Coaching Youth Lacrosse or any youth sport can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, as long as you are adequately prepared with an appropriately grounded perspective of what it is you are trying to accomplish going in. SimplyLacrosse.com is very dedicated to helping develop and encourage new coaches, and to offer resources and support for existing coaches. Are you considering coaching or have you been “volunteered” and are unsure of whether or not you are prepared for the challenge? Were you the last parent standing, and now just trying to do the best job you can? Or are you questioning whether or not you are experienced enough, or if you have enough lacrosse knowledge to do a good job? Have you coached before, but are looking to increase your confidence, knowledge, and preparation? Regardless of how you arrived here the fact that you are reading this tells me that you are interested in taking the next step. That you are interested in taking on the challenge and want to do a good job. We are here to help you accomplish that desire. We will supply you with some very nice coaching tools, drills, and nuts and bolts, so that you can confidently enjoy the rewards of coaching youth lacrosse. But more importantly I hope you will gain from this experience with us, a clear understanding of the proper perspective of what it is we are trying to do. What coaching youth lacrosse and youth sports in general should be all about. And that is to generate a positive, rewarding, and fun experience for the kids that both they, and you will grow from.
are you Qualified?
The question of whether or not you have lots of coaching youth lacrosse experience, or none at all, is not the most important factor when considering whether or not you should coach lacrosse. There are many very good coaches who never had the opportunity to play the game, and started off with a very limited understanding of the game, but they have tremendous character, and the ability to teach and mold young minds. In my opinion, when you sign up to coach young children, the most important question to ask yourself is: Do you genuinely care about all of the kids that you are going to be responsible for? Your focus should be on what they are going to get out of their experience with you as their coach. Whether this is your first experience coaching youth lacrosse or if you are just a parent who is helping, or if you have been around the block a few times we hope to share some insight and offer some suggestions.
what are your Goals?
Lets begin, by qualifying your desires, and establishing what it is that you hope to get out of coaching youth lacrosse. Before you can begin molding young minds, you need to have a clear understanding and blue print of what your goals are as the coach. You should consider yourself a teacher first and a youth Lax coach second.
Your goal is to teach the kids how to play the game right. With good sportsmanship. I want to start right up front and be very clear on this point, so that there are no misunderstandings or gray area. If you are primarily interested as a coach in competitive lacrosse and winning championships, please find a varsity or club high school program, college, or adult club team to challenge you. Coaching youth lacrosse is not the correct place for you. There are plenty of places where you can go to enjoy the competitive side of lacrosse and establish your coaching genius. Coaching youth lacrosse is about teaching young people to love the game. It is about giving all of them the opportunity to try, and to succeed, and to fail, without fear. In our ultra competitive society so much focus is placed on winning that the enjoyment of the game is often lost. Utilizing positive coaching ethics has become an endangered species and we need to save it for the sake of our kids. Failure is as much a part of life as success is. Learning to overcome failure is the lesson. Teaching kids to conquer their fears is the challenge. Being given the opportunity to fail and improve and overcome is the value of what we should be promoting. How many kids have I seen try a sport, and not experience success for an overzealous coach who is only focused on winning and his/her personal fulfillment, and not the fulfillment of the kids. And having never been given the opportunity to try to succeed, without the fear of failure, end up leaving the sport altogether because the experience was so unrewarding. One of the most important values you can pass on to a kid is to teach them not to be afraid to try. It is ok to try and to fail as long as you do your best. You as the coach will have their back, and you as the coach will teach the team to have their back. It is a very positive thing in my experience to give kids opportunities. They will forever amaze you. Don’t hide your worst players. Highlight them. Teach them. And help them grow as players and as people.
Now if you are coaching youth lacrosse all star team, or ultra competitive traveling club team then more focus on winning is probably appropriate. But I am speaking directly to the recreational club youth lacrosse coaches. You are not Dave Petriemala, or Vince Lombardy. If you were you would not be coaching youth lacrosse. If you accept the opportunity to coach kids you have to also accept the responsibility that you are going to affect their lives in some way. It is your obligation to ensure that is a positive experience for every kid (especially the weakest) on your team.
build your Team
Having established what the priorities are, your first priority is to make sure that those on your coaching staff agree. I say staff loosely, because your staff is going to be 100% volunteer. Parents who want to help, kids from the high school program, etc… So you have to be diplomatic in your presentation, but do not be in your insistence that positive reinforcement is the method.
