Welcome to "A Lacrosse Weekend" my weekly compilation of thoughts, ideas, stories, myths, truths, about the great game of lacrosse. I hope you enjoy it!
If you are a men's or women's lacrosse player, coach, or parent, I think you will love the weekly content, videos, and analysis
A Season In A Box
It's finally March and it's finally lacrosse season so I decided to put together a written form of the JM3 Season In A Box with special help from my good friend Tony Holler from Feed The Cats.
I have had a lot of questions about how I intertwine Free Play, Principles Based Lacrosse, and Feed The Cats Philosophy combined with an in season team that needs to prepare and win games. Below are the answers you've been looking for!
The blog today has a ton of cutting edge concepts that will get you introduced to the Principles Based Lacrosse, the newly added content in the Coaches Training Program will teach you everything you need to implement and execute.
Watch the scrolling video below of all the content in the Principles Based Lacrosse Section of the Coaches Training Program.
If you want more information on Principles Based Lacrosse, I have a brand new section in the Men's and Women's Coaches Training Programs called Principles Based Lacrosse that has all of the written, video, and audio content including every drill with descriptions which breakdown everything in this article and much more!
Watch these walkthroughs of the Coaches Training Program.
Coaches Training Program Walkthrough [Become a member here]
Women's Coaches Training Program Walkthrough [Become a member here]
I have worked with Tony Holler a lot over the past 15 months with podcasts, webinars, and he does instruction with my JM3 Athletes. I asked Tony if I could repurpose his "Feed The Cats Basketball" article into a lacrosse article. Below is what I came up with!
Feed The Cats Philosophy
How do you FEED THE CATS (FTC) as a lacrosse coach?
All overarching principles of FTC are applicable to lacrosse and fit perfectly into the JM3 Philosophy of Free Play, Constraints Lead Approach, The Box Lacrosse Paradigm, and Principles Based Lacrosse.
#1) The foundation of high performance is rest, recovery, and sleep. Sleep is more important than practice.
#2) Sprint, don’t run. Quality > Quantity
#3) Perform in practice. Moderate exercise never leads to extreme performance. And, don’t wait until championship week to value performance, start on day one!
#4) Never let today ruin tomorrow. Don’t burn the steak.
#5) Let the actual competition be the hardest thing you do. Stop practicing long and hard trying to make games easy. Fast and healthy players who execute will win the fourth quarter. Getting tired in practice has no bearing on how fresh you are at the end of a game. Tired is the enemy, not the goal.
#6) Rather be 100% healthy and 80% in shape, than the other way around.
#7) No conditioning. Eliminate aerobic-focused work. Get into shape by practicing with game-like intensity. Stack anaerobic work. Also, allow your games to condition your athletes.
#8) Practice fast and intense, not long and hard. (And, in order to practice fast and intense, practice must be choppy with periods of recovery.)
#9) Alternate “high output” and “low output” practices. Within “high” practices, include “high” periods and “low” periods.
#10) Pareto Principle: 20% of our work produces 80% of our results. Constantly re-evaluate what you do. Search for the 20% that truly matters. DO LESS, ACHIEVE MORE. Never fill time. Practice the “Disciplined Pursuit of Less”. #Essentialism.
#11) Make your practices THE BEST PART OF A KID’S DAY.
#12) Attract great athletes to your team. See your sport through the eyes of your players. Promote. Own the narrative.
#13) Facilitate growth. Encourage your players to “build their own house.”
1. Constraints Lead Approach: The coach’s role in practice is to create environments where the players learn the fundamentals of the game implicitly and intuitively through playing the game. Try not to tell your players what to do, what not to do, or how to do it. Instead, let them find the solutions in the environments you create.
2. Redefining The Word "Fundamental": fundamentals should be thought of as principles not as techniques. Many coaches misunderstand this concept and it leads them down a path of structure and reps which actually slows down lacrosse development and wastes precious time. Read this article titled: Do players Really Need Fundamentals Before They Can Play?
The Fundamentals are principles such as Communication, Possession, Draw & Dump, Deception, Shot Selection, Passing, Seeing the Field, Reading the Play, Swinging the Ball, Double Teams, Splitting two, Rotations, etc.
Techniques are extremely variable and completely depend on the situation. For example, teaching a player to throw overhand is counter productive considering a player can't throw overhand in a draw and dump situation or when under heavy pressure.
