Category Archives: General sports

The Next Christian Cook’s Questions

Q: I am a Middie/Attackman and I am trying to improve my crease offence game. I have been watching films with Bobby Benson, BJ Prager, and Buggs Combs and have learned a lot. But, I want to ask you what could help throw defenders off and get myself open and get a second or two to rip a
shot. So, from a defensive standpoint what do you hate to see crease attackmen do?

Christian Cook: Thanks for the question Dallas. I find that as I’m playing on the crease and trying to cover a crease attackman that the most difficult thing for me to defend against is a player who can find the seams and move around.

There is nothing more frustrating than an offensive player who is constantly moving because it forces his defensive counterpart to concentrate on both his man (the most dangerous person) and the ball (in case he is the slide man or part of the slide package). As an offensive player, you should always concentrate on overloading your defenseman and making him work as hard as possible – giving him more opportunities to make a mistake. In addition if you play a high crease it is more difficult to cover as a defensive player because you are spreading out the field.

Furthermore, as I’m sure you’ve picked up in my other columns, it is a great idea to watch as much film as possible. In addition, watching film with a great crease player like BJ Prager is an even better idea. There are few players who can finish as well as BJ – he is one of the best pure crease attackmen I have ever seen.

It is clear that he also concentrates on his stick-skills with a focus on inside play. What I mean is that he can catch a pass and get it off quicker than any crease attackman I’ve played against. You should do the same. Unfortunately there are a number of attackmen who can get open but can’t finish because their stick skills aren’t up to par. Don’t let that happen to you. Get yourself in the right position and have the stick skills to finish and goals will come. Best of luck to you.

Q: Dear Coach Cook,
My name is Michael and I’m a Defenseman from San Francisco. I’ve been playing only for 13 months, yet was invited to a big time recruiting camp in Maryland and actually did very well. I’ve had a lot of coaches from top D1 schools talk to me about playing for them and it’s been a very fun couple of weeks hearing from coaches. However, how can I reach some schools that have not shown interest in me that I know I could play for? Are films and letters the only way?
Michael Abou Jaoude

Christian Cook: Thanks for the question Michael. If you don’t have the resources or time to make it to any other camps out east or at schools you are interested in, then I find that videos and letters are the best way to get in touch with coaches who haven’t seen you play.

Coaches get recruiting tapes all of the time, so they are used to it. You may also find it useful to try to find someone who can speak to the college coach on your behalf. Coaches are not just looking for good players, but they are looking for good people who can contribute to their program as individuals, not just as lacrosse players. In addition, I wouldn’t downplay the effect of you calling yourself to speak to a coach.

Just realize that you need to be completely professional, as you are essentially selling yourself. Many young players out there are far too informal when they speak to coaches, which is inappropriate. You should always put your best foot forward and in the recruiting cycle, that starts with presenting yourself in a professional manner.

You don’t want there to be any doubt that you are mature enough to handle both the rigors of school and the time commitment of year-round lacrosse. Remember, in college, lacrosse players are student-athletes, not the other way around. Best of luck to you.

Q: Dear Christian,
I switched from attack to middie and I am sometimes having trouble defending the middies up top. Most of the time I just go on athleticism. What are some drills or tips to help me improve body position and stick checks?

Christian Cook: Thanks for the question. This is a problem many new midfielders have – learning how to play defense. Although defense may seem quite daunting at this stage, realize that it is very very simple. As a defensive player your only job is to keep your player away from the goal – you DO NOT NEED TO TAKE AWAY THE BALL. I’d speak at length to your coach about his defensive philosophy so that you’re on the same page. Aside from the team aspect, the most important thing to work on is footwork and having a good lacrosse shaft for defense is just as important.

Play as much basketball as you can – it is invaluable and teaches you the right technique in pushing a player down the side of the field. The reason we split the field in two and keep offensive players running down the side is that every step they take, their angle on the goal is smaller and it is an easier save for your goalie.

Footwork drills (football footwork drills are great), jumping rope, basketball, squash and racquetball are all great things you can do to help your footwork. However, that is only half the battle – the other half is understanding defense. Watch as much film as possible and if you can, watch film with your coach. I’m sure he has a sound philosophy that should make your job somewhat easier as a defensive player.

