Coaches Corner: Q&A with Lars Tiffany, Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach at Brown

Now entering his fifth season as head coach of the Brown men’s lacrosse team, Lars Tiffany has compiled an impressive 38-20 overall record, notched an Ivy League Championship and earned a trip to the NCAA tournament. With Tiffany at the helm, the Bears have been a consistent force in Division I lacrosse. Even with competitive conference rivals Cornell and Princeton likely in the hunt this year, the bar is set high for Brown lacrosse once again in 2011.

In this week’s edition of Coaches Corner, Tiffany sits down with Championship Productions’ Editor Adam Warner and gives a full breakdown of his preseason practices, reveals his favorite all-time drill, and provides some practical advice for first time coaches and players.

Preseason begins February 1. Walk me through a typical Lars Tiffany preseason. What are the overall goals? What key concepts and philosophies are particularly stressed?

The first thing we do is define what it means to be a Brown lacrosse player. Even before we hit the field, we ask the players, “What does it mean to you? Who are we going to be?” We get the men to give us the answers. It could be work ethic, or physical responses or what will we do when a particular situation happens. We really try to define who we are before before we hit the field on February 1.

The first few weeks are more about fundamentals: shooting, passing, defense, and 1 on 1.  We don’t want to jump too far into schemes and strategy until we can prove we are good lacrosse players, so then we know we can execute the game plan later.

Also, we don’t need to have the whole playbook memorized before games start up. We map out the first six weeks of the season on the board in my office and we figure out when we will go over rides, clears, and other areas. Some things may not get done until mid-March, and that’s okay. Brown lacrosse is typically a bit more complex with some of our slide schemes and offensive systems. We lean on complexity and intelligent decision-making, but first, we have to recognize that we are a fundamentally good lacrosse program.

Take me behind the scenes during the preseason. What are the coaches doing to prepare for each practice, upcoming scrimmages, and ultimately, the regular season?

We have two new assistants this season with Scott Dalgliesh and Kip Turner. We’re at a point where we’re still learning about each other. We’re spending time together talking about X’s and O’s, talking about philosophies, watching film and sometimes, not even Brown film. Recently, we attended a Brown-Quinnipiac basketball game together and watched from a defensive and offensive perspective. This is a learning year for the three of us and one where we can be more comfortable sharing ideas.

Can you provide readers with a breakdown of how a typical Brown practice is organized?

We start with a base of 12 minutes for shooting with the offense and defense doing stickwork, clearing, outlets and some scheme talk. It’s mostly active, but there is some talking involved as well. The next 12 minutes is the dynamic warm up, things like high knee exercises, skipping, and static stretching.

Now, we’re ready to be more physical and we go to stations. I love stations. Each coach will oversee a station and we’ll have the guys spend 4-5 minutes at each one. The first might focus on 1 v 1, another might be ground balls, and the other stickwork, keep away or 4 vs. 3 in a small area. Of course, we can do a variety of things with the stations and we change them up each time. Next up is typically a water break followed by stickwork drills. We do full-field drills where we emphasize player development and there’s 8 minutes of that.

In the second half of practice, we’re now just starting to do scheme-oriented things, transition drills with fast breaks and full field transition drills. It’s not always 6 vs 6, either. Sometimes it’s 4 vs. 4 actually — one with an offensive coach, and one with a defensive coach. And we’re doing 3 on 3 drills and working on slide packages as well. There’s 15 minutes of that.

Then there’s 40 minutes left of rides and clears and we go 6 vs. 6 at one end. After that, we scrimmage for 10-15 minutes. The key here is that we re-create decision-making in our drills — game-day decision making. You can do that in a small picture, like a 3 vs. 3 format, but sometimes you have to go to a 6 vs. 6 format because that’s what a game is like. We are a bit more structured than others and we try to stick to the plans by the minute.

How do you get your team in playing shape during the preseason? Walk me through some highlights of your conditioning program.

Right now it’s all about the legs and running. Interval training is very important. We often do fartleks, which is a Swedish term. For instance, we’ll run hard for two minutes and then do 30 second jogs. We try to create a constant variation of speeds. Another is a 300-yarder, but we go 25 yards 12 times. It’s about how quick can you do that with those 11 change of directions. That’s a big test for us. We time the players and they’re tested against each other.

Explain to young players why it’s important to be in the best shape you can possible be?

It’s all about injury prevention. I’ve been coaching for 20 years and the men who arrive out of shape to the first practices — and those first practices are grueling — are the one’s who get injured. They may be carrying too much weight, for instance, and so there’s additional stress on the joints and lots of shin splints. The body just isn’t prepared for the pounding.

Also, you want to know where your breath is coming from. You don’t want to have to worry about how much gas you have left in the tank. In college lacrosse, guys are at home for 40 days without us after final exams. Talk about trust and self motivation — it’s huge. While we run all year long and send the players packets with weight training info, the onus is on our men and we have to rely on them to get it done.

