In our last edition of The Scoop, I talked about how we approach tournament play versus our focus on practices and academy training. A big part of our approach to training are our Academy programs. In this edition of The Scoop, I’ll lay out how we structure the Academy programs and our approach to them. While I am certainly bias, I don’t think there is anything like what we do with our Academy programs, and it is part of what has allowed us to take athletes that have never picked up a stick before and put them on a path to be developed into college lacrosse players. You can find the list of guys from Team 91 Charlotte that have gone on to play college lacrosse here. I think we’re on the right path.
Our Academy programs are broken up in to four different levels:
- Intro Academy and our Free Clinics
- Our Advanced Academy
- Our Impact Training, Jr. Elite and Elite Academy
- Specialty Training (Faceoff and Goalie Training)
We also host ancillary Academy programs at times throughout the year like the Charlotte Boys and Girls Day Camp, Defender U, Attack U and Midfield U, Spring Training, Speed and Agility Training, our Shooting Academy and more.
Here is what the development path looks like with a player through our Academy programs:
Step 1: The Team 91 Intro Academy and Free Clinics
The first step in a player’s development is picking up a stick for the first time. Our Team 91 Intro Academy and Free Clinics are developed for the player who has never played lacrosse before. The only thing a participant needs is a pair of sneakers, a stick and a positive attitude!
The 6-week Intro Academy program is open to players in Kindergarten through 5th grade who have never played before. We start by teaching players how to pick a ground ball. It’s inevitable they will drop the ball when they are first starting so we want to start by teaching them how to pick it up and build good habits from Day 1. After teaching ground balls, we will progress through catching, throwing, dodging, shooting and more. We try to keep a focus on having fun with the Intro Academy and hope that we can get a player to fall in love with the game.
When a player completes the Intro Academy, he should have a decent foundation to begin playing the sport and is ready for one of our offseason or spring leagues or our Advanced Academy program.
Throughout the year we’ll also host a number of Free Clinics. We have hosted over 20 free clinics the last two years! You can find a schedule for our 2023 Fall Free Clinics here. I don’t know if there is a club program in the country that makes the investment that we make in introducing the sport to kids. I do know that you are starting to see more and more free clinics around the Southeast and I’m very happy that we have put that pressure on other club programs! It’s good for everyone. Our free clinics are a great way for young athletes and families to pick up a stick for the first time with minimal commitment. It’s free and we usually have plenty of extra sticks to lend out to players!
Step 2: The Team 91 Advanced Academy
Once a player completes the Intro Academy program, or a season with our Ducks rec league, he is usually ready to put pads on for the first time, though we encourage players to wait until about 2nd grade before starting to play full contact. Once the pads are on, it’s time to start the Team 91 Advanced Academy.
Our Team 91 Advanced Academy is open to players in 2nd-5th grade with prior experience or have completed at least one Intro Academy or Day Camp. It is also open to 6th-8th graders that are looking for a crash course in the sport before their rec or middle school season.
We start the Advanced Academy program by reviewing a lot of the principles learned at the Intro Academy program but at a faster pace. The expectation is that players know how to pick up a ground ball and what our “triple threat” position is, but we always want to make sure of that before progressing to more advanced play. We set the foundation with everyone before building the house. Over the remainder of the program, we will progress from 1v1 and 2v1 scenarios all the up to 6v6 and 6v5 scenarios. We progress past the fundamentals of throwing, catching and shooting in to how to play an even or odd-man situation from an offensive and defensive perspective.
Throughout the Advanced Academy program, we try to keep an emphasis on high quality reps. You’ll generally find a 10:1 or less player to coach ration to make sure guys are receiving adequate instruction and direction. Our goal is also to keep most “lines” in drills to 3 or 4 players or less at a cone, when it makes sense. This helps players get plenty or reps and a chance to catch their breath between each rep or get a quick pointer from a coach before the next rep.
Step 3: Team 91 Impact Training, Junior Elite and Elite Academy Programs
With the growth of our Team 91 Charlotte travel program, a lot of the separate training programs like our Junior Elite and Elite Academy programs have been replaced by more travel team practices. As a player progresses through our Advanced Academy program, they have usually made the decision to try out for a travel team. However, at times throughout the year we will host our Junior Elite and Elite Academy programs as well as our Impact Training.
Our Impact Training, Junior Elite and Elite Academy programs are structured for the top Middle School or High school players in the area. It is for the guys who are expected to be some of the best in their class in in the area. We use an “Application and Invitation” process to admit players into the program which helps us keep the level of skill and competition in the program extremely high. To take it further, we limit the number of players in each program so that we can be sure participants are getting a significant balance of quality repetitions and instruction.
On the field, the instruction will focus on the next level of what players learn at the Advanced Academy. Fundamental drills like tight line drills turn into our figure-eight passing drill and spoke passing. We are starting to talk about how you communicate when you are the 2 or 3 slide on defense, how to cover a dodge from each part of the field, dodge angles on each part of the field and how we can use our change of speed and change of direction, picks and slips and more.
One of the special things about our Impact Training and Elite Academy programs is that we will invite our Seniors that are committed to play college lacrosse back to train in the program. It helps them prepare for their upcoming senior seasons and eventual college careers while raising the pace of play and level of competition for our younger players. It gives the young guys a chance to see how a player that is committed to playing college lacrosse approaches training.
In my opinion, there is nothing in the country quite like our Impact Training, Junior Elite and Elite Academy programs for high school and middle school athletes that want to get better at lacrosse.
Team 91 Specialty Training
In addition to our Academy programs, you’ll see us offer specialty training throughout the year. The programs allow our players to work directly with coaches at specific positions or on specific skills like taking a faceoff, playing goalie, dodging, shooting or playing defense.
In the Fall and Winter, we run our Faceoff and Goalie training program on Friday nights. While we build in dedicated time at all of our team practices and skill sessions for goalies and faceoff specialists, our Friday Night Faceoff and Goalie training programs are built specifically around those guys! Every rep, every drill and every piece of instruction is specific to their position and what can help them improve. It’s also affordable. Our Friday Night Faceoff and Goalie training program cost half the price of the comparable position specific training available to players in Charlotte!
In the Summer, we run our position specific training program on Monday nights. A lot of lacrosse players are practicing Tuesday-Thursday with a travel team, traveling (or resting!) on Friday, then playing a tournament on Saturday and Sunday. Our Summer positional program allows players to work directly with a position specific coach on anything they may want to work on following the tournament the week before. If you’re an attackman that is struggling to dodge, you can work on that with a coach on Monday. If you’re a goalie that is struggling with low shots at your tournament, you get to focus on that on Monday night in the summer with your position coach. Hosting the program on Monday nights coming right off the tournament weekend has been a great way to help our players get quick feedback and improve throughout the Summer season.
Throughout all the steps of development, our staff has three main points of focus: Reps and instruction, attention to detail and having fun. We want our guys getting a ton of reps while under the watch of our coaches. We also want getting better to be fun. If our guys enjoy each training session, they are more likely to pick up a stick when they get home and continue working on those skills. We would encourage you to get out to a program and see what it is all about!
Our Academy programs are just one part of the development process we have with Team 91 Lacrosse. Another part is the Charlotte Lacrosse Leagues we run throughout the offseason. We’ll hit on those next.