Road Trip Dad – Resolution – How I’ll become a better coach by March 4
Dan Witmer |January 1, 2019
March 4 – that’s the day varsity lacrosse practices begin.

Lofty goal? Perhaps.

Doable? I think so… read on!

In the teaching profession, it was usually called professional development. You go to a conference, maybe take a series of classes. You might work on something alone, or with a bunch of colleagues. Maybe you could actually earn graduate-level credits, but more often than not, you were more likely to receive a mere certificate documenting your work.

In coaching circles, we have clinics. In addition to the national convention(s), back in the good old days, we looked forward to the annual Upstate Coaches’ Clinic, a staple at the SkyTop on SU’s campus for years, and then it moved to Hobart College’s Bristol Gymnasium. Randy Garrett (Fairport HS) and Paul Wehrum (Herkimer CC and Union College) seemed to be the primary organizers, and coaches from high schools and colleges came from Albany to Buffalo to listen to presentations about man-up and man-down, rides and clears, 10-second plays, and goaltending drills. Vendors set up display tables, refreshments were served, and everyone had the chance to take notes, ask questions, and network with the best coaches New York State had to offer – Hall of Famers like Dave Urick, Richie Moran, Roy Simmons, Jr, Scott Nelson, Lelan Rogers, Joe Alberici, Jeff Tambroni, Mike Messere, Tom Hall, John Johnson, Harry Queener, and so many others.

Of course, the “little guys” got their chances to speak, too. Randy and Paul were always looking for speakers who wanted to present the following year. Sometime in the late’90s or so, I was asked to speak at the clinic at Hobart; I spoke about various man-down options and strategies, and it was an honor and a thrill to be out on the floor doing the talking.

Unfortunately, as good things often do, that clinic faded into the past. I’m not sure exactly when the last clinic was, but there were changes in leadership at Hobart, Coach Garrett retired, and Coach Wehrum moved further east to Union…

But here’s the good news – coaching clinics appear to be making a comeback.

In fact, in the next few months, there are more options available than perhaps ever before, and I plan to attend more than one or two. Consider the following…

This Saturday (January 5), Cornell University head coach Pete Milliman and his staff are hosting a coaches’ clinic from 10 AM – 12:30 PM. The day’s agenda includes discussion of coaching philosophies for practice, game prep, in-game and post-game; video breakdown session; handouts of topics covered; and Q&A. Cost is $20 per person, or $50 for an entire staff. Registration is still open; if you’re planning to attend, you’re asked to RSVP to kjr65@cornell.edu. Last-minute walk-ups are welcome.

The week after that, US Lacrosse is hosting its 2019 national convention, aka “LaxCon.” This is arguably the biggest and maybe the best clinic offered all year, and this year’s festivities are in Philadelphia the weekend of January 11-13. I’ve gone through the lineup of presentations and I’m looking forward to three days of non-stop lacrosse, sitting in on the following topics: “What to do with Goalies,” “Favorite Goalie Drills,” “Box Concepts for Field Lacrosse,” “Individual and Team Defensive Tactics,” “How a First-Year Coach Won a State Championship,” “Wheelchair Lacrosse,” “Paul Rabil’s Favorite Shooting Drills,” “Proper Sliding Technique,” “Understaffed Coaching,” “Teaching the Art of Lacrosse Movement,” “Extra-Man Offense,” “The LADM Cheat Sheet,” “The Buy-In: A Coaching Philosophy,” “The Hybrid Offense – One Offense for All Defenses,” “Goaltending – 100% Physical, 100% Mental,” “In Search of Everyday Excellence,” “Culture, Practices, and Games,” “Man-Down Defense,” “How Yale Designs Drills,” and “Defensive Techniques and Positioning to Dominate Opponents.” Believe it or not, there are more options; these are just the boys’ sessions that caught my eye.

Registration for LaxCon has been open since mid-fall, and if you’ve waited until now to register, it’s going to cost you ($125, I believe). The trick is to register early; I’ll try to remind you next October or so about LaxCon 2020.

For more information, go to https://www.uslacrosse.org/tags/laxcon

On Sunday, January 27, Fairport HS head coach Mike Torrelli is hosting the Upstate Coaches’ Clinic for boys’ coaches, perhaps trying to resurrect the clinic I was describing earlier. He’s got a star-studded line-up of presenters:

Dave Dobbins, head coach at St. John Fisher - Zone Offense
Jake Coon, head coach at RIT - Riding and Clearing
Nick Fiorentino, head coach at SUNY Geneseo - Zone Defense
Drew Simoneau, Nazareth A-A/Dallas Rattlers (MLL) Face-Offs

Registration starts at 8:30 AM and the clinic concludes at 12 noon. The registration fee is $30 and decreases with additional coaches ($50 for 2, $70 for 3, and $100 for 4 or more); fee includes T-shirts and breakfast if registered by January 18. Here is the link:

http://blaxfive.net/features/downloads/2018_12_18_coaching_clinic.pdf

In February – and remember; you heard it here first – the newly-formed Upstate Lacrosse Foundation will host a coaches’ clinic at LeMoyne College. Details will be forthcoming, but save the date on your calendar - Sunday, February 24. I believe this will be for both girls’ and boys’ coaches…

Finally, on Sunday, March 10, US Lacrosse and the Greater Rochester Chapter of US Lacrosse will host a CDP Level One Clinic at the Total Sports Experience (TSE) in Rochester, from 9 AM until 12 PM. There are currently three levels of CDP coaching certification, and I don’t know if they will ever really catch on in lacrosse, but from time to time I’ve thought about signing up and jumping through the hoops, just for the experience more than anything else. This date works for me and, as of now, I’m planning on attending. In order to register, you must be a member of US Lacrosse; registration fee is $50. Here’s the link for registration:

https://usl.ebiz.uapps.net/PersonifyEbusiness/Default.aspx?TabID=170&ProductId=94125061

As I’ve said time after time, I’ve been going to coaches’ clinics for a long, long time, probably since 1981 or so. I drove down to Long Island for a Nassau County clinic once, and watched as Jack Emmer spat on an overhead projector in an attempt to wipe it clean… I listened to Jack Kaley’s and Carl Runk’s jokes at national conventions in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Baltimore... I picked up a gimmick zone offense from then-Rutgers coach Tom Hayes at a convention in Philadelphia back around 1990... I’ll always remember Tony Seaman showing me the newest wrinkles in his zone defense at another coaches’ convention... We broke our team into “tribes” after hearing Air Force’s Bill Wilson describe the success they’d had doing that… I’d never heard of author and former Cornell player Jon Gordon until a recent coaches’ clinic – and now I own copies of The Energy Bus, The Hard Hat, and You Win in the Locker Room First, among others…

I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from a clinic feeling cheated. Not once. I’ve never returned home saying, “That was a complete waste of time.” In fact, the popular mantra heard at most clinics is something like, “If I can walk away with one little nugget, one new drill, or one new concept, then it was worth my time.”

Look, we didn’t make Sectionals last year. I’m going to be a better coach this spring, and that process starts this weekend at Cornell.

See you there – or at another clinic – sometime soon!

And remember; please drive carefully! Happy New Year!

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of two books. The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland. ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and soon to be on the shelves at the river's end bookstore.