The Three “T’s” For Today’s Coach……Training, Technology and Teaching

As the Lafayette Field Hockey team entered their state of the art field for practice today I was struck by a coach’s three T’s, training, technology, and teaching. When I was playing football and lacrosse at Lafayette in the “old” days of the 60’s technology consisted of film (sometimes budget wiling} of practice, training camp was more like 3 weeks in some gulag where taking water was a sign of being a “wuss,” and teaching was a coach yelling at you for the next 2 1/2 hours. It all has become far more professional.

Hannah Millen closes in for a shot
Hannah Millen closes in for a shot

We arrived at about 8:30 and within 15 minutes the players began to arrive to begin their second day of pre-season camp. With some gratification it was the freshmen who arrived first. ( no change there I remarked to myself) But as the eventual full 21 player squad arrived I did notice a distinct difference. Players were being wired up. Was this some new NCAA rule to insure that there is no cursing or abuse of players?? After thinking this was another conspiracy to soften our youth, I walked over to Emily Janis, the Lafayette assistant coach who was tending to a computer on the sidelines. Listed on the computer screen was a list of player names with output showing a list of numbers and a number with a percentage sign on it. Emily was more than eager to show me her new toy.

“This is the ultimate in athletic nerd,” volunteered Emily. Each player is wired to record their heart activity, and the coaches can read and record what the player’s heart is doing real time. Emily explained that heart activity has a large correlation with injury. We know at what percentage of the maximum heart rate each player and collectively the team is exerting at any given time. She and the trainer, Jon Edwards explained. Your maximum heart rate according to studies is 220 minus your age, so with this piece of technology we can know in practice and even during a game how long to keep a player in or at what point real training is happening on the field. Jon explained, “Look at Amanda Magadan, her chart spikes as soon as she exerts and comes down equally fast. That is indication of an athlete that is in excellent condition.” Coach Janis says this becomes a tool during games because we will know when a athlete has given as much as she can and might even lead to injury.”

The last of the triad is teaching. Coach Stone’s practices are a model of precision. Before drills begin she explains what is going to happen and what she wants accomplished. At the practice we attended she explained they were practicing shooting with a drill that simulates circle penetration. Then the team assembled with the captains who had words of encouragement ending with a circle cheer of “LC.”

During the session, skills were emphasized, including reverse stick shots, quick flicks, and popping the ball over the defender’s stick. Footwork and speed were closely watched at each station which drilled a specific skill. At 30 seconds left Coach Stone let her team know the drill was ending. Each player was to keep their own tally of goals during the drill which will be repeated in the afternoon practice.

There are of course different levels of skill. Anyone would be impressed with Madagan’s skill set, but others like Millen,  and Turner showed great ball control and Colbourne’s reverse stick shots looked deadly. Earlier in the day I asked Coach Janis on the overall level of fitness. She said about 90 pct came fit and ready to play, those that had not reached their goals are having some remedial training. Well, some things do remain the same after all, but the coaches assured EVERY player would be ready to play when the time came.

Getting Ready for Spain

The activity at the Lafayette field hockey stadium looked more like mid-August, rather than the normal peaceful June setting that might have greeted visitors this afternoon. The Leopard field hockey team was hard at work with a double session meant to sharpen skills and enhance teamwork before leaving for Spain next week. Having finished spring practice a month ago, their skill showed little sign of atrophy as Coach Stone and assistant Coach Civico put the team through a brisk series of drills meant to get the team’s timing sharpened and their fundamentals reinforced.

Ami Turner heads toward the circle
Ami Turner heads toward the circle

The team entered the confines of Rappolt Field about ten minutes before the start of practice and began to warm up. Coach Jennifer Stone with her clipboard in hand, wasted little time, as her practice was structured to conform minute by minute to her written notes. She wasted no time with inactivity. These were all familiar veterans, who knew that every drill had a specified purpose to improve team performance. I was especially pleased, because for me, it was to chance to peek into the 2015 season 70 days early. The air was cool and the sky was cloudy, and that combination made the two hour practice that much more productive. Since there were no classes and studying to get in the way, it gave me an additional chance to interface with the two captains and their coaches. All were excited about the coming trip, and the upcoming season. I spoke first with Coaches Stone and Civico. Coach Stone said,” I see this as great opportunity to play some interesting teams  and see exciting hockey when the US team will be playing in Valencia. At the same time I would hope this becomes a great team bonding opportunity while seeing hockey played in a different cultural setting.” Coach Civico added, ” The additional time will help us become more consistent in our execution.”

Meg Lillis moves the ball upfield during practice
Meg Lillis moves the ball upfield during practice

I later had a 15 minute conversation with the two Lafayette captains, senior Hannah Millen and junior Amanda Magadan. Both these veterans participated in the US high performance program last year with Magadan being selected for the US under 21 team and the opportunity to play in Holland this spring. When asked what they expected to be gained from the trip Millen explained how the additional international experience would benefit the Leopards this season. Magadan focused on the bonding opportunities they were going to have while experiencing and an entirely different culture. After making that point, we focused on the coming season. I asked what the team needed to do better to be successful. Amanda focused on the need to understand their individual role and having the team play as a single efficient unit. Millen added, ” We need to be selfless on the field to reach our team goals.”

Noting that there were at least seven new players arriving this fall, I asked what advice they had for the new Leopards. Magadan advised, ” They should be prepared to work hard, and not be afraid to ask questions.” To emphasize that point, Millen added, ” They will need to be willing to learn….we are one team and we will practice together and play together as one team. We will be there for them to help them adjust to the rigor of college and division one hockey.” The captains explained there is a structure in place where the first year team members are paired with second year team members to make everyone feel welcome. In addition, Millen explained the team is split into “family groups” and during the preseason they will have friendly competitions related to fitness and other contests. As my time with these two leaders ended, we finished with a discussion of what happens during the time between the end of the Spain trip and preseason. They both explained most of the team will be playing in summer leagues, and there will be captain’s practices every Sunday to get the team used to playing with each other.  Both of these excellent student athletes showed their excitement and optimism for the coming season and a dedication to doing the best they can on the field. These are two excellent leaders who are finding their way to improving and making the Lafayette field hockey team into a cohesive unit. My next post will hopefully have news from Barcelona or Valencia with pictures from Spain!! For you parents going to Spain send me some pictures to include in the next blog!!