Chet Koneczny | March 26, 2020
Nothing I’m about to tell you has any substantial value unless you put it into action. Whether a player or a coach, practicing “by doing” or practicing by “teaching others,” will often translate to more skill acquisition than just reading, watching and/or discussing lacrosse.
John Wooden, one of the most renowned coaches of all time, explained how coaches are essentially teachers at the core. Coaching is not lecturing, it is moreso showing players how.
Almost all of Wooden’s early practice sessions in a season would be devoted to fundamental skill & drill development, conditioning, as well as imparting the team philosophy. These are the pillars that we will use as the essence of this LAX 101 blog I’ll be writing over the next couple of months, in an effort to strengthen our Thunderbirds grassroot lacrosse culture.
Speaking to philosophy. This game has such a rich history, and I’ve been told by my First Nations brethren that we should always start with the history when we teach the game. One of the teachings that I’ve chosen to live my life by is that “lacrosse is a metaphor for life,” and holds the answer for every situation in life (including the present one). The current situation (Covid19), calls for self isolation for example. This is, in fact, an opportunity to spend quality time with family, with nature, with your thoughts, and also with your stick. In some of the lowest points of my life it was my stick that gave me the medicine that I needed to carry on. At times, it felt like it was all I had. I have followed the stick ever since...
Skill, as it pertains to lacrosse, is the knowledge and the ability to quickly and properly execute the fundamentals. They must be done quickly and precisely, at the right time. Skilled performers develop more flexible and precise memory representations than do less skilled individuals; which is the main point I will try to get across in this article.
Skill development in itself is non-linear, and there is a tremendous natural range both in short and long term success. For example, people can be 2-3x better or worse, bigger or smaller in any human measure at any given time. Regardless, you will only get better at things that you consciously work on.
Consciously working on something usually starts with doing some sort of research first: reading, watching some videos, and perhaps discussing the topic with a local expert. You learn best when you have some idea of what you are trying to accomplish. Both peer and expert models (or videos thereof) can be effective for demonstrations, but in the end, it is the right combination of explanations and demonstrations, visuals and videos, that enables you to learn or correct skills - you need to be engaged in your learning!
In a relatively short period of time, it is possible to see some great improvements relative to your initial physical literacy upon entering the sport (accumulated via one's multi-sport experience & genetics).
In just 10 weeks players new to the game could, in theory, improve their lacrosse competency by 80%.
Eventually you will move through the 4 stages of learning: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and unconscious competence (aka “habits”). Advancing from stage-to-stage requires action and it will likely take thousands of consciously competent reps to get to unconscious competence.
One of the strongest differentiators among young athletes who later went on to become professionals versus those who did not achieve that level, was simply the number of hours spent playing pick up games.
Top musicians started taking SYSTEMATIC lessons around age 8 and decided to become musicians around age 15. “Professionals” differed in time spent practicing on their own, 25 hours per week, versus the “best experts” who practiced 10 hours per week. As a professional lacrosse player myself now, it’s ironic because I used to tell people before I knew these facts, that I used to play “wall ball” 5 hours/day, 5 days/week during my summers.
Where I went wrong, at times, which is probably the most important differentiating factor in the studies on the topic of accumulated hours of practice, was in terms of DELIBERATE PRACTICE; I used to just do what I thought was best, at random.
Deliberate practice is the kind of error focused, hard, effortful work that only those who are supremely motivated to excel will do. It requires high focus, concentration and attention to inputs, with behavioural flexibility of outputs. It is often more of a solitary activity. It has to be at an appropriate but challenging level, providing opportunity for repetition of new skills and the correction of errors as skills are being learned. Deliberate practice involves the constant transitioning from one skill state to a higher, more proficient one.
A central feature is the constant evaluation of one’s current skill state against that of a more skilled model. Experts continue deliberate practice for a much longer time, possibly indefinitely, in order to advance skill. The late Kobe Bryant was well known for his efforts in this capacity. Continued deliberate practice enables top performers to maintain skills that would otherwise decline with age.