Here is a list of goals/guidelines that I like. You may have additional ones that are important to you. I suggest you establish your own goals and review them with your coaches, so that you are all on the same page and consistent as possible in your message to the kids. There is very little as destabilizing as contradictory messages from the coaches to young kids. Here are 11 suggestions:
- make it FUN!
- The most important thing that should come out of your kids involvement with Youth Lacrosse is that they should have fun.
- If they have fun they will show interest. They will tell their friends and the sport will continue to grow.
- They will look forward to coming to practice.
- Most kids who pick up a stick for the first time never put it down. But those who do usually do so because they do not have fun with their initial experience of lacrosse. It is your job to make sure that your kids have fun and learn to love the sport for what it is. A GAME!
- Coaching Youth Lacrosse is first about having fun.
- enforce Positive Reinforcement
- You need to be as positive as possible in your tone. Encourage your kids to try. Trying is much more important than succeeding. Effort is the measurement of trying.
- Don’t say: “that was garbage!”, “you suck!”, “terrible job!” etc…
- Say: “Nice effort, but lets try this instead,” “We are going to get you there”, “Was that your best effort?”
- Kids respond to positive reinforcement and encouragement much more favorably than criticism, and ridicule.
- Coaching youth lacrosse is about positive reinforcement
- every kid will play.
- This is mandated in most organizations, but more than a mandate it should be your personal objective. Kids sign up to play, and they all pay the same fee’s. You should strive to give them all equal opportunity to play. The only way kids develop is with opportunity. Your job is to get the most out of every kid.
- Coaching youth lacrosse is about making sure everyone plays.
- give every kid an opportunity to play every position.
- Encourage your less athletic and less experienced kids to play attack, and to play goalie, and to take a face off. You will be positively rewarded by this approach. By the end of the year you will be amazed at how much your team improves across the board by allowing, encouraging, and promoting kids to try new things without the fear of failure. They will fail, but with your encouragement and coaching they also will learn and grow and get better and next time they may succeed. And then you will get the magical opportunity to realize one of the truly great experiences a youth coach will know, and that is the joy in the kids face when they finally do it. When they overcome their fear and they have success for the first time.
- Coaching youth lacrosse is about giving kids opportunities to try new things.
- don’t Force them to play every position.
- If a kid does not want to be the goalie and you know that by making them play goalie they are going to fail, then you are promoting their failure, and reinforced their own doubt in themselves.
- However if they have a desire to play goalie then give them an opportunity and encourage them, at least in practice. It is your job to build their confidence and push them to try. And then to support them whatever the outcome of their effort. How you react and how you mold the team to react has more impact than any other factor in whether they grow in confidence, or grow in fear.
- Coaching Youth Lacrosse is about putting your kids in a position to impove their self worth.
- promote Teamwork
- Lacrosse is a team sport. Encourage your players whether talented or less talented to work together. To pass the ball. Make a bigger deal of the clear, the pass, and the assist than the score. And you will help to develop your entire team. Kids will respond to whatever you make a big deal out of.
- Constantly encourage teamwork in favor of individualism. When you have a very talented individual on your team it is easy to depend on that player. The whole team will soon learn to depend on the individual player and the rest of the teams development will slow. Ultimately the hotshot player will reach a level where being an individual can no longer be successful, and they will suffer the consequences as well as they struggle to learn how to play team lacrosse.
- Coaching Youth Lacrosse is about teaching teamwork.
- promote good sportsmanship
- Good sportsmanship starts with the coaches and should extend to the parents. If the kids see you screaming at the officials, or talking badly about the opposing team or coaches they will mimic your behavior.
- Do not allow players to talk badly or negatively about other players whether on your team or not. I have a standing rule that says if you don’t have something positive to say then don’t say anything. Teach your kids to encourage each other.
- Show class toward the other team. Smack talk is not allowed. It only leads to negative behavior.
- Fighting is never appropriate. Lacrosse is a physical game, but fighting should not be tolerated in any fashion.
