DIY Coaching Tool: Goal Blocker

Goal blockers–also known as shot trainers, goal targets, goal trainers, shot rejectors, shot blockers, target rejectors, or Hector the Rejector’s–are pieces of cloth or vinyl that attach to a goal and block the majority of the goal opening. Teams often use them for shooting practice–particularly to encourage shooting along the goal pipe perimeter (the “pipes”) and the goal corners.

In kids’ lacrosse, goal blockers are often used as a substitute for goalies. My league supplies me with one blocker to use in games or practices. But I often want to set up two goals for a scrimmage during a practice.

For this purpose, I could buy a goal blocker. But prices range from $50 to $150. I’m of a vintage where $50 and up is still real money. That amount could keep anyone in lattes for at least two weeks. Also, young kids don’t need sophisticated blockers to train their shooting. You just need something to keep every shot on goal from going in.

I’ve constructed various makeshift goal blockers over the years, even tying up an old crib sheet until it was more holes than fabric. But I’ve settled on a simple quick and easy DIY alternative: an inexpensive 4′ x 6′ vinyl tarp.

My tarp has six grommets, four at the corners and one in the middle of each longer side. To turn the tarp into a goal blocker, I fold the long dimension back to roughly 4 feet so that the bottom and middle grommets are lined up, and I tie the lined-up grommets together with string. The new rectangle will fit inside a goal with about a foot to spare along all sides of the tarp. I cut four strings of a yard each and run them through the (now) four grommet holes to tie the tarp to the goal. Only the bottom remains untied. I put the tarp on the cage so that the front is smooth and the folded part is in back, so that it isn’t catching blocked balls.

The only thing special about my tarp is that I bought it at a dollar store for $1. For the record, it describes itself as a poly 4′ x 6′ tarp (finished size 3 ft. 8 in. x 5 ft. 8 in.), 5 mils thick, all purpose, corners reinforced with grommets, hem reinforced with plastic rope, tear resistant, weather flexibility, washable and reusable. It was made in Indonesia for a no name brand.

So if you need a goal blocker or want a second one for a full-field scrimmage, you can buy a tarp–and still keep your coffee habit fully funded.

How to Ensure That Your Player Doesn’t Get Recruited–Ever

One of my recent posts warned parents to refrain from counting on their child to secure an athletic scholarship to pay for college. I advised parents to support a munchkin’s having fun. But I was not suggesting that a parent impede a kid’s college-recruiting chances.

Before you throw your hands in the air in frustration, hear me out. My point is that there is nothing wrong with hoping some of college’s financial burden is shared with an athletic scholarship, but don’t count on it and do refrain from putting any pressure on your child. None of this means that if some scholarship-granting organization wants to follow your player’s development you should interfere.

Some college coaches begin watching players in middle school. They want to start thinking about which players they’ll actively recruit in high school. So they or their staff watch local youth lacrosse games and are especially likely to attend tournaments in their area.

Recently, I heard one of the most successful Division 1 lacrosse coaches discuss the players that his organization identifies in middle school to follow. He named the desirable traits his coaches looked for. They were what one might expect, such as ball-handling skills, dodging skill, and movement off ball. What I found most surprising was what he said would always cause him to avoid a player: the behavior of the player’s parents.

At first I thought how unfair. Kids have no control over parents’ behavior. He wasn’t talking about yelling at the refs or fighting in the stands. He was talking about those parents who shout instructions and real-time criticism to players on the field. It’s not the players’ fault, but kids with those kinds of parents are extremely hard to coach. They tend to lack confidence because a parent always second-guesses them. Sometimes the parents contradict what the coach has said. Sometimes they just confuse the player.

Bottom line: a coach with several decades of experience and a number of national championships won’t be recruiting those players with parents who can’t shut up and let their children think for themselves on the lacrosse field.

What Should Parents Want Their Son to Get Out Of Kids’ Lacrosse?

Asking what parents should expect their child to get out of kids’ lacrosse is a variation of asking what parents should expect their child should get out of any sports program. There are many possible answers to such a question. A child’s participation in sports can be fun. Kids enjoy playing games. Sports can teach many physical skills, and aid in a child’s developing those skills. Sports participation reveals how to play on a team, and how to cope with success and set-backs. You could summarize all of these benefits as the fruits of participation.

Some parents, though, have a different agenda. To these parents sports are a way to pay for higher education. They see kids’ sports as a gateway to a college athletic scholarship.

