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The following post is an extended version of a story that first appeared in the March 2015 edition of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse.
What do elite coaches suggest for their up-and-coming peers looking to take the next step? You’d be surprised at the simplicity of their wisdom.
We asked Division I coaches for advice and boiled it down to these 10 pearls of wisdom.
1. Lose the ego
Coaches tend to have Type A personalities. Surround yourself with smart, capable assistants who compliment your strengths and weaknesses. Trust them and learn from them. “You’re in this together, knowing that it’s our program, not my program,” said Penn women’s coach Karin Corbett.
2. Develop trust
“Young people can see through a phony in a heartbeat and regaining that trust needed between all the participants in a team sport is near-impossible to recapture,” Virginia men’s coach Dom Starsia said.
It goes both ways. Don’t start off a game or season not trusting your players’ decisions.
“Coaching the game from the sideline gives us only one vantage point, the players are seeing the game and making decisions from a much different angle,” Richmond men’s coach Dan Chemotti said. “Ask them what they’re seeing out there during timeouts, between quarters, and when they make certain decisions. If they know that you trust them and they can trust you, they’ll care a whole lot more about what you have to say on and off the field.”
And sometimes, having tough conversations is part of building trust. “Don't tell people what you think they want to hear,” Lehigh men’s coach Kevin Cassese said. “Tell them the truth, even if it hurts. Then help them get better.”
Be upfront with your core values—and stick to them.
“If you stick to your core beliefs, it makes a huge difference,” Northwestern women’s coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “Trust yourself and trust the people in your program, your assistant coaches and your players.”
3. Make it fun
This, even coming from the coach of the Army men’s program, Joe Alberici.
“If you want your team to improve, help them to love practice by making it enjoyable,” he said. “Varied drills and competitive small-sided games help to keep practice moving and it presents teachable moments to reinforce fundamentals. In addition, they are more likely to spend time outside of practice improving their game if you help instill a love for it.”
4. Keep score
“Our team likes drills that are competitive,” Maryland women’s coach Cathy Reese said. “Anytime we can keep score or create competition, it seems to be a team favorite.”
5. Fundamentals every day
“Hold yourself to it,” Marquette men’s coach Joe Amplo said. “As coaches, we get caught up in the game planning and winning and losing too much. Focus on the basics constantly.”
Penn State men’s coach Jeff Tambroni ranked fundamentals “first, second and third in the priority of your on-field game plan,” he said. “A distant fourth would be schemes and patterns of slides and offensive formations.”
Even at the college level, Chemotti focuses on everything from how to grip the stick to offensive spacing.
6. Teaching and touches
Limit full-field scrimmages. It leads to a lot of kids standing around watching one lacrosse ball.
Brown men’s coach Lars Tiffany took a cue from USA Hockey, Belgium Soccer and the way Canadians teach box lacrosse.
“Create drills and games that have low numbers (3-on-3, for example), high number of touches (multiple balls) and shorter field areas (split field into quadrants),” Tiffany said.
Corbett said some club programs are too dependent on scrimmaging.
“They need to organize their practices around teaching and touches on the ball,” she said. “That’s frustrating that they’ve been playing since they were 6, and they don’t understand a 3-on-2.”
7. Get a rulebook
You’re the coach, but you don’t know it all. “It is critical for coaches not only to know the rules, but also understand why they are in place,” Georgetown women’s coach Ricky Fried said.
“I have a thirst for reading about coaching and leadership,” Corbett said. “One of my favorite books has been Mike Krzyzewski’s ‘Leading with the Heart.’”
Johns Hopkins coach Janine Tucker has written several books about coaching women’s lacrosse. Her college coach and mentor, the late Diane Geppi-Aikens, died before their first book was finished. “I promised her I would complete the book and continue to write books to help coaches of all levels,” Tucker said.
9. Emphasize fitness and nutrition
“Take a disciplined approach to off-field weight training, nutrition and flexibility to avoid unnecessary injuries and to keep up with the growing pace and athleticism of our sport,” Tambroni said.
10. Seek mentors
Reese cited her high school coach, PJ Kesmodel, and college coach, Cindy Timchal, as key influences.
Amonte Hiller had Timchal, Gary Gait and Lisa Miller (not to mention her father and brother, former NHL star Tony Amonte).
Corbett bounced between high school and college, field hockey and lacrosse, and said she absorbed something from every coach with whom she worked.
Over to you. Which of these suggestions resonated most with you? Do you have another questions you'd like to see us ask college coaches? Let us know in the comments section.
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