Sure Goals and Assists are what make the newspapers the day after a game. But for coaches and players who look behind the scenes at what really contributes to a win or a loss, there are two stats you should be paying close attention to, and you probably aren't.
Attackmen are usually the ones who get their picture in the paper and online. Occassionally a Defender will get some love for getting lots of Ground Balls during a season (because of course Ground Balls Win Games). And your Goalie is usually the one who deserves the real credit, especially at the youth level where bad Defense can make a Goalie's job very tough.
When looking back at why your Team as a whole won or lost a particular game, there are two stats that smart coaches pay extra attention to, and you should too. For most youth and high school teams, these are the "cause" behind the "effect" of not winning games.
Don't beat yourselves! These two Secret Stats are the most important indicators of how many chances you are giving the other team to go back and score on you. If you pay attention to these, you will get a better picture of why your team might be struggling, and more importantly you can pinpoint and improve on these two specific areas to give your players the tools to be more successful!
Clearing & Turnovers:
From youth to pro lacrosse, the most successful teams are usually the ones that Clear the ball the best--usually over 80 percent of the time. The best players are also the ones that don't drop passes or leave their stick hanging behind them asking to get trail checked.
If your team isn't Clearing well, or if you have lots of bad passes and unforced Turnovers, chances are you are spending most of your games on Defense, and your players aren't getting very many chances to score. It can be a disappointing downward spiral when your players start giving the ball back to the other team every time.
By recognizing and improving on these two very common difficulties, even for experienced teams, you can identify a specific problem and give your players the tools to make improvements. We listen to John Danowski at Duke any chance we get, and we know they spend tons of time on Clearing at the top college level.
- Related- The Clear: A Guide for Youth Coaches
Even if your team is doing a great job playing Individual 1-on-1 Body Defense so your team doesn't have to Slide very much, and your Goalie is making great saves to keep your team in the game, if you aren't Clearing well or if your players drop the ball in the middle of the field half the time, then none of that other stuff matters.
Here are a few suggestions for improving your Clearing game and minimizing Turnovers with your team:
- Keep paper or mental notes: Now that you are aware how important this is, keep notes or stats during practice and games. Which of your players turns the ball over the most? What is your approximate Clearing Percentage? 50%? 75? We are huge fans of keeping stats at practice. There is a space in the Score Book for "Successful" and "Failed Clears" for each quarter of a game. There should be a space for individual turnovers, but there isn't. Very rarely do we see coaches using an Official Score Book for youth games. It isn't really that necessary. Just pay particular attention to this piece of the puzzle.
- Give your players direct feedback: Keeping stats at practice is like a report card from that day. It's not all about Goals and Assists. Recognize and praise the player(s) on your team that win the most ground balls, or have the fewest turnovers, or Clear the ball the most at practice every day. Get your players started on a win streak at practice by showing them the results of their work on paper. They will repeat that same behavior on game day.
- Spend extra practice time on fundamentals: You can't make any improvements if your players can't catch and throw very well. Make sure your warm up drills maximize the number of touches on the ball and the amount of movement your players are getting. Nobody comes to practice to stand in a line half the time.
- Spend extra practice time Clearing: Instead of giving the Offense the ball to start your practice games or drills, have the Defense Clear the ball to the midfield line first. Then let your players have the ball to start any drill or play you want to work on. That's the order of things in a game- you can't score until you get the ball.
- And then spend more practice time Clearing: Any time the Offense scores a goal in practice, blow the whistle and yell "Clear!". Your Goalie can pull the ball out of the net and all your midfielders and Defenders can break to space to get open. Turn any rep of any drill into a Clearing and Riding Drill Combo!
- 1-on-1 Revenge Clearing and Riding Drill: Try this simple 2-part Clearing/Riding and Dodging/Defending practice drill to teach your players to handle the ball against 1-on-1 pressure and play good Individual Defense, all in the same rep!
- Trouble with long passes? Try this "Over!" Redirect Passing Drill to practice these cross-field Clearing Passes that give beginning players so much trouble.
- Make sure your players all know the Classic 4-3 "43" Punt Return Clear. Get the ball down field the old fashioned way- by running it!
For most of us, this season is already over. We're lucky we have summer tournament season to look forward to. Even if you won't be coaching again until next spring, remember these two key factors of success. Improvements in these two specific areas will give your players more chances with the ball and more fun playing for your team!