Player/Coach Or Coach/Player? How One Hand Feeds The Other
By Marcus Holman | Apr 16, 2020
I am grateful every day for the career “balance” that I have in my life.
One part of me is a professional athlete, working on my individual craft to help Archers LC be the most successful team in the PLL. My life as an athlete is composed of countless hours of shooting, running sprints, working on weaknesses in my game, and honing my skills to be the best player I can possibly be as I enter my eighth professional season.
The other part of me is an assistant coach for The University of Utah, where our second season at the Division I level was cut short and we finished with a 3-3 record. My life as a coach is composed of countless hours watching film, practice planning, critiquing our players, and motivating them to be the best they can be on and off the field.
It’s not really a surprise how I ended up here. “Lacrosse is in my blood”, I will often tell people as my mom (Towson) and dad (Johns Hopkins) played Division I lacrosse as well as both of my siblings, Sydney and Matthew (UNC). Any day I spend on a lacrosse field is a good day, whether it’s as a coach running the substitution box or as a player running through a tough ground ball. The lessons I’ve learned through both have shaped who I am as a person and I’ll share a couple of them with you here.
What I’ve learned by playing that helps me be a better coach:
No One is Immune to Mistakes. (Humility)
The easiest catch and throw exchange that gets dropped. The 1-on-1 with the goalie that sails over the crossbar. The first-time ground ball that gets whiffed. These have happened plenty of times to me, and they’ll probably happen again. Expecting our players at Utah to be perfect lacrosse robots is foolish. They will mess up, everyone does. How we teach them to cope with failure and how they respond will determine what type of player and person they can be. What I’ve learned through my toughest moments far outweighs what I’ve learned through success.
Calm is Contagious. (Stay Poised)
Being a leader takes many different forms. In my eyes, a successful leader is able to show poise in any situation, good or bad. Regulating my emotions as a player has always been a difficult challenge for me and it’s something I’m still working on. When I began coaching, I vowed to never let the situation overtake my body language or what I am trying to communicate with my players.
What I’ve learned through coaching that has made me be a better player:
The Fundamentals Matter. (Execute the Details)
If I’m struggling during a game, I try and remind myself there are hundreds of opportunities for me to make a positive play to help my team. It may be as simple as setting a good pick, clearing through off-ball to create space for a dodger or running back on defense to prevent a transition opportunity. Only one player can score at a time, but it takes nine other players on the field for that to happen. We evaluate our players at Utah on a very similar basis every day in practice: “How are you contributing to the betterment of the team?”
A Game of Patterns. (Be a student of the game)
While lacrosse is more of a free-flowing game than say, football, there are certain patterns that are consistent in almost any lacrosse game. I don’t know for sure, but between playing for 24 years and coaching at the club, high school, and college levels, I think I’m closing in on 10,000 hours of lacrosse “study” in different shapes. This helps you recognize who likes to slide, where goalies are weak, and even the way the ball will bounce on the turf after it has hit the crossbar. Psychologists call this term “chunking”, which is the ability to take individual instances and combine them into groups to improve memory recall. This is why you’ll hear great players say “the game slows down” as you gain experience.
What I’ve learned from both…
Preparation = Confidence
“Don’t work until you get it right, work until you can’t get it wrong.” True confidence comes from within yourself, not from external sources. Sure, a coach can encourage you, but that compliment only lasts so long. Have you run sprints until you’ve vomited? Do you have full knowledge of the scouting report? Are you drenched in sweat when no one is watching? I’m at my peak as both a coach and player when I know the game-plan, watched film, and prepared my body and mind to the best of my ability.
I’m thankful to compete with and against the best players in the world in the PLL, some of whom are also coaches. I’m flanked by two in Will Manny and Adam Ghitelman (Utah), and I know when I suit up against guys like Tucker Durkin (Drexel), John Crawley (Lehigh), Kyle Bernlohr (Bellarmine), and Jake Richard (Marquette) they will be one step ahead of the curve because of their coaching status. I’m sure these guys would argue that one hand feeds the other, and they are better at both professions because of the balancing act.