January 8, 2013

January LM Her Space Editorial: Jamie's Dilemma

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

How should a youth player handle playing a position that he or she doesn't like? How should a coach handle that player? LM's Clare Lochary turned to experts for advice.
© Peyton Williams

We recently received an email from a teenage girl — let’s call her Jamie — who had an extreme version of a common problem. She’s a lacrosse player who does not like her assignment.

“I was happy to try it out and learn more about the position, but after playing a tournament and the fall-ball season as a goalie, I ended up not liking it,” she wrote.

Goalie versus field presents a stark contrast. I would tell a kid to get over it if she was just an attacker who was told to feed instead of shoot.

But it’s tough to learn to love the cage. Jamie, an eighth-grader, loves attack. She was torn when her team needed a goalkeeper.

“The feeling you get when you score a goal, ditch your defender, make an assist, or just plain out have the ball, I miss it,” she wrote. “I never get that feeling in goal.”

Jamie’s age further complicated our response. Middle school is a tricky time in just about every possible way, isn’t it?

A youth coach should not ask her to play a position she hates, since it might put her off lacrosse altogether. Plus, having multiple kids play goal is reasonable at that level, since it’s good for younger players to try all positions. The scale tips toward the happiness of the individual player over the success of the team.

And if Jamie were in high school, she might just have to play where her coach put her — no “I” in team and all.

Without any answers, I took Jamie’s dilemma to experienced coaches and our coaching education staff here at US Lacrosse. There’s no silver bullet, but I got great tips on how to handle the problem of a player who is unhappy with her role.

For the player: Talk to your coach. (Jamie’s email had an ideal tone for this conversation: polite with no trace of whining.) Ask how you can improve to qualify for your preferred position. Then practice those things. Consider your options carefully. Would you be happier as a goalie in the starting lineup or as an attacker on the bench? The answer won’t be the same for everyone.

Whatever your coach decides, respect the decision. She may see talents in you that you don’t realize are there. Find things you like about your job. It’s rare for someone to be good at something they totally hate. If worst comes to worst, you can use the experience as opposition research. For example, playing goalie teaches an attacker which shots are easy to stop.

For the coach: Listen to your player. Be honest about what the team needs and where she can contribute the most. Give her concrete goals she must achieve to play her desired position.

Consider playing Solomon and splitting the baby in two: Let her practice at both positions and keep an open mind. Find a way to mesh the player’s goals with the team’s goals. The answer won’t be the same for everyone.

Bonus coaching tip: To fill tough spots, make them sound cool. A common mistake is to frame a challenging position in a negative way. (“OK, we need someone to do this. Who is willing to try?”) Drop some Tom Sawyer painting-the-fence reverse psychology on them, and you will be trampled by a horde of volunteers. (“Who’s going to be my superstar and step up for this important role?”)

Manhattan assistant Catherine Conway was on the reverse side of Jamie’s dilemma when she played at Boston College. She was a lifelong goalie whose team needed field support. Her rock-solid positioning and quick first step made her a natural for the draw unit. So she played a little of both. It started one day in practice during a transition ride from the opposite 30.

“We didn’t need two goalies, but we didn’t have enough people to run it full strength. So I made an executive decision, took off my goalie gear and jumped in,” Conway said.

The toughest parts of the switch, she said, were getting used to wearing a kilt on game day and figuring out how to orient her ponytail in relation to her goggle straps. After that, it was just lacrosse. And just fun.

Online-only advice from the pros

TJ Buchanan, US Lacrosse Coaches’ Education:
My suggestion as a former high school coach and current NCAA coach is that she needs to have a sit-down with her coach and talk through it. Sometimes coaches ask kids to do things that are best for the team, without talking to the kid and figuring out what is best for her too. It sounds like she doesn’t really want to be in the goal and if that’s the case then she’ll never own the position which would/could ultimately ruin her experience as a player.

Lisa Christensen, US Lacrosse CEP Trainer:
No matter what position you play, in any situation like this I would recommend asking for a meeting with the coach. She may also want a parent there not to speak for her, but for moral support. 

In this meeting, she should explain much of what she said in her email to her coach. It would be my hope that they find common ground about how she feels.

It may be that her coach wants her to continue in goal this year. Whether it be full- or part-time, if that happens, she should ask her coach to work with her on the position. Jamie's knowledge as an attacker gives her perspective not all goaltenders have. She also talks about having a strong clear, but she is not confident about anything else. (By the way, I love goalies that can clear the ball well!) 

When and if she plays attack again, she should understand that her knowledge of playing goalie is a huge advantage for her when it comes to type of shots and placement.

"No matter what position you play, in any situation like this I would recommend asking for a meeting with the coach," US Lacrosse CEP trainer Lisa Christensen said of a player who is unhappy with his or her position.
© Peyton Williams

Catherine Conway, Manhattan College assistant coach, former Boston College goalie and midfielder
I coach little kids club lax. There’s plenty of kids that we deal who want to be one getting the glory as the attacker, but quite frankly, they are good goalies. The way we approach it with little kids in club is we say, “You can play one game in net and then you’re done for the tournament, and you can play attack.” We rotate through our group of kids. It always starts off the same way: “I don’t want to be the goalie, wahhh!” I would try to amp them up about being in net. You do get glory in the net! If anything, you’re the coolest person on the field. I made saves and people cared about what I did.

