As coaches, we recognize the need for our players to be physically fit. As such, part of our role is to provide opportunities for our athletes to improve their physical bodies by incorporating exercises that involve strength, agility, cardio, endurance, stamina, coordination, power, and speed. Hopefully, with the overall intent of making our athletes healthier, help their bodies handle the rigor of playing lacrosse, and do our part to prevent injuries. We know that conditioning is necessary, but is it also fun for your athletes?
When thinking of the Core Value of Athlete Development, Fun and Player-Centered, we look at the overall experience of the athlete. We seek to focus on the needs of the players, understanding what fun is for them, and gearing our coaching towards that. Think about this: how “fun” was conditioning when you were an athlete running endless sprints or miles, or doing pushups until you couldn’t feel your arms? Probably not much fun in that. Your players likely feel the same and like you, buckle down to get through it. It’s not to say that we can never have our players run or do pushups—it’s more so that we need to be more intentional about the exercises we do (provide context), what goals we’re trying to accomplish with those exercises, and challenge ourselves to find ways to make conditioning fun. Ultimately, our purpose for conditioning should be to make sure that our players are healthy human beings and are physically ready to play lacrosse. Below are SIX ways to make conditioning fun for players:
- Tag games. The nature of tag (think regular tag Pinnie Tag in the Mobile Coach App, or Sharks and Minnows) is that it is an invasion game. Lacrosse is an invasion sport. Tag involves endurance given its constant movement in addition to changing speed and direction. If your goal is to work on those elements of fitness, tag games can be a fun, more engaging alternative to players just running constant laps or sprints around the field.
- Personal best. Have your players set their own fitness goals because it creates more buy in and more stake in the exercise. Additionally, it becomes a more relaxed atmosphere because players are competing against themselves.
- Avoid using exercise as punishment. Things like running sprints every time a ball is dropped or a pass is missed are ineffective. The players may get the conditioning in, but it’s not enjoyable and starts to build negative associations with common elements of the game that can happen at all levels.
- Select games/drills that replicate game situations—and put players in small groups to do them. Whether you’re doing Pass, Cut, Replace (in the Mobile Coach App) for warm up or working on 3v2, small groups allow for more touches on the ball and less rest time/standing and waiting. Doing this boosts engagement, increases focus, and gives players the opportunity to get creative (hint: opportunities for creativity tend to be more fun for players). Lastly, smaller groups usually mean spending less time on certain segments and allow more time for other aspects of practice.
- Mini-competitions. Whether it’s a relay, push up contest, mini-scrimmage, or something else—where there is competition, players tend to have fun. More smiles and laughter come out, and less complaining tends to happen.
- Ask the players. Asking the players what they like to do and what their needs are can be tremendously helpful. By doing this, you have their buy-in and are more likely to enjoy the next activity at hand. Along with that, you’re giving players the tools to start listening to their bodies and acknowledging what their physical needs are.
There are probably many ways you can make conditioning and physical fitness meet the needs of your players and make sure they have fun along the way. What other creative ways can you make conditioning fun for you players?