3. Free Play: is the the ultimate way for players to learn the Fundamentals and other intangibles of the game such as poise, assertiveness, leadership, creativity and focus because they have a chance to figure it all out on their own without a coach judging them, telling them what to do or what not to do. Players simply learn how to make the play that presents itself without thinking about being yelled at or critiqued, not looking for positive reinforcement, or worrying about being a ball hog. Every kid's personality can work! Look at Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman of the Chicago Bulls. They all had very different personalities and they were all world class. Free Play allows players to develop with their personality to be the best they can be.
In Free Play, Players literally learn how to communicate with the game itself taking in information and putting out information verbally and non verbally with opponents and teammates alike. This is why Free Play develops "Fluency."
The best part of Free Play is the Community it builds when you mix boys and girls of different ages, the love of the game and the love of hanging out playing sports together is magical.
4. Box Lacrosse: the power of box lacrosse is well documented.
The constraints in box lacrosse starting with small nets/big goalies constricts the space and forces players to learn passing, picking and cutting to get good shots from the middle. The Shot clock eliminates coach control, the boards and glass keep the ball in play, and no long sticks makes everyone a threat. Listen to this podcast on box lacrosse!
The Free Play games we play with small nets and tennis balls are a pick up / no equipment version of box lacrosse. All of the JM3 Athletes who play a ton of pick up end up playing like Canadian and Native Box Players.
5. Make Practices Game-like
What does Game-like actually mean? First, it is creating a situation that occurs in a game. Many coaches get so caught up in the “Part-Whole” method of development trying to master small parts, that they lose sight of the importance of the context that actually makes a situation Game-like.
For example, is a 1v1 Game-like? The actual dodging and defending is realistic (kind of) but without the context of defenders trying to help stop a score and other offensive players working together to produce a score, it is not Game-like. Without sufficient context, an environment cannot be Game-like.
One key for coaches in creating Game-like Environments is finding the balance between context and reps. Of course a full field game would be the ultimate in context but there aren’t a lot of chances for players to touch the ball. On the other hand, wall ball can provide the ultimate in reps, but it lacks all context and therefore can’t make you better at playing the game. Each coach must dial up and down the context depending on the skill level and age of the team.
The important part of creating The Game-like Environment is to make it competitive and to have minimal interference from the coach. Lacrosse games are not controllable situations. Lacrosse games actually seem to spin out of control sometimes, they slip away from you (the coach) and when it comes down to it, the players must make the plays and execute the decisions in games mostly by themselves.
We must make our practices Game-like through both context and competition.
All coaches know very well that athletes love to compete, but too often coaches prefer repping drills because competitions are often messy creating the feeling the team could accomplish more in a drill where the coach can perfect the situation. Unfortunately, when we (as coaches) perfect the rep with our voices or our scripting, it is like Fool’s Gold.
How many times has your team successfully executed in practice, but failed to to do so in the game?
The Game-like Environment approach is simple: morph any drill into a game by creating a scoring system that rewards the winner and or has a consequence for the loser. In the Practice Drills/Games section below you will find many examples that will help you build your own Game-like Environments.
6. The Power Of Film
In the JM3 Coaching Model, we allow the constraints of the drills/games to do the teaching in real time, allowing our athletes to learn implicitly from the environment. Video is how we teach! Video allows us to show and explain key strategies, principles, and solutions so the athletes can understand what actually happened in a non-judgmental manner that creates critical awareness.
Learn implicitly from play, learn explicitly from film.
If filming and breaking down full practices is not practical, simply use your iPhone to video short segments of your Game-like Environments and share with your team with simple captions. Do this 2-3 times per day and in a week you will have shared 15-20 clips. At the end of the season you will have shared dozens and dozens of important concepts, principles and fundamentals.
I like sharing short clips a few times per day much more than doing longer full team film sessions. Short clips in a GroupMe or on text meets the athletes on their terms and get their attention throughout the day. Longer film sessions simply are not relevant for everyone and waste a ton of time if not over load the athletes.
Blending Feed The Cats with the JM3
Understanding High and Low Output Practices
*HIGH OUTPUT* aka Performance Days are game day, or full-intensity environments in practice such as full field scrimmages, rides/clears and transition situations, or half-field game-like environments with competitive context of 4v4, 5v4, 5v5, 6v5 or 6v6 in men’s lacrosse or 5v5, 6v5, 6v6, 7v6, and 7v7 in women’s lacrosse. The goal should be achieving an intensity similar to or greater than that of a game during portions of practice. To do this, you must micro-dose this intensity and give adequate recovery between outputs. Get rid of the traditional lacrosse approach where teams practice in a constant state of fatigue or simply repeating drills until they "Get it right."
