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Youth Lacrosse Specialization and the Single Point Of Failure

April 30, 2014    4965 Views

Gordon Corsetti | @atlantayouthlax

Youth Lacrosse Specialization

Peyton Williams

This is a guest post from Gordon Corsetti, a lacrosse official in the Atlanta area. Visit the Atlanta Youth Lacrosse blog for more words of wisdom from Gordon.

Youth lacrosse should not include specialized players. There, I said it.

I’m not referring to the specific positions of attack, midfield, defense, and goalie. I’m focusing on the increasing trend in youth sports to pigeonhole a player into one super-specialized position.

The problem with super-specialization in lacrosse, and any other youth sport, is that it cripples a player’s game. For example, I officiated a game where one team had a FOGO, or “face-off/get-off” player. This player’s sole job was to win the face-off, toss the ball to his teammate, and run off the field.

Now, that is all well and good at a competitive high school level, but this kid was in fourth grade. His entire year consisted of sitting on the bench, facing off, and sitting back on the bench. While I am sure he developed solid face-off skills, he spent more time riding the bench than any player on his team.

That FOGO’s coach was more interested in winning a game by taking advantage of a young player’s skill in one area than he was in exposing the kid to the entire game of lacrosse. That kid suffered because at the end of the season, all he could do was face-off. He had zero skills in passing, playing defense, or communicating to his teammates. All of the basic skills that are critical to long-term development at the higher levels were not there because his coach did not uphold his responsibility to teach the game first.

But, Coach Gordon, my FOGO, long-stick midfielder, or lefty feeder is critical to my game plan. How can my team possibly compete if I do not have my super-specialized player?

Simple. Spread the skills around.

I don’t mind if your game plan calls for a FOGO or other specialized players, as long as two or three other kids share that position. Guess what happens when a team relies on a single player to face-off and that player gets injured? The team is now incredibly weak at facing off because the coaches poured all of their face-off knowledge into one kid.

By specializing one player, you create a single point of failure. BusinessDictionary.com defines this as an “element or part of a system for which no backup (redundancy) exists and the failure of which will disable the entire system.”

Developing redundancy allows your team to adapt. Injury, lateness, sickness, penalties, and tiredness can affect any player, and even more so at the youth level, including your super-specialized kid. If your game plan requires a long-stick midfielder, teach three different players how to properly play that position, and you’ll create a game plan that isn’t bound to a single player. When one of those specialized players is out on the field, the other two should be playing offense or defense. That way, they learn how to play lacrosse beyond one specific slice of the game.

Instead of having a player who can only face off or play long-stick midfield, this strategy creates a balanced player who has a sub-specialty in one part of the game. That is a player who will succeed at the higher levels because they have basic skills, but also fill a niche that a coach is looking for.

Gordon is a born lacrosse official who played for ten years before realizing he'd much rather ref the game than play it. He lives in Atlanta and officiates youth, high school, and collegiate men's lacrosse games all over the southeast. His passion is educating and training officials, coaches, players, parents and all other fans on the rules of lacrosse, the sport’s history, and how best to develop lacrosse in new areas. Contact Gordon at rules@ayllax.com.

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