Women's lacrosse star Kylie Ohlmiller participates with young players at a US Lacrosse TryLax event in Atlanta in 2019.

As we look at the potential of a 2021 lacrosse season, we should spend some time before preseason planning ways to make the season fun and player-centered. Fun and player-centered, one of the US Lacrosse Core Values of Athlete Development, is a reminder to keep the experience about the players. How do we do that? Here are six ways to create the experience your players want for the upcoming lacrosse season (and beyond): 

#1 Ask players (of all ages) what they want from you as a coach and what they want from the team. 

2014 study from George Washington University asked kids why they participate in sports. Project Play’s Play 1 helps summarize George Washington University’s study and reaffirms that FUN is the top reason why players participate in sport. The most fun things are trying their best, playing well/together as a team, and exercising. The less fun things include winning (ranked 48 out of 81), traveling to new places for competition (ranked 73 out of 81), and pictures being taken ranked last. Once we ask our players what they want, we can build our seasons around mutual goals and interests. 

#2 Create opportunities for creativity, learning, and play. 

Having station-based practices is helpful—especially in times of social distancing. With stations, you can create small groups that allow for less waiting and more opportunities to play. Additionally, allowing time for athletes to create their own games and make decisions within the stations allows them to learn, make decisions, and be creative. As they do this in practice, they’ll be more confident to do so in competition. 

#3 Encourage players to participate in other sports and/or physical activities. 

Playing games like tag or a mashup of ultimate frisbee and lacrosse helps players translate skills from one sport to another. When they’re not in season, encourage your players to rest and take part in non-lacrosse activities—such as hiking, swimming, biking, dance, gymnastic, or playing another sport. The important thing is that players have adequate time to rest, as well as time to use their muscles in different ways. Another bonus is that players learn to be coached by other voices and can become better teammates as a result. 

#4 Understand physical movement and the capabilities of the age group you coach. 

We want players to be confident and able to move to the best of their abilities, however, it is important for us as coaches to understand what their bodies are capable of based on their chronological age. Hence why we should not train 10-year-olds or even 14-year-olds like adult, professional athletes. Likewise, if we work with older players, we cannot assume they can move confidently with their bodies. Be sure to evaluate the movements of players consistently so that you give them adequate tasks and games that are appropriate for them. 

#5 Keep Learning! 

Being a trained/certified coach will provide you with the opportunity to give your players a better experience overall. Continuous learning helps you stay current on the research and the most up-to-date information necessary to develop and protect you and your players. Additionally, being trained demonstrates to your players, your fellow coaches and the lacrosse community that you’re committed to personal development to better serve your players. Learning goes beyond x’s and o’s—it includes the WHY behind it all, such as up-to-date safe practice protocols, and building positive team cultures. 

#6 Plan activities and games that are developmentally appropriate and an environment that is welcoming to all. 

Players need to have a sense of safety and belonging on their team. Once they have that, activities and games should meet them where they are (developmentally) so they can learn and grow. For example, the game Hungry Hippos in US Lacrosse’s Mobile Coach App can be used to work on the skill of ground balls at any age level. For 8-year-old players, they may play the game without sticks or maybe just add sticks. For 14-year-old players, they may play the game with an option to pass or finish with a shot on goal. Adding progressions and constraints gives numerous possibilities to tailor games to the age group you are coaching. 

Overall, the goal is not just for players to have fun, but for you, the coach, to have fun as well! Hopefully, these six ways will help you have a fun, player-centered 2021 lacrosse season. 

Lauren Davenport is the manager of athlete development at US Lacrosse. She has coached lacrosse at the youth, high school and collegiate levels.