If only coaches knew how much damage they were doing by lining up their athletes to run as a consequence for poor performance. I’ve played my fair share of lacrosse, and nothing tightened up a group more than when a coach gripped his whistle a little too tightly, launching into a soapbox memoir about being the most conditioned team. Echoes of Miracle on Ice would ring throughout the practice field as we were pushed to the furthest extent of human aerobic capacity.
The worst part was…I don’t think any of those hardcore sessions made a difference in a final score in my high school and college career. Most old school sport coaches end up using various workouts they’ve found online, or their metric for a good conditioning workout was how many kids ended up neck deep in a trash can.I don’t think any of those hardcore sessions made a difference in a final score in my high school and college career, says @Coachbsweeney. Click To Tweet
The best college coaches that have a well-balanced strength and conditioning program and the best high schools that host a recruiting class full of multi-sport athletes have found what truly makes a difference in the sport: speed.
I played college lacrosse for five years (COVID year for super senior) and I was never the fastest player on the field. As an attackman, you can become crafty and still be very successful; but now that I’ve begun working with a nationally respected track program, damn do I regret not taking speed training far more seriously. I, much like many other victims, thought quick feet and impressive weight room numbers would propel me to an unprecedented lacrosse season and help me achieve any goal that I set.
Now, I didn’t have a horrible career in college—my twin and I were fourth and fifth in the country in scoring before the season was shut down. But in terms of being effective on the field and what a proper sprint program could have provided for myself and my team along the way, we could’ve done a lot better.
When Skill Levels, Speed Wins
In large part, lacrosse is a game of fine skill and lesser teams often fall prey to opponents that are not only faster, but much higher in skill. This is where I think the difference in the final score lies.Lacrosse is a game of fine skill and lesser teams often fall prey to opponents that are not only faster, but much higher in skill, says @Coachbsweeney. Click To Tweet
Once you get up to a high level of college lacrosse, skill is almost always equal. It could come down to something as simple as the team with a more dominant faceoff man getting more opportunities and outlasting their opponent. So, how do we raise the level of play without overhauling the skills component and blaming the coaches for kids not being good enough at the sport?
We raise the overall speed of the program.
A big reason a team may be wrung out over the course of a game is not just because an opponent is better; but because these athletes have an innate ability to make faster decisions, read and complete a schematic representation of an oncoming play, and utilize less energy.
Techno-Tactical Model for Lacrosse
- Attackman: Dodge, get open, ride, create contact
- Major KPI: Acceleration, COD testing, strength, problem solving
- Midfield: Highest run volume, dodge, clear the ball, defend
- Major KPI: Short- to mid-distance sprints, aerobic capacity, strength
- Defense: Provide coverage, clear the ball, ground ball, withhold and create contact
- Major KPI: Strength, reactive COD, short sprints
- Goalie: Fast decision-making, clear the ball
- Major KPI: Hand-eye coordination, hand speed, general aerobic shape, explosiveness, reaction time
- Defensive midfield: Coverage, clear the ball, push transition, big ground ball emphasis
- Major KPI: Repeat sprint, strength, COD, IQ, power
- LSM: Defend dodgers, clear the ball, push transition, big ground ball emphasis
- Major KPI: Combo of defender and defensive mid
- Faceoff: Get out quick from low positions, use physicality, ground balls, transition
- Major KPI: Explosive, strongest position, mental strength, short fast bouts
So, given all of this, what’s the solution?
The rapidly growing phenomenon of Tony Holler’s Feed the Cats has been introduced into lacrosse and has made a great impact on how coaches see the game. It’s essentially microdosing sprint volume in a digestible format where coaches can fit sprint training into warm-ups and solve everybody’s issues of getting faster and getting “conditioned.”It’s essentially microdosing sprint volume in a digestible format, says @Coachbsweeney. Click To Tweet
The old school coach is under the impression that running ten 300-yard gassers (totaling 3,000 yards of low intensity sprinting) or several mile runs (another way to build a submaximal aerobic base) will fully prepare their players to outrun the opponent in a given game. Sadly, the players walk away disgruntled more often than not, assuming the coach is just out to get them with this absurd amount of volume that just adds to the wear and tear of the season. It may surprise some folks to find out you can sprint a total of 100 to 400 yards with maximal rest and improve both sprint speed and repeat sprint ability, all while increasing player morale!
You can split this up into a high speed 40- to 50-yard competition workout or keep it short and high rep with a 10×10 workout (which I’ll detail fully later). The issue is that kids don’t know how to pace themselves, and during these shuttle workouts, they destroy themselves on the first rep and become way too tired to reach a high enough velocity to elicit change on any of the other sprints. Or you have the savvy veteran who sandbags the first couple sprints, only to show effort on the last. Now, if you want to build up a bigger endurance base before the season starts, I recommend using drills as conditioning with little rest in between or starting off with 1,000 yards in a given day and then slowly building up throughout the season to an actual game load.
When I look at a general practice plan, I start by evaluating the daily running volume. It doesn’t have to be exact, but I’m trying to figure out if the kids are running a lot, a little, or if they’re just standing around. You can then look at your book of drills and categorize those into high running drills or low running drills.When I look at a general practice plan, I start by evaluating the daily running volume, says @Coachbsweeney. Click To Tweet
The last—and most important—piece is splitting up your week between high days and low days. On the high days, it makes sense to do more full field work and have a focus on longer sprints during warm-ups in a 10- to 20-minute block. Even providing your athletes with three to five 30- to 50-yard sprints with three to five minutes in between would be enough to elicit a speed adaptation, as long as the sprints are at true max velocity. This accomplishes the goal of sprinting the players when they’re at their freshest and building a good relationship with coaches regarding the importance of sprinting.
The low days can be focused more on small-sided games and tons of skill work. The velocities are lower during these days, so using acceleration as the basis combined with COD complexes that are close to the drills you’re doing that day should be the focus of the plan. Throughout the week, the players will be refreshed and recovered because the running volume is giving their bodies a chance to compensate and replenish over-utilized energy sources.
My main advice is to start sprinting early and often. I promise there’s benefit in terms of injury rates and speed development with proper sprint training, and kids will genuinely enjoy watching themselves get faster and having time come off the clock.My main advice is to start sprinting early and often, says @Coachbsweeney. Click To Tweet
Video 1. Reactive speed and agility games.
In the off season, I love running Derek Hanson’s 10×10 plan, building up acceleration volume and then slowly building up total volume and vertical forces as the season advances:
- Take a 10×10 box, set your kids up in a line, have them sprint the 10-yard length then walk the 10-yard width.
- Repeat this process until you get to 10 reps, then you can rest for three to four minutes in between before you repeat the drill.
Take away meaningless conditioning tests and recreate game-like environments in drills and practice, and use that as your conditioning. You can also build up the volumes and reps in those drills and, look at that, your players are working on skills as well as practicing skill development. Lastly, make running a fun game and play around with how to make the kids become competitive with it.Make running a fun game and play around with how to make the kids become competitive with it, says @Coachbsweeney. Click To Tweet
When my athletes are given a small-sided game like “trash can ball” or different games I come up with, they have a ton of fun and still walk away out of breath…but actually wanting to play more. Even if you run sprints, time them, and decide on a winning person/team, players light up and start to really buy into the process and the progress. In the end, they’ll further their buy-in and you will finally achieve your goal of kids not walking through the conditioning, but looking forward to it.
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