What’s a favorite drill of yours over the years?

My favorite is the “General Drill.” It’s a 1 on 1 drill and there’s an off-ball defenseman and an off-ball offensive player. Imagine you have a feeder who’s not in the drill standing at the goal line extended to the goalie’s left and about 10 yards wide. He’ll throw a ball to the top center or right to an offensive player standing 14-15 yards from the goal and the defenseman is at the top of the crease. They are both waiting for the pass and when the ball is passed, it’s live. They have to play 1 on 1 now.

The offensive player looks to gets the ball in a wind-up position, catching it in his shooting stance and hopefully only has two steps to a shot. And now it’s decision-making time. Do I have to dodge? Can I just rip it? How should I stand off-ball, move off-ball and make a move? We can do lots of variations of this too, anything to re-create a defense that has sagged in on the backside and the ball is redirected and we are forced to create.

What’s a favorite drill of your players?

There’s one we do at the end of practice called the “3 v 2, 4 v 3, 5 v 4.” It starts 3 v 2 and the team with the advantage starts behind the goal. It starts out 3 v 2 and then something happens, a goal, a save or a turnover. After this, a new ball is thrown in at the top and two new guys enter, and now what was once a 3 v 2 is now a 4 v 3. The offensive turns into the defense and then something happens. After this, two more guys enter from behind the goal, and it’s 5 v 4. We keep score and the drill has evolved into some trash talking with no rules and we let the guys have fun and play loose.

Is there a specific play you’ve used over the years that’s been particularly effective?

I’m a big fan of the “Hidden Ball Trick”, or “Fake Flip Play.” Our attackmen will come together behind the goal, flip the ball in the air and you’re not quite sure whose stick it falls into. We do this in man-up. There’s less pressure and the guys can come together without getting banged and can create deception and the defense doesn’t quite know who has the ball.

We’ve scored some goals over the years using this. We always emphasize to the guys to carry out the fake. Keep on cradling. If just one guy falls for it, it still works. We practice that and have the guys come together and act a little “Hollywood.” It’s a fun play I’ve taken with me everywhere I’ve been.

As a Division I college coach, what do you look for most in recruits?

There are so many factors, but athleticism is No. 1. You have to be quick and athletic. It’s hard to be successful at Division I without athleticism — the speed of the game is so much faster. We are always looking for that.

But you just can’t be athletic, it’s more about stickwork, lacrosse IQ and savviness. Size is great, too,  and probably third or fourth on the list. I’ve been successful having smaller men, so it’s not absolutely necessary.

Another big part that we can’t see sometimes is toughness and heart. That comes from talking to coaches and finding out if a particular player is someone that, during tough situations, steps up and takes the lead or is leading more towards negativity. A positive attitude is key.

What’s some of the best advice you can give to a new coach, whether at the youth, middle or high school level?

Stay positive. Be a positive coach. Think about the coaches you played for and have enjoyed playing for and you probably think of the coach who was tough but positive and fun.

Enjoy it. Externally, push the men and have big expectations that the team will get better. Internally, keep your expectations low. Remember, it’s not the national championship. There’s nothing that big at stake. The mission is to develop young men and help them be better athletes, but also better people, too. As a coach, you have a huge role in that. You have earned respect early on, and you either lose it or keep earning it.

Don’t lose sight in the fact that you can mold behavior, things like proper etiquette, competitiveness and doing the right thing. For the new coaches, do the research and become a lacrosse aficionado and learn the game. Be a positive force, a hurricane of positivity so that the kids will want to come back to practice each day.

What’s some of the best advice you can give to a rising player, whether at the youth, middle or high school level?

Don’t specialize. Play all the sports you want to. You will be a better all-around athlete playing those sports. Lacrosse-wise, continue to push yourself. Also, it’s critical that you become a two-handed player. Look in the mirror and practice and really work on that weakside.

You were in talks with Penn State last summer to take over the head coaching position but ultimately decided to return to your alma mater. What were the key factors in making that decision?

It was a hard decision. Penn State is an incredible institution for academics and athletics and there are a lot of great people there. Ultimately, it came to that I’m an alum at Brown and I couldn’t say no to my alma mater. For me, there’s a lot of brown in that blood. It’s who I am.

What’s the outlook for Brown Men’s Lacrosse in 2011?

All I know is that we will get together on that first day and depending on how good of shape we are in, that’s how quickly we can get to work. If we are focused, then we will be right into it and we can build this program, build the foundation from last year and take it to the next level.

With sports, you don’t know the ending. Nothing is guaranteed each year. Our motto is, “Expect nothing, earn everything.”

Lars Tiffany has partnered with Championship Productions to produce several lacrosse videos. Click here to see the entire Tiffany catalog.

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