In preparing the Beginner Lacrosse Practice Plans we realize:
- Beginners might not be of a young age.
- Beginners might just be trying out the sport to see if they like it.
- Beginners might not have an athletic background or experience in any other sports.
- Beginners might bring a high level of athleticism and natural talent.
- Beginners might not have ever seen a lacrosse game or lacrosse gear before the first day of practice.
- Beginners might not know that communication is a central part of the game.
- Beginners might not know the historic origins or traditions of lacrosse.
- Beginners might learn very quickly.
You might work with a beginner who is older, loves lacrosse, has been playing other sports and now finally gets to tryout for lacrosse, has been avidly watching lacrosse, and has researched or has buddies who have explained lacrosse history to him, but most of your beginners will probably be kids who have some of the qualities listed in the bullet points above.
In San Francisco in October 2013 Dom Starsia (Head Coach at Virginia) and Chris Bates (Head Coach at Princeton) led a coaches clinic where they were asked about the number 1 thing youth coaches are doing that they could do differently to make youth lacrosse better.They responded by pointing out that too many youth coaches are coaching things to get the players to win games that do not help develop the players in to good players.A classic example is the coach who has a big, physically domineering attackman, bigger than other kids his age, who can run through everyone and score goals with almost no use of skill.
Yes, utilize the players advantages, but make sure to teach that player good skills.For one thing, chances are that player will not always have such a lopsided advantage as his classmates grow, but the bigger point the coaches made was that if you coach the players to be good, they will get wins. Coach the players to be good first.Getting the players to be good players is the biggest responsibility for a coach teaching youth and beginning players.
The 2 most important things you can show a beginner on the first day are:
- Athletic Stance
- How To Hold A Lacrosse Stick
You will also want to tell them what the different parts of the stick are called, most importantly head, butt, shaft, and pocket, and you might want to tell them the stick is officially called a "crosse".
More than likely your group has some beginners mixed with some experienced players who might know why the stick is really called a crosse, so this would be a good segue to mention the origins and history of the game and maybe even have the players share what they know.
If you have experienced players with the group as you go through the beginner "orientation" conversation on that first day you can tell your experienced players that you are going through the spiel with everyone as if they were all brand new, but the more the players know the faster it will go.Most players will appreciate reviewing the terminology, being reminded about and maybe demonstrating athletic stance, and reinforcing holding the stick in the ready position.Having this conversation with your players establishes your lingo and expectations, gives players a platform to speak and step forward as leaders and captains, and also gives you full license to clean up bad habits your "experienced" players developed during the time when they were away from your coaching.
You might also consider separating your experienced players from your beginners if you have support coaches, or you might have the experienced players run a line drill while the beginners get started.Your experienced players can help demonstrate drills and a lot of players will follow along if they see what they are supposed to do.
Usually some beginners arrive to the team in the days after the first practice.You will still want to go through the basics with these stragglers.This is a perfect task for an Assistant Coach if you are lucky enough to have one, but if you are the only coach you might need to pull that beginner aside during drills until you can be sure he knows how to get started.You can also have an experienced player work with the newcomer to get them up to speed on the basics while the team is pressing on.
Line drills are something that most kids understand.If you ask a kid to step up and start a line drill, they will appreciate being given the leadership role and it will begin to get the kids organized.Line drills are also an easy way for those kids running late to jump in.
Beginning players might not yet understand the importance of being at practice ready to go on time, and for younger players this is usually completely beyond their own control.People show up late, kids have trouble with their gear, some need to go to the bathroom, you name it, however this does not mean you have the kids who are ready to go stand around and wait.You are smart to start practice with warmups and line drills where players can merge in as they arrive or as they figure out gear issues or whatever is delaying them.
Young kids might not understand punishment for being late... maybe if their parents brought them to the field on time but the player took a long time to suit up.Anyhow, you might find you need to plan in time for tardiness as practice is getting started, though in the interest of getting practice moving you can decide to save the punishment for later in the day.See our section on Managing Lacrosse Parents for thoughts on establishing your team culture and your expectations for topics like punctuality.
The sequence of teaching basic skills that is working best for us is:
- How To Pick Up A Ground Ball -- The ball is going to be on the ground a lot at first and people find all sorts of ways of picking up the ball so you might as well have them do it the right way from the start.
