8. “The bounce shot is the best shot you can take”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this told to youth players – and it makes me cringe. Yes, in youth lacrosse, a bounce shot is tough for a goalkeeper to stop, and it is and always will be the most fundamental shot in the game. Also, a well placed high bouncer is almost impossible to stop at any level. However, as Salisbury coach Jim Berkman (only coach with 400 wins) pointed out at the US Lacrosse Convention several years ago, it is imperative to coach your players to shoot for the open net, and shoot in the air. “In the air” does not mean “high”, but instead that the ball hits net before it hits ground. A bounce shot is unpredictable, especially on grass, and also gives the goalie a few extra fractions of a second to stop the ball. Shoot it where the goalie ain’t.
Lesson: Coach your players to see net, hit net. Find the open spot on the goal and shoot the ball there (ideally changing the plane) instead of trying to trick the goalie with a bounce shot. Once the idea of hitting the open spot is instilled, then you can work on how to bounce it there – adding to your shooting repertoire.
7. Tie: “You have to be able to play with both hands/ It is okay to play one-handed”
I’m not sure which one is worse – the idea that you won’t survive with your dominant hand alone, or that you can survive without your off-hand. The infiltration of Canadian/indoor players to the field game has surely proved that with the right upbringing and lax education, it is not only possible, but sometimes downright advantageous to be a one-handed Canadian. But it would be foolish to teach our mini-laxers that they should only play one handed. On the other hand, there is no good answer when they ask “how come he only plays with his right hand?”
Lesson: Even the good two-handed players are taught to try and get to their dominant hand. Ultimately, pay attention to what player is capable of what. If the player is athletic enough to use his dominant hand, let him – but also let him know that it would be beneficial to be able to use his off hand as well. Again, building the repertoire.
6. “Just stick your worst athlete between the pipes”
This is another one I see at the youth level a lot. Coaches will often take the slowest kid, and make him the goalie. If you pay attention to the higher levels of the game, goalies are not only good athletes, but often are some of the best athletes on the team if not the best. When you think about what it requires to be a good goalie, it’s no surprise. So why at a young age would we treat the position otherwise?
Lesson: It’s a risk/reward decision at the youth level. Sometimes it requires taking one of your better players from the field and giving him the big stick. But if he stops everything that comes at him, it will most likely be worth it. Also worth considering is which kid is willing to sacrifice his body every day.
5. “You don’t need whip”
This is often a hot topic of debate amongst different styles of coach. The more traditional style is little or no whip, straight overhand shooting, etc. Coaches have certainly been successful with this (Bordley – Landon, Starsia – UVA). You can also see coaches support newer styles of play that include whip and more creative styles of play (Danowski – Duke, Desko – Syracuse). My overall opinion is that with the talent of longpoles and goalies in today’s game, at least a little bit of whip is required. Not to imply that ‘whip’ is the same as ‘hold’, but they usually go hand in hand. More whip will usually add more hold to your stick, so that the pole can’t easily take the ball. Additionally, more whip will undoubtedly add velocity to your shot, allowing you to beat the talented goalies of today.
Lesson: Start with no whip, and gradually add a little every time you restring a stick (you can always take it out if it’s too much). Keep adding until it is definitely too much. Players will most often notice that they can do things with a stick that they previously couldn’t because of the added whip – especially in shooting. Other players will have to sacrifice the harder shot to be able to feed accurately and consistently. It’s all a personal preference, but the days of nobody playing with whip are over.
4. “Box lacrosse doesn’t help”
As mentioned before, Canadians are proving the value of the indoor game and how it translates to the field (Delby Powless, Mark Matthews, many others) Stick protection, shooting accuracy, poise in tight places, creativity, etc. In my opinion every player coming up should find time in the offseason to play in a box league. The benefits are proven, and what’s the downside? Players will be picking up their stick (which is sometimes a challenge), and specifically defenders will improve their sometimes lacking stick skills.
Lesson: Find a true “box” league in your area. Many offseason leagues have moved inside to facilities with smaller fields, but play on turf with real sized goals. Make sure the league plays box rules, no longpoles, etc. The improved abilities of your players will make the investment worth it.
3. “The best lacrosse is played in Divison I”
This is true, but only to a certain extent. The best lax is played at the highest level of Division I, and even then often the games are not as good as some found at the D2 and D3 levels. It’s not a knock on Division I, or even an attempt to inflate the D3 ego. It’s a simple matter of math. The game has grown so fast, and colleges haven’t kept up at the D1 level. There are now more and more great players who 20 years ago would have been at Hopkins, but now they are playing at Salisbury, Stevenson, or Tufts. Enough said I think.
Lesson: Make time to go see a rivalry game in D3. Could be “War on the Shore”, or usually any matchup in the ODAC or NESCAC. You will find the level of play and pace of the game are very high, and the intensity often times is unmatched except on Memorial Day weekend.
2. “Lacrosse is still the fastest sport on two feet”
This is not really a myth so much as it is a false sense of security. As an unsolicited advocate for the game, I still get excited when lax makes it onto ESPN and try to get my non-laxing friends to watch. With the slowed pace and overcoaching of today’s lacrosse powerhouses, those friends lose interest quickly when watching on TV. It is one thing for them to be confused when the game is moving so fast that they just don’t understand. That’s what we used to pride ourselves on. But now I hear people asking why they are just passing the ball in a circle. And why on earth would you stall in the 1st quarter?
Lesson: I understand the formula for winning sometimes involves a slower pace, but the sport is in danger of losing its appeal if it doesn’t keep its pace. Pace alone is what has drawn so many newcomers to the sport. Where did the baseball vs. lacrosse rivalry come from? Football players that decided for a fast, hard-hitting spring activity instead of the slow pace of baseball. The day lacrosse is comfortable with its title as “the fastest” is the day we will lose our growth potential. Unless you like watching the softball that’s played on ESPNU after every lax game…
1. “The offense has such an advantage now”
Full disclosure: I am biased as I was an offensive player, but I must strongly disagree. If defenders played the way they did in the 80’s, sure it would be unfair. But that’s not the case. The game has become so physical that crosschecking is essentially no longer a penalty. The improvement of longpoles (and SSM’s) forced offensive players to adapt to the harder slap checks, longer holds, and painful crosschecks. We did it by learning new ways to string so that the ball wouldn’t fly out every time we got jacked in the back by a titanium shaft. If the offense has such an advantage, then why has average scoring in college games not skyrocketed?
Lesson: If you want to change stick rules and add shot clocks, fine. But if you ask me you also need to crack down on slashing and crosschecking. Once you do, the pace of the game will speed up, and play will return to what it used to be, with precise and clean checks (Pietramala). Otherwise we’re just going from an offensive advantage to a defensive one, and like I said before, the pace (offense) is what sells tickets. Ask the NFL.
I’m a former college player with over 100 points in my college career. I recently moved to Austin, TX, and have been working with texasheatlacrosse.com. I am expanding my role with them soon but as of now I am writing some opinion pieces as well as game coverage. My ultimate goal is to be able to support myself by writing about the game of lacrosse.