Last but not least, there is only one check you should ever throw as a short shaft midfielder (it isn’t really a check even): the “lift-check.” Watch film of Princeton and you’ll see it – it is the most under-utilized, most-effective check in lacrosse. Not only does it neutralize the offensive player by lifting his elbow so he can’t shoot or pass, but it allows you to keep moving your feet on defense. Learn it, love it, practice it. Best of luck.

Jeremy Noble: Mammoth Decision Maker

In settled situations, there aren’t many better shots than those produced by pick-and-rolls. Pick-and-roll operators are shooting 13.6% themselves; the shots they create for their teammates (either the roll man or a weak side spot up shooter) are buried 17.5% of the time. For context, that’s better than the league-wide powerplay shooting percentage.

Because of the physicality in box lacrosse, it takes a special type of player to turn a two-man game into an open shot for a teammate. Defenses often double the ball with vicious cross checks. They will drive the lacrosse stick away from his dominant hand, forcing tough passes. Some of the quicker forwards, like Jeremy Noble, can bounce or roll away from the pressure and catch defenses out of position.

Noble leads the NLL with six pick-and-roll assists. Surprisingly, five of those assists have been across the floor to either Ryan Benesch or Eli McLaughlin. It wasn’t until this week, with Stephen Keogh back in the lineup, that Noble assisted a right-handed teammate in the pick-and-roll.

Pick-and-Roll Passers (thru 2/7)

Keogh is a savvy off-ball player. He caught the aggressive Saskatchewan Rush defense sleeping early in the game with this slip pick.

Noble and Jacob Ruest worked that slip pick chemistry as well. Ruest got to the doorstep by picking his own man then slipping first; next, by picking and re-picking against a Rush defense playing with Mark Matthews trapped on the floor.

Noble baits defenders into flooding the ball side, but his footwork keeps him out of trouble. His eyes are always up, too. Watch him go through his progressions like a quarterback here. Both Rush defenders stalk him into the corner, and a third defender evacuates the weak side to tag the roll man, Ruest. Noble doesn’t force the feed to Ruest. Instead, he rolls back, pump fakes to Ruest to freeze the defense, and feeds a cutting Eli McLaughlin, whose man left him for Ruest.

The Rush defense is widely regarded as the best in the league. Their athleticism and chemistry allows them to pressure the ball without leaving shooters open. Pick-and-roll operators have shot 11.0% (third lowest in NLL); roll men have shot 10.0% (also third lowest in NLL). Off-ball players (i.e. cutters, spot up shooters, off-ball screens) are shooting a measly 12.4% against the Rush (lowest in NLL). The shots Noble managed to create against them – although not all were goals – were extremely high quality.

The Western Division seems destined to come down to this matchup: Colorado against Saskatchewan. If these two teams meet again in the playoffs, then the Mammoth’s best chance at an upset might be putting Noble in more pick-and-roll situations.

Justice delayed is still justice

I’m not going to write about how Willie Ballgame is apparently being given the second base job to lose; I prefer to be optimistic when spring training starts, and any team with a starter named Bloomquist will kill that optimism faster than anything you can imagine. So, no Willie for me today.

Which means it’s back to the Olympics, and the news that Michelle Kwan withdrew from competition after re-injuring her groin. This is the best news of the Olympics so far.

For those of you who don’t follow such things, the way US representatives to the Olympic figure skating team are chosen is via the national championships – the top three finishers at the nationals in an Olympic year get to go to the Olympics. This makes sense – you want your best skaters to represent your country, so take the medalists from your national championships, and there you go.

There was only one problem, this year – 26-year-old Michelle Kwan, two-time Olympian, previous silver and bronze medal winner, and one of the best American skaters ever, was hurt at the time of the nationals and could not compete. One would think, at the age of 26 (8 years older than the average skater), and with her record of accomplishment, Kwan would go gently into that good night, and let some other skaters go to the Olympics.

But no – Kwan petitioned the US Skating Federation to be allowed to compete in Turin anyway, even without competing at nationals, thus bumping one of the three women that earned a spot. Kwan was given a chance, at a closed skate, to show the federation that she was able to compete, and she did just that. She was subsequently given a spot, bumping Emily Hughes off the team and setting up her fairytale last Olympics and her last shot at a gold medal.