- How To Throw
- How To Catch
- How To Cradle
There are specific communication calls that go with the fundamentals in lacrosse.Even if players don't understand the lacrosse talk right away it is good for them to know that Lacrosse Is A Game Of Communication.The traditional beginner calls are:
- "Ball Down!" when the ball goes to the deck.
- "I've Got Ball!" when the player is going to pick up the ball.
- "Release!" immediately after the player scoops up the ball.
- "Here's Your Help Joe!" when a player wants Joe to throw the ball to them.
I find it extremely helpful to instruct players to use their opposite arm on the first day.Some coaches disagree and find this approach to be controversial but I have had great success developing ambidextrous players by telling beginners to switch to the other arm as if this is just how we do things.Many of them just do it, and truthfully, it really is just how we do things.Players who find this awkward are usually finding everything awkward, as well they should since lacrosse is this new thing they are trying and have never done before, so in the beginning one arm is just about as awkward as the other.
With knowledge of but perhaps not proficiency in the basics beginners are ready to try the skills while running.Scooping a ground ball on the run and throwing while running tend to be straightforward while catching on the run seems to take more practice, so you might keep that in mind while planning drills for your practices.Thus, this is where I teach Shooting, with drills that don't have to involve catching, but which usually help players develop better accuracy, so that when they slow things down for a pass the pass is in a better spot to catch.
Once players start running with the ball it makes sense to start teaching dodges.Dodging actually increases understanding of cradling, and dodges can be introduced as part of cradling drills.The 3 basic dodges to teach are:
- Face Dodge
- Split Dodge
- Roll Dodge
With players running and dodging it helps to establish what they are dodging to get away from, so you can use this moment to teach Defensive Footwork where defensive players keep offensive players away from the line at the center of the field between the goals or better yet behind the goal altogether.Defense, like all lacrosse, is played from the ground up, so you can have the players learn the defensive footwork and counters to dodges without their sticks.
Players dodging with the ball, however, often forget to protect their stick, so once players have some exposure to proper defensive footwork this is where I like to introduce Defensive stick checks to help the dodgers have better form:
- Poke Check
- Lift Check
- Butt Hold
I do also teach the hip ride, where a defensive player with his hands together runs hip to hip with an opponent who has the ball and the defender uses his hands at the opponent's hip to guide the player away from the middle of the field, but I do not emphasize this move as it leads to a higher number of penalties.Players and especially beginners seem to interpret this check/move in a way that leads to crosschecks and very unsafe crosschecks to the back.The rules committee introduced a rule to prohibit "thrusting" to counter the danger and, frankly, the sloppy play and crummy footwork that this maneuver often brings.
The hip ride does have it's place in the game, mostly for middies, just like the kayak check and over-the-head check are good ideas when used correctly in the right situations, but with beginners I instead focus on the old-school V-Hold and Butt Hold, which are holds and even though they are called holds are not illegal (there is a penalty called a "Hold").In fact, teaching the poke check combined with the V-Hold is one of the best ways to instruct proper sliding and for showing new players the right way to hit.
You will need to make yourself aware of the rules for the age group you are coaching.We are categorizing these plans by skill level and not by age for a reason, since many young players are actually quite experienced.Younger players are, however, usually required to play with younger player rules, so hitting might not be allowed for a player at U11 for example.A High School beginner had better know very well how the collisions work so that he can avoid penalties and more importantly be able to protect himself and other players.
Letting you in on a little secret, this "beginners" sequence is the way I start my season no matter what the skill level I am coaching.If the players are all experienced and proficient this goes very quickly, maybe even in half a practice or less, but I like to review the basic individual skills from the ground up with everyone and, invariably, in those early season practices I almost always see something in the basic fundamentals that each player is doing that needs adjusting no matter how experienced the player is.I just remind them -- victory often depends on being better at the basics.
There are some basic individual skills for Goalies and for Face-Off Specialists that are simple musts, though these skills are so specialized they are treated in their own section of the LaxPlaybook site.All lacrosse players including Goalies use the skills listed on this page.
In addition to individual beginner skills there are some beginner team concepts that a coach should cover as well -- Man-Ball situations, Face-Offs, Fast Breaks for both Offense and Defense, a basic Clear, Rides, Basic Team Offense, and Basic Team Defense.None of these become that useful until the players develop a level of competency in the individual fundamental skills, but remarkably, a team can have success without complex offensive or defensive plays or rides or clears if their players have a basic understanding of the rules and a solid foundation of fundamental skills.