Practice for Greatness
Greatness is a habit. You don't just turn it on or off when it's game time. You have to make it part of your make-up as an athlete and lacrosse player.
One of the fallacies in all sports is that players are going to get better simply by showing up to practice. Yes, of course we are doing things during that 60-120 minutes that are going to help our team, but the real beauty of our sport is the ability to get better on your own. This of course brings a stronger overall team to the field because as individuals improve a little bit, the TEAM improves a lot.
Between hitting the wall, taking a bucket of balls to your local lacrosse field to get some shots, practicing your face-off moves, skipping some rope, and doing other individual athletic drills, there is a ton of room for players to get better between practices.
So the vague command from most of our coaches is to “get better on your own.” This leaves quite a bit to the imagination and can sometimes lead players down the dark and stormy path of practicing BAD habits, which is the ultimate sin for an athlete. An example would be a player standing in one place on the field by themselves, shooting 100 underhand risers and canning about 40 of them. In a game, that player may only get that shot three to four times A SEASON(!) and may only make one of them.
For those who remember their PSYCH 100 courses in college (or haven’t attended them yet!), this is the concept of NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT. Negative reinforcement essentially refers to the concept of being reinforced in a positive way for doing negative things. Not only will the player above never be able to use his practiced skill in the game, but he is also subtracting valuable positive practice time and his net improvement is going to be a negative.
All that said, how does one “get better on their own?” Here are a couple of tips that can hopefully help you or your player go about one of the more important pieces of our sport.
HAVE A PLAN
Having a routine helps your brain and body “make sense” of what it is doing and learn better. A good example would be a specific wall-ball routine that you follow rather than mindlessly throwing the ball against the bricks.
Here is a quick wall-ball routine that would help players of different positions (you can find lots more online):
Basic Wall Ball Routine (Pick 5 exercises twice a week. 25-50x with each hand on each skill)
- 2-handed catch, cradle, release
- 2-handed catch, split, release (catch with the hand you throw with and split)
- Top hand only
- Bottom hand only (this is hard!)
- Quick sticks
- Quick sticks while changing hands on every catch
- Paradiddles (right, left, right, right, left, right, left, left)
- Behind the back throws
- Behind the back catches
BUY A BUNCH OF BALLS!
There is no way around the fact that lacrosse balls are the ultimate money-pit of our sport. They are expensive to make, expensive to ship, and seem to wear out and disappear more quickly than any other piece of lacrosse equipment. While it may hurt initially to drop $50-100 on balls a season, the investment is worth it compared to hours chasing the one ball you have down the street and reaching into the storm sewer to fish it out.
Take the kind of shots you are going to take in the game. Use your gloves and helmet so you get used to the way it feels to wear them and still perform great stickwork. Go hard for a bit and then dial it back – just like we might in a game.
One of the things I used to do before games was sit with my eyes closed listening to my favorite music and going over every type of save I thought I might make. Stick-side high, stick-side hip, etc. Shooters on the run, shooters in close, or time and room, etc. And sometimes, even in the movies inside our head, we get it wrong. No worries! Hit the rewind button on the visualization and keep doing it until you get it right. If you train your brain to react the way you want it to, it will be that much easier when in a stressful situation like live action.
REMEMBER TO FEED YOUR INNER ATHLETE
So much of this sport depends on your ability to run fast, change directions smoothly, and just be a good athlete in general. It helps a ton to improve yourself and the way your body moves. You can do this by cross-training in different sports like basketball, hockey, soccer, football, and yes, even baseball and golf (hand-eye coordination and torque/force/touch).
You can also hire a private strength coach or see the one at your school. They will assess your athletic performance and give you tips on how to improve your speed and agility. If that sounds like a bit much, it only costs $20-30 to put a nice jump rope and speed ladder in your bag and you can find routines online to help you improve whatever it is you need to improve.
WORK ON BOTH WEAKNESSES AND STRENGTHS
Some of us are naturally great shooters with our strong hand but have a hard time getting that off-hand to have the same “oomph.” I had a teammate in college who was a right-handed midfielder, but he worked so hard on his lefty shot that by the end of his career he was a MUCH better shooter lefty than righty.
At the same time, we can’t forget to work on the things that make us unique and great in our own rights. If you are really good at running fast for a long time, you have to feed that beast as well!
GET YOUR PARENTS INVOLVED
Not every parent has played lacrosse, especially in our region. That’s okay! Grab your baseball mitt and have a catch with your player. Talk about your day. Make it something you do every day.
HAVE FUN WITH IT!
Challenge yourself and make it fun. Put your favorite songs on your phone and make it your own personal time. You don’t want this to be a chore, but in order to become the best you can be, you owe it to yourself and your teammates to invest some time in getting better on your own.