This is completely, totally, and blatantly unfair – the Olympics are, and always have been, about performance in the present, and they’re most definitely NOT a lifetime achievement award. If you can’t qualify via the normal means, you shouldn’t be allowed to go, plain and simple. It may sound harsh, but everyone else abides by the rules – why should Kwan be allowed to bump a qualifying skater, just because she’s Michelle Kwan?

Now, of course, the Media Pathos Machine is all over this story – poor heroic Michelle, denied her one last shot at a gold, as if she needed that to validate what has been a great career. It’s all crap – she never should have tried to be on this team in the first place, because SHE MISSED NATIONALS. It’s simple. You miss qualifying, you shouldn’t qualify. She’s not gutsy, she’s not brave, she’s not being denied an opportunity, she’s just another in the long line of athletes who held on too long, didn’t know when to let go, and just generally refuses to recognize that it’s time to go away.

I know very little about ice skating – like most Americans, I watch it once every four years and that’s about it – but I always liked Michelle Kwan; this episode made me lose a lot of respect for her, though.

I promise, sometime this week, there will be baseball content in this space. Pitchers and catchers report Wednesday. Thank effing goodness.

Buy now, before it’s too late!

I was trolling MLB Auctions this morning, out of boredom while waiting to leave the house for work. I’m not much of a sports memorabilia collector – I’m not much of a collector of anything, really, I’ve never really seen the point of having piles of stuff just sitting around gathering dust – but I do like to look at what people are for some reason willing to pay good money to own.

In the “caps” section of MLB Auctions, I found this. Yes, fans, you too can own an official, game-worn Mike Hargrove Mariners cap. You too can be the proud possessor of a soon-to-be-forgotten piece of managerial mediocrity. Imagine the touching scene, years from now:

An old man, on his deathbed, calls his young grandson to his side and says “Son, there’s something that’s not mentioned in my will, that I want you to have. It’s my most treasured piece of baseball memorabilia.” “What is it, grandpa?” asks the young lad, anticipation growing as he mentally builds a shrine to his new framed Barry Bonds jersey, or his new Hank Aaron autographed baseball, or his David Wright autographed bat.

The kid recoils from his grandpa’s bedside, as if he’d been shocked by an electric fence. “But…but…I thought…treasured…Hargrove? What? I thought you loved me!”

Yes, fans, this and many other interesting/pointless/pleasegodgetalife things (get your game ticket framed with official Shea Stadium dirt! Own your own official pitching rubber, signed by Mariano Rivera! Be the person who can tell your friends “I own a locker room chair that Derek Jeter sat on!) can be yours by visiting MLB Auctions. I mean, really. Isn’t it enough that they charge $8 for a beer at the ballpark – do they really need to go all PT Barnum on us, as well?

I guess this is where I get to enter my Cranky Old Man rant phase. Back in my day (he said, as if his day has long since passed at the ripe old age of 37), going to a game with your friends was enough. You meet up beforehand, slant a few beers, talk about baseball, and head home, knowing that, in Roger Angell’s words, “for these three hours, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be”.

Nowadays, though, the powers that be have determined that that’s not enough. Now, you have to have the full going-to-the-game Experience. Not for you merely sitting in your bleacher seat with your $2 bag of peanuts, bemoaning the fact that your team actually fielded a belly itcher, rather than a pitcher; no, MLB has determined now that you need an all-enveloping Experience, that you should be bombarded with sensory inputs from the minute you walk into the ballpark until the minute you leave, at which time you should be able to buy a memory of that game – as if your own memory wouldn’t suffice, as if you haven’t had a valid experience until you have not just the souvenir cup, the hat, and the tshirt that you bought at the park, but also the replica lineup card and the framed piece of dirt from the ballpark taken on the day of the game, as well.

This is one of the main reasons I love minor league ball so much – they don’t try to package everything as an Event or an Experience. You go, you watch some ball, you watch a dizzy bat race or something, and it’s just much more simple. I’ll never give up on MLB, but the grumpy old man in me is finding more and more to dislike about the whole Baseball Stadium Experience every year.