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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Will Never Be a Great Laxer

I know it and I accept it. That does not keep me from enjoying the game though. But as much as I love lacrosse, I know that it is not and probably will never be my favorite sport (that right is reserved for hockey).
The first time I actually held a lacrosse stick was last Christmas when I got my first two sticks (Gait Icon II & STX AV8). Yeah, I was 30 before I even touched a lax stick. Talk about late to the game...
I tossed the ball up in the air and caught it in my third floor apartment and would make pathetic attempts at cradling as I watched TV (mostly when the wife was gone), but I really had little clue about what I was doing. I found some instructional videos online and tried to emulate what I saw, but with no one helping me out, it was a lost cause. I had heard about wall ball, but an apartment in Des Moines in January does not exactly provide you with a lot of options...
I started this site in the desperate hope that somebody might be interested in giving lacrosse a try. I figured I would get some local guys fed up with the shenanigans at the Metro Ice Sports Facility or tired of softball. Instead a few Valley players and Tyler contacted me about playing. When I set up what would become the first Toss Around, I had no experience playing the game. I had never even thrown or caught the ball before.
Tyler taught me the basics of throwing and catching just as (Valley captain) Cam got there. Before long others showed up and a mini game broke out. Next thing I know I was offered a chance to work with the Valley team. Realizing the opportunity that had presented itself, I accepted.
At the first practice, I found out that many of the players had little or no experience. Not even all three (at that time) team captains were technically sound. A good chunk of the guys had pretty much no lax gear; some did not even have their own sticks. Coach Zach was clearly in need of help just to wrangle all of the guys in and follow their development. Despite my lack of playing experience, I had plenty of watching experience and could recognize technique in others (it's just applying it to myself that I have a problem with).
Whenever circumstances allowed, I tried to participate with the players. I knew then (and still know) that the only way I can improve is by doing it. Sure I backed out of running drills from time to time (I'm fat and get shin splints), but I tried to do at least half of the running every practice. Above all, I did what I could to work with the players and help them grow. Their development is still more important to me than my own.
As the season progressed, they got better and I did not. A running joke at practice (which carried through to SOLL) was that I would always be picked last for scrimmages. Since I suck, I can laugh it off. What became less funny was the practice of not ever passing to me or not really giving me a chance to do anything. But that happens, especially in scrimmages at team practices.
Still, I continued to work on making myself more valuable to the team however I could.
I kept stats at the game, provided motivation to our players, assisted with the defensive play when I could, and kept a calm and focused presence on the sideline. I started and maintained the team website (and later the forums and new CILA site). I made myself available to interested kids and their parents. I organized the summer league and continue to try and spread the game. The one thing I have not done is play wall ball (still no decent wall or time).
It is ok though. I enjoy doing all of that, I really do. Just like I enjoy coaching because it fills the void left by not finding a full time teaching position (yeah I am one of those weird people that actually enjoys working with teenagers). I mean coaching lax is not the same thing as teaching English, but I still feel like I can help them become better citizens. I take pride in knowing that the kids that I spent significant time working with improved significantly over the course of the season.
When I started this whole lacrosse thing (I mean my efforts & blog, not the sport), I just wanted to try something new and have fun. The SOLL was set up that way as well. I figured I would try to make it as relaxed as possible, minimize the hitting, and make people want to come back. Lately I have noticed (and felt) an increase in the physical contact, which is fine if everybody is ok with it. I do not mind being hit but I feel bad when I hit somebody else in a recreational setting. I often pull back the same way I do in the local adult hockey league (where hitting is not allowed) and apologize for bumps that do happen. I realize that I am probably 50 pounds heavier than most of the players so I do little things to prevent hurting them. I can go full bore if that is what people want, but they had better to be ready to accept the consequences...
As to why I suck so bad and do not seem to be improving, I do not know. Perhaps it is because we play a pick up style. Generally speaking, without an organized team I feel less competitive and do not put forth as much effort. At the end of the day I know my performance did not matter. I know that I am always far less competitive during breakfast hockey than I am during league. I mean, I'm no Henrik Zetterberg, but I have never felt bad about my performance at the end of a hockey game.
A couple of years ago I was on a team that managed a single win, yet I did not care because we all played hard. I was in worse physical shape at the start of the season than I am now, but managed to regain my skating and puck handling abilities right away despite at least a six year absence from the ice. I played my ass of for the team because it meant something. By the end of the season I led the team in goals and points.
Herb Brooks was right when he said the "name on the front of the sweater is more important than the one on the back." That is my philosophy as a player and a coach, regardless of the sport. The Valley players should definitely know this about me as I was constantly agitated (the only thing that broke my calm presence) about a single player that seems to forget the team aspect of the sport.
With pickup games, there is no loyalty. Everybody is on their own and nobody makes an investment in the success of the their "team" since it is a temporary thing. Players work individually and throw blame when mistakes are made. In an organized team setting players work together to minimize and recuperate from mistakes. Organized teams makes mediocre players better and make talented players sparkle. LeBron James is the best example of a team player at the professional level. He makes the Cavs' players better while still shining on his own.
Perhaps when the fall league gets going my performance will turn around. My ground rule for running the league is that we have organized teams with permanent rosters. Not only will this benefit players like me that need a team atmosphere to succeed, but it will help ensure that players will actually make it to games (something the SOLL tends to have a problem with). If they are not there, they are letting their team down; it is an extra measure of accountability.
Maybe I suck because I have a hand-eye coordination problem. Sometimes I have problems judging distance and speed with small airborne objects. That is why I was never good at baseball. But I have little problem nabbing a hockey puck out of the air at the blue line on an attempted clear, so I just do not know why I have the lacrosse and baseball issues. I know that I tend to do a little better with an orange ball than I do with a white one, however. Maybe part of it is the wide open space of a lacrosse field causing me problems, but that has never been an issue when I play soccer...
I do not know if the box league will make me a better player. I do not know if coaching/working with the Valley team will make me better. I do know that I started the websites to find like-minded individuals to play lax and have fun. Despite my soreness and the frustration that comes with trying to get people to consistently come out, I have been having fun.
I will continue to work hard on the field and study the game off the field. Although I may not be the most technically sound, I will continue to find a way to improve my knowledge of the game. Even if it does not look like it some times, I know what I'm doing...

Tribe 7