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Teach Them HOW to Play Instead of Teaching Them Plays

Teach Them HOW to Play Instead of Teaching Them Plays

In a series of interviews we did with the lacrosse coaches from the MIAA, a common theme emerged with regards to preparing players for the next level. “Teach them HOW to play instead of teaching them plays.”  Note: this also applies to basketball and the other “invasion” type games. As these coaches visited or observed youth league practices they noted a disproportionate amount of time spent on specific man-up plays or special offensive sets. How many man-up plays do 9-10 year olds really need? Sure, these plays may help the 9-10 year old team win the championship but are they best for preparing kids to play at the next level?

What each of the MIAA coaches felt was needed was more emphasis on skill development. They see too many players entering their programs with poor mechanics and fundamentals. These are the kids that will get limited playing time and will spend the majority of their HS career on the sidelines. The players that enter HS with great fundamentals and the ability to catch and throw with both hands are the ones that will be in the running for playing time. What this means is that coaches in the youth leagues need to spend more practice time on the drills and progressions to teach these Technical skills. But having the skills is just step 1 to being an exceptional player. Knowing what to do with those skills and knowing how to apply those skills is the next progression of development.

Youth league coaches also need to teach the players the Tactical skills of the sport like spacing, where to pass and cut, decision-making and becoming a better offensive and defensive weapon. We all love having those players who act as the on-field General and can direct the players and ball movement. These are the players that are always 2-3 plays ahead of everyone else. These are the “smart” players or the ones with high athletic IQ.

It’s hard to teach the Tactical skills without having that foundation of Technical Skills. It’s of no use to practice 4v3 or 6v5 transitions if no one can catch or throw. So there has to be that foundation already established. Conversely, it does a player no good if they have a 90 mph shot if they don’t know how to get open. Developing that hard shot and teaching kids how to apply the skills necessary to use that skill are also important for coaches to teach. If coaches focused their time and efforts at teaching the players the technical and tactical skills, instead of set plays, the players will be better prepared for the next level.


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