Read an Excerpt
The Baffled Parent's Guide to Coaching Girls' Lacrosse
By Janine Tucker, Maryalice Yakutchik
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2003Ragged Mountain Press
All rights reserved.
Then and Now
At Janine Tucker's girls' summer lacrosse camp, 6-year-old Gabrielle had tears of joy in her eyes when, after 20 minutes of desperately trying to toss the ball behind her back and catch it between her legs—like the big girls do—she mastered this very cool stick trick. The smile never left her face as she continued to do it for the rest of the night. (See pages 109–15 for more stick tricks.)
They Can Do It!
Don't sell your players short just because they happen to be short—and young and female. You'll be surprised at how quickly youth players can pick up and master advanced techniques. If you treat them like athletes, you'll find yourself thinking of them as athletes, and they'll find themselves performing like athletes. The fact that they happen to be young girls will become a mere afterthought to you and, more importantly, to them.
We're convinced that the men's game is at the level it is because of consistent teaching up through the ranks. Janine could take any seven lacrosse-playing boys and put them on a field with a ball and say, "Set up a four-on-three fast break," and the defenders immediately would know how to position themselves, and so would the attackers. Everyone would be in sync, and their performance would mimic that of college players because boys learn men's lacrosse.
Not so with girls. The challenge as we see it is to teach young girls a universal game called "women's lacrosse." Far too often girls still learn "girls' lacrosse" instead of a universal game that will see them through their entire careers. We're talking style, not rules. Certainly, different rules apply to different levels of play as well as age brackets. Obviously, you need to play within the rules. But what rule says that a 6-year-old can't shoot behind her back? None. What rule says a cradle has to travel awkwardly across the body? None. We believe girls should be taught early on the correct way to execute advanced skills—such as checking—even though youth rules prevent them from checking in games. The foundation for the proper execution of skills needs to be laid early on, when the girls are eager to do what is asked of them.
Girls' lacrosse has been taught in a "traditional" style for a long time—too long. We are encouraging coaches now to get "unstuck" from tradition for tradition's sake, to embrace the more progressive style of play that has emerged over the past half-dozen years, and to start teaching this style to the youngest players instead of waiting until some ambiguous age when "they're ready."
Clearly, the reason most people still cling to and teach the old style is that they haven't yet been taught or developed an appreciation for the progressive style of women's lacrosse. The progressive style is flashier, tougher, more physical, and more aggressive. Some would argue more dangerous. (But it's not.) It requires of players a mastery of sophisticated skills in stick handling as well as the ability to be creative—to think outside the box. It challenges players to try the wildest stick trick or shot just for the sake of "I can do this, and it's fun!"
Within the last six years, the game of women's lacrosse has drastically changed. Everything—from the look and setup of the field to the handling of the stick to the very stick itself—has evolved. A lot of the changes have to do with girls coming into their own as hardcore athletes. Women's lacrosse has been influenced by the men's game in subtle and not so subtle ways; they aren't all negative. The commitment to developing opportunity for women in sport, the catalyst of which was Title IX, has changed the game irrevocably.
Why teach a 7-year-old youth player a more traditional and conservative style of lacrosse, one that won't challenge her as much as a more progressive style and one that won't see her through her entire career if she chooses to stick with lacrosse? Our challenge to you, as a youth coach, is to start each girl's development down the progressive path the moment she picks up a stick and begins to cradle.
For far too long we thwarted our own progress and stinted our growth as lacrosse players by teaching youth players differently than we would teach high school girls. We'd teach them the big, wide awkward cradle when they're young, only to reinstruct them later to relax the cradle. There are skills and drills in this book that are challenging, and maybe even controversial when taught to younger players. But we feel the need to start young girls developing, learning, and polishing the same techniques they'll use at the highest level of the game.
As mentioned, 6- to 12-year-old female athletes are eager to learn. They will do what is asked and will eagerly emulate what you show them. Why teach a stiff, rigid style of the game to them as recreational players, only to expect them to dramatically shift that style of play in high school? Instead of wasting time knocking down what they've learned and having to rebuild, they'll simply keep building and building throughout their careers.
Consistency is the key. As if you couldn't tell, we're proponents of a universal style of lacrosse. In this book, we're proposing that you teach your daughters and their friends a universal way to play that will be appropriate whether they're on youth teams or the World Cup team: same techniques, same skills, same tactics. A big, huge, rigid cradle wastes an 8-year-old's energy and impedes her ability to move the ball quickly just as much as it does an 18-year-old's. Try teaching them from the get-go a smooth, soft-handed cradle that is multilevel, relaxed, and precise. It's bound to grow on them—as well as with them.
Here are some quick hits comparing and contrasting women's lacrosse then and now.
Then: Every March, girls took sticks and kilts out of mothballs. They practiced a couple of times a week and played an eight-game season, after which they put away the sticks until next spring. That was it.
Now: Players are handling their sticks year-round in organized and un- organized play. Sticks aren't just for playing lacrosse games; they're for having fun, for performing tricks that develop hand-eye coordination. Girls are encouraged to achieve a heightened comfort with their sticks by handling the ball at many levels, for instance, and switching hands without thinking about it. Their sticks become extensions of their arms.
Then: Safety was the main concern.
Now: Safety is still the main concern.
Then: Lacrosse was an exclusive upper-crust sport confined to wide-open rolling green fields and thus was the dynasty of that limited segment of the population who had access to such fields. The style of play was genteel and mannerly. Proper, even.
Now: The players are bigger, stronger, faster, more dedicated. And every year there are more of them than ever, playing in every nook and cranny not only in this country but also abroad. Women play lacrosse on postage-stamp fields in the inner cities of America. They play in Japan. The level of intensity is high: all players, across the board, are rewarded for aggressiveness as well as finesse.
Then: Ho-hum shooting. There was an overhand shot, a shovel shot, and not a whole lot else. The limited style of sticks—wooden—limited players' abilities to be creative when cradling or shooting the ball.
Now: How'd she do that?! Creativity is key. Anything goes when it comes to shooting at the goal. Goalies need to be prepared for shots coming from all angles on the field at every conceivable speed and fro
Excerpted from The Baffled Parent's Guide to Coaching Girls' Lacrosse by Janine Tucker. Copyright © 2003 by Ragged Mountain Press. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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