Coaching 101: More than X’s and O’s

Article from US Lacrosse, by Megan Scheider, Feb 2 2017

Maryland coach Cathy Reese knows what it takes to be successful.

In her 11-year tenure at the helm of the Terps program, she has won three national titles, including back-to-back crowns in 2014 and 2015. She was named the IWLCA National Coach of the Year for the third time in 2015 after leading the Terps to the Big Ten regular season title. Prior to joining the Big Ten, Reese was the Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year for a league-high seven times as her team earned six straight ACC titles.

Just like her players, her accolades seem endless. Her successful lacrosse career even stretches back to her playing career from 1995-1998 when she and her team went 50 straight games without a loss before she was named the NCAA Tournament Most Valuable Player as a senior.

However, Reese continually preaches that it’s not about the awards and the honors. It’s not always “sunshine and rainbows,” she said at the 2017 US Lacrosse Convention in Baltimore, Md. In order to be the best, both players and coaches need to have the drive to succeed. It’s about earning it.

“I think the most important thing is to recognize that coaching is more than X’s and O’s,” said Reese. “I want to see our athletes smile and love playing like they did when they started playing. Be supportive and available to help, guide and mentor your players along the way.”

Here are five tried and true lessons coaches must understand and teach their teams:

1. Build confidence.

The proverb, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” can be applied to many life lessons, from your career to sports.

It’s important that your team plays like one unit. If one player gets upset for dropping a pass or missing a shot, it’s important to pick them back up and reinforce their confidence.

Like Maryland junior attacker Megan Whittle has learned from Reese’s notion of positive self-talk taught, “Just be awesome.”

“Be a coach that builds them up,” said Reese. “Empower them to believe in themselves.”

2. “Encourage multi-sport athletes.”

The 18-player U.S. women’s national team that will defend gold in the 2017 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) Women’s World Cup in Guildford, England, this summer features six former Maryland standouts. How did they become such elite lacrosse players? They all played at least two sports in high school.

It’s important to continue encouraging multi-sport athletes, instead of making kids feel forced to specialize.

“Listen, with our four kids [Riley, Brody, Cayden and Braxton], I try to keep them involved in everything as possible,” said Reese. “I’m a permanent Uber driver, everywhere all under the sun. All of us that have kids are because it’s the opportunity and the experience to do all these different things.”

3. “Keep it simple.”

Reese continually reminds her Maryland team that lacrosse is simple. All you have to do is catch the ball, run as fast as you can and put the ball in the back of the net – and don’t let the other team do that. But the bottom line is “you can’t do anything in lacrosse if you can’t catch and throw.”

“Stick work is an important piece,” Reese said. “At all levels.”

Teach the proper way to hold the stick when cradling, passing and shooting. Use simple drills to teach basic concepts like stick protection and the triple threat position. Remind your players to play to their strengths, keeping their head up and shoulders up to be ready to see open teammates downfield.

4. Have fun.

“Competition fuels the fire,” Reese said.

If you have fun in practice and recognize the good plays that are made, your team will feed off that energy and carry it into game days. Create an environment where your players enjoy working hard and love playing.

5. Prepare your players for the next level.

“That’s our job as coaches,” Reese said.

The game is getting faster, and so are the players. The rules keep changing, and so are the strategies. It’s important as coaches to instill a sense of work ethic in their players, which extends beyond the lacrosse field. Make sure to educate them on social media – the world we live in now – and ensure they understand how to properly represent themselves, their coaches and their schools.

“[Push] them to work hard, to be better, to work harder, to not allow them to just get by,” Reese said. “To keep working hard in fitness [and] in school, if you want to be the best, we have to have that drive.”