FIRE IT UP! : THE IMPORTANCE OF INTENSITY

This past weekend, our Denver Elite club teams had our first tournament of the fall at the Pumpkin Shootout in Golden, CO. Our players did a great job, but there was one aspect of our games that made me start thinking about the intensity of players in lacrosse. I have worked with youth, high school, college and pro lacrosse players in my years as a coach and one of the defining characteristics that I have noticed in great players is their level of intensity.

If you look back at just the titles of the blogs in the past month that I have written, you would probably think that I was some hippy that does not believe in intensity or competition!
But, that could not be farther from the case. In all of those blogs, one of the underlying messages is to always try to play at your highest level. Intensity is an important aspect of doing just that. There is no way around it…lacrosse is an intense game! The Native Americans played lacrosse to prepare for battle! Other players are trying to take your head off and it is an extremely fast game. There is no way to play this type of sport at a high level without a good amount of intensity.

I have noticed that many high school and some college lacrosse players seem to lose their intensity.
There is this attitude that it is not "cool" to play and practice your hardest at all times. At an age when young men are very aware of how they present themselves to others, intensity seems to be the characteristic that is shed the quickest. However, it is some of these same young men who want to play in college and at higher levels and it is exactly this intensity that will get them to that level. Every practice, every game, every workout…you have to be FIRED up to play and get to work! It's a great way to practice the idea that you cannot make everyone happy and you are not in control about how others feel about you. Do what you love to do and do it with a lot of energy and passion. If anyone has a problem with that, then smile and keep working and playing hard!

The other aspect of this conversation is that some people think that intensity has to be this dark and demanding type of energy. However, it can actually make playing even more fun! This past weekend at our tournament, our U-13 team was playing extremely hard, with a lot of intensity and having a blast doing it! At that age, they have not developed the overwhelming self-consciousness that keeps them from expressing themselves fully. It's sad that a lot of us seem to lose that only a couple of years later.

So, with all that being said, how can we find more intensity in the game of lacrosse and in other things that we choose to participate in?

1. Bring all your energy and focus it on what you are doing for the couple hours that you are playing! This is the fun part about doing something you love. You can stop worrying about the future and stop looking at the past and just be present with what you are doing. Bring a high level of intensity to that focus and you will be zoned in! This is one of my favorite experiences in life and one of the greatest reasons why I loved playing lacrosse.

2. Be a leader! I believe that people lead with intensity. Some people are vocal leaders and will cheer on teammates and be loud in practices in games. Others are quiet leaders and will lead by example and just play hard. As long as you bring that high level of intensity, you are going to be viewed as a leader.

3. Stop worrying about what your friends or teammates will think.
I'll share a little secret with you that I did not realize until well into adulthood, for myself. The second you stop worrying about trying to get people to like and respect you, is the moment that they will start doing so. Be yourself and if something that you love doing is playing lacrosse, then bring your passion to that game and don't restrict it in any way!

4. Have a pre-practice, pre-game, or pre-workout routine. Whether it's listening to loud or classical music, exercising or meditating, sitting quietly or yelling throughout the locker room, find the ways which allow you to bring your highest level of intensity for your play.

5. Realize the difference between fooling around and having fun. Some teams at all levels struggle to find this balance. It's good to go out on the field with a smile and have fun with your friends. But, messing around and joking around the whole time will cause you to lose focus.

6. Find a balance. It's important to realize that intensity is like an upside down U curve when related to performance in a given skill set. If you are way too intense and fired up, then it can actually hinder your performance. If you are just chillin' out there (which is usually the case for players who are unaware of this psychological aspect of sports), then it can hold you back as well. Find your optimal balance of intensity and you may be finding yourself performing at your highest level yet!