We practice to prepare for competition and hope that the concepts we’re teaching transfer to the competition. Notice I used the term “concept” above and not skill. A concept is the idea of what we want a player to do. Skill is when the player can transfer the concept into the competition environment and successfully implement it. Transfer is what we all strive for with our teaching. Maximum transfer is achieved by ensuring our practices are designed for development.

How do we achieve maximum transfer from practice to competition? By incorporating Direction, Decision, and Defense into at least two-thirds of your practice activities. If your plan calls for six segments, then four of them should be built around direction, decision and defense.

Let me unpack this a little:

Direction

The game of lacrosse is an invasion sport. Our athletes have to "invade" the opposition's space in order to score a goal. How often are your athletes working on moving in the direction of the goal, trying to invade a space during practice? Certainly there are times where we need to move the ball or players side to side in order to establish a new angle of attack. There are countless "drills" (I despise the word drills, so I’ll be using games as a replacement from here on out) that have athletes working in a random space, moving the ball around in a random pattern, and there is no deliberate direction involved. If we want our players to be better equipped to attack, then we need to incorporate games that include purpose-driven directional play.

Decision

I have heard many coaches express to their players "Lacrosse is not black and white. You must play in the grey."  They then go on to lament about how their players can’t make decisions or "play in the grey."  My question to you is, "What are you doing to teach your team to play in the grey?" Do your games encourage decision making? Do you ask the players why they made a particular choice? Are they asked to evaluate their choices and given time to reflect on other options they may have had? Often times, we tell our players where to go, what to do, how to do it, and so on…We call this joy-stick coaching. It’s like they’re our own personal version of Madden for X-Box. Players are so accustomed to having someone tell them what to do, that they become robotic and often miss prime opportunities because they have not developed the ability to scan the field and make decisions based on the information they gather. Decision making must be practiced to help athletes make better decisions in competition.

Defense

Perceived or real, pressure changes the decisions and corresponding actions (possibly even the mechanics) that an athlete performs. Incorporating dynamic opposition, as opposed to “dodge around this cone and shoot” better prepares athletes for scenarios they will face in competition. We need to be diligent in how much defense we allow to be played. A weaker offensive player dodging against the team's best defender most certainly is going to lead to repetitive failure and ultimately could result in the dodger giving up. We can, and should, regress or progress the amount of defense allowed based on the objective of the game we are using.

As you plan your next practice ask yourself, "Does this plan help the athletes get better when it matters most?"  Look for games that include the three "D’s" or modify ones you already use to incorporate them. You will be surprised at how quickly your players improve their in-game performance.

T.J. Buchanan is the technical director for athlete development at US Lacrosse.

Lacrosse Athlete Development Model

Providing every athlete the opportunity to enter, enjoy and excel by learning and playing lacrosse in a way that’s best for each stage of growth and development.

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