“Full rides” to college are not to be scoffed at. The cost of a college education has skyrocketed well in excess of inflation. Frankly the cost is outrageous. Most developed countries provide free or heavily subsidized education. In the U.S. a college education can cost more than a middle-class home. But this blog isn’t about the politics of education. Suffice it to say I’m very sympathetic to those parents who seek a means of providing their child with a college education and start to plan when the munchkin is in first grade. I started planning before my son was born.

Parents who are expecting their child to get an athletic scholarship are likely to be disappointed. Moreover, the pressure on the kids is likely to backfire. Only a small percentage of kids will ever become proficient enough to induce a college to offer them a full ride. If you or your child is staking a college future on an ivy tower’s sports scholarship offer, what happens if the offer never comes? Just look at the media stories about those kids who never get the rides. All are crushed; many never go to college. And even those colleges that give offers, revoke them sometimes.

I’m not saying that a kid shouldn’t dream of an athletic scholarship. What I am saying is that no player or parent should count on that aid. And under no circumstances should anyone pressure a young player in order to try to jack up the odds of college sport’s financing that player’s education.

The most successful players in every sport have always combined talent with self-motivation. Self-motivation in sports usually follows from joy–having fun creates joy. Parents should want their children to have fun in kids’ lacrosse.

Why I Don’t Find Professional Lacrosse Very Interesting

The MLL, Major League Lacrosse, is professional lacrosse in the U.S. It’s the height of achievement for many lacrosse players. Each year some of the best college players graduate to the MLL. MLL games give lacrosse fans a chance to watch their favorite college stars play for many more years.

Yet I find MLL games uninteresting. For me the lacrosse is too perfect: the passes are unequaled; the dodges flawless; and the shooting exemplary. The defenses struggle to decelerate the offenses. It’s like men’s professional tennis. The games are decided by who fails to make an excellent serve or misfires the occasional return. Women’s professional players volley most of the time. Sometimes those volleys go on long enough for spectators see several shots, forehands and backhands, and to marvel at players’ athletic moves. But in men’s professional tennis, it’s the serve and usually the point is over.

When I watch high school or college lacrosse games I want to see the teams struggle. I like to see match-ups where neither player dominates. I like to watch ground ball work and legitimate body checks. If I’m rooting for a particular team, I want them to win after struggling. Otherwise where’s the excitement?

Some readers will undoubtedly think that I must never have watched an MLL game. It’s not true, although I’ve never watched a game in person. Perhaps if I could show up in the stands it would be more interesting for me. Unfortunately, I’m several hundred miles from the nearest MLL team.

The MLL is at least the third attempt to establish a professional lacrosse league. It appears to be the most successful so far, although I’ve never looked at its books. I wish it well.

If the league expands and my city gets a team, I’ll definitely check it out. Until then I’ll enjoy the local, high-school teams and the teams in the kids’ lacrosse league where I coach.

A Player’s Role in Stick Care and Maintenance

In other posts I’ve discussed selecting a new stick, breaking it in, and determining the best length for a player. All of those tasks are the responsibility of a munchkin’s custodial adult. Nevertheless every player has a role in the care and maintenance of his lacrosse stick.

To place this post in a proper context, you need to remember a few truths about kids’ lacrosse players. They are little boys. They like to roughhouse and whack things including, but not limited to, other players. They often think that if a lacrosse stick is made to hit other lacrosse sticks, there is no reason why they can’t use their sticks to hit goals, other players’ helmeted heads, benches, etc. They have trouble realizing that a lacrosse stick is expensive. They often act without thinking.

It’s a parent’s and a coach’s responsibility to inform players of what they should not do with a stick. And remind them of the correct stick behavior if they falter.

Some of the things that kids should not do with their lacrosse sticks:

Just as the sun rises every day, munchkins will slam their sticks on the ground. Sometimes it’s from boredom, sometimes from frustration, sometimes for no apparent reason. Nevertheless sticks suffer from this regular abuse.

A number of kids will throw their sticks especially when they leave the field if they aren’t stopped. They should never throw their sticks. It’s against rules to throw a stick on the field or on the sideline.

Wearing lacrosse equipment makes many players feel invincible. So they assume that everyone in equipment is invincible. They think they can “sword fight” with their sticks and hit teammates on the head. Such behavior often ends with an injury. It’s rough on the sticks too. At your first practice, tell them not to hit other players or other players’ sticks, unless its part of a drill or during a game. Don’t be surprised if you have to remind players every other week.

