Want to be a lacrosse star? Start with hockey, football and baseball

Brodie Merrill believes that lacrosse demands a well-rounded athlete. (Philadelphia Wings photo)

When you watch certain players play lacrosse it is easy to recognize the influence that other sports have on their lacrosse game.

Watch Drew Westervelt play you see his background in playing high-level basketball come through in his lacrosse game. How he moves on the floor, how he positions his body. I think guys like Ned Crotty and Mike Manley were able to adapt and make the transition to indoor lacrosse so seamlessly through their background playing high-level hockey. The Gait brothers were high-level rugby players -- can you picture those two on the Rugby pitch? Their body control and ability to handle contact likely came from that experience in rugby. Ask Dan Dawson where he learned his patented "swim" move and he will tell you it was from his high school days playing defensive end.

So what does this tell us? It is important to play a variety of sports when you are young to develop coordination and your overall athletic foundation. This leads us to another prevalent question in sport, when should athletes specialize? I do believe in the Long Term Athletic Development Program, which recommends athletes start to specialize 12-18 years of age, presumably when their athletic foundation has been established. At that point, you need to devote more time to your respective sport. Makes sense to me. It is a lot like academics.  Study and learn a wide variety of subjects, then eventually specialize to an area that you are strong in and have a passion for.

This process it validated by so many examples. It is cool to hear some of sports great athletes credit lacrosse as being a great cross-training sport for their primary sport, and instrumental in their development as an athlete. Athletes like Jim Brown, Wayne Gretzky and Joe Nieuwendyk were all high-level lacrosse players.

I know many young athletes (and parents) feel that more lacrosse is better. More camps, private lessons, summer teams, etc., etc. I do think there is some value in those things to a point, but there are things that you learn in other sports that you just can't simulate in a lacrosse practice. That is the beauty of lacrosse, it requires you to be a well-rounded athlete. I would place guys like Paul Rabil and Max Seibald among the top overall athletes in sport. They just happen to play lacrosse.

The Northwestern women's program is built on finding the athlete first.

It is no coincidence that there are so many ex-quarterbacks in lacrosse. One year my team at Georgetown had 15-20 ex-high school QB's. Like a QB, there are so many variables to becoming a great lacrosse player: speed, agility, endurance, strength, intelligence, skill and finesse.  Can't you picture Kevin Crowley as an NFL quarterback? Tall, smooth, confident, with a natural throwing stroke. Is there a difference between him and Tom Brady athletically? (Hopefully Kevin doesn't read this). I would argue that he is a better overall athlete.  (Google Tom Brady NFL combine)

I often wonder how our Wings team would match up athletically against the other professional sports in the city. Say you picked five neutral sports. I really think we would match up well. Have you ever seen a hockey player play hoops? Can you picture Danny Briere on the hardwood? Can you picture Andrew Bynum playing hockey? I wonder what Roy Halladay's 40 time is? Believe me, I have a tremendous amount of respect for those athletes and those sports, especially when you consider the "barrier to entry" to break into the NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL. I just think when you compare lacrosse to each of those leagues, our sport demands a more well-rounded athlete.  To circle back to my original point, if you are a young lacrosse player, play other sports, lots of them. Just like you take math, English, history, science, geography … play basketball, hockey, soccer, baseball, football. Then when the time comes, pick your major!

The one thing I have learned in the NLL is that it is important to approach the playoffs with momentum. We clinched early last season and maybe got a little complacent. We are now in a position where every game moving forward will have playoff implications. I view that as a great opportunity for our team.