if you know what you're going to do before she does.

"In the bigger scheme of things, I'm thinking of where I'm going to pop it next, and where I'm going to catch it next. I might be looking at the ball, but looking at where I'm going to toss it next," Appelt says. "The whole popping series is a growth process."

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