Kids have a short attention span. When they get bored in a drill, they may take out their boredom by stomping on their stick head. Stomped enough, stick heads will break.

Rain threatens sticks. Mud puddles gurgle a siren song to the very young player. Some think that lacrosse sticks were intended for mining mud. You need to tell them otherwise.

Informing kids about correct stick treatment and frequent reminders will go a long way in extending the life of their sticks.

Preparing a New Kids’ Lacrosse Stick

When you buy a new lacrosse stick for your player or if he’s getting a hand-me-down, there are several things you should do before putting the stick into play.

The following brief anatomy of a lacrosse stick is from my recent post entitled “Selecting a Kids’ Lacrosse Stick.”

All sticks have a head, a molded piece of plastic that vaguely resembles a Halloween drawing of a human skull, a net tied to the head and called a pocket, and a handle known as the shaft. The point where the shaft connects to the head of a stick is the throat. At the end of the stick opposite the head is a removable rubber cap known as the “butt end cover,” “butt end cap,” or “end cap.”

Start by thoroughly inspecting the stick. Ensure that the screw on the back side of the throat is screwed all the way in. Verify that there are no cracks in the head. Double check that none of the strings are untied. If the butt end cover is loose, use athletic tape to secure it to the stick.

If you have a camera on your phone, you should do a little photography. Place the stick flat on a contrasting surface. You want the stick to stand out against the background in your pictures. Take a picture of the head and throat. You want to catch the details of the head and pocket to show where the strings run and where those strings are knotted or tied off. Turn the stick over. Take another detailed picture of the backside of the head and throat. Turn the stick on its side. While holding the stick with one hand take a picture of each side of the head. If you need both your hands to take the picture, use something to prop the stick up on its side. Email the pictures to yourself or store them somewhere in the cloud. You’ll need them located where they are easy to retrieve.

You may be wondering why would anyone photograph their son’s sports equipment. It’s because the pocket and strings of a lacrosse stick are complicated to those unfamiliar with them. If something comes loose or in trying to make changes you make a mistake, you’ll be able to refer to the pictures and restore the status quo.

Next determine if the pocket is legal. A pocket that is too deep violates the rules. To determine if a pocket is too deep to be legal, put a ball in the deepest part of the pocket. Hold the stick horizontally—level and parallel to the ground—with the bottom edge of the stick head at your eye level. Looking through the pocket from the side, if you can see straight over the top of the ball and under the bottom edge of the head, the pocket is too deep. If it’s a legal pocket, you won’t be able to see over the top of the ball; the top will be obscured by the side of the stick’s head.

While a pocket too deep causes a problem with the rules, one that is too shallow can make passing and catching unnecessarily difficult for your player. On most sticks there is string that ties the end of the pocket to the part of the head next to the throat. This string is loosely woven through the pocket mesh and is threaded through a hole on each side of of the head. Loosening this string loosens the pocket. Tightening the string tightens the pocket.

You may have to adjust the pocket a few times to get it to a depth comfortable for your munchkin. I’d start with it deep, but legal. Sometimes a deep, though legal, pocket causes a player to throw passes into the ground. If your player has this problem, tighten his pocket in small small increments and watch him throw. See if one of the tightening adjustments fixes the problem.

A month or so after you reach the adjustment you want, double check that the pocket is still legal. Pockets tend to stretch from use.

Selecting a Kids’ Lacrosse Stick

Parents frequently ask which stick they should buy for their beginning player.

The first thing I tell them is to avoid the expensive sticks. Fine sticks can cost several hundred dollars, but a stick for a munchkin should cost significantly less, less than 50 dollars in 2015 prices.

The advanced capabilities of the more expensive sticks are wasted on an elementary school player. Just because the shaft is a space age alloy does not mean that your player will shoot any better. Just because the head is based on advanced fractal mathematics won’t make a kid catch or pass any better. It actually might make it harder for him to catch.

At the other extreme, some “lacrosse sticks” are made for very little kids who are not playing lacrosse. They are meant to be used with soft rubber balls, not the hard balls used in lacrosse. These sticks are great for the under six year old set, but are unsuitable for actual lacrosse.

Some readers of this blog may be unfamiliar with the basic parts of a lacrosse stick. All sticks have a head, a molded piece of plastic that vaguely resembles a Halloween drawing of a human skull, a net tied to the head and called a pocket, and a handle known as the shaft. The point where the shaft connects to the head of a stick is the throat. At the end of the stick opposite the head is a removable rubber cap known as the “butt end cover,” “butt end cap,” or “end cap.” There are several other components to a lacrosse stick, but it’s unnecessary to know them until you’re in lacrosse graduate school.

