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Field Exploration

Fall Ball is always a special time for lacrosse players. Meaningful games are still months away, but the feeling of team camaraderie starts to build from the first team meeting, and hitting the field on a cool, crisp autumn day with 45 teammates is a reward all on its own. The mere prospect of an impending full spring season is often enough to motivate players, but there is something bigger at play here, and for different teams an all-important transformation takes place, often at very different times.

Sometimes it happens on the first or second day, and sometimes it happens much more slowly, but at some point it is realized by members of the team that this is the ONLY time THIS TEAM will EVER exist. Next year, the current seniors will have left, and new freshmen will have arrived. The coaching staff could change. Guys could transfer. To put it simply, there will never be another 2016-17 team, just like there will never be another 1980, 2001, or 2016 team. This is it. This is your shot.

_mg_2149This realization is where things start to get real, and where success-driven programs separate themselves from the pack. Fall Ball is not about wins and losses, or even “looking good” out on the field as a unit. Fall’s real purpose is for a team to come together in a meaningful way, and to make sure everyone is pulling and pushing in the same direction, towards a common goal. It’s about creating a culture of togetherness for THIS YEAR, and the teams and players that can accomplish this feeling of cohesion in the fall are the ones best positioned for success in the spring, when the results truly matter.

Think about it for a minute – if you just went through an internally acrimonious fall season, where the team never came together, how much do you trust your teammates to hit their winter workouts hard? Even if you “won” all your fall scrimmages and your squad has a ton of “talent”, if the team didn’t find a common set of values, how confident are you in continued success during the regular season when everyone else is now playing to win? The spring will be harder than the fall, so if your team has not bonded and come together, what will you do when you play an equally skilled team that is TRULY a team?

My guess is that the team that never solidified as a unit will lose 9 times out of 10.

I don’t say this to put anyone down, doom your season, or rain on your parade. I say it because I want to see you and your team succeed. Winning fall ball games is not a part of that, but creating a team culture of success definitely is. So how can you be successful and not care about wins?

_mg_2173From what I have seen, the most important aspect of a good fall is creating an atmosphere that players want to be a part of. If players can’t wait to get to tough fall practices, this means they are excited for the spring season, and sessions will be productive. This mindset can come from coaches, captains, seniors, and even freshmen. It’s about celebrating competition, rewarding effort AND outcome, and building trust and respect for one another through trials and challenges. It’s about pushing each other, and WANTING to be pushed. It’s about improving together, and reaching for a common goal. 

When your teammate slashes the stick out of your hands, you thank them for making you better, because the guy from your rival team is going to do the exact same thing. When an attackman crease cranks and scores, you don’t get angry at him. You work harder to make sure he never gets the chance to do so again. When you get scorched by the fastest middie on your team in 1on1s, you don’t complain. You rededicate yourself to doing more squats and cleans. You get faster. This is a “steel sharpens steel” attitude, and if you embrace it, it works.

_mg_2176People often point to fall ball scores, a team’s showing in a scrimmage, or their list of recruits and returning players. For me, it’s a lot more simple than all that. Show me a team where players are hitting hard, getting after it, pushing each other to the limit, and smiling the whole time, and I’ll show you a team that will be as good or better than they were last year. Show me a team that is focused on “wins” but hasn’t bonded, and they will lose in the spring more often than they win.

Fall Ball is about building towards the spring, not winning now. It is about laying a foundation, making sure it’s strong, and then adding on as the year goes on. Cohesion, challenges, and positive momentum rule the fall – so how did your squad truly measure up?

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