This article was written by Mike Muetzel and appeared on LaxCoachMike.com.
Following close to 100 interviews over the last five years with the best NCAA Lacrosse coaches on practice plans we have always seen some unique trends from year to year. In 2013 and into 2014 many of these new trends in lacrosse practice planning are starting to really become inherent parts of the whole for many of the top NCAA lacrosse programs. At the point I started this project college coaches were already running their drills faster -- from seven to ten minutes each and rarely repeating the same drill two days in a row. This matches up directly with the way players of this generation learn, fast paced with a lot of variety, engagement, no standing around and multi-tasking in many lacrosse drills. But the shifts in practice planning have moved even farther forward.
Want more lacrosse coaching tips? Download our newest Preseason Perfection ebook for free!After every podcast I marvel at the new ideas and the NCAA coaches attention to detail. Although many NCAA coaches remain traditional in their approach to lacrosse practice plans, there have been some unique elements that are far more common and accepted in the top programs. I am anxious to share three of the top trends we have seen from our podcasts and research. Please keep in mind that I am writing in generalities and there are clearly exceptions, but in a ‘macro’ sense here is what we heard…
The Sequence of Your Practice Plan
As recently as five years ago, almost all of the coaches we have interviewed remained committed to kind of a basic traditional template for planning their lacrosse practices. The practice opens with stick work or shooting, goalie warm ups then stretching (emphasis on Dynamic Stretching) and then the balance of the first hour with drills I will affectionately refer to as “Fundamentals.”
The balance of the “Fundamentals Hour” often include specific position work, passing at all positions or footwork or re-direct work for the poles and shooting for the shorties, spoke and skeleton lacrosse drills, perhaps 1V1’s and 2V2’s, and many others, etc.
Following the first hour or so in fundamentals the lacrosse practices moved into a series of transition drills, sometimes in progression, and sometimes not… in other words 3V2 then 4V3, perhaps up to full field transition drills, or in the case of today’s top coaches mixing up their transition sequence to better emulate true game scenarios. (Remember NCAA rosters are close to 40 players) And then depending on the coach, some small ‘even’ work (4V4 or 6V6) and then 20 to 40 minutes of full field scrimmages, scramble drills, scrimmages with riding and clearing and so on… And often practice concludes with specialty work such as freezing the ball, or Man Up.
But all of the coaches we have interviewed have place a renewed emphasis on making their lacrosse drills reflect not only true game scenarios but the evolving sequences of scenarios in games. In other words do your drills truly reflect an actual game-like situation? Lacrosse is truly a fluid game, and does not often meet the pattern of a traditional daily schedule, thus these changes. The fluid nature of lacrosse is one of changing momentum while two games or two quarters are never the same. Yet practices for many coaches are always the same. Does this make sense?
1. Transition Lacrosse Drills In Your Practice Plan
Does your team ever come out flat in some games? Perhaps it is a direct reflection of the way you plan your practices, and the slow pace of your practice especially the first 20 minutes of your practices every day. Now it is very common to see NCAA coaches insert an extremely fast-paced transition drill immediately after stretching. The idea is to really set an enthusiastic fast pace for the balance of your practice.
We have interviewed coaches that might even begin with a 2V1 drill to gets hands and feet moving, or a fast 3V2 drill including everybody at all positions, or a 3V2 drill over 70 yards to get the players moving or even competitive 1V1’s or 2V2’s. We have also interviewed coaches that go directly into a fast paced competitive ground ball drill to get the blood pumping and to set the tone for a great practice. Regardless of the specific drill, fast paced, high energy, quick reps, everybody active is the common goal. It does not have to be a long drill, but a fast paced and active drill.
Please do not misunderstand the trends. The “Fundamentals” portion of each practice is still critical, but you will see even more energy in these types of more structured sometimes methodical fundamental drills following a fast-paced, “get them going drill” and then come back to the “Fundamentals” portion. Set the pace early.
2. Where Does Your Scrimmage Time Go in your Practice Schedule
We first saw this trend a few years back in our first interview with Mike Daly from Tufts, as well as interview years ago with Coach Ted Garber. This is a trend we continue to see in our interviews in 2014. Traditionally most teams would place the full field scrimmages as the final portion of practice. It seemed logical, as we build up through 90 minutes of practice to the full field 10V10 portion. Or in the case of many HS teams with smaller rosters, the final portion might be 6V6 for 45 minutes often seen by our players as an eternity of monotony.Thus now we are seeing two trends. Again, remember the goal is to better prepare our players for the fast fluid nature of games, and preparing them to be successful in ever-changing game scenarios. The first, try alternating a full field lacrosse drill with a half field or a drill where we shorten or “crunch” the field, and then a full field, half field and so on. This is a huge element for coaches like Mike Hannon as well as many others.
Coaches are changing where the scrimmage is inserted in the practice plan. You can add real life to any practice (as well as perhaps better prepare your players for games) by splitting up your team and playing 10v10 to a single score or a game to three immediately after stretching. Or running full field 10V10 and consistently throwing out ground balls in a “Scramble” format. And then the next day insert the full field portion after 30-40 minutes of practice then the next day an hour into practice and so on. For many coaches, this practice planning change is awkward, as it is non-traditional but I can assure you the players love it!
3. Man Up and Specialty Situations
I want to begin by writing about our Man Up and Man Down time in practice, although it is really a metaphor for so many more “micro” game scenarios. These other scenarios might include an end line play, freezing the ball with a two goal lead, or trying to trap the ball emulating a scenario where we are down a goal with one minute to play, and many others that many coaches do not prioritize in their practices. But these details are critical in winning games and winning championships.Getting back to “Man Up.” Perhaps like you I have traditionally kept our Man Up and Man Down teams for fifteen minutes after practice to focus on penalty situations. The players are tired, we run the same plays and I am always checking my watch. If the Man Up throws it away they still get the ball back and so on…
In 2015 we have seen a trend in practice planning that I think is brilliant. Now many NCAA lacrosse coaches are inserting just four to six minutes of Man Up, at different places in the practice schedule perhaps two to three times in each practice. This can be run or inserted at any point in your practice, and the other player can take a water break, or even watch if we limit it to five minutes or less of standing around. And then maybe one or two days, keep these segments separate from the full practice plan.
For example, five minutes into your rides and clears, have two thirty second Man Up reps, or five minutes into your 6V6 run a one minute Man Up, or ten minutes into your full field, a man Up… and so on. And please remember, we can do the same for a an end line play inserted anywhere, as well as trap to get the ball, a quick game-like scrimmage for freezing the ball, and then return to the practice plan. OK, I understand this might take a little more work in our planning phase, but I can assure you these techniques are being practiced by the best lacrosse teams working to be even more prepared and play/react better in games.
I am not going to number this other additional example, but it speaks directly to the trend we are discussing. But just as an example of this shift in practice planning we even talk to coaches who are now actually practicing their time out calls.
In the middle of a drill, or scrimmage, or 4V4, call a time out, talk to just the players in the drill, and throw in a wrinkle, a pass and pick or switch to zone defense, and then see how the players react. It will also help us as coaches keep the timeout message to two or three points at the most, and help the players focus on the changes and the next minute of the drill.
I find these changes fascinating and I hope you give all this some thought, as we try and better prepare our players to be in position to be as successful as they can be…