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University_of_MichiganLacrosse is the fastest growing sport in America. For the past 10 years or more it has been exploding out of its traditional hotbeds on the East Coast. In states like Utah and Idaho, where there was no lacrosse at all, there are now 20, 30 or maybe even 50 high school teams. In states like Michigan and Ohio, where there were maybe 20 teams a dozen years ago, there are now over 100.

College lacrosse is growing just as quickly. With over 200 varsity teams and more than 300 club teams, there are now opportunities to play lacrosse at every type of college in every corner of the country.

I’m often asked for advice on what it takes to build a good high school program. Great coaching is one obvious answer. A good youth feeder program is another. School, family and community support is also important. Recruiting athletes who are playing other sports like football and soccer in the fall and basketball and wrestling in the winter is a must.

One thing that is often overlooked when building a high school program is the culture of the team. The best teams have everything I listed already, but they also have built-in expectations of playing at the next level. Most, if not all, of the players on those teams expect to play lacrosse (or one of their other sports) in college. They take their athletic participation very seriously because it’s fun, yes, but also because they understand what playing team sports can mean to their futures.

I’m not going to get into all of the possible benefits of playing a sport in college. There are too many to list here. Instead, I’m going to give you a few ideas on how to build that culture I mentioned on your high school team. If you are a coach, captain or booster, here are some things you can do:

1. Research summer and fall camp opportunities for your players. What camps should they attend based on their needs and skill level?
2. Get to know the recruiting process. Talk to high school lacrosse coaches at established programs for their advice (good high school coaches should be helpful through the process, but not controlling).
3. Talk to college coaches about the recruiting process to get their perspective. What are they looking for in a player? How should players contact them?
4. Get to know as many college coaches, at all levels, as you can. Invite some of them to come to events to speak to your team’s players and parents about recruiting and college lacrosse opportunities.
5. Film every game! Not only is the single most useful tool for improving your team, but it’s also very valuable for putting together recruiting videos for your players.
6. Watch college games as often as possible. Whether it’s the latest Virginia vs. Syracuse game or the local college club team game, expose yourself and your players to college lacrosse as much as possible. Record games on TV and show them to the team weekly.
7. Invite college players to speak to the team about their experience.

These are just a few things you can do to start building a culture on your team that leads to more players aspiring to play at the next level. It will help your players individually, and it will make a huge difference for your team.

Good Luck!

John Paul
Michigan Lacrosse

Read more from Coach Gafner at www.coachgafner.com

What would you rater have on your team someone that shoots the ball really hard but can’t control it or some that doesn’t have the shot speed and can put the ball where ever he wants every time he shoots?  

I would take accuracy every time at the high school level.  Why?  Because the easy answer is that goalies make mistakes.  I would much rather have the ball be somewhere on the net then and have a chance to score.  Listen I’m all for shot speed but, not at the expense of accuracy.  

Last year we had extra time to warm up before a game.  I was shooting with a player that was new to the team that year.  I didn’t know if I wanted to play him at attack or middie.  He had been playing middie.  As we were shooting I tried to call my shot by picking a corner.  Then we started to play P-I-G.  After a while I won, I told him you can’t score unless it is on the net.  He agreed.  Then during the game, I played him at attack and he scored.  Let me tell you it was a bad shot and the goalie just missed it.  I talked to him after about it.  And he said “coach you were right, get it on net right where I wanted it to go”.  I was shocked he scored on that shot, but it was on net.  Goalies make mistake just like every other player.  So, speed doesn’t matter like accuracy.  

So the next time you practice aim for the corners.  Once you can hit them every time, show your teammates.  They will be jealous, trust me.  I once told my team I was going to hit the top-right corner and I did.  It happened to be the first time I shot in front of them.  I earned their respect right way, from that accuracy shooting display.  It felt pretty good.  So, take the same pride and passion in you accuracy as you do the rest of you game.  

Check out more at www.coachgafner.com

The first rule is making sure your kids always know your rule for playing time.  It doesn’t matter if you are only going to play the best or if you are going to try to play everyone the same amount.  As long as the kids know your rule that is what matters.  Make sure they know before they sign up and on the any time you talk about playing time. 

