When it comes to playing the game, players spend considerably more time without the ball than they do with the ball. In fact, some players may not touch the ball for a quarter, half, or even the entire game. 

Based on the research that we conducted with 12u players on small-sided vs. full-squad competitions, on average a player touched the ball 3.5 times in a 20-minute, running time half. The average length of possession for each player was approximately 10 seconds. Extrapolating that out, it would stand to be a reasonable assumption that we could say a player will have a total ball possession time of 35 seconds in 20 minutes of play. That leaves over 19 minutes of time that a player does not have the ball in their stick per 20-minute half.

So, my question for your consideration is this: What are we doing to prepare our players for the 19 minutes that we want them to be playing lacrosse, but they don’t have the ball in their stick? We must think differently and focus on teaching the players to develop the mental side of the game. Decision making or Lax IQ if you will.

If you’re still with me and I haven’t gotten too nerdy for you, here are some ideas for how we can help athletes develop their Lax IQ.

1.  “Teaching Games for Understanding”

Teaching Games for Understanding take the technical aspects of the game (pass, catch, scoop, shoot, etc…) and incorporate them into “games” that have the players develop the technical skill, but also provide opportunity for players to develop their Lax IQ by applying the skill in a game-like context. There are numerous drills that incorporate these concepts. Here are a few of my favorites you can find in the US Lacrosse Mobile Coach app:

  • 3v2 West Genny
  • Canadian 2v2’s
  • Hungry Hippos (Progression 1)
  • Score on Any Goal

2.  “Free Play”

This is just like it sounds, we as coaches step aside and allow the players to solve their own problems. We give them a space, maybe a few resources (goals, cones, etc…) allow them to make up their own teams and rules, call their own fouls, then we sit back and watch. Certainly we need to be aware of what is happening and step in if play is getting unsafe, but for the most part we let the players seek solutions to playing better offense or defense. When we are not coaching the “game” and telling them where to go and what to do, but rather asking them questions about what they are doing, the learning goes much deeper. Here are some sample questions to ask during or after free play:

  • Coach asks, “Can you tell me why you made the decision to set a pick for Player B instead of Player C?” Right or wrong decision, doesn’t matter. It’s about the process of them evaluating their decisions.You can also follow up with “What other options did you consider?”
  • Coach asks, “What did you see that made you decide to go and help Player B defend the dodger on that play?”
  • Coach asks, “What could you have done to help the player who had the ball, when they were in trouble?”

3.  “Small-Sided Games”

Setting up multiple small-sided games on the field, all going on simultaneously provides every athlete with the opportunity to participate. The decision making becomes easier, because there are less decisions to be made. As the players become more adept at making great decisions, we can increase the number of participants, ultimately leading up to a full-squad game. Using a progression builds athletes into competent, confident, competitors.

Lacrosse requires technical skill, but more importantly it requires the application of those skills quickly and efficiently for the game to be played at a high level. As you plan your next practice consider the previously detailed three ways to gamify your players development. If you’re looking for more ideas, consider attending a US Lacrosse Coach Development or LADM P3 clinic, where our trainers have you actively participate in these types of learning experiences and discuss how to build them into your team’s training plans.

TJ Buchanan is the technical director for US Lacrosse athlete development.

US Lacrosse Coaching Clinics

Over the next two plus months, US Lacrosse is offering coaching clinics in 26 states. Look for one in your area.

Learn More