My name is Brian Langtry, and I am a lacrosse coach. I played professionally for the better part of 20 seasons over an eleven year time period. (NLL and MLL). I have coached at the College, High School, and every age of youth lacrosse nearly 2x over. I run 6Star Lacrosse which is a training and club business in Colorado, and Island Box Lacrosse on Long Island.
Each week I am answering questions posed to me by the coaches and players that I work with. My goal is to share my opinions and experiences about the game for those of you who, like me, just can’t get enough opinions about coaching – and maybe in the process gain some exposure for the clubs I run.
As much confidence as we have in ourselves as coaches, there is an immutable truth in our game. You can’t “script to win”. In the interest of full disclosure, I am all for set plays, and I have marveled at the genius of plays I scrawled on napkins at breakfast on gameday morning. The fact is, however, that at some point you will be challenged by an equally as talented, motivated, and intelligent team and /or coach that will have the answers to the seemingly impossible “questions” that your offense poses. Moreover, even as your masterpieces seem to be auto-pilot perfect production machines, you will no doubt come to the realization that the greater part of your creation isn’t really yours…it’s theirs – the players. The players will be the ones left to make the best of what unfolds when the opposition doesn’t do what they did on the whiteboard.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t use plays? Absolutely not. There are a lot of situations that call for structured plays. Remember, however, that when you are running a play there are many variables. Prepare for your opponent’s best defensive response rather than fooling yourself into thinking your opponent’s defenders won’t turn their heads… or think for that matter. And what if the opposing coach decides to shut off the trigger of your play…have you accounted for that?
First, the game is fluid. Unlike football, we don’t get to re-set the field and get to spots. If you are going to run plays, it is a good idea to practice getting into the play from a number of situations (subbing, faceoffs, different formations, etc.). Because many plays depend on precision, make sure your righties and lefties are able to play to their strong hands as much as possible.
Second, don’t only practice the play with the best players in their ideal spots. In 6 on 6 situations, we are often faced with having random groupings of players on the field at a given time. Outside of calling a timeout (which can limit effectiveness by putting defenses on alert) before you run plays, you will not always have the top guys on the field when you want to run a play. Put the time in and struggle through it. It can be difficult staying positive and maintaining engagement during practice when grinding through plays, but if you are going to run them…put in the work.
Third, plays are dependent on timing. If one part isn’t doing his or her job at the precise time expected, the play, for the most part, is going to fail. So how do we address this? Obviously, the more you drill the play, the more precise the timing will be, but this isn’t the only thing we can do to ensure successful plays.
Multi-step plays can address the “one and done” looks and also begin to develop lacrosse IQ throughout the team. The balance between “letting them play” and “Joysticking” is not easy to strike. The idea behind multi-step plays is to give the players more ownership of the decision-making process and force less structure upon them. I like to see this as plays being the building blocks to running sets. I will address, Letting Them Play, in a future blog.
Besides adding steps to your plays, probably the most lasting and impactful decision you can make is to EDUCATE rather than DICTATE. Be prepared to discuss all aspects of the play with the players. Explain to them why it should work, what might cause it not to work, and what each player should be thinking and looking for throughout. Explain the “WHY” of the play. While plays are often maligned as being the bane of critical thinking on the field, use the play as a vehicle for enhancing lacrosse IQ instead.
I have coached diverse skill levels and multiple ages, and each and every team I coached had at least a few plays. Some teams ran a play every time we touched the offensive zone, and others only ran them on man-up or end-line situations. The best answer I can give to the question of whether or not to run plays is that I would have a few plays prepared, but the amount of control you want coming from the sideline should be determined by your assessment of what your team needs…keeping in mind, in a perfect world the players will be improvising rather than acting out composed movements.
To have your question addressed email me at firstname.lastname@example.org