Did you know that every year over 250,000 lacrosse players step on the field nationwide? If you want to be the best of these players, it's going to take a lot more than the love of the game to get to the top of yours. Check out my tips to help you reach the top of your game and separate yourself from the competition before stepping on the field for the season.
Don’t Put your stick away until the next season
The skill set of a high-level lacrosse player requires exceptional coordination, finesse, and dexterity. This requires hundreds of hours of QUALITY practice, time that is simply not available once the season starts. Try counting how many touches you get from the start to the end of practice. I think the number will surprise you. It’s unrealistic for a coach to consistently dedicate time during practice for stick and skill work considering all the other aspects of the game that need to be covered. If you want to be ahead of the crowd, then it's important to have skilled stick work before the season even begins.
Additionally, most “preseasons” for high school are only two-three weeks in length which is a ridiculously short amount of time to get a team ready for the season. If this is the only time you practice your skills, then it's probably the reason why your skill set is not where you would like it to be. It’s simple, to be the best, you need to put in the work!
Put the work in during the off-season
It would be great if you could walk off the field at the end of a season, and pick right back up the next year, but unfortunately, our bodies don’t adjust that quickly.
The higher the level of competition, the narrower the talent gap. This is where off-season training comes in. If you want to perform at a high level and separate yourself from the competition, begin your training program prior to the start of the season. I would suggest allocating 2-3 months for a comprehensive training regimen consisting of strength and conditioning, as well as skills training. If you can get your entire team on board with this concept, your coach will be able to place less time towards getting you in shape and more time towards getting your team working as a cohesive unit. Remember, championships are won in the preseason!
Don’t train the wrong energy systems
When you are putting in the work, you want to make sure that you're targeting the right energy systems. Whenever you develop a workout program, one must pause and ask, “does this reflect the demands of the game?” If the answer is no, then you could likely make a better choice in training. A common conditioning regimen that I hear players utilizing is distance running. Although this is great cardio, it won’t target the correct energy and muscle systems that your body needs to accept the demands required when you step on the field.
When you watch lacrosse, you will notice that it is composed of intermittent bursts of movement followed by relative lulls in action. Very rarely is an individual running at a high speed for more than 30 seconds at a time. Players need to accelerate and decelerate at high speeds and are required to react to quickly changing situations. Meaning you need to include drills that emphasize movements like fast changes of direction. Instead of running for a long duration at a relatively slow speed, try high interval training consisting of maximum effort with longer rest periods to allow for recovery.
Incorporate the right training into your preseason workout
You always want to make sure that when you train, you do it properly. And just like aerobic training, you want to ensure you're not training the wrong muscle systems. A common mistake I see players making when they put together a conditioning program is focusing solely on lifting. Pure strength is not enough to enhance performance on the field. We are not training for the World’s Strongest Man competition. Your conditioning program should reflect those experienced on the lacrosse field.
Once an adequate baseline strength level is achieved, it is critical to begin incorporating agility and plyometric drills so that you can begin developing coordinated movement patterns and explosive power. These drills will help you learn greater acceleration, improved reaction time, and enhanced ability to change direction, allowing you to become more of an effective and efficient lacrosse player.
Don’t Waste your resources on an indoor/summer team
With the explosion of lacrosse over the past decade, there has been significant growth in the number of indoor and traveling teams during the winter and summer seasons. These teams are attractive as they provide an opportunity to play some of the best competition around the country and the ability to be seen by college coaches, leading many to pay hundreds of dollars to play in hopes of being seen. I, however, would argue that this may not be the best way to spend your money, particularly when you are not of recruiting age.
These teams do their best at spotlighting the athletes but do little in contributing to their development. Of course, there are some exceptions, but for the most part, many of these teams have infrequent practices which dedicate most of their time developing base plays, defensive schemes, and terminology to get everyone on the same page, not focusing on strengthening each individuals' skills. In today’s world of the 365-day lacrosse player, athletes are playing so many games that they dedicate minimal time towards practicing the actual sport. This not only stunts their progression but also reinforces bad habits. Instead, athletes should allocate greater resources (time/money) towards skill/position-specific training with a specialized coach that can enhance strengths and minimize weaknesses. When you suit up for a game, it should be a time to show off a finished product, not the time to work out the kinks.
Progress your workout routine appropriately
A big mistake many people make when beginning a new training regimen is going in too hard. If you haven't been training all year long, and you try to fit months' worth of training into a two-week preseason, then you are going to get hurt because your body just can't handle it.
Pushing yourself is very important in making gains, but these gains are achieved progressively over time. There is no rushing muscle and neurologic adaptations because the body needs time to adjust to the stress put on it. Overuse injuries occur in athletes when they don't give their body enough time to recover between each workout, or they push themselves too hard too fast. A simple method of preventing overuse in the weight room is to avoid exercising the same body region two days in a row, and give yourself some time to adjust before upping your weights. And remember, the quality of repetitions is important. If your form is messy, then you are not ready to progress!
Dr. Bobby Dattilo is a physical therapist originally from Derry, NH. As a Division I All-American in Lacrosse for the Hobart Statesmen, Bobby went on to play four years of professional Lacrosse with the Rochester Rattlers and Ohio Machine.
Dr. Dattilo provides strength and conditioning training for local RI high schools, and hosts individual and group face-off clinics for youth and high school lacrosse players. He specializes in manual therapy, sports-related injuries, fitness, injury prevention, acute and chronic orthopedic conditions, and post-surgical conditions.