- Coaching Youth Lacrosse is about teaching good sportsmanship.
- Discipline is not a dirty word.
- Discipline is essential to establishing authority and order. It is very important that players and parents know that you are in charge. Players who break your rules can be disciplined using moderate exercise. push ups, for example. or running lines, running in place. leg lifts, sit ups, or up-downs. Never show anger when you are disciplining. It is important that you are under control. Some beleive that physical exersize is the wrong method to get a childs attention because it teaches them to relate exersize negatively, but I have yet to hear anything better. Bottom line be creative and use what works. Never berate a kid. Always maintain your composure.
- Also including the rest of the team in the punishment can be a powerful form of promoting teamwork, and placing peer pressure on players who need discipline.
- If a player refuses to be disciplined with work then you can remove them from practice or the game. It is important to clearly understand the boundaries of discipline allowed within your organization.
- Teams without discipline quickly deteriorate into chaos. I place a very high degree of importance on discipline to your ability to be effective.
- Coaching Youth lacrosse is about maintaining good discipline.
- teach the Fundamentals
- Don’t spend too much time on X’s and O’s. While its important to understand the scheme and strategies that you will employ. It is far more important to teach sound fundamentals.
- Teach the kids how to cradle, pass, catch, scoop, check, shoot, etc…
- Teach the kids good footwork, position on the field relative to the goal and the ball, angles, etc…
- Coaching Youth Lacrosse is about building a solid foundation of good fundamentals.
- Effort is the only measure of performance
- It is not the result of the activity that is to be measured, but only the effort that was given. In other words. If a player gives their all and fails they have succeeded. If they give less than their all, but are successful they have failed.
- Make sure your kids understand that hard work and effort are the characteristics you are looking for.
- When I say effort I am not specifically referring to work. But rather the amount of focus and effort they exert to do it right.
- Reward great effort regardless of results.
Example: A kid hustles to get into position but drops the ball. Reward the hustle. Coach the dropped ball.
- Coach poor effort regardless of performance
Example: kid makes a great feed pass to set up a goal, but shows poor effort, make sure you are reinforcing with them to give it their all. And not letting them slide, because they made a nice pass.
Coaching Youth Lacrosse is about teaching kids to do their best.
- honor the Origins and History of the sport.
- Learn and teach them the history of lacrosse.
- Make sure they respect the culture of the game and its Native American heritage.
- Coaching Youth Lacrosse is about honoring the game.
involve the Parents
After you have covered and agreed upon your priorities and goals as coaches you need to express these guidelines with your parents. Parents can often be the most challenging aspect of coaching youth lacrosse. They will quickly become very passionate, emotional, and irrational when it comes to their kids. They will often see things from a very different perspective than you and your coaches do. It is important that you understand and respect this up front. But it is more important that you convey to your parents exactly what it is that you expect of them and their kids. You notice in my list of priorities I did not include winning anywhere. Please understand that I enjoy winning just as much as anyone, but it should not be a priority for youth lacrosse. It should be a byproduct of good coaching, not an overriding priority. Placing too much emphasis on winning can be contradictory to our stated goals above. This will often be a hard sell to parents who ultra competitive, and for who winning is everything. I find that laying your goals out in a written format, and having parents sign an agreement up front is the best way to mitigate resistance. You will find that your most experienced players and better athletes will often have the parents who are obsessed with winning. It is crucial that you get them to understand that youth lacrosse is about all of the kids, not just the best players. In the end if you adopt our philosophy you will find that most parents will support you and even be refreshed by the approach. Bottom line, make sure that you outline for them your priorities for their kids. Make sure that they understand that winning is not your top priority, but rather their kids development and enjoyment of the game is. Put your policies in writing and have them sign it.
the Practice Plan
Developing a practice plan and being organized is very important to your ability to get the most out of your practice time. Coaching youth lacrosse is about being prepared for the next drill or session and not wasting time setting it up will save you countless minutes of practice time over the course of the season. Making sure that everyone is involved with each drill and that most of your players are not standing around is also a way to maximize available practice time. Utilize drills that either move quickly or incorporate many players to make sure everyone is getting as much work as possible. Be efficient...
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