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Have We Forgotten? Youth Athletes Aren’t Adult Athletes

August 7, 2014    5561 Views

By Gordon Corsetti | @atlantayouthlax

Have We Forgotten? Youth Athletes Aren’t Adult Athletes

Peyton Williams

We forget how hard lacrosse was when we first starting playing. We lost the perspective we once had as children of putting on unfamiliar equipment and stepping onto a large playing surface. We didn’t fully understand the game we were playing, and we weren’t supposed to. We were children, and then we grew up and forgot.

Every so often when coaching young players, the thought of “How the heck have you not gotten this yet?” passes through my head. It’s a thought born out of frustration and a desire for control that happens most frequently in youth lacrosse, stemming from a lack of perspective when dealing with developing young players.

It’s easier for me to relate to college and high school players, because I have distinct memories from those times in my life. I have a hard time understanding what is going through the mind of a 9 year-old, because I’m too far removed from that age.

Despite coaching youth players for the last several years, I’m still learning how to think like a kid. I can coach kids and recognize when they need a breather from instruction, but I get frustrated when a player continues to pass into the double team despite weeks of explaining why that pass is a bad idea. I have to resist the urge to yell, “This isn’t that hard!”

But it is hard for a young player. It’s difficult to learn how to catch and throw on the run while being pursued by an opponent, much less to make the correct decision under pressure in a game situation. I have to constantly remind myself to be patient with youth players, because I don’t remember how I processed information at that age.

I observe a wide range of coaching styles at summer youth tournaments. But a common thread I’ve noticed among the most effective teams is coaches that give specific instruction to their players for game situations and refrain from accusing players of screwing up.

An effective team, in my judgment, is one where players play the best they can between the first and final whistles, and coaches don’t abandon instruction at the first sign of trouble. I don’t believe in accusing players of screwing up. That doesn’t mean I don’t hold players accountable for their mistakes, but I do scale down my tone of voice depending on the age level.

A high school player is more equipped to take verbal criticism, understand why his screw-up hurt the team, resolve not to make the same mistake again, compartmentalize my comments as being in the heat of the moment, and then return to the field and make a good play. I have yet to see a 9 year-old respond in a similar manner to a coach grabbing him by his facemask (yes, this actually happens) and wondering aloud how the player could possibly make such an egregious error.

It’s not that these coaches are bad people. Most of them just forget what it’s like to play in a competitive game as a child, and attempt to apply motivational techniques learned through their high school or college coaches. We simply forget that youth athletes aren’t adult athletes.

In an effort to remind adults how big the game used to feel, USA Hockey recently invited adults to play on a 310-by-130-foot ice rink to show them what it’s like for an 8 year-old to play on a regulation rink. Some of the grown-ups’ assessments included:

  • “Too much time between the action.”
  • “It’s hard to communicate because everyone is spread out so far.”
  • “You end up spending a lot of time in open space.”

A regulation hockey rink is 200x85 feet. For the rink in the video above, they multiplied the length and width by 1.5. Doing the same to a regulation lacrosse field at 110x60 yards equates to a scaled-up field of 165x90 yards. That would make the distance from goal to goal—normally 80 yards—a whopping 135 yards! Using these scaled-up measurements, a clearing midfielder would have to run more than the length of a regulation field just to reach his offensive zone.

That’s a long, long way for any adult to run over the course of a game. Imagine how tough it is for a young player to get comfortable on a field that feels much larger to them than it does to us, and take a breather the next time they pass into double coverage.

They’ll learn eventually, but we’ve got to be patient and see if a different way of explaining or demonstrating works better. We as adults must remember that these are just kids playing a game. We’ll best serve them and the game by keeping that perspective at the forefront.

This post was inspired by the recent New York Times Article “Sports Should Be Child’s Play.“

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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