With the great weather in Southern California, there’s always a chance to make time for lacrosse. But how can you use your time wisely for maximum effect? Every day brings a new opportunity for growth, change and improvement from physical and mental techniques to improving your conditioning and focus. But which skills and drills will have the most impactful and lasting results? We all want to know what can we do from a training perspective to get better fast, so here are nine things to consider:
1. Focus on the Right Things for Your Game
While it may sound counterintuitive, working on your shooting skills could be a loss leader. The fact of the matter is that during the course of a game, you may only shoot once or twice. Surely you want to be accurate when the chances are so minimal. But too many players work on things that don’t produce hard results.
So how about dodging? Certainly it’s not as glamorous as shooting. But every player is using a variety of dodges on every part of the field throughout the entire game. And it’s a clean dodge that’s likely to get you into the position to score.
The key is to work on the areas that are going to allow your game to make the biggest jump in the right direction.
2. Time for Some Honesty
Next up, it’s time to take a frank and honest look at your game and to ask your coach’s opinion about what you need to work on the most. If a coach hasn’t provided his or her input about your improvement, please be sure to ask for it. Teammates can also be a good source of feedback. If you’re willing to ask for clear insight about what you need to do to improve your game you can get better more quickly.
3. Do it the Right Way
If you’re putting in the extra time, regardless of whatever skill you might be working on, be sure you’re doing it correctly. Ask for help. The fact of the matter is that if you’re playing two hours of post-practice wall ball every afternoon but you’re using bad form, you’re likely to develop bad habits. The last thing you want to do it is to create muscle memory for skills and motions that don’t produce the results you’re intending. Time doesn’t necessarily equal results.
4. Quality over Quantity
So how much time does it take to get better fast? The guy next to you who’s putting in extra hours in the weight room might sound like an imposing effort towards improvement. But if he’s not doing the right exercises he could develop bulk in places that impede the slickness of his game. It’s okay to be a bigger guy if you can retain your agility. But lacrosse doesn’t seek out linebackers per se. We’re looking for speed, smooth cradling, accurate shooting and determination.
Here’s another relatable example: your coach recognizes that you can outlast a marathoner’s fitness but that you really need work on your speed getting to ground balls. What’s your solution? Do you run three miles daily or do you do interval training that includes a lot of sprinting? You could spend half the time that it takes to run three miles every day by doing a series of short sprints to work on your speed and your explosive first step.
There’s no magical algebra-style formula that says, “spend x time on y to get to z.” But it could be that spending just 30 minutes every day wisely could make an enormous difference.
Layered over this idea is the concept of focus. Rather than trying to work on four or five things to improve your game, pick one or two things first. Only when you’ve mastered these initial skills should you move onto the next things for improvement. Not only will this improve your game faster, it will prevent a lot of frustration –the kind of frustration that can stop you in your tracks entirely.
5. Set a Goal for Every Drill
Let’s go back to wall ball for a minute because that’s easy to do on your own and, done correctly, it can have an impact if it represents the kind of skills you need to be working on. What are you trying to accomplish? Perhaps it’s speedy reaction time. So, how fast can you hit the ball off the wall in a minute?
6. Prepare for Exhaustion
If you’re maximizing your time and your effort to work on the things that matter, prepare to be exhausted mentally, physically or both. I can think of so many days where I focused on sprinting to get to ground balls and the after effects were devastating for an hour or so afterwards. I’m talking “wet dishrag” exhausted or “legs like cooked noodles” exhausted. But this fatigue may only last for an hour or two. Once I refueled and got the rest my body needed I was in great shape for the next day’s practice. Exhaustion shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. If you’re working the right way, exhaustion is just another goal.
7. Prepare for Practice
The right conditions also produce the best results. You can maximize your team training efforts by preparing for practice in the same way that you prep yourself for games. This doesn’t mean you should necessarily eat the same foods, listen to the same music that psyches you up or wear your lucky socks every day. But please, take some time between your last class and practice to clear your mind of the day’s events and to think about what you need to do that day on the practice field.
Think of practice as a quiz and a game as a test. If you’re truly focusing on your academic achievement (and you should be) then you will take several nights to prepare for a test. But on a Wednesday when the teacher tells you there will be a quiz on Friday, you won’t study as long because a quiz doesn’t cover as much information.
If this sounds as though I’m suggesting that you prepare for practice “less than” you might prepare for a game, please remember – again – that we’re talking about quality over quantity and move forward accordingly.
8. Learn From Your Teammates
Are your coaches the only ones that can teach you this great game? No… of course not. Every team has players who perform certain skills better than others or who understand the game better than others. Never be afraid to ask a teammate why their dodge is so smooth, their shot is so accurate/hard, why their great on ground balls, or why they’re so skilled in any other areas of the game. I was fortunate enough to play with Jesse Hubbard (Princeton graduate and MLL All-Star) for four years and I would pick his brain on shooting any chance I had. Ask your teammates for help, it’s a smart thing to do.
9. Join up to Have Fun
So you’ve solicited honest feedback from coaches and teammates, you’ve selected one or two areas to work on and you’ve set goals for the drills you’re planning. You recognize you’re using good form and when you’re done, you feel exhausted. What’s next? Get loose and go out to have some real fun! Get together with a few players and remind yourself why you love this game. Take a big breath and play your heart out. It would be great to use and refine some of the skills you’ve been working on but it’s also a time to let your mind and body relax into the fun. The fact of the matter is that when you’ve focused correctly on a few aspects of your game, these improved skills will make a natural migration into your game.
Following these nine steps doesn’t guarantee success and it’s always wise to solicit additional feedback along the way. But the odds are that if you’ve been doing everything the right way up to this point, your buddies might just say, “Wow, he’s really improved quickly… and how do I get in on this magic?” But you’ll know that there was no magic involved. Just some focused work on what you – specifically you – needed to work on to get better fast.
Chris Malone is the Director of Orange County and Los Angeles for 3d Lacrosse. Prior to joining 3d, Chris served as the head coach at Arizona State University (2008 – 2014) where he was named the MCLA Coach of the Year in 2014. He is a two-time All-American midfielder from The University of Maryland and later played for the MLL’s New Jersey Pride, Philadelphia Barrage and Chicago Machine. He can be reached at cmalone@3dLacrosse.com.