[This is a long post, but settle in, it’s a good one.]
Lacrosse is often called “the fastest game on two feet.” Quick and violent, it is an enjoyable amalgamation of hockey and soccer. Lacrosse is Canada’s national sport. Lacrosse started as a Native American “war game” and is quickly growing in popularity. If you haven’t seen it played, you should. Immediately.
I love the sport of Lacrosse, and after my days of active competition were over, I missed the joy of playing. I longed to pick off a corner or pull off a sweet B2B on the crease. That’s why I started coaching, to help other kids fall in love with the sport of lacrosse the way I did.
This past season I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to coach two very different lacrosse teams. I was the Head Coach of the Riptide U11B team and I was an Assistant Coach of the University High School Boy’s Varsity Lacrosse team. When we played teams with a JV program, I head coached our freshmen and sophomores in the University High School Boy’s Junior Varsity Lacrosse team.
Head Coaching a youth program team for the first time was a daunting situation. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I first started out. And after the first two weeks of practices, and our first two games (we lost a cumulative score of 28-0 the first weekend) I was convinced we were doomed for failure. One player told me that last season this team went 0-10. I had resorted to the fact that I wasn’t really going to coach, this was more “babysitting with sticks.”
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
With the help of my fantastic assistant coach Grey, we stripped the game down to its brass tacks. Ground balls. Passing and catching. Clearing the ball on defense. The spark in their little eyes slowly grew into a fervor that couldn’t be stopped. Our rookie goalie was watching hours of college game tape. Our biggest player went out and bought an (illegally long) long pole. The old ratty gear they had borrowed at the beginning of the season was slowly being replaced by new, shiny, proudly worn gear.
And then we won a game. And then another. And then another.
Then we lost. And lost again. But then we won again!
The kids were having a great time! So much, in fact, that they didn’t want to stop playing, so we signed up for a small lacrosse festival on Treasure Island at the end of the season. We went and played our hearts out, one last time.
The team that went 0-10 just last season ended with a 5-7 record. I couldn’t have been more proud.
It wasn’t an easy season. We lost Grey in the middle of the season and we struggled to find assistant coaches that had the time. Our team parent, Andrew, was integral in the success and coordination of the team. The parents were constantly coping with forgotten gear, broken windows, and pleas for new equipment. It truly takes a village to coach a lacrosse team.
University High School Boys Lacrosse
Coaching high school kids was an absolutely enlightening experience. It wasn’t all that long ago (ahem… *ten years*) since I was playing high school lacrosse, but I remembered the impactful coaches that I played for. Coaches that pushed me. Coaches that punished me. Coaches that inspired me. Players need a variety of coaching styles in order to be a successful lacrosse player, it helps them deal with the variability of the sport itself. Offenses change, defenses shift without warning. Learning to cope while keeping your composure is the name of the “learning” game in lacrosse.
I decided early on what kind of coach I wanted to be for these kids. The head coach, Scott, played at Maryland, so his grasp on the entire sport of lacrosse and lacrosse theory far surpasses mine. He’d teach them the game of lacrosse. Our defensive coach, Rob, was militaristic in his coaching. You stood in a line and spoke when spoken to (although a few spoke back). You could see shades of him personally around the outside, but he was really pushing for uniformity and a communal understanding of the defense which required he be tough. He taught them how to play tough defense.
I was in charge of the fundamentals: ground balls, stick skills, hitting. But more importantly, and perhaps more fundamentally, in a game that comes wrapped in emotions, players have to learn to keep their cool. I was the emotional support coach. I was your friend. I coached with camaraderie and guilt, not hardline discipline. I tried to inspire these kids to be better lacrosse players because they wanted to, not because I told them to.
The season started out rough, but then we went on a nine game winning streak, ultimately winning 11-of-our-last-14 games. One of those games included a win over Marin Academy, our biggest league rival. It was this win and our overall record that helped us solidify our league’s top spot, as Co-League Champions (with MA).
We went on to win our first conference playoff game against Campolinda, a team we lost to early in the season. We lost in the next round but in the eyes of many, including myself, this season was the definition of successful.
I have never been more proud to be part of a team that was fully committed to a successful season of lacrosse. Everybody wanted us to go as far as we possibly could. It was awesome to see these kids grow over the course of the season, maturing both as lacrosse players and human beings. It was fun to watch these kids, my friends, work hard and succeed.
There was an “End of the Season” party hosted at one of the Captain’s family’s house. I met the parents of the players I had been coaching all season. I started to understand why certain kids were the way they were. It was a fascinating insight into people I spent more than 12 hours a week with. I couldn’t help but wonder if these same kids were picking up my mannerisms and behaviors… I hope not.
I was, and continue to be, flattered by the outpouring of compliments I received from the parents. They shared stories they’d been told about “cheato” (my nickname on the team) doing handstands, competing with them during practice, and the general positive nature that I brought to the atmosphere of the team. It was almost too much. (Contrary to popular belief, I don’t do well with compliments.)
The Captains started a tradition of giving awards to each of the players on the team, mostly inside jokes. This year they decided to give it to coaches as well. Mine came near the end, and although I’m not sure there’s an inside joke in it (maybe because I’m skinny?) the Captains gave another touching speech about my coaching and awarded me the “Back-Bone Award.”
This might be the most important award I’ve ever won.
Sadly, I won’t be coaching with the Riptide or University High School next year, but I hope to continue coaching lacrosse in the future. It is by far one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever been a part of.
I’m gonna go play wall-ball somewhere.
P.S. I see you Max Herman!