Another term for a “High Output” practice is a PERFORMANCE practice. “High” does NOT mean exhausting. Performance Practices feature short bouts of fast-speed high-intensity play. Making performance practices Game-like, allowing the players to win or lose a drill/game (as opposed to a coach manufacturing the results with his voice, corrections, or a “Do over”) is also critical in simulating a game. Remember, games are not in the control of the coach. Games are like the wilderness, so don’t practice like you’re at the zoo!
Timing Sprints: on our performance practice days last year, at least one time per week, we kick off practice with a Feed The Cats "Atomic Workout" which allows us to get faster in season. This also gives us barometer of how physically rested we really are. If our times are getting slower we are doing too much.
A *LOW OUTPUT* aka skill/IQ Practice should not be just a walk-through, skeleton offense, shell drill on defense or a day to focus on isolated skill reps and teaching. Training in environments devoid of context (opponents/teammates) is wasting precious time! Skills are solutions to problems an athlete faces in a game situation and IQ is simply an athlete's ability to find solutions. You cannot separate the skill from the situation!
Skill/IQ Practices have lower physical outputs and as a result can be higher in decision making opportunities. Using constraints such as small nets, no long poles, tennis balls, limited or no equipment, we can leverage box lacrosse environments while scaling decision making reps.
As we have discussed, the balance between context and reps is critical for a coach and small goals are a solution. Small nets simply make it harder to score and require team play in the form of passing and picking. A 3v2 game on a small net will naturally elicit more passes and movements to score a goal than a 3v2 game on a full sized net.
Implementing The FTC / JM3 Practice Week
Below are some practical ways to plan your practice / game schedule week by week in order to maximize performance and development. Stripping the week down to the essentials is not easy, but it's necessary as well as liberating! Keeping your X's and O's simple and principle based while allowing your Game-like environments to develop your players.
Offensive Principles: Great shots, possession, passing, picking, spacing and reads
Defensive Principles: Make the other team make great plays to score, ball pressure (with in feeding range), read the quality of defense on the ball, force low angle shots, protect the middle, help on ball, communicate, 1v1 don't get beat on one move
Team Principles: Don't give up transition, get in,
Also, remember game day is like a performance practice for full field lacrosse. With two games per week, you're getting enough riding/clearing and transition for the week which means you don't have to do high output riding clearing, transition in practices!
This quote from Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says it all: "The Main Thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."
The Main thing is for your players to be healthy, rested and happy for game day and performance practices, all the while scaling decision making rep opportunities to develop the intangibles of your players.
The Tuesday - Friday Game Week
Monday – Performance
Tuesday – Game
Wednesday – Skill/IQ
Thursday – Skill/IQ
Friday – Game
Saturday – Off
Sunday – OFF
This is a typical game schedule throughout much of the nation. Sunday would be the PERFECT day for a performance practice after a Saturday off, but most school districts don’t allow Sunday practice. If you can have practice on Sundays, then you go M-fundamental, T-game, W-OFF, Th-fundamental, F-game, S-OFF, Sun-performance. If you can’t practice on Sundays, I suggest giving your team the entire weekend off. Giving the two days off will put your players in a great position to be rested and ready for the week! Another option would be to have Wednesday off and a performance practice on Saturday. I might do this if the Friday game wasn't competitive.
The Saturday - Wednesday Game Week
Monday - Performance
Tuesday - Skill/IQ
Wednesday - Game
Thursday - Off
Friday - Skill/IQ
Saturday - Game
Sunday - Off
The Tuesday - Thursday Game Week
Monday – performance
Tuesday – game
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – game
Friday – Off or Skill/IQ
Saturday – Performance or Skill IQ
Sunday – Off
Peaking At The Right Time
Is there anything more important than peaking at the right time? Peaking is both physical and mental. Many teams face a level of burn out from players and even coaches at the end of the year just when you would ideally be hitting your stride! Tensions rise, fatigue in players creates sloppiness while simultaneously, mistakes in practices seem to be magnified and the fatigue in coaches exacerbates the problem. The athletes are tired and the coaches trying to do more and more preparation, add looks, etc. The combination creates frustration!
