Theory of Coaching + Apology

Last night the Penguins fired their head coach most likely in the wake of blowing a 2-0 lead losing 6-2. HC Mike Therrien was playing with borrowed time. Since the end of November the team has skidded. After every loss, he said the same thing in his pressers. “It’s a game of passion, it’s a game of emotion, they players have to be willing to pay the price.” 

Coach, I understand it can be hard to motivate someone who is making millions of guaranteed dollars to play a game. Just as I can understand how it can be hard for a club lacrosse coach to motive his players. Consider that a professional athlete is getting paid whether the team wins or losses. I can’t imagine how easy it would be to coast a sprint knowing you would be getting paid seven figures. Now consider the attitude of a club lacrosse player. We pay to play. In some respects thats a huge motivational ploy. One player could think, if we don’t make the playoffs I wasted $1500 and 18 hours a week. Thats a player who might be working really hard to improve his play and be a good teammate. I want to be his linemate.

On the other hand, there can be a dangerous sense of self entitlement among club players because of the very nature of pay to play. I am essentially an owner of the team. I pay my dues and the team president, another student, another teammate, makes decisions on how to the money should be spent. If I don’t pay my dues, the team can’t buy things, can’t pay for services etc. If I do pay my dues, the team can pay for new gear, can pay for a trainer to be at the games, can pay for travel costs etc. Here’s where the sense of self entitlement swells. As owner I pay for the coaching staff’s salary. So with that in mind, any club player can tank it the moment he disagrees or doesn’t want to listen to his coach. I’m not going to listen to you because what you say is wrong and I can’t believe I pay for you to be here.

The relationship between player and coach can be very fragile. A good coach has his finger on the pulse of the team. He knows how to push the proper buttons to the results needed to benefit the team. Not every player responds to being yelled at. Not every player responds to be treated like a young pup. It’s the coach’s responsibility to find that our and produce said results. He after all is the leader of the team, the ship’s captain on the voyage through championship waters. 

Having coached two years of high school lacrosse at one of the better programs in Pittsburgh I can wholeheartedly relate to any person that’s ever made the decision to lead a group of boys guys bros, especially a team of arrogant lacrosse players, a stereotype we all desperately try to fulfill at some point or another. There are times when I want to scream at our coaching staff but in the moment of fury and deciding what expletive to unleash I recall what my fellow coaches and I went through all last year. 

Regrettably, it’s eerily similar to what Mike Therrien experienced this season. We had a team of very talented young men that at some point turned off the lights on the coaching staff and like HCMT said, “It’s a game of passion, it’s a game of emotion, the players have to be willing to pay the price.” 

To which I finally come close to reaching my point, it takes a special person to be a good teammate. Whether you are the superstar like Max Talbot or a role player like Max Talbot everyone on the team must be willing to sacrifice their personal interests for the greater good. Perhaps it takes a greater person to lead a diverse group of individuals to the promised land. But whether you are youth coach, high school coach, or an NHL coach, you are hired to accomplish that very feat.

And if you fail to lead your team to the promised land or as I like to call it the Great Valley (Land Before Time), there are consequences. You could be fired. Parents you never though possible of poor behavior will complain that their son isn’t getting playing team. Which is fine, that part doesn’t hurt. This could. Your players will hate you for not playing them enough. Your players will hate you because they didn’t get enough attention in the recruiting process. Your players will hate you because they believed they listened to you and “shit” still didn’t work out.

That’s the gift and the curse coaches have. There are so many life lessons to learn through competitive team sports and coaches are the vehicle by which players experience those lessons. As coach you can have a positive or negative impact on a person’s life but either way you are having a far bigger impact on a human being’s life than a tax specialist, a mailman, a butcher, probably even a doctor since healthcare is so impersonal these days, on and on. But what people have to understand is the sheer number of teams competing means somebody has to lose. Only one team is good enough no matter how hard you work or how talented or how many right moves you make, there’s a chance you will lose.

Well when you are paid millions of dollars to coach and to win, that concept isn’t good enough for the front office and its not good enough for the fans. But, is it good enough for the MCLA? Is it good enough for high school sports? There are 104 teams in the MCLA Divison 1. One hundred and three teams won’t be national champions. That’s at least 2,000 kids that will essentially be losers. A good coach can put his team in a position to win. A good coach can teach his players life lessons, about how to be a better person through the crucible that is a regular season and beyond. A good coach has the trust of his players.

Did Mike Therrien do those things? I don’t know. Was he able to get the “kids” to buy in? I don’t know but when there are rumours (I like British culture) that Sidney Crosby and others don’t like playing for you, you know you’re in trouble.

Was I able to do those things as a coach last spring? I don’t know. Was I able to convince my players that despite being a “college kid” I knew more about the game and that they needed to listen? Did I prepare them enough? Did they learn something about themselves? I don’t know. Maybe those are answers they can share down the road. But in this what have you done for my lately culture, if my high school lacrosse team was a professional sports team, I probably would have been fired after we got destroyed in the first round of the playoffs. 