Playing goalie, it’s not poison. It’s not going it kill you. I can’t be like, “Ohh, we need a goalie. Who’s going to volunteer?” It’s more like, “Who’s going to be my super star?”

When I started, I had just moved to the East Coast from Seattle. I had done boys lacrosse in Seattle all summer, and then when I got to junior high, they said, “Ooh you’re a little too aggressive for field, so we’re going to put you in the net.” I ended up being good, which was convenient. I had the good fortune to have a middle school coach who knew what she was talking about. She was just like, “You are going own this team. You are going to be the bomb. You’re going to rock it. You go out there and take control.”

In Jamie's case, in eighth grade, I’m willing to bet there are very few girls on that team who are willing to boss around the rest of the team. Take control. Take control of it and own it. No one’s going to tell you you’re wrong.

I never played field in high school ever, and got to college as a goalie. And once you’re in college, and you’re a goalie, you’re a college goalie. As a goalie, you’re kind of like “Why aren’t they sliding? Why aren’t they listening? WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY?” You have the advantage of being back behind the restraining line and seeing the plays develop. You get put in midfield and all the sudden you’re like, “Oh my Lord, I understand.” Because the game is so fast, the play is reactionary. It made me think what I was saying, and how I saw saying it, and how I was conveying what I wanted to happen to my field players. I cut it down, made it more direct and really barked it.

My job was to protect Brittany Wilton when she took the draw. I was like FOGO. I’d go in until we had possession and stay until we lost possession. And so what I took from goalie to the field was honestly, my ready position on the circle. Because when goalies are in ready position, you don’t get knocked over. You’re in your ready position and you can stay in a ready position for hours. On the circle, I’d set up in my ready position and step in to box out. So it’s just like, “Oh I know how to do this! Quick first step forward – I can do that!”

Acacia Walker came [to Boston College] as the associate head coach my junior year. Right away, we revamped everything we were doing on the draw. There was a senior goalie ahead of me, and we also had a lot of injuries without field players. Acacia and I discussed this, and she said, “You’re not playing in practice. You’re just sitting there, but you’re incredibly athletic.” So I was going to draw practice and shagging balls, trying to help. On day we were doing a transition ride from the opposite 30 so we didn’t need two goalies, but we didn’t have enough people to run it full strength. I made an executive decision, took off my goalie gear and jumped in. And then we kind of just went from there.

First game, I was like, “Oh my God, I’m wearing a skirt!” I don’t wear skirts much anyway and I’m wearing one in a game. I started against Virginia and I didn’t have a skirt to go with my uniform kit and had to borrow one. It was so weird. I’m used to XXL shorts and sweatpants, and now I’m wearing a skirt with built in spandex. I didn’t know where my pony was supposed to go in relation to the goggles’ straps. It was really creating a new identity.

Wendy Kridel, head coach Bryn Mawr (Md.) School, two-time FIL U19 World Champion coach
This is tough because she isn't a little kid anymore. When they are younger I don't feel bad asking them to spilt halves to fill the cage but she is getting ready to play high school and aside from not liking it...I think she is afraid to play. And it's unfair for her to feel guilted into playing the position because they need her too. On the flip side she might not be a very good attacker and maybe playing in the cage is her best bet for getting out on the field.

My advice would be for her to sit down and talk with her coach to find a way to best mesh her goals with the team’s goals.

Megan Riley Clark, assistant coach, Team USA U19 team (2011)
Those are two very different positions. At age 14 it is hard to make a player play in goal. If you don't love it then, you probably never will. But if your coach thinks you are great in goal, then you have to trust the coach and know that they see something great in you. You also have to do what's best for your team, but at the same time you need to enjoy it! I would suggest sharing your thoughts with your coach and let them know how much you love playing attack! I think you could split time between the two positions if that is something you can handle. If you absolutely hate being in goal then you need to do what makes you happy. You are the one who needs to love what you are doing!

Also, you have great scholarship opportunities playing lacrosse in general! I wouldn't say it's position-specific. Being a goalie could be a huge benefit in the recruiting process or not. If a school you love isn't recruiting a goalie, then you have no chance of going there.

Elia Stanfield, head coach, Hockaday (Texas) School
They’re going to play better when they want to play. But if she’s awesome at it, I think I would maybe show her a video, a highlight reel. And say, “Look at what you’re capable of! I know it might not be your favorite spot to play in, but you’re amazing and our team would benefit. At the end of the day, this is where I see you getting the most minutes.”

Patty Wick, former head coach at Episcopal School of Dallas
I’m very traditional and old school in the sense of, yes, in order to do well, you have to have a dedicated goalie. But at that age, I personally would have a couple of people share and be willing to rotate. I’m really for getting people on board. You’re a dictator as a coach, but you have to have buy-in. I don’t think it’s fair for a kid’s development to force them to play goalie.

Check out Clare Lochary's monthly "Her Space" column in Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

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