This year the approach I’m going to take is varsity team is the best are going to play.  We want to win games, I know there will be some games when we are winning or losing by a lot and that is when I will get others playing time.  But, the overall varsity team philosophy is to win so; I’m going to play the best in order to make that happen.  But, the guys that will play have to be at practice if they want to see they field. 

On the other hand JV is about development.  I think we are at a stage where if the kids get good enough we need their help on varsity.  In the next two years we hope that will be our middle school team.  But, for now it is the JV team.  We try to get all the boys that practice equal playing time, so they can develop.  This helps making them the best they can be.

Is this the best way for your program?  I don’t know but sit down with your coaching staff and talk about the way you are going to approach this year’s playing time.  Then you can let the boys know and it will make everything run smoother when the season starts.

Now, I feel that players at the varsity level should be able to substitute on their own.  The great teams don’t need help they just play.  I’m going to set up a way I want my team to substitute and they should be able to do that on their own.  An example would be middies; it should go lines 1, then line 2, then line 3, then back to line 1.  If they kids can’t handle that we have other problems.  After we got that under control in practice, with scrimmages then we will add in LSM and offensive and defensive middles.  This way I can focus on the game and just coach.  And if the game gets out of control we can make the rotation go line 3, 4, then 5 (middie lines).  Then sub in the backup attack and defense. 

I wanted to tell you about this because last year I spent so much time with the JV on subbing that I didn’t get to coach as much as I wanted too.  The other way is to have another coach handle the substitutions and you can coach the game.  How ever you approach it have a plan.  Have a passion about the way you want to deal with substitution and it should run smoothly in future.

Check out more at www.coachgafner.com

First of all a goalie has to have a passion for the position if you want them to be good.  They have to want it for themselves.  Because, some teams put the bigger and slow kid in the net, hat is not what you want to do.  I like to tell the kids that goalie is the most important position, because it is.  The goalie controls so much of the game.  I want someone in net that has good vision, is loud, can communicate well, can pass well, and is not afraid of getting hit by the ball.

Last year we didn’t have a goalie for JV so, I had to convince one of the kids to play.  I talked to the team asking the kids who wanted to have the biggest impact on the team should give it a try.  We had one kid step up and he has been getting better ever since.

I had someone ask me how to approach warm-up.  It all depends on the amount of time you have.  But, planning this out is the coach’s job.  The first step is to start passing and making the passes longer.  This way you can work on clears.  Having one you’re your players jogging around so the goalie can pass to different areas of the field.  Then you go into the cage to take shots.  Take shot high, middle, low, on both sites.  When goalie is taking shots, you have to remember to take shots in all areas of field where a shot can come from.  This way they are warmed up for all the different shots that happen in a game.  Another key note is that who ever is doing the shooting needs to not rip them as hard as they can.  This way you build up your goalies confidence.

Talk to a couple older goalies to see what they like.  Every goalie is different. 

Here are a couple of videos that I want my goalies to watch to get better.

YouTube Preview Image  YouTube Preview Image  YouTube Preview Image

Check out more at www.coachgafner.com

Let’s think about it.  The game starts with a face-off, so who ever win it get the ball to start with it and set the tone of the game early.  And if you don’t play the face-off right you can get brunt early for a goal in under 10 seconds.  And let’s face it no team wants to be down 0-1 after 10 seconds into a game.  What is why practicing face-offs as a team is so important.

I don’t have a rule but the way I’m approaching face-off this year is to have a face-off guy for each middie line.  I think I will have four or five middie lines so; I will have four or five face-off specialist.  Now, with my team we had two returning players that did the job from last year and I help two guys on the JV team get better at face-offs.  So, they will remain my four guys.  If you are starting a team or don’t know who your guys are, have a competition for the spots after practice or during practice.  Tell them how important it is to the team and if they win how they will be on the field more.  Kids will want to do it.  I have seen some long stick that can take a face-off because they are quick and if they lose what better way to stop a fast break than to have a long stick on ball right a way.

