Coaches Corner: Q&A with Navy Coach Rick Sowell

In the latest edition of Coaches Corner, Championship Productions editor Adam Warner sits down with new Navy men’s head lacrosse coach Rick Sowell. After going 47-26 in five seasons at Stony Brook and leading his squad to the NCAA quarterfinals in 2010, Sowell accepted the head coaching position at Navy earlier this year. In this week’s Q&A, Sowell explains why he accepted the job at Navy, details one of his all-time favorite drills, and also reveals how his coaching staff prepares during the offseason.

First off, talk about how the transition has been from Stony Brook to Navy?

“It’s been great. It really has. The support surrounding the program has been amazing. Everyone has welcomed me with open arms and it’s been a relatively easy transition.”

What prompted you to take this new challenge with Navy?

“I’ve been fortunate to work at some tremendous academic institutions throughout my career: Georgetown, Dartmouth, St. John’s, and Stony Brook, but this opportunity was unique. The combination of working at such a prestigious institution with young men who aspire to and will someday become future leaders of our great country was a unique opportunity.”

You have a track record of giving new life to programs. What’s been the key to building a new or struggling program into a winner?

“I think there are a variety of factors that come into play. Starting with the team, it’s about changing a culture, or developing one if it’s a new program, which for me is based on being good citizens in the community, working hard both in the classroom and on the field, and doing the right thing at the right time.

On the field, my philosophy is about player development, which I try and keep simple. We look to develop sound fundamental habits, I expect our players to give 100 percent effort every day, and then from there, it’s about utilizing the talent that we have assembled. I have been fortunate enough to have worked with great assistants over the years who have been dedicated to helping me develop these programs.”

Talk about the offseason a bit. It’s now October, what’s the coaching staff currently focused on? Walk through a typical week for the coaches.

“Currently, we are focused on finding out just who we are as a team, what are our strengths and our weaknesses, and how to take advantage of the talent we have here.  This process started about a month ago, and I will say it has been fun getting to know the guys, getting to hear their stories and how they ended up at the Naval Academy, and what it means for them to be a part of this program. A big part of it is taking the time to evaluate the kids on the field, in the weight room, and get an opportunity to know them as people. At the same time, we are introducing our philosophy and terminology — whether it’s offense and defense, drills, or clearing. There are lots of things going on at one time.”

What’s a typical Rick Sowell practice like? Is it intense, fun, informative? How would you describe it?

“I would describe my practices as all of the above — intense, fun and informative.  I like practices that move along — from drill to drill to drill. We teach the fundamental aspects of the game. I like to keep things simple. Sometimes strategy is overrated so we focus on those little things that will resurface late in a game and could be the difference between winning and losing.

They aren’t necessarily run-and-gun practices. We try to scrimmage every day, and there is no better way to learn the game then to actually play it. As is the case, I believe, with most coaches, the focus shifts from day to day. One day it might be offense, the next day it might be defense.”

Can you think of a favorite drill of yours that you’ve used with your teams over the years? Why is it effective?

“We call it the Breakdown Drill. It’s a 1-on-1 drill. I’m a big fan of dodging off the pass, so many of our dodge drills are off passes. We like to incorporate a pass from the players or coaches throwing to the dodger.

We simply put a bag of balls at the GLE and a dodger will be up in an alley and close enough to catch and shoot it. Or he will make a dodge and make a play off the pass. The defender sags in off ball, and as the ball moves from GLE to the dodger the defender will come out to break down the player. That defender must fly out under the control and defend the dodger as the ball arrives.

This drill forces the defender to stop the offensive player’s momentum and he must run with him. Offensively, it lets you work on different types of dodges and using a defender as a screen. Also, it allows offensive guys to work on creative moves, incorporating stick fakes and shake n bakes. It allows a lot of repetitions. We also don’t like lines being too long. If you ask the Stony Brook guys, this is definitely one of their favorite drills. It’s not all that complicated. We will do it up top, down the alleys, down the middle, from the wings, from behind, and invert. It’s also a chance to develop good moves off the pass. We get a lot out of this drill.”

What’s the best lacrosse moment in your career?

“My senior year, 1985 at Washington College, we broke Hobart’s 44-game Division III win streak. We beat them 8-7 at home in overtime. I had five goals including the game-winner in overtime. That was a tremendous moment. Unfortunately, they beat us in the national title game a month later, so they had the last laugh. I grew up watching Hobart and to be able to break their winning streak was a huge thrill.”

What’s your biggest pet peeve as a coach?

“Velcro. When I’m in the huddle and I hear Velcro it drives me nuts, but the players learn quickly to not do it.”

What are some of your favorite hobbies off the lacrosse field?

“I like to stay fit and try to go to the gym five or six days a week. I try to mix things up, usually lifting or cardio. I also like golf but I stink at it and it is frustrating. I’m the type of athlete who needs to practice to get good at something, but at the end of the day my time is limited, so my improvement has been at a snail’s pace. I also play some basketball. A good workout puts me in a good frame of mind.”

What’s the best advice you can give to a new coach in the game? How about a rising player in the game?

“For coaches, try to gather all the information you can. When you’re young, it’s about trying to develop a philosophy. There are a lot of great coaches out there and you should try to tap into those resources. Go to practices, call them on the phone, and pick their brain. Don’t think you know it all. Be willing to seek information and different types of strategies. Eventually you’ll take certain concepts from different people and form your own philosophy. Try to learn and take in as much as you can and don’t be afraid to reach out.”

“As for players, make sure you play other sports. Be a multi-sport athlete. Especially at a younger age, the more sports you can play, the better — even if it’s just two sports. The value of what you get out of playing other sports far supersedes saying you’ll just focus on playing lacrosse year-round. It’s good to compete in other sports. There’s no better exercise than competition. Also, go to college games or pro games. You can really learn a lot from watching older kids play the game.”

Rick Sowell recently teamed up with Championship Productions to produce the lacrosse DVD “All-Access Lacrosse Practice with Rick Sowell.” To check out more All-Access videos in our extensive library, click here.

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