Please help me be the player I want to be.
October 5, 2010 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I love playing (women's) lacrosse, but I'm having some problems. I need help figuring out what I'm doing wrong and how to correct it. General sports-related questions about skill level, competitiveness, and confidence follow.

I am a 20 year old female college junior at a large university. I play lacrosse on my school's club team. I genuinely love sports (especially lacrosse) and am determined to play, but often I lack confidence or feel humiliated at practice or on the field. I want to continue, but I feel as though I can't unless I improve.

I was never the best player. I learned to play in the fall of my senior year of high school and I had an amazing coach who did an incredible job of encouraging all of the players and putting them on the field in a way that highlighted their strengths. I played center because I am tall and was good at the draws, and I was great at handing off the ball midfield/setting picks. Lacrosse had a huge impact on my life, and by the time I had graduated, my skill level had improved greatly. I was extremely motivated and dedicated.

When I got to college, I was not proactive about joining teams/organizations and I did not play because the university coach had a strict policy about late newcomers. In addition, I had terrible problems with debilitating anxiety and depression and my freshman year in college was awful all around. I was able to continue working out until december, after which point things got really bad and I took a lot of time off.

The next year, I resumed play in my fall semester (sophomore). I didn't particularly enjoy the team dynamic. As expected, I was out of shape. I fumbled a lot, got yelled at by my teammates, didn't have any friends on the team, spent a lot of time on the sidelines in freezing weather, etc etc. In the spring semester, I only attended the conditioning practices in and did not go to games due to academic reasons.

Now I am on the team again and we just had a tournament. We condition twice weekly and practice with sticks once weekly (urban setting). Part of me had a great time at the tournament. Although I am in great shape, my skill level is severely stunted (worse than in HS) but it was good to be out on a field again and I felt like I was making friends with some of my teammates. I thanked my coach for the play time, and she commented that she didn't know how much time she would give me in the future, and this was really disheartening. In addition, I don't feel respected by some of my teammates.

I'm not sure how much of that is relevant but my questions are as follows:
1. I want to be a better player more than anything. What can I do to improve? My coach is not encouraging and I can tell she doesn't think I'm going to make any progress/am not a good investment. Is there anything I can do alone to improve?
2. I think a lot of my problems stem from confidence issues on the field. Although I'm a confident person "irl," my problems with anxiety and depression caused a loss of confidence in some areas, which I am still trying to regain. One of those areas is competitive play. How do I become more competitive? How do I pick up a ball/run down the field with confidence? Advice from any sport is applicable here and appreciated.
3. I worry that it simply might not be possible for me to reach an appropriate level of play. If you have ever made considerable improvements in a sport after a long plateau, I would love to know how you did it. If you don't think it's possible, when do you think I should cut my losses? Please note that this is a club team.

Thank you.
posted by afterdark to Health & Fitness (5 answers total)
Can you practice/drill more on your own? It sounds like your lack of fundamental technical abilities is hindering your chances at improving competitively. I would suggest asking the coach for advice on specific drills to target areas the coach feels your most deficient in that you can do in your own time away from practice. This has the added benefit of signaling the coach that you're truly interested.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:04 PM on October 5, 2010

(I played competitive club sports in college at a large university)

1) Normally you can make great strides by conditioning / sprinting / lifting / working harder than everyone else, but you say you're in great shape already so that's going to be tough. I don't know enough about lacrosse to know if you can do anything on your own, but once weekly skills training is barely enough to tread water, let alone improve. Do you have one or two friends that will work with you on sport-specific skills drills every day?

2) I've been playing high level competitive sports for about 10 years after college, and I still don't have it down all the time. If I had to guess, you're probably worried about making mistakes more than you are focused on success, for all the reasons you mentioned. In my experience that leads to pulling yourself out of the play, or playing tentative. You can't make a mistake if you're not involved.

