A soccer forward doesn’t want to play the center back. A field hockey goalie hesitates to try fullback. A shooting guard refrains from running the point or sliding to small forward. A star volleyball outside hitter refuses to spend a season as a setter. Does this sound familiar?
“In my collegiate soccer career, I played five different positions in my four years,” said Jordan Evans, former University of Virginia Soccer Left Midfield and Forward. “Versatility is one of the most attractive attributes to a college coach when recruiting a prospective athlete. I may have only played half of the games that I did if I had focused exclusively on being a forward.”
Creatures of Habit
If you have ever coached a sport, at any level, you have likely come across a situation where you are short on players and need to fill a position. Whether it is for a single tournament in the offseason or due to an injury that occurred during the season, you are forced to fill that void with another player on the roster.
You have some players in mind that you think could get the job done, but they hesitate when you ask. They are reluctant to play a position they’re not used to, or don’t want college coaches to see them at a different position. Having observed this situation from the perspectives of both lacrosse player and club coach, I’m a firm believer in playing as many positions as you can.
Honestly, I was probably a lot like these players before I got to college. Ever since I first picked up a lacrosse stick at seven years old, I’ve played attack. My older brother played attack. I never considered playing a different position. I got recruited going into my senior year in high school, where I was a New Jersey All-American attackman. I had no doubt about which position I would play in college.
That all changed when I arrived at Quinnipiac University for my freshman year. Our best player was a Sophomore right-handed attackman. We also had two lefty Canadian attackman, so the chances of me seeing significant playing time on attack were slim. Towards the end of our fall season, my coach suggested that I give midfield a shot so that I could get on the field.
A Blessing In Disguise
The thought of playing midfield made me nervous. Besides the fact that the concept of running up and down the field never appealed to me, I figured I would be a complete liability on defense. Defensive midfield is the most difficult position in lacrosse; they’re typically the focal point of an offense’s game plan. An offense looks to attack the defensive midfielders because they don’t have a long stick, making them easier to dodge against, which forces the defense to scramble and play out of position.
I played midfield for the last off-season practices, and was surprised to find that I was actually pretty good at defense. My high school coach placed a ton of emphasis on attackmen riding, which definitely translates to defense. We had two senior defensive midfielders who had a lot of experience, but we lacked depth at the position since they both had injury issues in the past.
Seeing this as an opportunity to get on the field, I made it my goal to become stronger. I worked on my conditioning over the winter break. When I got back to campus, I was in the best shape of my life (which isn’t saying much), and was fully committed to playing defensive midfield.
Because I still lacked experience on defense, I focused solely on learning as much as I could from the older guys. I learned how to play 1-on-1 defense, as well as in a defensive system. I first got on the field during the third game of the season against Vermont. As I gained experience, I began to play more and more in each game.
That was the most important year of my lacrosse career. I went on to play increasingly more offensive midfield the following seasons, until I rarely played defense my senior year. I never would have expected that playing a different position would have such an incredible impact on my overall game.
The defensive skills and team concepts I learned that season transformed how I approached offense. Having an in-depth understanding of the different defensive schemes taught me how to analyze, anticipate, and dissect a defense. Getting beaten countless times 1-on-1 taught me what was difficult to defend against. I implemented those techniques into the way I dodged on offense.
Get Better Everyday
It is generally agreed upon in the youth sports community that playing multiple sports, rather than specializing in a single sport, is beneficial to an athlete’s development in their main sport. The same goes for playing different positions within a sport.
At a young age, players have an idea of how a certain position should be played and try to fit that mold. Sometimes, a player’s development stalls because they have the mindset that their way of playing is the “right way.” They neglect trying different techniques that will allow them to become a more versatile player.
Too often, this position specialization occurs when an athlete picks up a sport for the first time. They want to be like an older sibling, a professional player. Maybe they are told that because they are tall or fast, they should play a certain position, making them believe that’s the only position for them. As they get older, other players catch up athletically and physically.
When this happens, the players who relied on their strongest attributes fall behind. At the youth level, it is crucial not to label a player as a certain position. Rather, it is important to give players the opportunity to try different positions, or put them in situations they aren’t used to.
The Versatility Edge
It’s never too late to switch it up. Although I always knew I wanted to get back to playing offense, the nuances of the game that I learned playing defense were invaluable to my development as a player. If you are trying to sign up for a showcase but your position is filled, why not play a different position for one event? It will change your notion of how each position should be played. Who knows, you might even be good at it. If you tell a college coach you don’t usually play that position, they will be impressed by your versatility and willingness to try something different, to get on the field.
Ultimately, the fundamental concepts a player learns will completely change their overall understanding of the game, making it easier to adapt to different styles of play. Playing different positions is something every athlete should do during their career.