For the record, 4-5 hours a day is the upper limit of “deliberate practice” (with sessions lasting 60-90 mins). You can push players to this volume of practice, as long as it’s done methodically, and as long as they can count on basic human comforts like eating and sleeping well.
The average person usually drops deliberate practice for a less rigorous, more repetitious form of practice once an acceptable level of competence is achieved. This was me, in my early wall ball days; I was kind of just doing whatever, whenever. Was I relying on repetition too much?
A very important question for coaches is when do performers need stability of movement vs. variability of movement? The task for a good coach is finding an appropriate balance between stability & variability. Stability provides structure to the players’ performance; while variability allows them to deal with the uncertainty of situational-specific task demands, created by specific opposition & performance conditions (situational awareness).
With “Constant” practice, conditions don’t change, you always use: same balls, same surface, same time of day, same footwork, same stickwork, etc.
In the early stages of skill acquisition one typically focuses on emulating the model and the process of properly executing the mental and physical strategies necessary for competent performance. Eventually focus shifts from process monitoring to outcome monitoring (desired result). During this acquisition phase, mental or cognitive resources are limited because the individual must continuously process the activity requirements in their working memory. Drills should be repeated until good habits/instincts are established; players must go through the physical act of making adjustments until repetition is replaced by instincts.
During the acquisition stage there is a clear advantage for players who practised under “blocked” conditions. By definition, these are simple drills based on repetitions for a set period of time. Blocked practice facilitates early performance but is not as effective as random practice during later retention and transfer to game situations. One exception is that at minimal levels of practice, blocked practice produces better retention than does random practice, but this effect is reversed with additional levels of practice. There is actually a strong advantage for retention with players who practice under random conditions in the acquisition phase.
Retention by nature, requires random conditions. Most real-world behaviours are not produced in blocked contexts. Manipulations that degrade the speed of acquisition can better support the long-term goals of training. As sports scientists we often say “specificity of practice comes first.” Well, variability of practice comes next…
Variable practice adds a layer of “Contextual Interference” to the fundamental skill development process, creating better long term retention of skills.
Increasing the amount of task variability required during practice depresses performance during training, yet facilitates performance on later tests of the ability to generalize training to altered conditions. “Variable practice” alters the practice context to force a change in behaviour from trial to trial. During this “Motor Complication Phase,” subtle changes in timing, tempo or situation may result in significant disruptions in performance. Skills should be performed from various distances, directions, and speeds.
It can be useful to progressively build up the speed (using constant practice conditions) at which a fundamental skill is being executed, helping establish generalized motor patterns (muscle ordering).
Intermediate players should practice all varieties of a skill in a more unpredictable way (as opposed to block repetition). Variable practice by definition is practicing many variations of a single class of actions instead of simple repetition of the same skill and can also include environmental factors such as: heat, noise, fatigue, anxiety, pressure, ball type, bad calls, etc. During truly random practice, tasks from several classes of skills are experienced in random order and randomized so that a given task is never practiced on successive trials.
One Last Practice Consideration
If the final retention interval is short, massed reps can yield better performance than spaced reps.
The focus of this article thus far, has primarily been on the variability side of the practice equation. The point of this last infographic (seen above) is to show you that the distribution of drills/reps is equally important.
Minor box lacrosse is played at a 1:2 work:rest ratio, meaning that for every 1 minute shift, you get a 2 minute break on the bench. How often do you consider that as a coach? Do you do it when you are arranging drills in one end versus both ends? Do you do it when you are developing the cardio capacity of your players?
The fact is that new concepts are best learned at a 1:7 work-to-rest ratio. Of course, we do want a lot of repetition early in the acquisition stages, so we gradually consolidate the skill to a game-like distribution of 1:2. Do you account for this in your training?
