All coaches have their tics. There are certain styles and habits they look to build on their teams, and standards each of their players are expected to uphold. The traits coaches like and dislike, however, can take a very long time for players to grasp. But not if you play for Coach Jake Scott. Lacrosse coaches, invested parents, youth and high school players: listen up. Here are, full disclosure, ten non-negotiable habits the former Harvard Lacrosse player and current Gilman Lacrosse assistant coach finds absolutely unacceptable on any given lacrosse field. Please read, enjoy, and spread the word to your local lacrosse community!
Attackmen Penalties - In most cases, the reason attackmen get penalties is lack of discipline. There is absolutely no excuse for committing a foul 40+ yards from your team’s goal. The difficulty for attackmen in the ride is finding a prudent balance between all-out hustle and wise conservatism. Some inexcusable blunders include an attackman taking one hand off his stick, slashing uncontrollably, accidentally sprinting over the midfield line, or pushing a ball-carrying defensemen in the back. In the ride, simply prevent goalies from outletting the ball to short-stick middies, float in the direction the ball goes, and remain in a poised defensive posture. Ignorant attackmen will think their job is to “take the ball away,” or “regain possession.” Wrong! Get in front of a man, force him to make a difficult decision, and take advantage of the clearing team’s errors. Do NOT commit a foul because of over-aggression or a lapse in judgement; you will hurt your team for no gain whatsoever.
Palms Up - To put it simply: referees are always going to suck. Because of your own biased standpoint, you will hardly ever get the calls you want. And referees will hardly ever reverse a call. Even after the victim of the call hoots and hollers, yells and screams, throws his cap into the dirt: the referee will stick by his original decision. To this end, there is no gain in complaining to the referee, especially if you are a player on the field. Revered coaches may hold some sway in their sideline bargaining with the refs, but players should, at all times, keep their mouths shut. The most useless form of body language is the “palms up” gesture. After committing a foul, stepping out of bounds, or otherwise losing a call, the stagnant, palms up, Ref, are you serious? body language is utterly ineffective, and ultimately puts a player at a disadvantage. If a referee wrongs you, simply drop the ball and prepare for the next play. Standing there with palms up is a weak, futile look, and one that will sting even more if the other team takes due advantage.
Drifting Away From the Cage - Perhaps because this habit was drilled into my brain by angry and audible college coaches, I now view the tendency of a shooter to drift towards low-angle shots as completely unacceptable. When I describe the correct way to finish a goal to my players, I ask them if they play or watch basketball. Is a more reliable shot the Dirk Nowitzki corner fade-away, or the Zion Williamson slam dunk? Dirk can definitely hit threes, but I would put my bet on Zion any day of the week. In lacrosse, the same rule applies. Why drift down the alley and lose your angle when you can move as close as you can to the front of the crease? “Finish in front” is a term I repeatedly use at practice. Good goalies will gobble up fading prayers, but have no chance saving a shot from in front of the goal. Finishing in front is not always easy; sometimes a player must take a hit from a sliding defensemen, endure a desperate check to the gut, or get completely laid out, but lacrosse is not a sport for the meek. The toughest players will take one for team if the ball is in the back of the net.
Walking on the Field - “If you’re walking, you’re wrong” is something my dad always told my youth lacrosse teams during practice. In fact, all coaches hate when players walk on the lacrosse field. Not only does the habit appear unenthusiastic and lazy, but it wastes everybody's time, and diminishes the productivity of the practice. Most teams only have between an hour to two hours of practice scheduled each day. That’s it. If the entirety of that time is not efficiently spent on improving and practicing game-like habits, why else practice? In practice, players should build habits of running onto the field and running off of the field. Because if you walk around in practice, you will walk around in games.
Asking for Water - Another habit I take issue with is when a player asks the coach for water. There is plenty of time to drink water before and after practice. Hydrate up. But during a legitimate team practice, the coach will decide when the players earn a water break. Unless there is an obvious medical issue, never should a player ask a coach: Hey Coach, can we get some water? I’m tired and thirsty. The same goes for sitting on the field, walking on the field, or taking helmets off during practice. It makes you appear weak, and when you appear weak, you do your opponent a huge favor. During games, players will need to suck it up for extended periods of time. They must learn to manage fatigue. They must become mentally tough. The mental components of the game are equally as important to the game as scooping, passing, and catching, and must be developed and emphasized during practice hours.
