The most successful coaches find a way to engage not only those that are in their program, but those that are soon to be in their program. This is most obviously seen with the college coaches as they are continuously recruiting to fill the roster year after year. However, the dirty little secret is you have to do this at your own youth level as well if you want to be competitive year in and year out. But why?
Who is running your youth program?
I love committed parents as much as the next guy, but they really shouldn’t be “leading” the youth program. The leader of the youth program really should be someone with past lacrosse talent and experience and time willing to work with you the leader of the high school program. Working together you can align the programs to ensure that when the players arrive at your level they have a foundation that you approved. I’d recommend regular meeting a couple times in the fall to organize the spring. Just before the season it would be good to meet with the youth coaches and the organizer to ensure everyone understands your vision and their place in the puzzle. Once your season starts they should be self sufficient because you have plenty of more pressing issues to take care of. Just to be clear when I say “leader of the youth program” this doesn’t have to be the president of the youth organization. This could be a coaching coordinator for the youth level as well. Whoever the stakeholder is responsible for the coaches and skill building at the youth is the person you need to seek out.
Building youth program IQ
What if you aren’t in a hotbed of lacrosse and your youth coaches are volunteer parents. How do you build a program that provides skilled players by the time they show up to high school. Here’s where the relationship with the youth coordinator is key. Lobby for your youth coaches to take advantage of the US Lacrosse coaching program. This is a great program to help those coaches get a sense of what they need when working with the players. And best of all most of it is FREE for US Lacrosse members (highly recommend). Follow the attached link. https://www.uslacrosse.org/coaches/coach-development-program/online-courses Another great concept I’ve seen is creating a skill building chart that adapts to each age. I never personally did this, but working with the youth coordinator to identify where a skill should be at each level is a great plan. It also helps your youth coach what to focus on at their age. For example lets talk about defense.
- Focus on how to play defense on a person
- Focus on staying with one offensive player at all times especially during dead ball situations
- Focus on good body position and driving offensive player to the right spots
- Focus on basic checking (pokes and lifts)
- Focus on team defense 6v6 and how/when the first slide happens
- Focus on 1v1 and getting beat to the right spots
- Continue to focus on sliding and now ensure 2nd slide is happening
- Focus on communication and ensure everyone is on the same page
As a player progresses through the program they should be able to master each skill so by the time a player gets to high school advanced defenses concepts can be the focus. Not, why do I still have to teach a 2 slide. You should have these charts for all the basics: ground balls, passing, shooting, dodging, offense, defense, clearing, and more.
Establishing player relationships
I’ll be honest, one of the challenges I faced as a high school coach was watching great players from our youth program attend a local private school. I heard a number of reasons for their departure, but the underlying message seemed like it could be solved with better relationships. I’m not going to stand in the way of family doing what they believe is best for their child, but with more information comes better decisions. In order to help younger players with the transition to high school, you need to be more inclusive and present. You should attend some youth clinics or tournament days. A nice compliment here and there to the players can go a long way. A buddy system for junior/senior players with the youth program can help build the bond. We had fall practices at the high school level that ended in a 1 hour clinic for the youth. During the one season we had the middle school coaches identify an “MVP” for the week and they got to stand on the sidelines with the Varsity team before the game. Little ways to encourage the youth and build those relationships will help pay off in the transition. The players will feel more comfortable with your program and will want to be apart of it.
Covered a lot here and there is certainly more. But in my opinion this is a quick list that is actionable now. Get the right person in charge of the youth program, educate your youth coaches on what you need the players to know, and ensure those players have a comfort level with you that makes them excited for the transition to your team.