Last season with the ThunderRidge Girls Lacrosse was the first time with a team I coached that we didn't have any level of detectable burnout. I'm such a grinder, that I would inadvertently grind the kids over the course of the season. I don't mean I ran them into the ground, but we were always working on something: a new look a new skill, etc and by the end of the year players would be tired. Giving the days off and sticking to the same key principles all year through our high and low output days of practice allowed us to be at our height at the end of the season!
This is what peaking at the right time looks like. With literally no subs in this game, we had the physical and mental capability to come from behind and win a playoff game over perennial power Cherry Creek.
Six Things Lacrosse Coaches Get Wrong
Conditioning. I’ve seen coaches who condition at the beginning of practice, during practice, and after practice. Tired is the enemy, not the goal. Practicing in a constant state of fatigue guarantees you are practicing slow. It also guarantees that your kids see practice as drudgery. Your games and your performance practices will be what gets your kids in shape. Have you ever noticed that no matter how much you prepare, your athletes are never in game shape until about the 2nd or 3rd game of the season? That's because games are how you get in shape combined with your regular practice!
Too Much Stick work. There is a time and place to practice on the run throwing and catching. I recommend 2man and 3man weave/no weave drills simulating transition lacrosse. It takes coordination and strength as players move farther apart for longer passes and with gradually increased speed, this environment teaches players to throw/receive hard passes in variable conditions. For most teams I might do this for 10 minutes
Most Line drill type of stick work is a colossal waste of time in terms of development. In these stick work drills there is no context, unrealistic angles, and are usually practicing what I would call "fake fundamentals."
Keep Away games are the best way to work on realistic stick work that simulates half field offense or clearing. Using confined space, scaling across your whole team at once, mixing even and uneven situations are all great ways to give your players game-like experience while they are getting better at the most important principle: Possession!
Too Much Part-Whole: I used to believe we get get a lot of mileage out of 1v1's, 2v1's, 2v2, 3v2's and 3v3's. Trying to leverage the Part-Whole model, I would teach all the dodges, movements, terminologies in these neat little environments and scale them across multiple cages to maximize reps. Now I realize that while there is some value in these environments, there's not enough context to make it worthwhile! Unless using small nets I don't go below 4v3 in men's lacrosse or 5v4 in women's.
One exception is in some teaching of reads in 2man game where I will do 1v1 + picker or 3v3 on a side. Otherwise I'm going to bigger numbers.
Fix Problems / Correct Mistakes: I used to believe it was the job of a good coach to recognize and correct mistakes. I shook my head at coaches that didn't do something to correct problems that would surely result in losing games. I now realize the players will learn through Game-like situations and film and I need to let them play it out whether they're getting it right or wrong. It is my job as a coach to create a game that teaches what I want them to learn, then I can let the players win or lose and teach them later on video.
Too Much Shooting. I used to be a coach who's teams shot A LOT! Now, I would rather my teams focus on playing at practice than spending precious practice time shooting in environments devoid of context. I do think players who want to be great shooters should shoot, and I particularly believe they should shoot on goalies in order to learn deceptive shooting. Kids can and should shoot on their own, but they can't play in context at home.
I would rather players learn the poise it takes to score in the context of our Game-like environments where we scale our reps on small nets.
The exception to this would be shooting on goalies with Tennis balls in practice to learn deceptive shooting, which cannot be learned on empty nets. We use tennis balls because shooting on your goalies with lacrosse balls will beat up your goalies and likely injure them and will eventually result in a broken thumb. Shoot on your goalies with Tennis balls and learn the various ways you can fool a goalie into thinking you’re shooting high when you’re shooting low and vice versa. I would use all of our goalies to maximize reps.
Trying To Create Toughness. Toughness is an intangible necessary for winning games, but I don't think you can make someone tough through physical activity. I believe your tough players will be your tough players no matter how hard you work them and your soft players would still be soft. In fact your soft players might crush the run test and then play soft in the game while your toughest players might suck at the conditioning test. These toughness tests will make your tough players tired, which will not help you win in the 4th quarter.
Sometimes players are just lacking confidence which manifests itself as soft.
Remember, Navy Seal Buds is not training as much as it's a weeding process. You don't want to weed out kids, you want to train them!
From Tony Holler on toughness: