Teaching Youth Lacrosse - Going Beyond The X’s and O’s
Foundation, building blocks, groundwork; it may go by different names, but the ideals remain the same. As a lacrosse coach, each day is another opportunity to grow the game through the development of their players both on and off the field. Nowadays, with access to materials like those from long-standing producer Championship Productions, Jamie Munros Online Coaches Training, and even YouTube, there are a plethora of resources available to help you hone your coaching skills and create a game plan. But, before getting down to the X’s and O’s, there are some fundamental philosophies that every youth lacrosse coach should strive to emphasize in their program to foster an environment of development and growth.
Coaching Youth Lacrosse with a Purpose
While the general “success” of a coach's ability is typically measured by what is viewed by outsiders, the true impact of a coach extends much further. Because lacrosse offers an escape from everyday realities for most players, every practice is an opportunity for coaches to positively influence those athletes’ overall experiences. Records, scores, and statistics might seem like everything during a season, but coaching with a real purpose is what creates a lasting impression that goes beyond the results on the field. Finding and instilling that passion that drives you as a coach builds a community in which athletes can grow as players and individuals. The ability to approach coaching with this mentality is something that sets apart a good coach from a great one.
Coaching with a purpose is extremely crucial at the youth level as you are setting a true foundation for the rest of their athletic careers. No matter the age of the athletes, this mentality is one that great coaches at every level of the game have. Nick Myers, Ohio State and U.S. Men’s U19 Head Coach, shared in his coaching bio on the Ohio State Athletics website what lacrosse has done for him in his life and how he incorporates this mindset into his coaching philosophy.
“…It is a game that consumes me, rewards me and has ultimately shaped who I am. My driving force is to provide every student-athlete the opportunity to have this experience and to grow as a young adult. The student-athlete experience is not a four-year commitment; it is a lifelong commitment. There is nothing more rewarding than watching a young man come in open to new ideas and move on seasoned and prepared for the challenges that lie ahead…,” - Nick Myers, Ohio State University.
“We’re working to create a really strong foundation and to develop them as men,” he continued. “We ask, ‘Are they leaving here with a skill set that has really been refined?’ And if we can do that, we’re hopefully doing more than just coaching them on the field,” Myers commented in a 2015 interview with The Lantern after being announced as the Head Coach for the U.S. Men’s U19 team.
3 Key Strategies for Making a Lasting Impact
After reviewing a variety of coaching materials from across the web, one program stood out from the rest. One that truly aligned with the Signature Mission of solving a problem to help better the game for all those involved. The US Lacrosse Athlete Development Model, introduced in 2016, sought out to redesign the way in which athlete development is approached by coaches, players and parents, especially among the youth lacrosse ranks. A program that was designed to grow with the athlete from the first time they pick up a stick to the day they hang up their cleats for good, this program was designed to be different than any other sport and was created to be scalable to both the boys and girls game. College lacrosse coaching legend, Dom Starsia, shared with US Lacrosse the importance behind instilling a fundamental development plan.
“It is our hope that parents and coaches can use this information as a guide and standard when making decisions about how best to encourage a young athlete’s participation and development in lacrosse. In changing times, we want to ensure that future generations will enjoy the game as much as we all have in our lifetime.” - Dom Starsia, via US Lacrosse
Drawing from our own experiences combined with points from the LADM, we have compiled our top 3 fundamental philosophies that every youth lacrosse coach should emphasize to best prepare their athletes for future success.
In the competitive world of sports, it is easy as a coach to fall into the traditional mold of “the best players should play.” While we’ve all caught ourselves in this mindset, especially in the heat of the moment, it’s important to remember one of the main goals of youth lacrosse is to instill confidence. It’s our job as coaches to make every athlete feel like they are a valued member of the team, whether that’s through equal reps, equal playing time, or other similar methods. With nearly 70% of youth athletes dropping out of sports by the age of 13, according to the National Alliance for Youth Sports, the emphasis in which youth lacrosse coaches need to put on inclusion continues to become increasingly important.
Similar to embarking on a new weight training or endurance focused program, progression is an essential approach to coaching proper form and technique to create a solid foundation for further skill development. As the old saying goes: “you must learn to walk before you can run.” Or, as US Lacrosse states, “it's all about the right competition at the right time”. Practice plans are not one size fits all, but rather, are unique to every team and need to revolve around properly advancing the skill set of the athletes. The LADM proposes an array of drills that emphasis a progression that grows with the athlete both physically and cognitively. From playing on shorter fields to short-handed games, these drills allows coaches to tailor practices to the needs of their athletes. US Hockey has a similar development plan in place, sharing beliefs in progression style drills that evolve with young athletes' physical literacy and fundamental movements.
Combining the above philosophies, coaching with a strong emphasis on continued engagement is both one of the most important and hardest to achieve. The overarching reason for the drastic dropout rate noted in the NAYS survey was that the athletes were no longer having fun. This feeling can stem from a variety of sources including outside pressure, athletic insecurity, and overall experience with the sport. As coaches, it is our duty to help relieve some of these feelings by creating a sense of inclusion and engagement in both practice and game situations. The challenge we face to constantly include and engage with each athlete throughout every practice is easier said than done. However, it may not be as hard as it seems. Young athletes are not only looking for their coaches to teach them the sport of lacrosse but more importantly, build up their confidence so that they are able to take their game to the next level. A simple high-five after a smooth dodge or shout-out in front of the team leaves that lasting impression and provides the affirmation a player's needs.
Aimed to be used as a framework, these fundamental philosophies are meant to help coaches seek out and structure the mission they want to build their program around. To learn more about the LADM and to download the age-specific development plans, visit the US Lacrosse website. Be sure to keep following The Stir for more tips and tricks on how to grow the game!