Sulking/ Slamming Stick - Frustration is a part of the game. A player will never make all of his shots; he will not always have a good day on the field. But there is no time in the game of lacrosse, or any sport for that matter, to feel sorry for yourself. After throwing a bad pass or getting stuffed by the goalie, standing still and brooding over the mistake only compounds the flaw. The most mature players understand that their inevitable mistakes only present an opportunity to redeem themselves, ride the ball back, and make up for a bad play with a series of positive plays. So if you err on the field, don’t get all pouty. Don’t slam your stick into the ground and risk breaking it. Don’t throw your helmet on the bench. You are only creating more problems for you and your team. Tell yourself that mistakes happen in the game of lacrosse, and work even harder to get the next one.
Chasing Sticks - From a defensive perspective, “chasing sticks” means going for the big, highlight reel-type checks. The temptation of throwing these types of checks is real. When an attackman gets a step on a defensemen, for example, more times than not he will bring his stick back to shoot, leaving the perfect opportunity for the recovering defensemen to throw a desperate trail check. Sometimes, these checks are the only chance a beat defenseman has left to throw, and throwing them is valid. It might be late in the game, and the defensive team needs the ball back. They need to take risky desperation checks. But the general philosophy of “chasing sticks” is not one any coach wants his players to adopt. Chasing sticks is a final resort, non-fundamental style of defense, and means only that a player lacks proper body position and defensive technique. The most disciplined defenses are capable of throwing takeaway-type desperation checks, but rarely do. In fact, they rarely throw checks at all. Instead, their defense looks like a well-coached basketball team’s defense: low and physical, but also conservative and smart.
Shoulder Toss - When young players throw with a lacrosse stick for the first time, their first instinct is to use their shoulder for support. They will set their stick upon their throwing arm’s clavicle, and use it as a launching pad for their toss. This tendency is not due to physical weakness, but to a lack of proper technique and muscle memory. To correct the habit, I relate throwing a lacrosse ball to pitching a baseball or throwing a basketball. Just how a proper basketball shot or a baseball pitch is one, full-body motion, a lacrosse pass requires a synchronized step, snap, and follow through. When a player passes from his shoulder, he pushes the ball out of his stick instead of snapping it out properly. A fundamentally-sound toss requires that the passer’s arms are disconnected from his body, his stick is up in the air (“pointed to the moon,” as I like to say), and his elbow is pointed directly at target. From there, he must only step, snap, and follow throw.
The Hero Play - In any competitive activity, everybody wants to be the guy who gets his name in the paper. Who scores the game winner in overtime. Who appears at the top of the box score, or sets a team scoring record. Everybody wants to be a hero.
But lacrosse, don’t forget, is a team sport. No one man can do it all. And no team should only rely on only one guy. Sure--there are skilled players who can help carry a team, and every team needs go-to scorers. But the best teams--the ones that win championships--need all hands on deck. Some players’ roles lie in getting groundballs. Some players are expected to cheer loudly from the bench and encourage their teammates. Whatever the role, every player is equally important to the team’s objectives. Lacrosse is the ultimate team game, and if you want to be a hero, go play singles tennis.
The selflessness I have described is a key to any team sport. Due to the natural selfish tendencies of the individual, players on undisciplined teams will often try “the hero play.” They will try to run through five defenders and score the game winner. They will look off an open player and take a 15-yard shot. They will refuse to make the “one more” pass so they can get theirs. Nobody likes a guy who seeks the hero play, and teams with heroes will never achieve true success. It’s one of the duties of a coach to break down the egos of his players in the beginning of the season, humble the individual, and demand a total team buy in. This job is extremely difficult, especially because parents, friends, and outsiders will often ask silly, insignificant questions like How many goals did you score today, Johnny? or Who had the most goals today at practice? Subsequently, immature players begin to believe that scoring goals is the most important aspect of the game, and thus cherish their individual goals over the team’s. If a team wishes to succeed, players, coaches, parents, and programs should internalize John Wooden’s lasting words: “It’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.”