Last weekend I was at a Team Germany practice camp and one of the announcements of the coaching staff was, that they are looking for players who make smart and simple decision all over the field.
A lot of coaches, especially at all kinds of try-out camps, tell their players: make the easy decision; we are looking for good decision makers; or players who can step up at the right time. Then practice starts and everything looks as always and it often seems people are not even trying.
At the stage of lacrosse in Germany, I strongly believe not many players are actually taught what smart and simple decision are and I believe a lot of coaches especially player-coaches don’t even know how to teach their players those. Therefore you cannot really expect a lot of people to actually know what those decisions are and make them on the field.
So let’s go deeper into that topic and explain what it is in detail and how you can teach it and prepare your players for those situation in a try-out camp. Because from my experience, coaches care much more about the decision a player makes over a try-out weekend than the goals he scores. They look at the circumstances and how you perform in certain situations and which decisions you make.
What is a smart and simple decision?
Smart and simple decisions are those that follow basic lacrosse fundamentals and therefore have the highest percentage of being successful. As a coach you want to teach your players to make decisions that are successful 9 out of 10 times and not 1 out of 20.
This is usually not the great no look sidearm feed to the crease, but the simple pass to the guy next to you. Those are the smart and simple decisions.
How do you teach smart and simple decisions?
Start by establishing a culture that a goal in practice is not an excuse and does not mean the player has done everything right because he scored. Just because it worked does not mean it is the right decision, so correct your players anyway. At the beginning this will often end up in a lack of understanding by your players with answers like: „But Coach, I scored the goal.“ We had people do burpees after they scored when we were working on shooting angles.
You can react to that by telling your players that it might work now, but it won’t work anymore against better competition, once you are in a championship game. And that you want to prepare for the tight games and not score nice goals against weaker teams. Teach your players the basic rules of lacrosse like passing the ball down the side in transition, or turning back when you have 2 opponents in front of you on a clear, attack opposite and so on. Those rules are the basis for smart and simple decisions. I can’t understand teams, who celebrate a guy for tanking through 3 players on a clear. If you want to be a great player, make the smart decision, turn back, pass to your teammates and use your energy to go relentlessly after the next groundball and pick it up 1 against 3.
Praise players in front of the team, who follow those basic rules and make the simple decision, even when they are not successful with executing it or if it was just a small play they made. This will make them embrace those decisions and others will follow suit.
Thorndikes law of effect: "Organisms tend to repeat responses that are rewarded and avoid responses that are not rewarded or are punished."
You can also punish players for not following the basic rules. This is not optimal coaching and you have to keep the 5-to-1 rule about the emotional tank in mind, but it works wonders. From our experience after the first 4 corners, even the long poles managed to pass the ball down the side to an attack man.
Trust and Teamwork
One other reason for players not making smart and simple decision is the lack of trust and teamwork. Players think that their teammate is not up to the task and won’t catch the ball or throw it away. So they have the feeling they need to make the big play for the team to win. This often leads to experienced players forcing the issue and is very seldom successful. To win tight games you have to work as a team and everybody has to come through.
Teach your players to trust everybody on the field. It is the coaches job to decide whether a player should be on the field or not.
Decision making in general is a difficult topic and we cannot cover everything here. But we have collected quite some expertise on this topic from a variety of sources, so feel free to ask your specific questions in the comments section.
The smart decision boils down to fundamentals and teamwork.