Lacrosse Editorial…The Transition of the Transition Game

One of the things that excited me when watching lacrosse as a child was never knowing who, or how, a goal was going to be scored.  Was the star offensive players going to dive and score?  Was the one with the howitzer for a shot going to blast one top cheese (into the top corner of the net)?  Maybe a defensive player with speed would play the transition game and outrun his opponents, beating the goalie with a surprise shot?  The game was already exciting, just by the sheer speed, skill, and toughness of the players, but that added unknown made this my passion to watch and to play.

The question in todays game is with everything being calculated, matchups being done in percentages, have we lost some of the human element of the game?

When kids are growing up, they often imagine being the hero:

– Hitting the World Series winning home run
– Scoring the game seven Stanley Cup winning goal.
– Draining the three point shot to win the NBA championship in the last seconds.
– Scoring the overtime goal in game seven to win the Mann Cup in lacrosse. 

Not many (if any) grew up wanting to be the defender on those plays (well, maybe goalies, but they are a different breed all together, haha).

Back in earlier times, a player played both ends of the ball, knowing how to defend, but also knowing how to score.  In this day of statistics, matchups, and computer profiles, we tend to pigeon hole a youngster from a very young age, teaching him or her only the parts of the game we think they might be good at.

The question that comes to mind is: by doing this, we spend time developing some absolutely great players in a one dimensional way, but do we lose potentially good, if not great players by not letting them develop in other roles as well?  Do potential late bloomers get disillusioned, or discouraged, never knowing what they could actually achieve?

The professional game has been called by some of it’s predecessors (now Hall of Famers), as becoming too predictable.  Defense recovers ball, runs over time line, stops, waits for offense to come on the floor, offense sets up the opportunity.  Very seldom do you see “transition” players carry the ball and take the opportunity themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, there are teams, and players that do and have used transition to their advantage.  Mark Steenhuis of Buffalo, Joey Cupido of Colorado, Scott Dominey, and Damon Edwards of Toronto, Mike Messanger of Saskatchewan, Kyle Matisz of Georgia, now Philadelphia, to name a few, but by in large, this wasn’t happening often enough.

Why use transition as a weapon?

– You always want to keep your opponent guessing as to what you will be doing next. 

– An effective transition game will keep them on their toes, and often on their heels. 

– Many “Too Many Men” penalties have been taken by teams jumping off the bench early trying to defend the transition game.

– Opposing goalies don’t have the opportunity to get set, and can be beaten while trying to get in position.

Derek Keenan, former head coach, and current General Manager of the Saskatchewan Rush of the National Lacrosse League (NLL) incorporated this into his game plan.  The Rush won three championships in four years with great offense, great defense, but also a very potent transition game. 

NLL teams have seen this blue print, and have been steadily adding more transition into their game plans more recently.

Will this trickle down to the grass roots of coaching?  Will youngsters be given the opportunity to learn all facets of the game?

With expansion in both field and box lacrosse, more well rounded players will be needed, and the more they can offer, the better chance they will have to make it, and eventually help their teams. 

I sincerely hope the game goes back to spending time teaching all the nuances of the game.  Who knows how many more young dreams could come true?

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