I was reminded of this classic Yogi Berra quote after an informal work out at school last week with some of our returning guys in preparation for the season starting up next Tuesday. At the end of the session, our head coach reminded the kids that the college season had begun and encouraged them to go out and watch a game. Really watch a game. He related how lucky we were being so conveniently located to quality Division I games week in and week out. All of us, staff included, needed to get out and deeply and critically watch games at the highest level to observe and learn the latest strategies and styles of play which we might bring back to our own program this coming season. I wholeheartedly agreed, because watching the game in person with an inquisitive and deliberately critical eye is one of the best off field methods a player, coach, and fan to improve their knowledge of the nuances of the game.
Players need to first watch their positions most closely. The players on the field are there because the coaches think that they are the best, so imitating the best is the first step to being the best. It will be easy to go home and try to learn that sick between-the-legs shot you might see, but there is much more a player should observe and emulate in this outdoors classroom. First, just listen. One will be amazed about how much talking is going on. Any one who has ever played for me knows my first rule for lacrosse is “Communicate”. Players constantly hear coaches beg for simple communication from players: “Man”, “Ball”, and “Release” should have been the first vocabulary lesson any player received as a beginner. Communication keeps everyone on the same page and our attack or defense can therefore carry out strategy more efficiently and with fewer mistakes. Not every kid has that voice in him, but if he sees…er…hears D1 players on Saturdays, he will know the volume and tone he will need to mimic when playing with his own team. This method will apply to how players dodge, defend, shoot and hustle. Mimic what you see, even if at first in your backyard vs air. Raise your hand if you spent a Saturday at Homewood or similar venue followed by a long late afternoon/evening replaying situations from the game. This eventually evolved to imaginary games in your head starring yourself scoring the winning goal in triple OT in front of 1000s 0f screaming fans dressed as bushes and trees. This may sound silly, but this mimicry and imagination is a positive tool in becoming a more polished player. What a player has created in his head vs air will next be brought to practice to implement, scrap, or tweak. And finally, that creativity and development will show itself in a game vs another opponent. It is a constant learning and growth cycle, the beginning of which should be in-person, critical observation.
The coach has similar use of this cycle. Coaches notoriously watch film. I live on Hudl. But, I get so much more out of a live viewing of the game. I am a season ticket holder for Towson U, and have a great opportunity to see quality lacrosse weekly at a venue that gives a great view for a coach to observe. The view is key. I’ve gone to games with friends with who want to move as close to the field and 50 yard line as possible, while I drift to the higher rows on the 30 yard line. Here one can view the offense and defense of both teams alternately every quarter. Rides and clears can be more effectively observed here, too. One can see where they begin and where the options are as play develops. What I love about Unitas Stadium is its acoustics. I can here the coaches’ calls and instructions to the players on the field. I can also hear the referee communication as well. I imagine it is much like the NASCAR headsets fans get to listen to their crew’s channel on race day. It brings a whole new facet to the enjoyment and education of the game. Coaches can sometime get in a rut or feel that there are few things left that they can learn in the game. Going to live games can refresh a coach’s view on the game. Even if he sees the same offense or defense or clear that he has run in system for years, he might catch a subtle nuance he had never thought to try before. In 2 scrimmages and one real game I have seen so far this season, I picked up interesting takes these teams had on fogo substitutions and clearing. It’s much the same as our system, but one wrinkle I observed in both situations made the one a greater scoring threat and the other simply more effective. Like the players above, I will bring these wrinkles to practice and see if we can make a go out of them. If so we’ll use them. If not, we’ll scrap them. And who knows, simply discussing them in the locker room with the staff might lead to another tweak that might fit us even better. Much like with the player, critical game observation begets for the coaches a creative cycle for improving themselves and their program.
So what about the fan? He doesn’t need to improve his game. He doesn’t need to coach up kids with the latest strategy. In what creative cycle does he need to be involved? Well, there are different levels of fan. Which one do you want to be? Some will cheer for good ole State U in any sport (provided that there is a tailgate), and are strictly fans of their Alma Mater. Some at lacrosse games are the parents, who are rabid fans for as long as Junior is playing for State U. but will never attend another game once he graduates. These fans need nothing more to focus on than State U’s success and Junior’s playing minutes. But some are there because they love the game. They will watch State U scrimmage Humble College in a snow storm in February. Watching these games in the manner of players and coaches will improve their appreciation of the game. A 6-4 slug fest will be as exciting as a 19-18 shoot out. They will find something to appreciate in a 21-3 blowout as well as a 10-9 2OT thriller. They will love to see a match up between a school that runs and guns vs a more deliberately paced side and enjoy it all. Their creative cycle will be one that takes in one experience and looks forward to seeing it again next week. Then he sees how it has changed or stayed the same or countered by this week’s opponent. He will become a more informed fan and his experience no matter what type of game ensues will be most enjoyable.
So, let’s get out there and see the games. ESPN has done great things for the game by getting more and more games on TV, and I encourage you to tune in to those broadcasts. But we need to support our sport in person. In Maryland, we brag about our passion for the sport, but only 717 fans made the Towson/High Point game, and on Sunday Homewood saw only 1338 in attendance for the Jays vs Ohio State. I get it, it’s cold and snowy, and many are writing about the state of February lacrosse (see the 2/14 Sun, for example). Fine. But as the weather gets better, please get out and support your team. Adopt one if you have to. D1 college lacrosse is an incredible bargain compared to football and basketball. At Towson, which has gobs of free parking available, I got 3 tix for me and my sons for $80 total for 9 games. That’s just about $3 a ticket. Way cheaper than a movie or any comparable sporting event in the area. And Marylanders, we will be hosting the national championship this year. The NCAA will be evaluating future locations for the tournament because of recent falling attendance. Many of us crow that it should be here every year, where the greatest high school league, traditional college powers, and the sport’s governing body and hall of fame proudly call home. So let’s commit ourselves to getting to M & T this May regardless of which teams make it and show the lacrosse world where the most knowledgeable and passionate fans of the sport can be found.