It's like the movie "The Replacements" with Keanu Reeves. Not that you should normally take advice from a Keanu Reeves movie other than Point Break, but there's a line from the coach - "Winners always want the ball... when the game is on the line." If it were overtime, next goal wins, would you want to be out there? Would you want the ball? Is the answer the same now as it was in high school? I think the direct answer to your question is: you pick up the ball and run down the field with confidence when you know you're the best person to do it at that time, and you know your team knows it too.

3) This is a tough one. You're a junior, so assuming you're not going to grad school there, you probably have two years of eligibility left. Your coach and your team probably think that it's unlikely for you to improve significantly in those two years. They may be right - in my experience it's rare but possible. I think you're the only one who can answer this though. At your high school skill level, could you be a contributor to this team? Would you have been close? If the answer is yes, you can certainly be one now with some work.

Your team probably also thinks (with some good historical reasons) that you're unreliable. If you can change that perception by showing some commitment, and also increase your skill level, your team experience will turn around pretty quickly.

I don't know enough to say when you should cut your losses. If I had to hazard a guess it would be when A) you're confident you won't be able to contribute (and aren't happy in a reduced role), B) if you realize that you're starting to be able to contribute but don't like the team dynamic, team leaders, or coach. Basically when you really want to be somewhere else all the time.

If you do quit though, I'd look into another sport. Especially since you're tall and in great shape. Sports like crew, ultimate, or rugby are generally ALWAYS looking for newcomers. Since people generally pick those up in college rather than high school, you may be able to find a role fairly quickly - at least by senior year. You also won't have any of the baggage associated with your current team and sport. I'm not too familiar with post-college lacrosse, but all the sports I mentioned have a reasonable post-college club community (especially rugby and ultimate, not sure about crew). If you want to play sports after college, (which I highly recommend for many many reasons), you may want to stop thinking about what you're going to do the next two years and start thinking about what you're going to play for the rest of your life.

Best of luck!
posted by true at 6:26 PM on October 5, 2010

Lacrosse starts with ball handling skills. Once a week with sticks just is nowhere near enough. No matter where you are, there's always a wall somewhere you can throw the ball against, and a 5 foot patch of grass to do scooping drills on.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 7:00 PM on October 5, 2010

I was the captain of my fairly competitive women's lacrosse team in college, so I feel pretty qualified to get into brass tacks here...

To become a more competitive player, you need to become a better player - the better you are, the more confidence you will have, the more you will want the ball and work hard to get it. Makes sense, right?

So to improve your skills, you need to get on a wall every day and practice throwing/catching and ground balls. Do sets of:
- right throw, right catch
- left throw, left catch
- right throw, left catch
- left throw, left catch
- ground balls picked up right
- ground balls picked up left

After you cycle through once or twice doing, say, 25 (this # is up to you) of each type, make it a game - you have to catch 10 in a row RT RC before you can move on to LT LC, etc.

Also, see about getting a teammate to throw around with you. This will help solidify the connection you are beginning to feel with your teammates (try to throw with only one person at a time, though - that way you won't feel too anxious and you'll get lots of one-on-one time) and also give you practice, and show your teammates that you are really making an effort to improve. They will respect you for this.

Junior year is not too late to make great improvements in your game. Plenty of my teammates struggled for the first couple years of play until really coming into their own for a brilliant senior year complete with accolades, awards, glory, etc.

Feel free to contact me privately if you have any questions about drills, or anything really. I mean it - I miss lax so much it's been awesome just answering your question and reliving my college days in my head!
posted by coupdefoudre at 7:59 AM on October 6, 2010

I'm a guy and never played lacrosse, so can't comment on the brass tacks above (which sound like good advice to me). I did play fairly high level club Ultimate in college and had many teammates who started out with a relatively low skill level and within a year or two of dedicated skill work were key members of a winning team. The common denominator was always plenty of extracurricular practice, and primarily practice of fundamental skills. So I guess in the end I'm just echoing coupdefoudre.

Good luck! Work hard!
posted by that's candlepin at 10:19 AM on October 6, 2010

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