You want to buy a lacrosse stick that is 40 to 42 inches in overall length, often known as an attack stick or short stick. Compare the heads of the sticks you’re considering and go for the stick whose head is widest near the throat. An aluminum shaft is good. Avoid plastic and other non metallic shafts. The pocket should be a nylon mesh. Mesh is “hard” or “soft.” You want soft mesh. Avoid mesh that is made of material that resembles thick monofilament fishing line, polypropylene, or contains strips of leather.

Brand names such as Brine, STX, and Warrior are well established in the lacrosse world, but they’re not the only good brands available. Your son’s league may recommend a particular stick or a particular sporting goods store; that can simplify your search.

If they don’t, if there is a nearby store that specializes in lacrosse, start there. It’s true that its prices may be higher than the sporting goods giants, but the specialty store’s expertise is well worth the price difference. As a second choice there may a general specialty sports store such as one that equips kids’ soccer and baseball teams. Visit them, look for lacrosse equipment and ask for advice. Third choice would be a big box, sporting goods store, but they often do not have the necessary knowledge of lacrosse equipment. So you’ll be on your own.

If lacrosse is popular in your area, you may find a used stick suitable for a new player from a store or a family friend. You can save some money, but will need to carefully check the condition of all parts of the stick. And it should be free or at a big discount from retail.

Some Thoughts on Coaches’ Behavior

My team recently played a game against a visiting team whose coach went out of his way to be pleasant. After the game he even helped me put away the goals. His friendliness and assistance caused me to reflect upon coaches that I dislike playing against and ones that I like. It’s easy to dislike the coaches of teams that roll over your team and to ignore the coaches of the teams your teams surmount. I try hard to suppress such superficial and usually unjustified reactions. Nevertheless there are several things about some coaches that irritate me. Some of my irritation is justified.

Among the the conduct that irritates me is:

Coaches who scream at their players, harshly criticize players’ mistakes, or cheer on improper conduct. I dislike coaches who yell their heads off at minor infractions as though a murder has occurred on the field. It irritates me even more when the coach is incorrect about the supposed infraction. I remember an assistant coach’s screaming about my player’s being in the crease. I politely explained to him that since it was our goal my player was allowed in the crease.

Most kids’ lacrosse is played on an imperfectly marked field, but it doesn’t take much marking to know where midfield is. Teams and their coaches should stay on the sideline on their half of the field. Once in a while I have to remind a coach who is in the middle of my bench to return to his or her half of the field. When I requested that he move, one intense coach said, “How am going to coach my offense?” None of his players had yet graduated from second grade. Maybe he was running a 1-4-1.

Another issue I have is with coaches who don’t send their spectators to the opposite side of the field. Not only is this a bad example to other spectators, but it’s often accompanied with that coach’s spectators wandering into my bench area. I’ve even had these wanderers start messing with my team’s equipment.

As I reflect on this post, I’m disappointed that another coach’s kindness reminded me about coaches’ behaviors that irritate me.

Why You Should Care About Your Player Who Fouls

Do you have a player who commits numerous fouls? I’ve had them over the years. Coaches who have a player like this seem to fall into one of three categories. Some coaches are concerned and explain to the player what he’s doing wrong. Other coaches reinforce the behavior by expressing their approval: “That’s the way to play.” “Get physical, yeah.” “Good job.” The third kind of coach is clueless. This coach doesn’t realize that there was a foul or doesn’t care.

Any coach who encourages fouling is unfit to coach and should be banned from coaching. Few coaches, though, intentionally encourage it. More common is the thoughtless reinforcement of improper play.

A player who frequently fouls is a problem whether his coach knows it or not. To start with he’s breaking the rules. His fouls may remove him from the game and at a minimum cause his team to lose possession. The frequent fouls are a sign of inadequate coaching. Part of a coach’s job is to teach behaviors that minimize a player’s fouling. Frequent fouls by a player mean that the lessons are not setting in.

Players who frequently foul as munchkins may repeat the behavior as they move into older kids’ lacrosse. Few coaches will tolerate a player who causes them to play man down all the time.

When your player fouls in practice or during games explain to them the infraction. If appropriate suggest an alternative such as using a lift-check rather than an overhand stick check. You won’t correct the problem in an instant, but you will correct things if you are patient. Address only the serious fouls. Don’t look for problems. There will be enough to work on without nit-picking.