Failure: Diving Deeper Than Just Lacrosse X’s and O’s
As a high school coach, I often ask myself the same basic question after every loss, “Why did we fail?” Your choice of words may be a bit different, and probably more colorful, but we are all searching for the answer to this age-old question. Our Varsity Lacrosse team is currently 6-10 with 5 games left in the regular season. As I look back on our season, I see a 6-10 team that should be 13-3, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time analyzing what went wrong and how to improve upon future outcomes. In doing so, I’ve identified five factors that have contributed directly or indirectly to our failures, and these go beyond your typical lack of execution responses. It’s easy to look at the scorebook after a game to quickly determine why you lost (e.g., poor shot selection, lost the ground ball battle, too many penalties, unsuccessful clears…), but those stats are usually only symptoms of broader issues we face as players and coaches. And while this post is about dissecting failure, it’s important to highlight that we have had our share of success throughout the season, even in the games we’ve lost, but I believe it’s always valuable to objectively analyze your shortfalls.
5 Reasons We Have Failed and Why We Should Care
This is not rocket science, but I believe it goes deeper than just not being ready for the game itself. Coaches from every generation will say, “You play like you practice.” If you are only going through the motions during practice, it’s highly likely that you will do the same on game day, and poor results will follow. As a player (and a coach), you need to ask yourself, “Have I done everything possible to set the conditions for success?” And I mean everything. Did you watch and analyze game film? Did you ask questions about the new offensive/defensive sets that your team is implementing during the game? Did you check your stick and all of your equipment? Did you make sure you fully understand your position and any other position you might find yourself in during the game? Did you remember your uniform? Did you eat, hydrate and get rest the night before the game? These questions may seem endless and overwhelming, but if you approach each season and each practice in a systematic way, it’s highly likely your team will be prepared for any situation. Being prepared is a process that is made up of numerous tasks. If you want to be successful, be methodical in your preparation for every practice and every game. One final thought on this topic. Preparation doesn’t take place only during the season. Preparation starts the first time you decide to play the sport and lasts until the day you hang up your stick.
“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.” – Confucius
This might be one of the most frustrating factors a coach will face, because it has the ability to infect an entire team like a bad case of the flu. It may only take one or two players exhibiting a lack of interest, and the next thing you know other players have picked up on that vibe and you are now dealing with a general lack of enthusiasm across the team right before a game. Needless to say, apathy can get even worse when you find yourself behind in a game. What is the antivenom for apathy? Create a culture of passion and positivity. Easier said than done, right? As a coach, you would hope that every player actually wants to be there…and loves the sport they are playing, but as we all know, that’s not always the case. You might be able to give a great motivational speech before a game, but that’s only a short-term fix, and frankly, that only happens in Hollywood movies. Changing the culture of a program takes time and it’s not easy. In the end, things may get worse before they get better, but creating a program of passionate players is the only way to ensure long-term success.
“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela
We all need to look in the mirror more…and not at our hair. Coaches and players alike. It’s easy to trick yourself into believing you are better than you actually are. I speak from experience. I used to think I had it all figured out when I was playing lacrosse at Army. In reality, I was just a kid with average athletic capabilities that had a somewhat decent career. I fell short of ever achieving my true potential…partly because at the time I believed I was already exceeding it. It took me years to realize how much better I could have been. If only I listened more; if only I worked harder; if I just accepted the fact that I didn’t know everything…I would have been a better player, a better teammate, and more of an asset to my program. I would’ve never admitted that 20+ years ago, but it’s amazing how easy it is to see your own flaws after decades of life experiences. I wish my 43-year-old self could have a conversation with my 19-year-old self. The conversation would go something like this, “Be humble. Listen more than you talk. Never stop learning. You haven’t even come close to reaching your limits.”
“Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid, one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.” Gen. Douglas MacArthur
4. Poor Decision-Making
I tell my guys all the time that they will make hundreds of decisions during the course of a game, so it goes without saying that some will be good, and some will be bad. As a coach, you hope your players will make more good decisions than bad, but hope is not a strategy. Having said that, I believe there are three underlying factors that contribute to poor decision-making that both coaches and players can focus on. The first is awareness. Often times, I find my players making decisions without being aware of their current situation (e.g., Middies passing to a covered Attackman on a fast break instead of taking the wide-open shot). We sometimes refer to this awareness as Lax IQ. Lax IQ is developed over time and through lots of reps, drills, and game experience. The higher the Lax IQ, the higher the probability that my players will read and react to their situation appropriately. The second factor is self-control. When you are making hundreds of split second decisions during a game, self-control is of the utmost importance, but sadly, this is not something teenage boys excel at. But it doesn’t mean that achieving self-control is insurmountable. I try to teach my players to be patient and take that extra half second before they react purely on impulse. There is a great quote by Viktor Frankl to reinforce this, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” The third factor is individual leadership, and that applies to every player on the field…not just your Captains or Seniors. Once every player understands they are a leader they will understand they have the ability to positively impact the outcome of a game. When your players can exhibit leadership, awareness and self-control, it’s highly likely that the vast majority of the decisions made throughout the game will be good ones.
“Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level.” – Peter Drucker
Sometimes you can do everything right; you can play the “perfect” game and still lose. How could this possibly be? Maybe you just aren’t good enough, or maybe it wasn’t meant to be. And while this can be troubling and hard to process, it’s a reality we must all face. There isn’t a remote control for life. We cannot control every outcome. Sometimes you just have to deal with adversity even when it seems like you have done everything right. See, I started writing this blog post because I was trying to process our recent losses, but as I continued to write, I realized lacrosse was once again becoming a metaphor for life. Just replace lacrosse with another life situation. How did I fail that test after I studied for so long? How could I not get the promotion when I worked so hard and I was the most qualified? How could my friend get diagnosed with cancer when he/she was so healthy? The list goes on and on. In sports and in life, you will experience failure and adversity. There are many factors that we can all work on to improve ourselves as players and coaches, but in the end, we have to resign ourselves to the fact that we cannot control everything.
“No difficulty can discourage, no obstacle dismay, no trouble dishearten the man who has acquired the art of being alive. Difficulties are but dares of fate, obstacles but hurdles to try his skill, troubles but bitter tonics to give him strength; and he rises higher and looms greater after each encounter with adversity.” – Ella Wheeler Wilcox
So, as we get ready to round the final corner on this season, I’m more fired up than ever about the potential that this team has, and their ability to play at a higher level. I will continue to harp on the fundamentals and X’s and O’s, but more importantly, I will continue to focus on character traits and strengths that will ultimately have a much bigger impact on my players far beyond just the outcomes of our lacrosse games. Planting seeds!
– Coach Brostek