Why Small Sided Play will make you a Legendary Player!
Become a Legendary Player by Playing Small Sided
I used to spend endless days on the Chicago blacktop playing 3-on-3 half court basketball with my friends. That pickup magic has mostly disappeared in the modern world which is why I’m always happy to see my daughter and her friends play in Coach Holly’s Small Sided House League. During the first fall session it was fun to see even the first-time lacrosse players getting a chance to touch the ball, take shots in game situations and then celebrate a goal. In the last week of fall, it was downright spooky to see a full five minutes of play where the ball never touched the ground as the girls strung together pass after completed pass. I couldn’t believe how much the new players had improved. It was a pleasure to see the pride on their faces when they finally walked off the field.
To keep a girl interested in a sport is pretty easy. She simply needs to enjoy it. There are two parts to that. The first is social. She needs to make friends on the team. The second, and often ignored part, is the sport itself. She needs to play and she needs to get better as a player. Do all those things and you’ll have a lacrosse player and fan for life.
Small sided games really focus on the sport part of that equation. Sitting on the bench for half a game is no fun and makes it impossible to improve. Let’s look at 3-on-3 basketball vs. playing on a formal team as an example. The chart below shows how much more you actually “play” with shots as a proxy for playing time.
Playing can also be divided into two metrics: touches and high-quality touches. A Touch is easily defined as any time you touch the ball. A High-Quality Touch is any time you have to make a hard decision under pressure. Obviously taking a shot is high-quality while catching and making a pass under no pressure might just be a touch. There are also touches and high-quality touches on the defensive side. An example may be covering a player who eventually shoots the ball.
The more a girl touches the ball and the higher quality those touches, the more she’ll enjoy the sport, and the faster she’ll improve as a player, thus keeping her interest.
The problem of playing time and touches is worse in highly technical games like lacrosse and soccer than in basketball. There are a whole lot more players, the field is a whole lot bigger and it’s technically a much harder game to even get regular touches. In basketball, almost everyone learns to catch and throw quickly. In lacrosse it may be three or four games before a girl cleanly catches and throws a ball for the first time.
In a small sided lacrosse game, every girl may get 30 or 40 high-quality touches. If you’re a parent or coach, it may be an interesting exercise to follow just one player and see how many high-quality touches she has in a full field game. An active player on a high school team may get 20 high-quality touches while a middle school player who isn’t in the flow may get less than five touches. In both cases, it’s hard to improve. When a player isn’t getting many touches at all, it won’t be long before she quits the sport and moves on to something where she can be involved. We can only hope that something is a true activity and not playing Candy Crush on her phone.
Another aspect of small sided that is not often talked about is how much easier it is to teach within that format. The smaller field and fewer players removes some of the needless complexity that distracts from the real lesson. Just as you would take your daughter to the most deserted neighborhood rather than Los Angeles or Manhattan to learn to drive, it makes more sense to teach concepts small sided rather than in a full sided game. Small sided accentuates the learning aspect by giving quick and simple technical instruction at the time it’s most needed. In full sided games, most coaches cannot provide feedback until the next practice which is days away. It would be as if you had to wait three days to tell your daughter that she forgot to put the turn signal on before making a left turn. In small sided, Coach Holly and her assistants will from time to time make an immediate correction during a dead ball. It might be how to throw for a beginner to why the defensive slide was late to a more advanced player.
Finally, small sided helps our girls break out of their current roles. Because there’s no risk of losing the game, no risk of losing playing time, the girls have the chance to try something new. A girl who may not have confidence in her shot can shoot the ball without fear knowing that she and her team will get a hundred chances to shoot during the game. A player can try something just for fun that will advance her game, like the fancy new move she’s been practicing in front of the mirror or the Kylie Ohlmiller BTB that showed up on the ESPN highlight reel. An advanced player can try to improve her game, like playing with her opposite hand for 20 minutes. If it’s frustrating to see your daughter (or yourself) get pigeonholed as a player in formal lacrosse, then Small Sided House League is for you!
The world has begun to take notice with pro leagues playing small sided exhibitions to show off the skill level of their players (lots more behind-the-back and trick shots in small sided) and the Olympic Committee considering adding small sided aspects to lacrosse as a demonstration sport. Not only is a lot of touches more fun for the players, but it’s a heckuva lot more fun for the fans, too. Who wants to see a bunch of unpressured passes in the midfield when you can see sharply contested play in front of the goal. Watching my daughter stand on one end while the ball is akin to watching paint dry, but to watch her with the ball or covering the ball during every second of the game is awesome.
Come on out and play with us!
Lacrosse dad, enthusiast, player, and writer!
Hyonmyong (Hoch) Cho grew up in inner city Chicago playing pickup basketball, back alley football and stickball. He learned lacrosse at the Groton School where he started for four years as a leftie defenseman for Coach Tom Degray. He was also a three-year varsity player on the football team as a running back and outside linebacker for Coach Jake Congleton. They were both legendary coaches and leaders who won championships despite being at small schools by teaching ART. Hoch attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where he was a Morehead Scholar. He most recently coached both boys and girls youth lacrosse teams at The Waterford School in Utah.
Touches Unpressured catch or pass, Calling out the slide but not
unpressured ground ball needing to slide
Shot, pass for an assist, pass or Cover 1on1, slide, interception
catch under pressure, dodge, ground ball fight even if not won
HQ ground ball fight even if not won,
good cut even if no pass is thrown