Lacrosse is a sport that is growing in popularity across the United States. To many, then it may be unfamiliar, but lacrosse’s roots are deep in the North American continent. For those not familiar, lacrosse is a team sport that utilizes a stick and a ball. It is the oldest organized sport in North America and originated with Native American trips in the Northeastern part of the present-day United States and Canada. The Canadians “modernized” the sport in the 1850s, and it has continued to evolve ever since.
As the sport continues to become popular, more and more youth athletes are gravitating to the team sport. Lacrosse players use the head of the lacrosse stick to carry, pass, catch and shoot a small rubber lacrosse ball into the opponent’s goals. As a coach of young, developing lacrosse athletes, you have the opportunity to set a strong foundation to build their skills and promote their advancement into high school or collegiate level play.
Five Tips For Youth Lacrosse Coaches
Build the athlete first. The lacrosse player comes second.
When coaching any youth athlete, you are inheriting an individual who may be naturally gifted, who may need some polishing or someone you may need to build from the ground up. Remember, your athletes are young men and women who are still physically developing and may have years, if not decades, of athletic play ahead of them. They may become a lifelong lacrosse player, or they may bounce between several sports and recreational pursuits. As a coach of a young athlete, you must establish a foundation to help improve skill, build strength, and reduce injury. You set up a foundation that could lead to a long, athletic career or early retirement due to a severe injury. Instruct them on proper form with calisthenic basics to build strength: squats, lunges, pushups, core work and so on. Work on building good mechanics with running. And slowly progress them with agility and plyometric drills. Cue the young athletes on proper landing, footwork skills, and reducing knee valgus or weight shifting.
Focus on the foundations.
Likely you are coaching a team with young men and women who may have little to nothing about lacrosse. Maybe they have a parent who played or loves the sport. Or maybe this was a sport the parent felt may be a safe option for introducing their young athlete into team sports. The bottom line is you have to start with scratch and work on foundational skill movements versus big picture game strategy. This is the time to work on technical skills such as passing, scooping, catching, and dodging. Make your young lacrosse athlete comfortable with the basic skills before you expect them to thrive on the field. And even then, it may take some time for them to progress from skill work, to drills, to scrimmaging, to successful playing on the field. Set up your athlete for success beyond the youth league.
As a coach, you’re always on.
You are the coach. You are a figure of authority, guidance, and support. You may even be the key woman or man in this young person’s life. You should always present yourself with discipline and control. This means following up on what you say. Practice what you preach and follow through on commitments. Also, show up and look at the part. Dress appropriately regardless of whether it is practice or game day. Consider wearing appropriate athletic shoes, khakis and a belt, a team shirt, or polo. Look professional and like a figure of authority and respect. Do not act or come across like a bigger version of the pre-junior high kids on your team. You are not there to be a friend. You are there to coach and provide guidance. Show respect to all players. And require respect from your players to you and themselves. You may not have control over what is taking place in their personal lives, but here you can set some ground rules which will carry over well beyond recreational sport.
Establish mental toughness.
Your athletes are young and new to the sport. This is a prime time to teach young athletes that it is OK to make a mistake. It is how they react to the key mistake. Mistakes happen. Learn from the mistake and quickly move on. Teach your young athletes not to dwell on a mistake, but how can they recover, adjust and learn. This is also a good way for teammates to learn from the mistakes of others, but how to rally and help the team as a whole rebound. No player is perfect. Establish a sense of pride with the players and the team. Have them approach every practice – and every game – with the mentality to compete hard. Show up to practices and games on time be dresse and prepared. Give it your all no matter if it’s the 100th time a drill has been done, or you’re facing the best team in the league. Get your game face on and fake it until you make it.
Ask for help.
You are coaching maybe because you played in high school or college. Or maybe you’ve always had a love of the sport of lacrosse. Or maybe you were thrust into the coaching role because your child has an interest, but there were no viable options around. Regardless of your background, you can always learn and improve as a lacrosse coach. Network with other coaches in youth leagues and reach out to junior high, high school, or college coaches. Any true coach with a love of their sport is willing to help build up the skills of anyone in the sport.
Being a coach of lacrosse, or any sport, is not easy. It takes a commitment of time and energy. And when you are working with young athletes, your focus is to establish foundations for any athletic adventure or life lesson. This is an opportunity to serve as a mentor, show discipline and respect, set good foundational skills and athleticism, and serve as a positive adult role. Young men and women will remember those adults who set them on the right path in life – those teachers, coaches, or community members who shaped, guided, but also set boundaries. Utilize those in your local lacrosse community, or visit World Lacrosse or USA Lacrosse for additional resources.