Lax Coach Mike: Call Time Out! And Then What?

By Mike Muetzel,

As we interview top NCAA lacrosse coaches, I continue to be more amazed at their attention to detail. In fact, I often come away with my head spinning, as their new practice ideas seem to make so much sense that I wonder why I did not implement similar concepts earlier in my 35-year coaching history.

We play hard, we coach hard, and we practice hard. We work on drills, transitions, progressions, unsettled situations, face-offs, and man up/man down every week. We are spending more time in film study and working hard to put our players in a position to be successful. We try to get our teams to improve a little bit each practice and each game. Does this sound like your staff or team?

And then comes the game. The score is close, the clock is ticking, the pressure is on, the kids are tired, and we reach for the whiteboard on our last time out. Does this still sound like you?

Or perhaps during the course of the game you have seen a match-up that is really favorable ... or perhaps that the opponent is likely to switch when we invert, and we might gain a valuable "big/little" match-up.

Clearly you called the time-out for a definite reason. You have a message you want to convey. But is your important or critical message getting through to the players? In many cases, especially at the HS and Rec level, when we call a time-out at a critical time, players are tired, excited, thirsty or communicating with teammates. These are all real situations that reduce player focus and therefore the effectiveness of the time-out and how well you get your message across.

Over the last two years, we have listened as more and more coaches are actually practicing what happens in a time-out in practice two or three times a week. In the case of Coach Pietramala at Johns Hopkins, they even practice a brief version of a "halftime" during the course of weekly practices. And when coaches share what they have learned through the process and how to make it better, it makes so much sense.

Time Is Critical

In a time-out we have just two minutes. If it takes the players 20-30 seconds to get to the bench and be ready to listen, it might be down to a minute and a half. OK, now we have a 90-second window to convey the message.

Depending on the situation, you may want to address the entire team or perhaps just the offensive and defensive players in separate groups. Regardless, decide and communicate with the applicable coaches before players reach the sidelines, as any confusion eats into your short time window.

Understand that realistically you might be able to effectively communicate just one or two points of emphasis. So when you address the players, focus on the key point or plan. Many coaches have three or four things they want to say but realistically players will grasp only one or two key points.

Also understand that one coachone message (for each group) is best. I often see two or three coaches adding their input, and, regardless of how accurate their observations might be, they are often lost in the confusion.

Is Time-Out too Late?

If you are going to focus on a match-up or even a simple 10-second play, It is critical that you not introduce anything new. Thus, practicing these situations and potential solutions is extremely important. Lacrosse is very fluid. Thus, if you design a unique play or defensive scheme around a double-team and have not done it in practice, chances are that it will not work.

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