So imagine yourself at the sacred wall. The one you’ve been scoping out for, everywhere, since you moved to town. The one with a fence at the back of it, so if you miss the ball you don’t have to run a mile to get it. The one with a level playing surface, similar to a box (maybe you are lucky enough to have an outdoor box closeby!). I used to play my “wall ball” behind a grocery store. We would chalk small targets onto the wall and play games to see who could hit it the most, using some specified technique. My business partner Looney B, said him and his brother Flip used to chalk out and measure a 4 x 4 net against the school wall, and his Dad would make them hit the top corner 10 times in a row before they could leave.
This is how you get to the unconscious competence, or automatic expertise. In the autonomous phase cognitive processing requirements are low, thereby freeing up mental resources for other activities. This gives you more time to notice other things that matter. If you become extraordinarily good at noticing and then acting to deal with what you notice, you may eventually move into the realm of unconscious competence, or automatic expertise. There are days when Tiger Woods stands over the ball and everything is automatic. But most of the time he has to be consciously competent, fully aware of what he is doing and making small adjustments. This level of automacy spawned from thousands of hours of deliberate practice, among many of the character traits required, including the discipline.
See developmentally appropriate instructions at the bottom
10x Overhand Pass (Lob Option)
10x Side-Arm Pass
10x Underhand Pass
10x Behind-The-Back Pass
10x Off-Hand (Overhand Pass)
10x Overhand Shot
10x Side-Arm Shot
10x Underhand Shot
10x Behind-The-Back Shot
10x Off-Hand (Overhand Shot)
*perform all variations with a short run forward (north-south), east-west across the net, east-west dragging across the net, short back-pedal (north south)
Beginners = Blocked Practice (AAA = Stationary Overhand, Dynamic Overhand - Run Forward, Dynamic Overhand - Across Net, Dynamic Overhand - Dragging, Dynamic Overhand - Back-pedal)
Progress to Intermediate (at 70% Mastery)
Intermediate = Serial Practice (ABC = Stationary Overhand, Stationary Sidearm, Stationary Underhand, Stationary Behind-The-Back, Stationary Off-Hand → Dynamic Overhand, Dynamic Sidearm, etc.)
Progress to Advanced (at 90% Mastery)
**Advanced = Random Practice (ACB = Dynamic Overhand → Dynamic Lob → Stationary Underhand → Dynamic Underhand → Dynamic Sidearm → Dynamic Behind-The-Back → Dynamic Off-Hand, etc.)
**Mix up passing/shooting/footwork pattern each rep depending on what part of your game needs fine tuning
**Use a 1:1 (Offense) or 1:2 (Defense) work:rest ratio (i.e. hard effort for 30 seconds - 1 min active recovery)
Blog #1 | Non-Coach Led Practice
Indoor lacrosse is played inside the confines of an ice hockey rink, with glass and rink boards intact. The playing surface consists of a green dieter turf carpet that is laid down over the hockey ice. The two teams combine to score a total of 25 goals on average during an NLL game.
Each team has five runners (forwards, transition players and defensemen) and a goaltender on the floor during the game. Each team dresses 18 players (16 runners and two goaltenders) per game, and the players rotate on and off the floor in shifts, similar to ice hockey. The game consists of four quarters, each fifteen minutes in length. A game that is tied at the end of regulation is decided in a sudden-death overtime. There are no tie games in professional indoor lacrosse.
Rosters: 20-man roster, each team dresses 19 players for games (17 runners and two goalies). A team shall be composed of six (6) players on the floor, 5 runners and one goalie.
Time Format: Four 15-minute quarters; two minutes between quarters; 12 minute halftime.
Timeouts: Each team may take one 45-second timeout per half. A TV game has two timeouts per quarter.
Sudden Death Overtime: Games ending regulation play with a tie score are decided by a sudden death overtime period. Play continues until a goal is scored. More than one overtime period is played if necessary.
