Whether it's the increased focus on safety, new rules for "quick restarts," or the influence of Canadian Box Lacrosse, the game is changing. Here's a list of the current trends we here at Lax Library believe will help coaches prepare players for the modern game.
At camps, clinics, and summer tournaments all over the country, we see coaches and players finding great ways to approach new rules, equipment regulations, and faster-paced play from the youth all the way to the pro level.
These changes are partly the result of the "Northern Influence" from Canada. Canadian Box-style players are having tons of success at the NCAA and Professional level. Last year in the NCAA nearly 60 percent of the nation’s top 15 scorers were Canadian or Iroquois. Any outdoor player that wants to play in college is going to want to have this "Canadian skill set," as Notre Dame's Kevin Corrigan puts it.
Whether you're a first-time coach or a veteran player, here are 8 trends we see that will help you adjust to the changing face of lacrosse.
1. Line Drills Are Old News
As younger players, we spent tons of time in line drills, including hours of practice scooping, catching, and throwing with both sides and while running at full speed. We learned things like the Poke Check and the Split Dodge on the first day of practice. However, especially as youth players, we also spent a lot of time waiting in line and chasing after balls, which can eat up precious minutes at practice.
With the the growth of lacrosse to new areas, new and better equipment, athletes with backgrounds in other sports, and the influence of Box Lacrosse, coaches now are going more directly into dodging and finishing drills, 2-on-1 situations, or full-field game situations to get their players ready for the season, with less time spent on passing and catching.
2. Run and Gun: Play Between the Whistles
This is not your dad's Lacrosse from the late 90's anymore. Thanks to all the rules changes in recent years, which have been aimed at either increasing player safety or speeding up the pace of play, the game is faster and more exciting. More running, more action, more goals. Long Stick Midfielders are staying on the field in the play longer, the box has been lengthened, substitution horns are gone, and referees are taught to blow the whistle to get the ball back in play more quickly.
All players need to know how to "play between the whistles" to create opportunities. Teams and players that knows how to create scoring opportunities from "quick restarts" are going to have the upper hand. Indoor Lacrosse players are very good at quick restarts, which is why Box Lacrosse players are being recruited to more and more NCAA teams.
3. Going Back to "Righties" and "Lefties"
While line drills are necessary for developing stick skills, a number of coaches are spending much less time working on line drills and more time on dodging and shooting and 2-on-1 situations.
You don't have to spend tons of time telling every player which hand he should use in every situation. Rather than shouldering players with "rules" about when to use specific hands, teach players how to use their dominant side to their advantage in practice and in games. By letting players figure out what works best for them, they will learn to be creative and versatile, constant offensive threats like Mark Matthews or the Iroquois Thompson trio.
Of course, we always recommend beginning players should still work on developing stick skills with both sides while they are working on Wall Ball outside of practice.
4. Using the Two-Man Game
While the Two-Man Game is nothing new in Canadian lacrosse or basketball, the concept was pretty new for many lacrosse players just a few years ago. Now, whether it's the Hidden Ball Trick or the standard Pick & Roll, the Two-Man Game is now an essential tool.
Any good team needs to know how to run the Two-Man Game, and how to defend against it. Setting a pick is a very simple and effective way to draw defenders, create space, move the ball, and get your hands free to shoot.
The Two-Man Game is also good to teach Defenders to communicate, get proper defensive positioning, and play good Body Defense.
5. From "Man/Ball" to "Ball/Man"
We've all seen it happen in games- somebody goes "Man!" for the big hit and lets the loose ball roll right by. Or, even worse, a big hit does happen and your team receives a serious penalty as a result.
More and more coaches now are teaching their players to play "Ball/Man" instead, where everyone on your team always goes for the "Ball!" first. You can't even go for the big hit in Box Lacrosse- it's against the rules. With more and more players growing up playing Indoor or Box Lacrosse in addition to Field Lacrosse, we think "Ball/Man" will soon become the new standard.
Remind players that the ball scores goals, not big hits. Ground Balls Win Games. Always play the ball.
6. The Rake is OK for Picking Up Ground Balls
This may come as a shock to many coaches. Many of us have been yelling at our players for years to "Stop Raking!" and run through the loose ball, no matter how many other players or sticks are in the way.
More and more coaches today are teaching that raking is OK. While some players are more comfortable running and scooping through and getting away, others have better luck getting right into the scrum and raking the ground ball up.
In general, whatever you have the most success with is what you should do. The same thing goes for your Defenders "goosing" the ball, or batting the ball around on the ground like Hockey so they can pick it up away from traffic.
7. Ball Reversals
Similar to the Two-Man game, Ball Reversals are just like a "Hand Off" pass in basketball. A player carries the ball and draws the Defense to one direction, then gives a little flip pass to the guy next to him, who carries the ball back the other way. If done quickly, this can leave the Defense out of position, watching the play go to the goal.
Loyola was using these a lot in 2012 when they won the National Championship. We saw other college teams running them in 2013. In 2015 we saw high school and youth teams using Ball Reversals more and more.
8. Play More Box Lacrosse
Box Lacrosse is what we really see driving many of these changes. In Field Lacrosse, a bad pass out of bounds leads to a stoppage in play, standing around while somebody goes to get the ball, and a settled situation when the game restarts. In Indoor Lacrosse, the ball always comes back into play off the boards, leading to dozens of ground balls, unsettled situations, and transition opportunities in every game.
Put simply, Box Lacrosse gives kids more chances to play. Smaller teams and faster action means every player gets more reps on the floor and more touches on the ball in live game play. Plus, when you play Box Lacrosse, games never get cancelled by rain or snow.
These fundamental differences in the number and repetition of opportunities give Box Lacrosse players a huge advantage over their outdoor-only peers, especially when that faster development continues for years over a young athlete's life. This is the "hidden logic behind success" that Malcolm Gladwell writes about in his book "Outliers".
It's worth noting that, even in new and developing areas where lacrosse is not a popular sport (yet!), you don't have to play catch-up or scour the web to learn about where lacrosse is heading today.
By simply adopting some of these ideas and drills into your practices, you can skip the learning curve and help all your players stay on top of current trends in the sport. If you want to really know your stuff, just watch lots of lacrosse games. Get your players to watch too. You might even consider becoming a ref, which means you'll get paid to watch tons of lacrosse games every weekend!
Let us know if you find any of these ideas useful with your players!