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Stickwork Finesse – Lost Art?

I remember watching players like Jen Adams, Amy Appelt, the Gait brothers, and recently, the Thompson brothers…and witnessing the beauty of this game that I love. A game with finesse players on the field is mesmerizing to watch.

With all the push to specialize our youth these days, it seems odd that many of these year round athletes seem to lack the stick-work of the multi-sport athletes of our past. What’s changed?

Perhaps it’s that I grew up in the Lacrosse Hub of America, and then have spent the last 10 years in various developing areas, but to me, I see far more technically bad fundamentals (male and female) by seasoned players than I see finesse players, despite growth in the sport, more teams and year round playing. Are fundamentals becoming a side concept, slowly moving away from the lost art of stick work finesse? With the most amazing sticks we’ve ever seen being produced these days, where’s the love for simple stick drills and mastery? When I got my crux 500, I didn’t want to put it down for a week and I don’t even play anymore! 😄

I’ve heard many comments from parents about a clinic or team that was too easy for their child because it was all throwing and catching and scooping, dodging etc and not enough advanced skills for their advanced player.

But I’m rarely surprised that these “advanced” players, when I see them, have a side arm throw, struggle to catch or throw when moving, can only use their dominant hand, cradle the ball where it is exposed to defenders, and pop up ground balls.

But for some reason, there is a general attitude that we must skip past the fundamentals so the kids who have been playing a few years don’t get bored or stop coming to practice. To be honest, I’m not even sure what “advanced” means to these parents asking for it. Is the wish that we stop correcting poor stick work and proceed immediately to the air Gait shot or maybe the Thompson Brother’s famed BtB? Or move right into learning plays? Those athletes have that stick work, from drilling basic fundamentals and doing it more than anyone else. Not from skipping over them, that’s how they became great.

Look at the fabulous Janine Tucker and her well known Program of stick work. Her players are required to learn it, and they drill it at every practice. Are these complaints from players and parents actually saying that our youth players of 3 or 4 years are more advanced, and can skip these skills, than the Hopkins Women’s team?

The ability to get the ball from point A to point B is important, no argument there. Being able to catch a ball that is thrown right to your stick while slowly moving with no defense around is certainly something to master. But that’s where many coaches and players stop teaching and practicing the basics, at the “just enough” mark. But the art of moving the ball with accuracy, deceptively, while sprinting, with defenders at chase and your stick in your off hand, now THAT is lacrosse and it takes years of dedicated drilling fundamentals to get there.

How does your team make fundamentals FUN to keep it fresh at every practice? How much time do you spend in stick work at each practice? Do you correct bad habits in younger players or let them go if you feel the ball is getting where it needs to go?

Kate Leavell

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