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  • Writer's pictureHR Wingman

Tales from the Turf

Everything I need to know .... I learned on the lacrosse field.

As a transplant from New Jersey, the start of spring always meant the start of another lacrosse season. I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to coach youth lacrosse in my new hometown of Traverse City, MI. Nothing makes me happier than teaching the game I love knowing that at the same time I am helping develop young men to become better teammates and future leaders. This is a particularly good thing for me as my body has been not so subtly reminding me that I may be getting a little too old to play, despite what my heart may be saying.

My thoughts expressed below are not based upon a particular program or team, but an amalgamation of the many different experiences I have had through the years. I have worked with student-athletes at privileged college preparatory schools as well as players from inner-city programs, where the biggest challenge was sometimes just getting the boys to the practice field. Despite the economic disparity, the players are strikingly similar. The names may be different, but the personalities are not – and regardless of socio-economic status, there are always those special few that stand out. Tomorrow's leaders.

During my first year with a new program, as we warmed up on the cold hard surface of the school's parking lot since everything else was covered in snow, I realized the similarities between the teams and athletes that I have been involved with coaching through the years. It is in these adverse practice conditions that you get your first glimpse of who are going to emerge as your leaders. Who is excited to be out playing in the cold on the asphalt and who is complaining about the weather and lack of a field? Who is picking up and encouraging those not faring so well at this early stage and who is criticizing? You can also tell who has been working hard in the off-season to get better and improve their game – most of the time without prompting and no one watching. As the season progresses, history dictates that it is inevitable that the upbeat, supportive ones will quickly surpass the others and earn the respect of the team emerging as the leaders. It is a kind of "Darwinian" evolution of those who will ultimately be successful not only on the playing field, but in life.

This evolution transfers into the business world as well. While perhaps cliché, I have no doubt that by participating in sports, our youth learn and hone the skills that will also allow them to thrive in the workplace. Those who possess and develop the attributes that made them leaders on the turf (or on the court, or on the mat or in the pool...) now have these characteristics as part of their "personality DNA" that will set them apart from the others. Teamwork, dedication, respect, ability to follow direction yet be creative, satisfaction gained from team success and not simply individual accolades are all traits that will serve our young athletes well in the next stage of life's journey.

In addition to the overall benefits gleaned from participation in athletics, each sport and each practice or game has its unique opportunities to teach specific lessons. As coaches, we must recognize when those chances appear and share our acquired "wisdom" with our players, even if they do not yet realize what they have learned. Trust me, eventually they will have that "ah-hah" moment. It may be years down the road and they may not correlate it to freshman lacrosse practice four years ago, but they will have it – and they will be better people for it.

I am asking that you indulge me and allow me to share some of my favorite scenarios, or perhaps new ones that I experience this year, while coaching on the lacrosse field. I'll keep them brief, but hopefully you will find them poignant as well as relevant.

I want to start with one of my favorites. I did not come up with this one but heard it from a fellow coach. While I certainly knew and appreciated the concept as a player on the field, at the time I was not necessarily cognizant of its transcendence into everyday life. But once I heard my fellow coach utter it to a bunch of 6th graders, I had my "Ah-hah" moment.

Lacrosse is a game of movement, getting free to take shots, to throw and receive passes or to cover an offensive player – one must constantly be in motion. The team that is usually wins. During this particular practice session our guys were particularly lethargic, preferring to be spectators rather than participants. Without continuous motion, the play that we were working on was doomed for failure.

Then I heard it bellowed out:

Gentleman, lacrosse is just like life, you just can't stand around waiting for something to happen. You have to make it happen. Now move!

Simple? Yes.

Obvious? Should be, but unfortunately isn't.

Trite? Definitely not.

I look forward to sharing more of these "leadership lessons through lacrosse" throughout the season and would love to hear about your experiences and insights, regardless of sport.

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