Posted: Friday, March 28, 2014, 4:36 PM
I met with a young high school team after one of our recent Wings game for a meet-and-greet session. The players asked standard questions about life in the NLL, what it like is to play with Paul Rabil, what kind of stick I use, etc. One player asked for my opinion on what makes a great lacrosse player. I wish I knew the answer! I stated the obvious like having strong stick skills, a desire to get better, being intrinsically motivated, etc.
I have since started to think more about the question. There isn't a clear or concrete answer. It is a subjective question and there are so many variables in lacrosse. I think of some of my former teammates, guys like Steve Dusseau, Gary Gait, the Powell brothers. These were unbelievable talents, but there was something more. I can recall watching Gary and Paul Gait play in the 1989-1990 National Championship games. I played with Gary and the end of his career, where he played strictly attack (and won MLL MVP in his late 30's).
I hadn't realized just how versatile they were in their younger days. You had a Gait on each wing on every face off. They played a very complete game (offence, defense, ground balls, inside, outside, passers, shooters). Their skill and athleticism were at a level I have never seen in the game. Those things were clear to see from any casual fan, but if you look deeper, you will see more. They had unique poise, patience, understated competitiveness and toughness. You could sense they enjoyed and seized having the ball in their sticks at key times.
I think if you look at some of the prominent athletes in contemporary sport that are having success, you can see some consistencies in their makeup and their approach. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, arguably the best three quarterbacks in the NFL. Their skill sets are uniquely different from each other, but there seems to be a lot of similarities in some of their intangible qualities like work ethic, attitude, attention to detail, presence, game IQ, etc.
Another quality they share is they do things very different from the majority of their peers. You hear of the obsessive attention to preparation. That chip on their shoulder as they seemingly are always trying to prove something to someone.
Peyton: He's slow, un-athletic has no arm and will never recover from injury.
Brady: He was a late-round pick, and there's no way a late round pick will ever make it.
Wilson: He's much too short to play in the NFL.
Great players often carry a bit of a chip that pushes them to places that others will not go. Michael Jordan still thanks his high school basketball coach for cutting him, because it ignited some kind of fire inside.
I heard a great quote from Tony Dungy, the longtime NFL coach: "Success is not enjoyed by the common man." In simple terms it means, if you want to experience success, you have to be different from the normal. You have do things that are uncommon. Would we ever know the "Air Gait" if Paul and Gary followed the conventional norms?
There will never be a magic formula that will make you a great lacrosse player. From my experience in the game and being around great players, greatness often comes in the little details and in doing the things that the majority of other people are just not willing to do.