After you get your guys picked for the season, it is a good idea for them to practice face-off four to five times a week.  Maybe one or two times with the whole team.  That why they are always getting better.  The thing about face-off is that if you win you control the ball more. Than leads to more scoring chances and more less time on defense, two things that will give you team a better chance to win.  Of these guys each of them should have their own move, if you can.  They are many different face-off moves.  I attached two video I found that work.  The reason that you have each kid have their own move is then you can adjust to the other teams top face-off guy.  Now my number one guy is good at all the moves, so he adjusts on his own.  And if he can’t beat that guy, he knows which one of the other guys on our team is the best shot to win the face-off, because they have been practicing against the same moves in practices.  I let this senior be in charge off the face-off department because his passion for winning them is second to none.  He is team players so, if he can’t win the face-off he lets someone else try.

Last, if you are having a hard time of winning the face-offs in a game.  Try two things.  First, get a guy that is going to be physical out there.  Some face-off guys like to be so quick that getting hit isn’t fun all the time.  Plus it wears that guy out while the physical guy doing the hitting likes it and wants to keep doing it.  Second, try putting a long stick on the guy and play defense right way.  Yes, you lose the face-off but, you don’t give up easy goals or fast breaks.  You team defense is in better position this way.

I’m sure you know after every goal there is a face-off, so start practicing them to give your team a better advantage in the game.  And to think it only takes about 10-15 minutes a day, and the rest of the team can do something else.

Check out more at www.coachgafner.com

Every year tames have tryouts for the team the first week of the season. This is an important step in make your schools team better. Some teams that don’t do so well don’t have tryout because they have a hard time getting kids to play and investing a large amount of money into the sport. If there are 60 spots on the team and you have 40 come to tryouts then you have no choice you take everyone that came. But, if 85 kids come out you then take the top 60 kids. Or whoever each coach handles cuts. I might have to make a couple cuts this year but, won’t know until March 9th.

The more success one team has the more kids want to play. So, how do you get more kids to tryout before the season starts? I think the best thing to do if your school isn’t into lacrosse is getting the kids informed. You can do this many different ways. Hold a meeting about the game and shoe a tape of the game. Bring equipment to the meeting and have players on the team show them tricks. The average kid that shows up will be interested in playing. Lacrosse is a cool sport to play and looks like a lot of fun. But, the problem is after you get them hooked.

That problem is money. If you can make it easier on the patents pocket book then, you will be able to get more kids to play on your team. You have to have a lot of patent support and are willing to do a lot of fundraising. To make it cheaper for new players to play lacrosse. Buying used pads isn’t always the key.

Then after you hold this meeting do a lot of following up to make sure the kids are still interested and are going to play. Then when tryouts happen you will have more kids than expected. Yeah, it would not be fun to make cuts as a coach, but your team will be better because you have better players. Why do you think the larger schools are better at sports? Because they have more kids to choose from to make their team.

I spend a lot of time in the off season on trying to promote lacrosse in my area. My passion for the game doesn’t just take place during the season. I want people to at least try to play lacrosse, because I feel they will like it. And the more people that like it and know about lacrosse the more people tryout for the team. And I hope that number goes up for every team this year.

Check out more at www.coachgafner.com

As the season gets near, you should have goals in mind for yourself and team. It is important to have goals because these goals are what drive you thru the hard times if you have a true passion for wanting to complete them. If you don’t have the desire to set goals then I’m going to guess you don’t want to improve as much as the opposition. But, then again if you are taking the time to read my blog then I bet you are trying to improve your game.

Setting goals is important. It is good to set short term goals so that you have something to focus on in the near future. But, these goals should all be aiming towards your long term goals. That way if you don’t meet one of you short term goals then it should drive you to improve your game to make up for your long term goals. I think that is an important part of goal setting.

Your goals should be realist and apply to this lacrosse season only. If you are younger, you goals should be something like I want to improve my weak hand so that I can use it in the games. And your long term goal could be to score one goal with your weak hand in a game. But, if you are older you goal might want to be more team oriented, like if you are a defensemen. Your goal could be that you don’t want to get any penalties in a game so you don’t put your team in a bad spot. And you long term goal for the season could be to have the best man down unit in the state.

I think it is better to make goals that are about improving you game and not worried about numbers. That way if you don’t meet your numbers it isn’t such a disappointment. These goals without numbers are harder to gauge if you completed them. But these types of goals will make you happier if you do complete them.

