At the youth beginner level, the most important thing to do as a coach is to keep things light and fun for everyone. There is no reason to turn kids off from the game of lacrosse by being too serious or too demanding. Our philosophy is to try and show beginners that lacrosse is a fun game that gets even more fun as their fundamentals improve.
Coach, Can We Play Fireball?
The best way to do this during practice is to come up with elementary-type games that can be used on the lacrosse field. By playing these types of games, you can hide the fact that you are making your players work on fundamentals. Also, by playing games, you can get them to compete, which makes things more exciting for everyone. This is what we call the coaching “head fake.”
Monkey in the Middle
A great game for beginners to play is Monkey in the Middle. Set up a triangle that is five to ten yards on every side. Put two players in the box and have three of them play keep away from the other. Make the defense always play the ball so that one player has the ball and the other has to split the other two offensive players. This is a great way to introduce defensive concepts. Once the defense gets it down, let them switch with the offensive players. This game can be stepped up by making it four-on-three and increasing the size of the box.
Some simple coaching points to consider:
- Make quick accurate passes
- Emphasize the importance of passing the ball at their partner’s head. This is a tip that high-level coaches give to their attackmen when working on feeding (passing to another player for a shot at the goal).
- Emphasize the importance of passing lanes when playing monkey in the middle.
- Lacrosse players should always make passes when there is a clear passing lane. This means that if there is a defender between the player passing the ball and the player receiving the ball, then the ball should not be thrown. Both players have to work to make the passing lane clear.
- The player with the ball has to move his feet when passing the ball. This is a point that coaches make to players at all levels. If a player is not moving his feet when he passes the ball, then that ball is likely to get intercepted or knocked down by the defense.
- The player who is receiving the ball in a monkey in the middle should also be moving around and trying to help his partner by getting in a clear passing lane. This player should also step to the ball when it is thrown to him as this is a good habit to develop.
Make this game competitive by seeing which players can get the most passes in a row.
Steal the Bacon
A good game for working on ground balls is steal-the-bacon. Split your team in two. Have each team line up on separate restraining lines facing the midfield. Assign each player on each team a number one through five. Put a ball at midfield and call out a number. If you yell out “five” all the players that you assigned number five on Team A will run out and play against all the players that you assigned number five on Team B. The team that picks up the ground ball must complete two or three passes and then throw the ball back to you. Each team gets a point after they complete those tasks. You can mix it up by calling out more than one number. Stress the importance of calling out “man” and “ball” and staying spread out once the ball is picked up.
Another great game for beginners is fireball. This is a scrimmage-type game in which everyone can play. Divide your team up into two equal teams. For young players, you can shorten the field by bringing the goals up to the restraining lines. Get everyone to spread out all over the field. As soon as everyone is ready, throw a ball up in the air high (young kids get a kick out of seeing how high you can throw the ball) and yell out “Fireball!” If a player catches the ball in midair, that is one point for his team. The other way to get points is obviously to score goals in the opponent’s net.
The main objective of fireball is to keep players from getting too clumped together. This is achieved by the rule that anytime everyone gets in a huge mass, then a new fireball gets thrown up in the air, and the old ball is thrown back to the coach. Many youth lacrosse games look like a pile of ants on a crumb or a huge amoeba moving around the field. If you can teach your team to stay spread out, you are almost guaranteed success at the youth level. So, in fireball, when you see too many players hovering over a ground ball or everyone standing around one player who has the ball, yells out “fireball!” and throws a new ball into play. This will keep your players from getting too close, as they know there will always be a chance for a new ball to come into play. It will also teach them that the game is a lot more fun when everyone spreads out.
There is no reason to have beginners play on a full-length lacrosse field. Youth leagues and games should be played on a scaled-down version. It is more fun for young players so they can score more goals and not have the ball stuck at midfield the whole game.