College coaches weigh in on what they see in great players

For The Baltimore Sun
Some of the traits coaches look for in great players will surprise you; some of them won't.

With high school lacrosse ramping up across the country, it's an ideal time to write about the traits outstanding lacrosse players share. Excellence comes down to preparation, effort and attitude. College coaches have seen these qualities and many more in successful young players.

Elite players come in all shapes and sizes and are in great physical condition, able to run hard for 60-plus minutes. The importance of proper hydration, diet and sleep is emphasized. They take care of their equipment and treat their stick like a baby. Spending countless hours at the wall is a pathway to excellence. At a competitive university, time management skills are a prerequisite. They dream big and go to work, loving the grind.

"So many are goal setters who are compelled to achieve success," Michigan coach John Paul said. "Whether it's their own individual goals or team goals, they are driven to follow the process that will get them there."

Great players look forward to the next practice, instead of the next game, and adhere to a proven routine. They practice with a purpose, and the goal is to reach perfection. Confidence is earned.

"Marcus Holman was always the first one to the practice field and the last one to leave, taking hundreds of shots a day, and that kind of work ethic separates the great from the good," North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said.

The best will take 100 shots for every one they do in a game. They love to compete in drills and view practice among friends as the national championship.

"In recruiting, it's easy to measure size, speed and strength," Loyola Maryland coach Charley Toomey said. "When we recruit, it's important that we get a feel for a young man's work ethic, character and discipline."

Coaches try to identify self-starters who don't require external motivation.

"Young people need to be self-sufficient and intrinsically motivated to thrive at all levels of college and college lacrosse," Colgate coach Mike Murphy said.

When the whistle blows, they check fiercely, run hard every shift and never coast. They pass the ball to the open man, throwing accurate passes on a frozen rope.

"Chemistry with others is up there at the top," Hofstra coach Seth Tierney said. "This is a team sport, and chemistry is everything."

Accomplished players have keen instincts, knowing when to push it or tap the brakes. They move without the ball and sacrifice their body to get to a contested ground ball.

"The most successful players have a pure hatred for losing," Fairfield coach Andy Copelan said. "It's like they hate to lose more than they enjoy winning. That intangible is the one I'm most drawn to when recruiting."

Talking constantly to teammates, they have their head on a swivel and sit down in their defensive stance. Focusing on the details of technique and understanding the defensive concepts are paramount. They execute under pressure.

Great players watch extra film with a coach and ask questions. They accept, understand and relish their role, however limited it might be. They roll with the punches that life on the road brings. Successful players have a short memory and never let one mistake derail them.

"Mental toughness is a key ingredient," UMBC coach Don Zimmerman said. "They remain focused on the next play, not the last play. Forget about the scoreboard; attack one play at a time, and add them up at the end."

They don't make excuses, instead finding solutions.

"Great players are a calming influence and a momentum changer," Marquette coach Joe Amplo said. "When needed most, they show up and take control. They're calm, confident and poised to make the play in the most challenging situation".

They celebrate the little victories, which lead to team wins, and play with a smile.

"Having players with skill helps," said Chesapeake Bayhawks coach Dave Cottle, who also coached the Greyhounds and Maryland over 27 years in college. "But having players who show great effort, competitive toughness and character gives you a chance for something special."

Nothing can impact their attitude — not the score, not wins or losses. The great ones love the game and their teammates. They possess the courage to challenge an underachieving teammate but also pat a freshman on the back after a rough day. They see beyond themselves.

"Success is distilled down to two characteristics: a passion to compete and the compassion to be a great teammate," Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni said. "Competitive edge and a heartfelt compassion to embrace your role as a teammate are the difference makers of a successful program."

Great players trust and listen to their coaches, executing the game plan. They are playmakers within the scheme and don't do anything in a game they haven't done in practice. They pick the right spots to deviate off path, trusting their intuition. They are aggressive, on a mission.

"The will of those special players can lift a team," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "There is a certain fearlessness; they are not afraid to win, nor lose. They don't get distracted by the consequences of their actions; they just act."

They rise up over adversity and celebrate with their teammates, not alone. Outstanding players treat officials and fans with respect and thank their family for support.

Do you have what it takes?

Quint Kessenich covers college sports for ESPN and writes weekly for The Baltimore Sun during lacrosse season.

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