So, here is your task for this season. Set five short term goals. One to be completed by the time the season starts and the other four divided though out the season. Then set three long term goals to be completed by the end of the season.  WRITE THEM DOWN. Then give a copy to your coach if, he hasn’t already talk to you about your goals. Put these put so you can see them everyday, even a place where others that care about you can see them. Like your school locker or bathroom mirror. Then try your hardest to complete your goals. If you do complete them, it will make feel so good about yourself and want more. Which is a great thing, because then you will want to apply the goal setting rules you learned here and apply them to your life.

Check out more at www.coachgafner.com

Kids you have to realize how IMPORTANT your grades are. Parents and coaches tell you about how much they mean all the time. Why do you think that is? Because they are important and help guide your future. If you ask anyone that is done with school, where that is college or high school, I bet 90% of these people wish they could have done better. You don’t ever hear anyone say “I wish I would have tried less”. Why do you think that is, because you will always or should always want more out of yourself. That drive to be better, is what defines us as people.

I think you kids have to realizes that coaches do want their players to get better at lacrosse but, not at the expense of their grades. I want my players to excel in the classroom first, so when they hit the field they will be ready to do the same. I don’t want players that are all books and don’t care about lacrosse either, but to play on my team your grades must come first. It isn’t the end of the world if you have to miss a couple practices to finish a project? No, even if that means you don’t start in the next game? No, it isn’t. Colleges don’t care about lacrosse unless they are recruiting you and guess what they still look at your grades. Why? Because, the school work is going to get harder and the practices longer.

So, take your school work serious. Trust me college is hard; I’m still going, but it is the best time of your life. Take the same approach to school work as you do to lacrosse. By that I mean, put the hard work in and the long hours and the results should show. And get some help. Lacrosse player don’t practice by themselves, so don’t study by yourself either. In college about a year ago, I had my hardest class I had ever taken. The teacher demanded so much out of us students, it seemed unfair. But, I tired my hardest. I didn’t get the grade I wanted, but I learned so much about the subject that it made me want to get better for my job. The next term, I had part two with that teacher and it was great. I learned so much and had a great time, besides putting in long hours to get all the work done. And I got the grade I wanted too.

You see you have to realize that your parents and coaches have been though this before. It may have been 3 years ago or 15 years. But they can help. The people that care the most are the one that give you the most grief.

So try your hardest and have fun in the process. Grades are important so take take pride in them and try to have the same passion for them as you do lacrosse that as the season starts. And good luck.

Check out more at www.coachgafner.com

Coaching is not a one man job.  I don’t care if your name is Dave Pietramala (Johns Hopkins’ Coach) or Jim Berkman (Salisbury’s Coach) you can’t do it alone.  That goes for any level of coaching.  If you want to win or be more productive the more qualified coaches the better.  Think of every good team in college or pro sports they have coaches for offenses and defense, some even more.  The big college programs and professional teams have different helpers doing extra tasks to bring players water.  As a result the best way to get better at something is to watch the best and apply that to your team.

Last year when I knew I was going to coach for the first time, the first mission was to see if my friends that I understood and played sports could help me out.  One wanted to help out right away, his name was Randall Palmer.  He played football in high school and had free time after work.  He was excited to say the least.  Then my next goal was to get my other friend to Cory Spence, who will post on here now and then, to coach with me too.  He has played football and basketball in high school.  When Randall and Cory said they were going to help when they could I knew it was a good thing for the team.  For many different reasons, first they understood sports and knew that the boys had to be productive if they wanted to get better.  Second, they were willing to learn the game of lacrosse from scratch.  Third, I trusted them with the boys if I wasn’t there.  That is important, when looking for helpers/coaches you want to make sure you can trust them.  Since they are going to be around the boys and parents hear everything from kids and every choice you make get analyzed.

I didn’t have time before the season to teach them much about the game.  So, if you can get to your new coaches or helper before the season that will make things a lot easier.  One thing I think this past summer was take the US Lacrosse Level 1 Coaching Clinic.  I would suggest, no matter what level if you are a coach you should take that.  It was great to be around a bunch of coaches and level from some of the best was a neat experience and will help your program a lot.

