I learned this concept from one of my wrestling friends in college. They would have a “red flag” practice. For the entire time, it was balls to the walls. Every drill drives you to exhaustion and you have to keep performing. I loved this concept and I had to bring it to my lacrosse team.
I hate allotting time in practice to include things like conditioning and strength training, although I will admit there is value. Players don’t always come into the season in the best shape and it’s our job as coaches to make sure there are athletes on the field. This means dedicating time at practice to build the athlete themselves, and not just the player. But what if you can combine the two, and the Thumbs Up practice was born. We’ll get to the why “Thumbs Up” name in a minute.
What do you do at thumbs up? Every high intensity, high rep drill you got. I’d start with things like full field 3 man weave. GB battles 2v2 or 3v2 with winners going to goal (always competing). More passing, 2v2 passing for one min, team with most completed passes wins and moves on to face other winners. Sprints with balls in the stick. Bring cages about 30 yards apart and split into two teams, compete 3v2 one way and then 3v2 the other way going back and forth, we called this “Army Drill”. 3v3 passing inside a 15 by 15 yard box, compete for 1 min and most passes wins. Winners move up a box and losers stay, in a king of the hill sort of fashion. Finally 6v6, but the most tired 6v6 you can get. Gased 6v6. Teams run from endline to goal line extended and back, restraining and back, mid and back as fast as possible. We then get right into 6v6. For each goal/clear its 5 burpees for losing team and then start over again with the sprints.
Modify as you see fit based on your number of players, but to me the whole idea is to get the kids as tired as possible playing lacrosse. It’s hard to make good decisions when you are tired. But when you are tired you tend to be more careful with decisions (and we coach that). Take the extra step to get the pass to your target. Talk on defense even when you’re tired or it won’t end well. Use energy wisely sprint at the right times, not just every time. These players will be tired on the field and will need to make the right decisions. Practice it, make it worse than any game, and at the end they will be ready for gameday. We only ran a handful each year, but they were impactful.
Why the name Thumbs Up? I was very inspired by a story of one of my former players. One young man during his Junior year experienced a terrible car accident with some friends going to school. This young man lost a lot of his abilities that day. He couldn’t talk, walk, and certainly lacrosse was out of the question. He spent the next 3-4 months learning how to live again. Little victories were celebrated along the way as he first woke up, then spoke for the first time, experienced his first sign of life in all limbs, and finally took his first steps. Nothing was taken for granted, and everything was celebrated. During this event, he took tremendous strides forward in not only his physical abilities but in his maturity and attitude.
This young man focused on the goal of getting out of the Hospital and Rehabilitation centers to rejoin his classmates in school and teammates on the lacrosse field. One story of his recovery was tremendously impactful on me, and I had to share with the team. In the early days when he was unable to speak, he would endure hours of strenuous physical therapy to recover the use of his limbs. After the conclusion of one of his sessions, the nurse proclaimed to him that the session had ended but he could go more if he had it in him. Unable to speak he simply responded with thumbs up. This “thumbs up” became our lacrosse team’s symbol for determination, hard work, and relentless spirit. His hard work and commitment was rewarded when he was finally able to rejoin us, and step onto the field. One of my most emotional moments ever through coaching.
This story helps to motivate the players, because no adversity they are going through during that time can compare what this young man experienced and overcame. Thumb’s up brought him back to the game of lacrosse, and I hope the Thumb’s up practices bring the best out of our players too.