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By Kate Leavell | @KateLeavell
This post is geared toward lacrosse players on high school or high school-age tryout teams. For resources on how to allocate playing time at the youth level, visit the Positive Coaching Alliance Development Zone.
You worked hard in the offseason to prepare for tryouts, and when it came time to perform, you made the team!
The first game came around and you only got in for a few minutes in the second half. You felt your excitement fading a bit. The second game came around, and again, you only saw a few minutes. The next week at practice, you started losing focus, ran a little slower and started to wonder if it was all worth it.
This is a common scenario among players on high school or tryout teams. The initial excitement of making the team can quickly wear off when playing time expectations aren’t met. But don’t lose heart—there are ways to turn this challenge into opportunity. While you can’t directly control how your coaches allocate playing time, there are many things you can control.
Here are 10 ways to get yourself off the bench and into the game.
Some of your teammates who played a lot in the game last night are going to be recovering at the next practice. If you didn’t play as much, then you’ll have fresh legs and extra energy that can really make you stand out at practice—but only if you push through the mental block from not playing and turn it up at practice. The day after games is your time to shine. Get your coaches attention and step up!
Bring some balls or cones and work on your weaknesses. Is it your left hand? Your dodging? Recovery times? Does your coach know you are putting the time in because (a) they see you working hard, or even better, (b) they notice you are improving?
Instead of chatting on the sidelines, study the players in your position that are getting the playing time. Try to copy the moves they make and where they go on the field. Look at their mistakes and learn how to avoid them so that when you get on the field you aren’t repeating the same mistakes. After games, take a few minutes to grab a notebook or write some notes on your phone about things you can do to improve at the next game.
I love when players ask me after practice what they need to work on. It means they want to put the time in to improve. Take some risks and try the skills the way the coach asks, even if it’s outside your comfort zone. Risk the dropped ball and get the mechanics right. The rest will come with repetition.
When it’s time to pick a line, get in a group, or pick a partner, pick someone who is better than you—someone who is focused that will push you to be better. Pairing off with someone that is going to distract you or who gives minimal effort will reflect back on your performance. Look to the leaders on the field as partners and ask them questions—it’s a great way to get ahead on your own skills. If shooting isn’t one of your strengths, find a ways to set up one of the starters. Find a role that the coach needs on the field and show that off at practice.
If your time on the field is all about getting your own goal or attention, then you put the spotlight on yourself. That’s great if you do something awesome, but in many cases, it’s going to highlight your weaknesses. Instead, focus on doing something that makes the team look amazing.
Set someone up, make space, pull off a great slide, get in solid 1-on-1 body positioning, or execute a double team. A great check is beautiful, but if you give up body position to take it, then you’re probably not going to be on the field long. If your stick work is weak, become great at distracting defenders and opening up lanes for the shooters rather than driving in and asking for the ball repeatedly. Coaches tend to pull out players when they think they might be a turnover risk, so your ability to help the team minimize risk is part of becoming an impact player for your team.
Take a good, hard look at where your skills are and whether you are really putting it all out there every day. Everyone has room to improve. If you focus your blame solely on the coaches, then your growth mindset closes. There is always something you can work on. Maybe it’s skills, conditioning or even attitude. Maybe it’s nerves, mental toughness or recovery after mistakes.
Find your strengths and use them often. Don’t know what your strengths are? Ask the coach what you are doing well, not just where you need to improve. Find your weakness and train them up.
Schedule appointments and other activities outside of practice and game times. Players who miss a lot of practice will struggle to get playing time because they miss important instruction. Everyone wants to be in all of the activities that they love, but take an honest assessment of your schedule. If you are committed to too many things and it’s taking away from your overall academic and athletic development, it might be time to prioritize.
Everyone loves to play the game, but on a tryout team, usually the best of the best get on the field the most. You have the opportunity to let that push you to be better and to compete like you’re at tryouts every day.
Embrace the experience of being a part of a group that is working together, each in their own roles of support and playmaking, to become great. Celebrate your teammates’ success, push the teammates around you that need help and focus on putting out your best effort at all times. Players that hang their head after a win because of their own playing time are still learning the meaning of team.
Success comes from the little efforts you make repeatedly, day in and day out, over the course of the season. When you feel discouraged, remember why you tried out for the team in the first place, how it felt when you made the roster, and wear your jersey with pride. You earned your spot, now go earn your playing time!
Kate Leavell is a national coaching education trainer for US Lacrosse, as well as a high school varsity and NCAA Division III women's lacrosse coach in metro Atlanta, and a certified strength and conditioning coach.
Check out the new Positive Coaching Alliance Development Zone to learn more about how to allocate playing time and find thousands of resources dedicated to creating a positive youth sports experience.
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