I'd love to see lacrosse coaches limit their instruction and direction of players only to practice, timeouts and quarter breaks. Men’s college lacrosse, particularly – with the exception of a handful of programs – has become a coach’s game in which players are conditioned to listen for barked instruction from the sideline…too often afraid to push an unsettled situation or improvise for fear of making a mistake and experiencing the wrath of their coach. It’s one thing to watch this happen in a college game, where the stakes are increasingly higher for coaches. And, it’s become the norm at high school games, as well. But I’m seeing it happen regularly at youth games, and it’s always like watching a tragic comedy unfold as the booming voices of coaches continuously compete for the attention of befuddled young players throughout an entire game. It’s often funny…but it’s also sometimes unbearable to watch.
Now those of you who know me understand that I believe coaching is one of the more noble and rewarding activities in life. Coaches have the opportunity to positively impact lives by helping players reach their highest levels of individual and collective achievement and, far more importantly, also by infusing in them the values of team sport and the joy of athletic competition.
But I don’t think listening to the constant drone of a coach shouting direction after direction to players throughout a youth game contributes meaningfully to either of the above. What harm would it do to give young players the opportunity to think and learn for themselves in a game? Who really cares if they make a mistake – or ten? (OK…we know who cares…adults). Kids learn best through experience and by making mistakes…not by being micromanaged through every pass. So youth coaches, I challenge you to give this a try at least one time this year. Spend the week leading up to a game focused on teaching skills, concepts and strategies just as you always do. But, come game time, don’t use your booming voice to confuse your young players with a non-stop stream of commentary…use it only to share positive encouragement during play. Take advantage of teaching moments only when a player leaves the field, during a timeout or at halftime. Resist the urge to interrupt the beauty and fun of watching young players make their own decisions based on what you have taught them. You might be surprised at what you see…and how much more fun they have.