When our practices started last year I set up drills and had Randall and Cory run them.  I would give them things to watch for so that they were still helping the player progress.  An example would be, on ground ball drills I wanted the guys to get after players to have two hands on their stick at all times and for good body position.  That way I could do more coaching during the drills and they could make sure the guys are being productive.  Plus they were learning on the job.  Then towards the end of drills I would go setup the next drill and when I was ready I would call them over and do the same process again. 

Something else to think about is what your new coach’s backgrounds was in or even yours, because that can play a factor.  As the season went on we needed to get away from the basics so since I played attack I would work with the offense and Randal and Cory would work with the defense.  I would explain what needed to happen at first.  With both Randal and Cory have sports background they knew how the basics of defense to JV players, and did a great job. 

As the season went on I asked my high school goalie and good friend to come help out a couple of times.  He did and that made a huge difference.  Then I got a another friend to help out and be just a helper, that was nice because that just saved me a lot of time from doing things that wasted time during practice.  And as the season went on the things fell into place and the team started to improve their skills just like my little coaching staff.      

I tell you my story to verify that fact that anyone can coach if they have passion for the game.  I hope this helps you get more people or friends to help coach lacrosse with you. 

Coaching is hard enough, get help.  It will make a difference, trust me.  If you put in the same passion to coach your coaches as you do you players.  It will make your life easier and your players will develop faster.

Check out more at www.coachgafner.com

These are five things that I want players to think about as they enter this season.  If you are coaching this year I would like you to comment on other things that will help players this year too.

1. Attitude
As you enter this season you have to have the right attitude.  You have to be willing to learn and ready to listen.  If you have the right attitude, you will do a lot more of the small things without knowing it.  I have one player on my team last year that had the best attitude.  It really took me over a year to realize that it was his attitude that was the reason for his improvement.

2. Work Ethic
If you are willing to put in the hard work then the results will show.  Apart of your work ethic is practicing the right way.  You need to be aware of the time you have to get better and use it well.  I understand you have a lot going on with your life, I went thought it, but when you make time to practice or have practice use that time to the fullest.  Last year at the start of my season the guys on my team wanted to goof around a lot, I didn’t mind it sometimes.  But they didn’t want to goof around during a drill or a time when we had to be productive.  Some of the biggest improvers on my team last year were players that had a great work ethic.  So, adjust your work ethic to make the most of this season.

3. Ability To Understand The Game
A problem with a lot of new teams or teams that aren’t on the east coast or teams that aren’t successful is they just don’t understand the game that well.  Everyone that plays lacrosse should always be learning about the game.  That goes for coaches too.  To understand you have to learn why teams do things.  For a lot of newer and unsuccessful teams they don’t understand the right way to play the game because they don’t have the talent or personal to play lacrosse the right way.  So, the first thing to do to understand the game is to ask questions to other coaches or players.  You can always ask me, if I don’t know I will do my best to find someone who can.  After that watch a lot of lacrosse games to analyze what the teams are doing and why.  And if you do understand the game pretty well, you need to help your teammates get a better grasp. 

4. Communication
This is another area that you can always improve your game by being a better communicator.  It is easy to think for yourself, but to play team defense takes a lot of work and communication.  This communication develops on the practice field and translates to the game field the better you are at it.  I also think you need to work on you communication with your coaches too.  If you don’t understand something they want you to get, talk to them about it when they have free time.  They will help, because they teaching to something for a reason, which is to improve your game and help, the team win.  If you communicate with you teammates off the field, about when you are going to practice on your own or training your team will get better faster.  Keep the communication lines open so that your teammates know they can call on you for help too.  You will find yourself practicing more, too.

5. Don’t take things Personal
Trust me a good coach should tell you things that are going to make you mad.  But, do not take it personal.  As a coach I do want the players to like me, that is how I get them to push it when practice is rough.  But, some players need to hear things about their game.  An example is I always tell players to scoop a ground ball with two hands.  We had a couple of kids I will yell at lot about this. I hope they didn’t take it personal.  I was just trying to make them and the team better.  This is a good thing to know, you kids might think us coaches are out to get you but we aren’t.  We just want to help. 

Try to improve in these five areas and I know your lacrosse game will improve greatly.  Leave me a comment and tell me your results.

Check out more at www.coachgafner.com

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