If you are coaching a summer club team or traveling to play in summer tournaments, I probably do not need to let you know the game format and coaching techniques are radically different. In fact, the coaching is far different than I had ever expected. I have touched on some of my thoughts on summer coaching below.
In addition to the mechanics of the games, the strategies around substitutions and roster size are also very different. This is club ball, which means the parents are paying hard-earned money (even more significant in these economic times); therefore, allocating playing time needs to be far more equitable than it may have been in your varsity coaching days.
You need to have a strategy and be organized, because the games go by so quickly with running time in most cases. If there are players you are not playing, the headaches and turmoil on the bench and with parents will just take the enjoyment out of it. Summer is far more competitive than ever, but we still need to emphasize fun.
Here are some thoughts from my learning curve:
Smile and Be Patient
It is summer. Smile. This means that practices may be limited, and the kids are not going to be at all of the practices. They have family activities, vacations, summer jobs, and unlike a varsity culture the other commitments will get in the way. I recommend that you go with the flow and smile occasionally.
Understand the Individual Format of Tournament Play
First, please read well in advance the rule sheet for each tournament, because they are all different. Running time halves, 20 minutes or 25; some have time on the field, some a common clock. If you have an assistant or a parent to help, I recommend asking them to keep you posted on a watch, or I use a little travel alarm. Many of you are used to asking the table for the time left, but sometimes they do not know or have the time, so be prepared.
Also, most tournaments for high school games are now using NCAA rules. This changes your existing thoughts on timeouts, face-offs, delayed penalties, just to hit the highlights. Focus on the unique aspects:
Key NCAA vs. High School Rule Differences
Each tournament has different rules on timeouts. I have been in tournaments with one timeout per half, or recently at the Hogan, one timeout per game. Also important is the timing of when the timeout can be called. Many events allow no timeouts in the last two minutes of each half. We played in a tournament with no timeouts in the last five minutes of a half. So make sure you know ahead of time. In most of these tournaments, the issues of the multiple games and heat are real factors, so I would encourage you to use all your timeouts throughout the day.
Also remember, if you are playing NCAA rules, you cannot call a timeout just anywhere on the field or to save a possession anywhere on the field. You have to wait to call the timeout until your team has the ball in the offensive zone. The offensive zone is defined as the restraining line in your offensive end, not strictly in the box, but the alleys or anything over or past the restraining line running from sideline to sideline.
For the face-off, the referee will only say 'Down' and then blow the whistle; there is no 'Set' call, and the whistle comes very quickly. If your face-off, player receives a procedure call, he must then exit the field through the box. So please incorporate this into your practices, as your players need to adjust, and you may get some bonus transition or break opportunities.
Delayed 'Flag Down' Penalties
Next, the NCAA rules are a little different in regards to a delayed penalty, or a flag down, situation. For HS lacrosse, if there is a delayed penalty call and the ball is in the offensive box, even if the ball goes on the ground, the whistle blows, play stops, and the man-up begins. In college rules, as long as the ball is in the offensive box, even if it goes to the ground any number of times, the play continues until the ball eventually goes outside the box or an offensive player gains possession. We highly recommend that you call some flag-down scenarios in practices to keep your offensive group attacking and staying in the box. This can be a huge advantage if the defense relaxes when the ball goes on the ground while your team continues to be aggressive to the cage.
Review the Tie Breakers
It is not unusual for two or three teams in a tournament bracket to come out of the first day with a loss, and thus the tiebreakers come into play for determining who gets to compete for the semifinals or even ultimately the championship game.
In many tournaments, the tiebreaker is goals against; however, we recently were in a tournament where the tiebreaker was most significant loss, determined by goal differential in a loss. As a coach, you need to know this and make your team aware, because it can make a difference. In a game we were losing, we battled back to make it close, and that made the difference in getting one of the top four seeds, and we ultimately won the championship. Or if you are winning, rather than coast, the goals against might make a huge difference in seeding, so playing aggressive defense might be the key between getting there and playing in the consolation brackets.
Lack of Horns
In almost all of the summer tournaments in which we compete, there are no horns or stopping play during the running time halves. It is understandable in some cases, as there are hundreds of teams and games. But it will take a little getting used to as a coach.
In my case, we rotate our players more frequently than I would as a varsity coach. The reason is that if you miss a chance to switch out middies during an offensive possession, you may not get another chance for three or four minutes or longer if the ball goes the other way, or you fail to clear following the ball in your defensive end.
If you are carrying five attack players and/or five defense players, you will find it a challenge to get them all close to equal time during a running time half. It is harder than it appears, so have some help and make a plan ahead of time. You do not have the luxury of a horn to rotate. For me, I try to err on the side of more frequent changes at opportune times as a safer vehicle to fewer dead-tired middies trying to play defense.
And although it may be a little late for you this summer, I have trimmed down the number of players we carry on each team, simply because it is hard to keep them rotated fairly, and if they are playing in recruiting tournaments, it is tough to give five attack players great opportunities to showcase their talents.
All in all, it is still summer. Smile and have a blast!