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What Are College Coaches REALLY Looking For??

By The New Yorker, 10/22/12, 3:19PM CDT


The truth about what coaches want......

THE SPORTING SCENE is about college lacrosse tryouts. In early summer, high-school rising seniors from all over the United States play lacrosse for three days on the vast campus of the University of Maryland, at College Park. The two playing fields designated for lacrosse are parallel and generously fenced-parents are not permitted inside the fence. In the narrow strip that separates the fields college lacrosse coaches sit on folding chairs under large golf umbrellas, watching the games. They carry clipboards, rosters on the clipboards, and typically they are writing cryptic notes on the player’s performance. When the camp began, in 1985, it was called Top 205, because two hundred and five high-school players is the number it hoped to attract. It has two overlapping sessions now that draw some eight hundred and eighty high-school players, who are all here on their coaches recommendations. By N.C.A.A. rule, there can be no “tryout camp,” so 205 sends recommendation forms to every high-school lacrosse coach in the country, and the camp may accept, on a first-come-first-served basis, anyone who applies. The players want to come because they know who is going to be watching. Since the nineteen-eighties, the number of summer lacrosse camps has gone from under forty to more than four hundred. Tuition at the 205 camp is five hundred and ninety-five dollars. 

The players want to come because they know who will be watching.  Princeton’s  Head Coach, Bill Tierney describes the camp as “one-stop shopping for coaches.” The cryptograms they write to themselves on their roster sheets seem to look upon grammar as a delay of game.


thick, goes hard, good skills, does too much


big, athletic, rough skills

weak skills, hides

slow, good position, afraid to engage

no skills, runs away

slow, over-aggressive, dumb


selfish, solid skills

flashy stick, quick burst

good skills, too cool?

looks better than he is

looks awkward, gets job done

looks ugly, gets job done

solid athlete, very vanilla

bad athlete

avg. athlete lost on the field

not horrible


On the first morning, the camp runs one on one drills, then half-field scrimmages, then full-field scrimmages, while the camp’s own coaches (mainly college assistants) watch.  The camp’s coaches then pick their teams in a nine-round draft- twenty teams, twenty two players per team- and these are the units that compete before the visiting buyers.  

A kid picks up a ground ball with one hand, saunters toward the crease, and throws a pass away.  Fifty coaches write “lazy”, or something less flattering.  

They very much have in mind the "lacrosse I.Q."On a scale from zero to a genius pro like the New York Titans Ryan Boyle, where does a kid register?


great hands, smart

stone hands, dumb

good skills, tough, smart


not aware

has a clue

LH moves well, has a clue


slow, overaggressive dumb

Sometimes at other lacrosse camps, high-school parents will be seated in the grandstands in the presence of college coaches, and maybe looking over the shoulders of coaches at their notes .  Tierney hopes they think “NTB” means “not too bad”.  It means “not too-bright”. A kid can have a perfect SAT score and still be “not too bright”.  He moves in a dis-advantageous direction.  He thinks in the present rather than the future.  He “gets mentally in trouble, makes a bad decision with the ball.” "LH" means "left-handed."


good skills, dumb dodger

good vision

quick, dumb with the ball

good eyes

not bad, sees field

good skills, athletic, understands game


Princeton’s,Tierney, on his clipboard, primarily assesses size, speed and skills. He recognizes four speeds: slow, average, fast and burner.  “A kid can be small if he’s fast, but not if he isn’t.”  Size includes huge, midget, meatball, stocky, gross, dumby, and thick-ass dodger.  Among skills are bad stick, average stick, and great stick.  “Size, speed, skills--you need two out of three.  You can improve stick but not the other two”


loves to shoot

dumb shooter

good dodger/bad shooter

black hole

tough kid, athletic, can run by anyone, bad shooter

black hole, not aware



A black hole never gives up the ball and a chucker shoots every time he gets the ball.


Understanding Goalies;


good poise, good position

quick hands

not bad stopper

oversteps w/ right foot

drops hand on high shot, smart, talks too much


Players on Defense


very big, athletic, lazy on D


tall, thin, good slide, fast, rough

smallish good stick, sees field, no hustle on D

bad feet

good feet

not feet, too much stick



Three of the many crucial matters in the attack and the midfield are T&R, no beat, and bag.  Like a great open shooter in basketball, if a guy has time and room, he is going to do something positive.  If he is a “no beat” he is not going to get past any defender.  If he has “bag” written all over him, he has a big sloppy pocket and he throws bad passes.



Appraisals on offense


good skills, very solid, smooth, slick, hangs perimeter

nifty stick

just catch and finish, no dodge

big, good passer, awkward LH shot

good size, quick shots 

RH, good skills, dumb dodger

bad approaches

skinny feeder,  gets in the way, no move

quick, moves, good vision, 2-hander

quick, aware, fair skills 

good size, athletic, wants RH, no finish

good cutter

athletic, tough, physical, covers ground

LH, tough, hard nose, very good stick

very good off ball

not a ball carrier

good skills, LH quick COD (change of direction)

explosive, very quick, good skills,  RH side arm drop

slick in traffic, dances


COD is “change of direction”.  Side-arm drop is not a compliment.  A lacrosse ball is more likely to end up where the thrower intends it to if his stick goes through a vertical plane.  If you lower the stick and wing a sidearm shot, the ball may end up breaking a window somewhere.  The great shooters shoot on any plane.  Others that imitate them drive their coaches nuts!


It all ends under the lights, in the deep evening of Day 3, twenty-two selected players against twenty-two other selected players in an All Star game.  Division I lacrosse coaches are especially attracted by this game.  Nearly all present are standing near the end lines - three times as many coaches as players on the two teams.  Sitting in the bleachers are about five hundred spectators.  Some are parents and siblings of players but most of them are the four hundred campers who were not chosen for the game.

And what a game. Goal answering goal.  Fast. Full of isododging, inside rolls, two-on ones, and Gilman clears. Some of the college coaches are far enough along in recruiting talks with some of these high school stars that they have come to regard them as "theirs."  A rising senior in Teirney’s field of vision is Forest Sonnenfeldt, who is six feet six, weighs two hundred and forty pounds and plays attack.  Among the several things that are unusual about Sonnenfeldt is that he goes to school in the Bronx and lives in Manhattan.  In the geography of lacrosse, his would-be college coach says, “a first-rate player from New York City is something very rare.”  Sonnenfeldt scores.  The other team scores.  Sonnenfeldt scores again.  He moves well.  He is hard to stop.  He is “finisher big target RH shooter good skills”.  

The game will end in a tie and be resolved in overtime.  Meanwhile, though, notice big Dave Cottle, head coach of the University of Maryland, who grew up in the row houses of Baltimore, played at Salisbury, and is one of the five winningest coaches active in the game.  

As he Watches, a rising high-school senior, cradling right-handed, goes into a rocker step, does an inside roll, sprints left, dives headlong, shoots, scores.  Someone says to Dave Cottle, 

“Is he one of yours?” 

And Cottle says, “Not yet.”