There are lots of ways to become a better lacrosse player. The core of the fundamental game starts at the wall or the rebounder with hour after hour of work. Ask any player from Rabil to Rubeor and they’ll tell you that wall ball is the mortar in a solid skills foundation. But being an exceptional athlete isn’t just about having a killer shot.
At the heart of lacrosse is the idea that the game is as much about building the person as it is about building the athlete. As explained by the Iroquois, “Lacrosse was a gift to us from the Creator, to be played for his enjoyment and as a medicine game for healing the people. The Haudenosaunee people know that all creatures, no matter how big or small, are significant and have a contribution to make to the overall cycle of life.”
So how do you get to “the wall” of the personal growth that helps you become an elite athlete and a good person? In talking with and observing the men of Team USA and Major League Lacrosse, I’ve found that there are at least nine habits they have built that make them not only exceptional players, but also exceptional people. The first of those is communicating effectively.
Jesse Schwartzman doesn’t have any problem communicating. If you’re on the field and you’re not getting his message from the crease, you may need to have your hearing and vision checked. But Jesse knows that communicating in a way that reaches people is about a lot more than just being loud. “We say something at least three times and use the guy’s name. I’m not yelling at a guy, I’m talking to him.”
The volume is necessary to carry through the environment, but Jesse says it’s as much about knowing how each of your teammates is going to process a message as it is knowing where the ball is going to be. Speak to the player individually and you’re helping him contribute to the team. Fail to get the message across and you’re playing into the hands of the opposition.
Paul Rabil can tell you that what you don’t say is as important as what you do. Born with a hearing limitation that caused near-total deafness in one ear, Paul has trouble picking up individual voices in loud environments. The condition has led him to focus on reading other players’ body language and their movements on the field. The “sixth sense” he is often credited with is in large part a studied understanding of nonverbal communication.
Just as important as what you say is how you say it. There is a great deal of focus on positive communication not only from the players of Team USA, but also from its coaches. In my first encounter with Team USA at the Champion Challenge event back in January, not one negative word came from assistant coach Dave Pietramala’s mouth as he coached the white team to victory. Not one. While we all know that positivity produces results, there’s a more direct correlation between positivity and victory than you might think.
Ned Crotty encourages young players to help teammates focus on bouncing back from mistakes.
“Negativity isn’t going to help you and it isn’t going to help the team, so don’t worry about it. Come right back. If you think about your mistakes, you’re only going to make more. Having somebody reassure you who is on your team, on your side, it’s key. Everybody’s going to make mistakes. Positive reassurance is only going to help that player and your team.”
The benefits to being an effective communicator don’t stop at the sidelines. The men of Team USA hold down some impressive careers in tandem to their professional lacrosse careers. They credit their success in part to understanding their own communication styles and how best to interact with people they encounter professionally.
Defenseman Brian Karalunas notes that, “Our formal education system centers on individual evaluation. While this has a number of benefits, it doesn't necessarily prepare people for group collaboration, the preferred working method of the professional world. Team athletics help address this gap. One of the most valuable things I have learned playing lacrosse is that while it's important to voice your opinion, it's just as important to listen. Being on the same page as your teammates or colleagues leads to success more than any actual system or plan.”
Likewise, defenseman Joe Fletcher says he’s learned more about how to craft an impenetrable defensive strategy by watching and listening than by talking. The practice of observation has become a hallmark in both his athletic and academic careers.
Many successful players note that building speaking and writing skills in addition to learning about the effects of what they say have added depth to even their roles as professional athletes as they represent organizations, brands, and of course, their nation.
Your education, your eventual career, and your athletic journey can only benefit from being a great communicator. Keep things positive, learn the value of listening and observing, and focus on understanding people so that you can speak to them rather than at them. If you do these things, you’ll be playing the wall ball of personal growth through effective communication.
Morgan Crutchfield is a travel journalist who is quickly becoming a lacrosse fanatic. She tweets @CentralMorgan and blogs about lacrosse from a parent and fan perspective at DeliberatelyMorgan.Wordpress.com.