I remember watching players like Jen Adams, Amy Appelt, the Gait brothers, and recently, the Thompson brothers—and witnessing the beauty of this game that I love. A lacrosse game with finesse players on the field is mesmerizing.

With all the push to specialize our youth these days, it seems odd that many of these year-round athletes seem to lack the stick work of the multi-sport athletes of our past. What’s changed?

Perhaps it’s that I grew up in the lacrosse hub of America, and then have spent the last 10 years in various developing areas, but I see far more poor fundamentals by seasoned players than I see finesse players—despite the growth of the sport, more teams and year-round playing.

Are fundamentals becoming a side concept, slowly moving away from the lost art of stick work finesse? With the most amazing sticks we’ve ever seen being produced these days, where’s the love for simple stick drills and mastery? When I got my STX Crux 500, I didn’t want to put it down for a week, and I don’t even play anymore!

I’ve heard many comments from parents about a clinic or team that was “too easy” for their child because it was all throwing and catching, scooping, dodging, etc. and not enough advanced skills for their “advanced” player.

But I’m rarely surprised when these “advanced” players have a side arm throw, struggle to catch or throw when moving, can only use their dominant hand, cradle the ball where it is exposed to defenders, and routinely miss ground balls.

For some reason, there is a general attitude that we must skip past the fundamentals so the kids who have been playing a few years don’t get bored or stop coming to practice. To be honest, I’m not even sure what “advanced” means to these parents asking for it.

Is the wish that we stop correcting poor stick work and proceed to the Air Gait or the Thompson Brothers’ famed behind-the-back shots? Move right into learning plays? These elite athletes built a foundation of stick work by drilling fundamentals and doing it more than anyone else—not from skipping over them.

Look at Janine Tucker's well-known stick work program at Johns Hopkins. Her players are required to learn the program, and they drill it at every practice. Are these complaints from players and parents suggesting that youth players with 3-4 years experience are more advanced—and thus able to skip past basics—than the Johns Hopkins women’s team?

The ability to get the ball from point A to point B is important; no argument there. Being able to catch a ball that is thrown right to your stick while slowly moving with no defense around is certainly something to master. But that’s where many coaches and players stop teaching and practicing the basics, at the “just enough” mark.

The art of moving the ball with accuracy and deception, while sprinting, with defenders at chase and your stick in your off hand, now that is lacrosse—and it takes years of dedicated drilling of fundamentals to get there.

How does your team make fundamentals FUN to keep your practices fresh? How much time do you spend in stick work at each practice? Do you correct bad habits in younger players, or let them go if you feel the ball is getting where it needs to go?

Kate Leavell is a college club lacrosse coach, a high school varsity lacrosse and strength coach, a youth coach of several sports, NASM certified personal trainer and senior fitness specialist, and a national coaches education trainer for US Lacrosse.

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