8-Second Violation: Occurs when team on offense fails to advance the ball past midfield within 8 seconds after taking possession at their end.
Face-Offs: To determine possessions at the start of each quarter and after every goal, two players face their sticks at midfield with a referee placing the ball between the heads of the sticks.
Shot Clock: A 30-second clock begins (counting down) when a team assumes possession of the ball. The offensive team must put a shot on goal during that time or they will lose possession. If they do shoot on goal (without scoring) and recover possession of the ball (via rebound/loose ball recovery), the clock is reset for a new 30 seconds.
Body Check: Used to slow an opponent who has the ball; must be above the waist and below the neck.
Breakaway: One-on-one (shooter on goalie) scoring opportunity.
Cradle: Method used to keep the ball inside the pocket of the stick by rocking it back and forth.
Crease: Only the goalie can stand in this nine-foot radius with the ball. Shooters or their teammates can not stand on (or inside) the line or their goals won't count. Any violation of this rule will disallow the goal.
Crosscheck: An defensive strategy using the shaft of the stick to push on an opponent to force a missed or bad shot.
Hidden Ball Play: A player without the ball cradles his stick, drawing the attention of the defense, while a teammate who has the ball passes or shoots on net.
Loose Ball: Occurs when there is no possession and the ball is bouncing, rolling, or rebounding off the boards or goaltender.
Major Penalty: Five minutes in the penalty box for infractions such as high sticking, boarding, face masking, fighting and spearing.
Man Down: When a team has one less player on the floor than their opponent.
Minor Penalty: Two minute penalty for infractions such as delay of game, elbowing, holding, illegal crosschecking, slashing, and tripping, for example.
Offensive Pick: The legal interference by an offensive player from a set position on a defensive player who is trying to defend the ball carrier.
Outlet Pass: The first pass from the goaltender or defender that begins the transition from defense to offense.
Penalty Box: Where a player goes to sit while serving a two and/or five minute penalty.
Power Play: When a team has an extra man advantage because the other team has at least one player in the penalty box
Screen Shot: When the goaltender can't see a shot because someone is in the way.
Shorthanded: When a team has one or more players in the penalty box and the opponent is at full-strength, or has more players on the floor.
Loss of Possession: Illegal screens, 30 second shot clock violation, 8 second half court violation, loose ball push, and illegal procedure during faceoffs are among the acts that can cause a team to lose possession of the ball.
Minor Penalties: On two minute personal fouls, the penalized player is released from the penalty box if a goal is scored before the expiration of the two minutes.
Major Penalties: On five minute major personal fouls, the penalized player stays in the box for the duration of the penalty, though the offending team returns to full strength if two goals are scored against them during the five minutes. When a second major penalty is imposed on the same player in a game, an automatic game misconduct penalty shall be imposed.
Use of Penalty Shot: Since a team cannot be more than two men down at a time, if a third penalty is called, the official will award a penalty shot to the non-offending team.
Ejection from Game: Players can be ejected from a game for several reasons including being the third man participating in a fight or accumulating two major penalties in one game.
Slow Whistle (Delayed Penalty): If a defending player commits a minor or major penalty against an opponent in possession of the ball, the 30-second shot clock expires, or a goal is scored or possession is gained by the non-offending team.
Coincidental Penalties: When each team is given the same amount of penalty time arising out of the same incident, the offending players shall not be released until the expiration of the penalty. Teams do not lose floor strength, and the ball is awarded to the team who was in possession prior to the fouls.
Field and Goals: Indoor lacrosse is played on a hockey rink covered by an artificial turf playing surface, which is usually referred to as the floor or the carpet (as opposed to the field). There must be boards around the sides of a minimum height of 3' high. Dimensions are 200' x 85' but may be altered.
Goals: are 4' (high) x 4'9" (wide). The circle around the goal known as the crease is 9'3" in diameter. An offensive player is not allowed to step into the crease area.