Three New Practice Trends to Improve Game Performance

By Mike Muetzel,

Following close to 100 interviews over the last five years with the best NCAA lacrosse coaches on practice plans, we have seen some unique trends from year to year. In 2013 and into 2014, many of these trends have started to become inherent parts of the whole for many top NCAA programs. At the point I started this project, college coaches were already running drills faster -- from seven to 10 minutes each and rarely repeating the same drill two days in a row. This matches directly with the way players of this generation learn: fast-paced with a lot of variety, engagement, no standing around, and multi-tasking in many lacrosse drills. But the shifts in practice planning have moved even farther forward.

With every podcast, I marvel at the new ideas and NCAA coaches' attention to detail. Although many coaches remain traditional in their approach to lacrosse practice plans, some elements have been far more commonly accepted in the top programs. I am anxious to share three top trends we have seen. Please keep in mind that I am writing in generalities, and there are clearly exceptions, but in a macro sense here is what we heard.

The Sequence of Your Practice Plan

As recently as five years ago, almost all coaches we interviewed remained committed to kind of a basic traditional template for planning lacrosse practices. They open with stick work or shooting, goalie warm-ups, then stretching (with emphasis on dynamic stretching), and then the balance of the first hour with drills I will affectionately refer to as "fundamentals."

Much of the "fundamentals hour" often includes specific position work, passing at all positions or footwork or re-direct work for the poles and shooting for the shorties, spoke and skeleton lacrosse drills, perhaps 1v1's and 2v2's, and many others.

Following the first hour or so in fundamentals, the practices moved into a series of transition drills, sometimes in progression, and sometimes not ... in other words 3v2 then 4v3, perhaps up to full field transition drills or, in the case of today's top coaches, mixing up their transition sequence to better emulate true game scenarios. (Remember that NCAA rosters are close to 40 players.) And then, depending on the coach, some small 'even' work (4v4 or 6v6) and then 20 to 40 minutes of full-field scrimmages, scramble drills, scrimmages with riding and clearing, and so on. And often practice concludes with specialty work such as freezing the ball or man up.

But all of the coaches we have interviewed place a renewed emphasis on making their lacrosse drills reflect not only true game scenarios but the evolving sequences of scenarios in games. In other words, do your drills truly reflect an actual game-like situation? Lacrosse is a fluid game and does not often meet the pattern of a traditional daily schedule, thus these changes. The fluid nature of the sport is one of changing momentum in which two games or two quarters are never the same. Yet practices for many coaches are always the same. Does this make sense?

1. Transition Lacrosse Drills in Your Practice Plan

Does your team ever come out flat in some games? Perhaps it is a direct reflection of the way you plan your practices and their slow pace, especially in the first 20 minutes. It is very common to see NCAA coaches insert an extremely fast-paced transition drill immediately after stretching. The idea is to really set an enthusiastic, fast pace for the balance of practice.

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