Almost full circle, or maybe it’s a triangle since I’m talking the NHL, MCLA and high school laxxx

Do I think I failed our kids as a high school coach? Yes, I do. I’m sorry we as a coaching staff didn’t work harder to communicate with our players to reach a common ground of mutual respect rather than the hostile nature that infected our locker room throughout the course of the season. It can only be done together and we were as divided as we could get. There were points throughout the season when I’m sure the players and I know the coaches just didn’t want to come to practice. After practice I would march to the bar for dinner and drink angry to distract myself. I ended up breaking up with my girlfriend of three years because I thought lacrosse was more important and I couldn’t be bothered with her being alone in a new city. Everyone was miserable on and off the field and we as a staff let it happen. And for that experience I am truly sorry to the players and the parents.

There’s nothing worse than not being able to enjoy the game you love. It’s the top reason I left NCAA lacrosse because suddenly I wasn’t having fun.

For me as a coach to stand up after a game we lost and say, “It’s a game of passion, it’s a game of emotion, they players have to be willing to pay the price,” is absolutely wrong. And I think thats where Mike Therrien failed and we as a coaching staff failed last season and where any coach of any sport can fail. Yes, the coaches draw the plays up and  yes its the players responsibility to have the heart and desire necessary to execute those plays.  But at the end of the day, the coach defines the identity of a team and the players respond to that. 

If an MCLA coach is going to let his players call him by his first name, he’s going to be treated like a teammate, friend, or just some guy. If a high school coach, makes snide remarks in the face of or behind the backs of his players, he better believe the same is going to be said about him. If a professional hockey coach, challenges the dedication of paid athletes over the course of two months at some point he better look in the mirror and quote Seinfeld, “it’s not you, it’s me.”

I feel fortunate to be able to play competitively again after coaching. I’ve seen both sides from many angles. 

If you there isn’t a level of respect between coaches and players, all is lost. A coach must earn that from his players. I can’t write an instruction guide on how to do it I’m too young. Unfortunately I have a good idea on what not to do and I regret learning that knowledge because I know I had a largely negative impact on high school seniors who will never play lacrosse again. And again for that I am truly sorry.

For now, all I can do is move forward as a good teammate, as a good player who is willing to respect his coach to help the team win. In time I will be coaching again and have the opportunity to put theory into practice.

Mike Therrien is gone. God help the new interim head coach, Dan Blysma. 

 

If you allowed 6 goals in less than 2 periods, yeah that's about right

If you allowed 6 goals in less than 2 periods, yeah that's about right

 

 

 

I need a whole lot less of this

I need a whole lot less of this

 

And a whole lot more of this

And a whole lot more of this

What if the Salisbury Seagulls lacrosse team was so good they could play other sports good too?

 

"We expect to score every time from 11 yards and in" Coach Berkman

"We expect to score every time from 11 yards and in" Coach Berkman

I’m one more national championship win away from believing that one Salisbury player would make a bigger impact on an MCLA team than a D1 player. All these kids do is accomplish the work necessary to protect their tradition, their winning history. From the stars to the bench, they understand its a team sport. 

People like to root against Salisbury. Why cheer against greatness? The underdog be damned. They have been excellent if not perfect for years not just some flash in the pan peaking at the right moment in lacrosse history. My only regret is that they will never play Gettsyburg in an NFL stadium for the championship game.

If an MCLA team asked the question, “Hey I love 412lax, I want Peter F. Tumbas’ respect. How can we earn that?”

Scrimmage Salisbury.

Not Air Force,  who finished ranked 50th out of 57 teams according to last year’s Laxpower rankings.

Not Ohio Wesleyan who hasn’t won a meaningful game since I don’t know 1999. Not Kenyon, or Wittenberg or Wooster, who haven’t practiced in on full field yet.

Not Whittier who seemingly has a new coach every year.

But Salisbury.

And when you scrimmage them and they beat you by 20 plus goals and possibly shut you out, thus embarrassing you and everyone on your family tree, don’t be discouraged.

Consider the experience an opportunity to get better. Consider the fact that wow, that guy is 5’11 165 pounds and he scored 5 goals on 7 shots. How did he do that? There will be no surprises. Hard work on the wall. Hard work in the gym. Hard work in the practice field. Individually determined players improving everyday. 

That’s what will take the MCLA to the next level. It’s not about marketing or advertising. It’s about the talent on the field. The cream will come to the surface, but we need kids in the league willing to work when no one is watching. Working on off hand shooting, dead lifting at 6am when you’re roommate is still up drunk, bugging the other team’s coach for game film.

How far this league goes has nothing to do with collegelax.us, the Lax Mag, the official MCLA website, the new president. 

They are figureheads. They are the Queen of England.

This is a player’s league. Someone take control. Someone put in the work to help grow our league.

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