Road Trip Dad - Braveheart
Dan Witmer | July 1, 2013
Its origins are unknown, but its mere mention elicits nothing but smiles, raised eyebrows, and excitement. You won’t hear the word during the spring, at the scholastic, college, or even pro levels, but once summer hits, and tournaments and camps begin, nothing gets everyone’s attention like this one, two-syllable word.

“Braveheart.”

For the uninitiated, this is the term that describes a strange and wild way to break a tie at the end of a lacrosse game. Rules might vary some, but generally speaking, each team puts a goalie in the net and sends out one player to battle – one on one – a single player sent out by the other team. Play begins with a face-off, and the first team to score wins the game. Games seldom last long.

Playing traditional sudden death overtime isn’t always effective. Sometimes a goal just won’t happen, and in tournaments and camps, time is limited and other teams want to begin their game. Coaches might be accused of stacking their line-up in OT, and players’ egos get hurt.

Hey, soccer has its penalty kicks, and hockey has its shootouts. I’ve heard of leagues where they take players off the ice or field to increase the likelihood of a quick goal (honestly, as an NHL fan, I like the 4v4 overtime hockey over the 5v5 format they use once the playoffs begin). Football puts the ball on the 20 or 25 yard line.

Braveheart might seem like it would exclude even more kids, and hurt more kids’ pride, but quite honestly, most kids would rather watch their teammate line up for that face-off than do it themselves. Instead of feeling left out in a four-minute sudden-death period, the fourth or fifth attackman can now cheer his teammate on from the sideline while he stands next to his team’s #1 attackman.

That is, unless that stud attackman is picked to face-off. Alas, there’s still plenty of strategy in picking that kid who is going to win or lose the game for your team…

Some coaches go with their star FO middie, if they’re lucky enough to have one. But winning the ball doesn’t guarantee much more than a mere possession. Many good face-off kids are less than lethal on offense.

Some coaches go with their best middie, hoping they can get lucky and scrum for the 50/50 ground ball, and then win the ensuing 1v1 battle for a quality scoring chance. Size and speed might be taken into consideration, as well as 1v1 offensive and/or shooting skills. Occasionally, a good athletic attackman is selected.

Other coaches might look down their sideline and decide that their best chances lie with a stud defenseman. “So what if we don’t win the face-off; we’ll get the ball back and score on transition.” It’s really not that unusual to see a close defenseman or LSM chosen by his coach.

Bottom line: “It’s not the Xs and Os; it’s the Johnnys and Joes” (the first person I heard say that was Lelan Rogers when he was coaching at SUNY Cortland, but I’m guessing that one’s been around longer than that). Coaches are most likely to pick the athlete that’s going to dominate, win a ground ball, win a 1v1 battle, and finish his scoring chance – regardless of what position he usually plays.

Picking the Braveheart player is only part of the drama, however. Next are the ground rules, usually discussed and agreed upon by the coaches and then communicated with the field officials (you can be certain that the referees do not go over summer camp Braveheart rules in their officials’ meetings each month). “Goalies must stay on their half of the field,” or “Goalies can go over if the other player stays back”? “No substitutions!” “No timeouts!” ‘No counts!”

The rule that is often unspoken, but commonly understood, is that there will be no fouls called once the whistle blows. What good would come of a slashing penalty? It’s called Braveheart for a reason – and maybe that helps explain its origin. Braveheart is not for the feint of heart.

All of this thought and strategy takes place in a matter of seconds. Then the refs will blow their whistle and call the combatants to the face-off dot. At this point, you’ve got two sidelines –maybe 30-40 kids – cheering for their four teammates, but at camps and tournaments, you usually get a lot more than that suddenly turning to watch. The next two teams assigned to that field are there and instantly take sides and scream their support. Players and coaches from adjacent fields – and there are always adjacent fields in this setting – also turn to watch. Word spreads – “There’s a Braveheart on Field Two!” or “Joey’s doing a Braveheart; I want to stay and watch!” Before you know it, you’ve got hundreds of kids, parents, coaches, even uninvolved referees, lining the field to watch the brief but usually very entertaining struggle that is about to ensue.

Sometimes it’s all over in mere seconds. Player A wins the face-off, dodges his man, shoots, and scores. But more often than not, in my experiences, Braveheart will go at least two possessions, which only heightens the drama.

Player A’s shot misses the goal and the goalie gets possession by being closer to the end line when the ball went out. Now it’s a pretty easy clear for Player B. But how should Player A defend? Does he ride from goal line to goal line, or does he concede the clear, and drop down to the top of his defensive box? Any indecisiveness will spell doom and defeat.

That’s the scenario if the shot misses the net or if the goalie makes a save – but what if there’s a turnover during the one-on-one? Does a big ground ball give Player A a second chance, or is Player B going to pick it up and sprint 60-70 yards for his own scoring chance?

And then, what if Player B’s shot goes out of bounds? How much gas does he have left in the tank to get back and defend a second time? Or third?

I’ve seen some pretty crazy Bravehearts in my days – the ones that go back and forth, the ones where an unlikely coach’s pick ends up winning the day for his team, the big saves made by goalies, the shots chased out by the shooter, and other game-changing highlights.

The one Braveheart that sticks in my mind more than any other happened during my many years working at the Top 205 Camp – we were down at the University of Maryland in early July, and it was hot, and we were playing on turf, so you can add 10-15 degrees to the actual temperature. The ball went back and forth several times, and the players were soon exhausted. The coaches had agreed to no subs, and we stubbornly watched as our kids wilted before our eyes out on the field. Eventually, one of the two players, who had the ball at the time, stopped abruptly, took a knee, lifted his facemask, and vomited. Showing rare compassion and understanding, we agreed to allow subs at that point, and because the vomiter had possession at the time play was halted, the ball was awarded to his replacement (after all, fair is fair).

When the goal does eventually come, you can count on the winning sideline going nuts, and the losing sideline jogging out to support their goalie. The celebration is dramatic, but short-lived. Everyone understands that it wasn’t “real lacrosse;” it was just Braveheart.

I’ll be at the Saratoga Springs Lacrosse Shootout this weekend, and I’ll be at the Nike Upstate Rising tournament at Henninger High School the weekend after that. I’m pretty sure I saw in the Saratoga rules and regs that regular, traditional, old-fashioned overtime rules will be used to decide a winner there, and, though I haven’t seen the rules for the Upstate Rising games, I’d be surprised if Bravehearts will be used there. That’s OK; I can see the logic behind using it, and also in not using it.

Parents, when your kid comes home from cap this summer talking about an exciting Braveheart win, or a controversial Braveheart loss, at least now you’ll know what he’s talking about. Campers, I encourage you to try to talk your camp or tournament coaches into resolving ties via Braveheart – you just might be able to talk them into it. And coaches, if you want to try something different, give the Braveheart format a try sometime over the course of the summer.

Have a great week, and drive safely.

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu