Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Strategy, Tactics, and Logistics

The big brother of lacrosse could learn a thing or two from its little brother.

Strategy, tactics and logistics are essentials for success in any form of human endeavour. Without mastery of these three things, nothing can be accomplished, nothing can be won, and nothing can be achieved.

Last Sunday's experience in Waterloo was a clear example of this. In the first game, between Laurentian and Laurier, the Laurentian Voyageurs were the decided underdogs in the match, and they ended up losing because they failed to master the three essentials.

It was clear from the start that Laurentian's strategy was to try to hit Laurier hard and often. The Laurentian players were, generally, bigger and stockier than their opponents. Normally, in most sports, this is a decided advantage, except in field lacrosse, where smaller, quicker and more nimble players are required. Also, the referees in field lacrosse watch the hitting more closely than their box counterparts. As a consequence, Laurentian was able to catch Laurier off guard in the beginning of the match with their physical play, but the referees caught up to them and Laurentian spent too much time either penalized, or giving up possession to Laurier.

When it became clear that the main stragegy failed, Laurentian tried to change their tactics. In the second half, the hitting became less frequent, with the result that Laurentian had fewer penalties. But they had fallen behind in the score and had to rush their offensive forays. The result was too many shots that failed to make the target. Great effort was made by the Voyageurs to attack, but to little or no avail.

Finally, the Laurentian bench was smaller than Laurier's.... they just had fewer players to work with. As the afternoon wore on, and the heat became more noticeable, the Laurentian players began to tire. They had fewer substitutions, whereas Laurier, with more players at their disposal, was able to put fresher legs on the field as the game wore on. This was not the only logistical problem. Often, when a Laurentian longpole was penalized, he had to plead with one of his midfielders or attackers to change sticks, so that there were always enough long sticks on the field.... Laurentian just simply hadn't brought enough long poles to play the game. These, coupled with the growing frustration of the failed strategy and tactics, made the outcome of the game predictable.

Final score, Laurier 14, Laurentian 8. Laurentian gave it a good try, and their players were determined, but, alas, out-gunned and out-manned.... and out-thought.

One wonders if those who are in charge of our mission in Afghanistan have learned anything from similar blunders. Is our strategy sound? Have we made the necessary tactical changes in the face of unexpected resistance? Do we have enough people and equipment to do the job? Warriors of all kinds need to learn the lessons of the past. Surely, lacrosse players have learned that strategy, tactics, and logistics are necessary. They have learned this from over five hundred years of playing the "little brother of war." Have their "big brothers" become blind to history?

Monday, September 21, 2009

More Musing from the Field

In an earlier post, I wrote about the Canadian approach to sports, and how it's, in my view, a reflection of what I call the Canadian inferiority complex. Well, it turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy on Sunday at the CUFLA "Great Canadian Lax Bash" in Waterloo.

The day was perfect: sunny and very warm for late summer. There was a beer tent, a bbq, and a great venue for 6 Ontario schools to open their season. And, in University Stadium, with a capacity of about 7000 fans, there were maybe 50 to 80 of us.... oh yeah, and 5 dogs !!! Most of the people watching were parents or siblings of players. I think I was the only "fan" at the event.

I'm not casting blame anywhere. The event was fairly well run, and the day was fun. As I wrote yesterday, the calibre of the lacrosse was quite good. But I had an uneasy feeling in my gut yesterday about the turn-out. I almost felt like I shouldn't have been there, given that a son, brother or friend of mine wasn't playing.

Had this been a US college sports event, I can guarantee that there would have been plenty of support. I'm not saying that 100,000 people would've been there, but there would have been a good number of students and citizens of the town out to watch, just to support their boys. This has been a recurring pet peeve of mine about my countrymen. We just don't get off our asses to support our kids when they play, unless it's hockey, or little kids' soccer. Other sports don't seem to matter. Why is that? It's not that Canadians don't like their kids: far from it. It can't be that Canadians don't have the time to get out: Americans and Australians must be just as busy as we are. Of course, Canadians were probably glued to the TV on Sunday watching..... wait for it.....NFL football. ( Before anyone thinks I'm an NFL hater, I'm not.... although the bloody Packers might drive me to hate it soon! )

The common answer I'll probably get from my sporting buddies is " I didn't know anything about it." We are the world's worst promoters. We are too quiet, too shy, too conservative to promote anything that WE do. And, because of this, we will be perennial doormats in most fields of human achievement.

Wow, all this because only 50 people showed up to watch lacrosse on a lovely sunny afternoon. Imagine how I'd feel if I was really pissed off !!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Of Shooters, Fogos, and Longpoles

Being raised on a steady diet of box lacrosse when I was a mere lad, I'm finding the transition to observing field lacrosse to be an interesting experience. I've seen a few games now, and I must admit that I really like it. I'll never give up box lacrosse, of course. That is the varient that most Canadians who watch lacrosse enjoy. The field version is more international, especially American.

Under a beautiful late summer sun, I began to note the differences between the two games in close detail. The shooters, the fogo, and the longpole are the main differences.

Box lacrosse players are, by far, better shooters than their field cousins. In today's first game, between Laurentian and Laurier, I was amazed at how poor the shooting was, especially when one considers the size of the field net. Laurentian players, in particular, had trouble finding the range, especially when the game was in the late stages. When Laurentian worked the ball into the attack zone, they inevitably blew their opportunity with a poorly placed shot: I've never seen so many balls go wizzing into the end zone, another scoring chance wasted.

In the second game, Western vs McMaster, the unique position of the fogo was in evidence. Fogo is short form for "face off, get off"... this is the face off specialist, a player who takes the face off, fights like a miniature sumo wrestler and then runs off as fast as he can to be replaced by either an attack man or a defender, depending on whether he won or lost the face off. All sports have degrees of specialization, of course, but none can affect the game so directly as the fogo. An example of this is the final play of the game. Western and Mac played a thrilling game, tied 8-8 at the end of regulation. Two 4-minute halves of overtime solved nothing, so they went to sudden victory. ( we used to call it sudden death ). Mac won the face off, worked the ball into Western's defensive zone, and a well-placed shot ( Laurentian please not ) beat the goalie. Mac won in overtime. Fogo may sound like a kid's science project, but he's the most important man on the field along with the goalie.

Perhaps the most dramatic difference in the games is the longpole. These are defenders who wield the lacrosse equivalent of a claymore. The pole is six feet long, taller than some of the players who use it. I watched closely to see if this weapon is unwieldy, clumsy, or awkward. Undoubtedly, a great deal of skill is needed to use it, but it is an effective weapon. Attackers can be kept at bay from a great distance if the defender is skilled and has good, quick hands. Slashes are closely monitored by the officials, so a defender just can't whack his opponent into oblivion. Nor can the defender stab with it, or use it to push an attacker back. A defender has to be deft with it, almost like a surgeon with the world's longest scalpel. And, to top it all off, the defender with the long pole occasionally needs to go upfield and join in the attack. Some good passes and decent shots ( Laurentian !!?? ) were delivered with this tool.

What it all boils down to is the determination of the player. Tools are essential, of course, and specialization is a hallmark of our civilization no matter what the human activity under examination. But it is the player, the athlete himself, who creates the game, who works harder than his opponent, who wants to win more than the other, who succeeds. Teams are a collection of hearts, minds, hands, and skills. Winning teams are those who are best able to use them all at the same time, consistently, with great effect.

Friday, September 18, 2009

This is all so new. I contacted a friend who knows about blogs and computers and such. My knowledge base is so low, I pretty much only know how to type, and not very quickly. So, I have received much advice from her. I hope to impliment some of it soon.

I'm off to watch Canadian University Field Lacrosse ( CUFLA ) on Sunday. They have what they call the Great Canadian Lacrosse Bash at University Stadium in Waterloo. It's the opening face off for the season and it features 3 games, including my alma mater, the University of Western Ontario Mustangs. I'm looking forward to this. I 'm a great fan of university sports, particularly football, and I hope that the lacrosse version of college sports is just as good.

I was able to talk to a young guy this summer who plays for the Mustangs in Lax. We were up at Parry Sound for some kayaking lessons, and I noticed that he was wearing a Balmy Beach lacrosse t-shirt. He told me he played and I mentioned that I was a huge Lax fan. He then said he played in something called CUFLA, probably thinking that I'd never heard of it before. When I said that I knew about CUFLA, we started an instant and far-reaching conversation about the game until it was time to climb into our kayaks and begin the lesson. I promised that I would try to attend some CUFLA games this season and I am going to live up to this promise.

Lacrosse fans seem to know about the NCAA version of the game, and why not? It gathers quite a lot of attention south of the border, particularly at championship weekend. It is one of the best attended NCAA events, outranked only be football, for championship attendance. I have watched it on TV and it's terrific.... I always thought lacrosse was a great TV game, but when it's played in sunny weather in front of 40,000 fans in a big NFL stadium, it looks like an event.

I think the CUFLA event will pale by comparison, but this is typical of the Canadian approach to most sports. Hockey is always the exception in Canada, but other sports do not receive the level of support you would find in the US or Australia. Our country does not have a culture that emphasizes sports like the others. It's not in our DNA. We play some sports fairly well, but our national psyche seems to be directed in other places. We have spent too much of our history just trying to survive, or fighting, either with other countries or internally. Sports, you would think, would be a nice diversion from all of this, but it doesn't seem to be so. We like to go inside, drink, watch TV, or go to movies or plays, or drive our cars. But go to a local sports event? Not a chance, might be too cold or too hot, or too boring. In the US, it's a matter of local and civic pride to go out and watch the local high school or college team in whatever sport represent you in a big event, even if it's just to take on a cross-state rival, or, better yet, a rival from out of state.

Maybe it's all part of the Canadian inferiority complex, which I firmly believe we have. When I travel, I find that Canada is unknown to other people, and it's because we don't promote ourselves very well.

We'll see if the CUFLA boys try to buck the trend. I'm thinking they will, although how many will be in the stands to watch it...... I'll tell you on Sunday.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

First Blog in my life !!

Hello out there! This is my first effort at blogging. I'm absolutely new to this, but I was motivated to try by watching a chessy movie recently and decided to see what happens.

I'm calling this Lacrosse World because lacrosse is my favourite sport. I love everything about it: the speed, the toughness, the skill level, the teamwork, but, most of all, I love the passion and committment that players, coaches and fans have for the game. It is not a hugely popular game in the world, but those who play, watch or follow it become instant fans.

It is a game which has ancient and spiritual roots. The first nations people devoted themselves to the game, making it part of their faith structure, and also used it as a way of healing, training, and expression.

All these things combine to create a strong feeling in lacrosse devotees. But, more than that, these things combine to create a way to approach life itself. The qualities that make a good lacrosse player also make a good person.

Therefore, I plan to use lacrosse as a platform to express my views on all aspects of life itself. I will probably baffle some potential readers who don't "get it" because they probably have never experienced lacrosse. But it is my hope that those who share my love of the game ( and, therefore , love of life ) will enjoy my thoughts and feel free to engage me in honest and open
discussion and debate.

So, there it is. I have no idea what to do now !! Good luck to me !!