A US Army Officer that played lacrosse for the Black Knights at West Point (USMA) started playing in our local men's rec league recently. We hope you can share some of the lessons we learned from playing with and against him with your young athletes.
Memorial Day is the best lacrosse day of the year. People all over the country get together to relax around the pool, fire up the grill, and watch the NCAA National Championship Game.
On this Memorial Day we want to join the rest of the lacrosse community and express our gratitude to the men and women of the US Military that risk their lives to protect the rest of us so that we can live in a free country.
Some of us here at Lax Library ref and play in a recreational men's league every Sunday. This is a true "Rec" league- our playing careers peaked a long time ago. Most of the guys are not nearly as strong or fast as they used to be. Some of the guys only started playing a few years ago in their 30's and 40's because their kids play, and they want to share that with their sons.
Recently a US Army Officer stationed at a nearby military base started playing in our league. This guy (we'll call him "Matt") is exactly what you would expect a US Army Officer and West Point lacrosse player to look like- clean cut, good looking, and clearly very strong and in very good shape.
Matt is head and shoulders the best, fastest and strongest player on the field. It would be pretty easy for him to go out and dominate any player that goes near him. He can take the ball away from anybody and go to the net any time he wants. He could go home and tell his girlfriend (who is also very good-looking) all about how many goals he scores every Sunday.
But Matt doesn't play that way. He doesn't throw vicious stick and body checks on weaker opponents. He doesn't put players that are easy targets on the ground. He doesn't dodge through double and triple teams, just because he can and nobody can stop him.
His actions and attitude make the players around him better. This is the mark of a truly great player.
There are a few characteristics that always seem to define Leaders and Heroes, no matter what the setting is: Communication, Confidence, Positive Attitude, Ability to Inspire.
It's important for all young people, not just lacrosse players, to be exposed to people that demonstrate these character traits so that they can recognize them when they see them, and more importantly, to emulate and replicate them in their own thoughts and actions.
We've played a lot of lacrosse on a lot of teams in a lot of places with a lot of different people. The way this US Army Officer plays stands out in all the memories of all the games and all the tournaments.
It sounds easy enough, and it is. We teach our youth players to communicate from Day 1. Loud defensive communication can disrupt the other team's entire offense.
Matt was the first player to clearly communicate that he had his own responsibilities under control, which sets the example for the other players around him to follow:
- "I got number 17!" let's everybody else know who he's guarding.
- "I got your help right!" tells the Defender guarding the ball where his help is coming from to stop the ball.
- "I got ball!" tells everyone else on Defense that the ball is covered and to guard another attacker.
- "Here's your help!" let's the man with the ball know he has a teammate he can pass to if he gets into trouble.
Especially in stressful and exciting situations, good Leaders communicate with everyone in a manner and tone of voice that inspires respect and confidence in what they are saying.
As coaches we often scream directions at our players. But does your tone of voice make your players want to follow you? Does your tone of voice inspire confidence in you as a leader? The same thing goes for how your players talk to each other on the field in practice and in games.
The fundamentals of good communication will follow your players from youth sports, to college lacrosse, into the workplace and into their communities.
Experience in a variety of situations and circumstances teaches us what our strengths and weaknesses are. This self-knowledge leads to confidence in ourselves that we have the skills, abilities and determination to face the challenges in front of us.
Lead from the Front: Matt doesn't play Attack. Matt plays Midfield. He doesn't expect to stand at one end of the field and wait for the ball to come to him. Matt gets back on Defense and wins ground balls. He uses his speed and strength to run the ball down field to give his team more chances to score.
The best player will often be the one who wins the most ground balls. (Because Ground Balls Win Games.) Recognize the players on your team that go get their hands dirty to get the ball for your team.
Dodge to Draw the Slide: Matt can dodge past his Defender any time he wants. He is quick and he can carry the ball. But he doesn't go to the goal every time. He dodges to draw extra Defenders to him, which opens up his teammates.
Good players make the players around them better. Matt is unselfish. Matt shoulders extra responsibility because he is the most capable. He moves the ball to his teammates when the Defense slides to him, so the players around him get the chance to catch and shoot when they are open. This inspires his teammates' confidence in themselves, and also their confidence in him.
Even getting double-teamed, even with Defenders hacking at him to get the ball, Matt keeps a positive attitude with his teammates.
After you've been through four years at the US Military Academy at West Point, after you've been in active duty combat, everything else must seem pretty easy.
Leadership requires that you accept responsibility for your actions, attitude and circumstances.
Because they choose to accept responsibility, not only for their own actions but also the actions and attitudes of the people under them, Leaders look for solutions instead of problems or excuses. They have big goals for the future. They choose a positive attitude because that is the best way to get things done.
We drop passes. We miss ground balls and goals that Matt probably wouldn't. He always keeps a positive attitude, communicating with us in a positive way, focused on the "next play." We can't do anything about the last play. Next play.
This is Sunday morning Lacrosse. We didn't get dressed up for nothing. Why would you not have a positive attitude?
ABILITY TO INSPIRE
One great play can turn the tide in any lacrosse game- a big save by the Goalie, a take-away check from a Defender, a great ground ball that turns into a Fast Break goal!
Inspiration is routinely cited as one of the top qualities of leadership.
Matt wins the ground balls on defense. Matt runs the ball down field, carries all the way behind the goal to X, draws the defense and dishes the ball off to his teammates. After all that, Matt is the first to give the guy who scored the goal a high five. Matt did almost all the work, and he's the first to share in the glory.
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
― Harry S. Truman
Great Leaders acknowledge the work of their teammates, coworkers, employees, and friends. Nobody can do it all on their own. The same relationship skills that allow business leaders to accomplish big things in the professional world will help your players in their relationships with their teammates, friends, siblings, parents and future wives and girlfriends.
Recognize and reward your youth lacrosse players when they demonstrate these qualities in practice and in games.
After all, you are the leader of these young men and women that are looking for inspiration to be their best!