By TJ Buchanan | @usjtjbuchanan
Our coaching education staff just finished training nine new, locally based trainers and nearly 50 coaches over three days in Seattle, Wash. In preparation for training our newest additions, another trainer and I had a lengthy discussion—almost seven consecutive hours—on the flight from Baltimore to Seattle about what really matters when it comes to teaching coaches more effective techniques for training their athletes.
We reached a consensus that for us to be effective as trainers of coaches, we have to give the coaches tools to help break down skills. Regardless of what offensive or defensive system they use, coaches can implement similar methodologies to help their athletes learn better.
As a result of our discussion, we developed a thought process that we believe will teach athletes what they need to learn through implementing certain types of drills. What follows is a series of questions for coaches to consider when planning out a practice or teaching a new skill.
To demonstrate the process, let’s take a look at dodging:
1. What is the end goal of the drill?
Players are able to effectively get past a defender using a dodge.
2. What are the key elements of the skill?
Implementing proper footwork, body movements, and stick protection.
3. How can I teach these concepts in a way that allows me to detect and correct errors in the simplest way possible?
Break the teaching down into small parts and start teaching from the ground up. Literally!
Design a drill that emphasizes footwork only. Take away the sticks and focus solely on what the feet should be doing in the dodge. Use cones and lines on the field to give players visual cues.
Once footwork has been mastered, add in body mechanics. Using the face dodge as an example, encourage players to use a “right hook” punching motion as they approach the defender. This will automatically rotate their upper body in the correct position to help protect the stick. Repeat with a “left hook.”
After mastering the upper body movements required for the dodge, teach what their hands should be doing to promote optimal stick protection.
4. How can I increase the difficulty of the drill?
As players master the feet, body, and hand mechanics of the dodge, the coach can gradually progress the drill using these guidelines:
- Add a defender without a stick to get the dodger comfortable with timing.
- Add a defender with a stick to teach the timing of the dodge.
- Add a ball to the dodgers stick.
- Allow the defender to check the stick only.
- Use a 1-on-1 drill ending in a shot.
Fundamental skills are complex, whole-body movements that can overwhelm a young athlete. If we break down the skill and only ask the athlete to master a part of it, they achieve success more quickly and with greater retention than if we show them the whole skill at once and say, “Now you do it.”
Think back to when you were learning math. First, you learned how to count. After that, the teacher moved on to addition and subtraction. Multiplication tables came next, then division, and so on through the rest of the discipline. No one started learning math with Calculus, yet too often we ask our players to perform complex skills without having taught them the individual components of the skill.
To prove my point, in Seattle I asked for a clinic participant to build a progression for teaching the split dodge. The gym was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.
Then a 15-year-old player who helps his dad coach a youth team stepped out from the crowd and confidently said, “I got this.” He successfully demonstrated a series of five to six drills starting with the feet and finishing with the hands. The other coaches went crazy! They gave him a huge round of applause and couldn’t believe they hadn’t thought of teaching dodging skills this way before.
Coaching this way isn’t easy and I’ll be the first to admit it. It takes time to plan and maybe a few more minutes of your practice to implement. But in the long term, you’d save time in trying to correct your athletes’ mistakes because you’ve corrected them in smaller steps along the way.
Apply this method to your offense, defense, rides, clears, or any other part of your practice planning. My challenge to you this offseason: Break down a skill progression!
How have you gone about breaking down a complex lacrosse skill into easily digestible chunks for your players? Share an example in the comments section.
TJ Buchanan is the coaching education content manager at US Lacrosse.
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