How do coaches prepare for a new season when they are still on a championship high?
This is the question Mercyhurst University men’s lacrosse coach Chris Ryan has been dealing with since the end of the 2011 season. Ryan and the Lakers took home their first Div. II National Championship last spring, and they plan to bring home another one this season.
Ryan has been in a similar position.
In 2007, the Lakers had an outstanding year and finished runner-up to Le Moyne in the National Championship game. The team failed to build off the momentum and finished an uninspired 9-4 in 2008.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” said Ryan. “The first rule is to learn from mistakes you have made in the past.”
Ryan has been adamant about not repeating the mistakes made before the 2008 season.
“We had a pretty stringent fall curriculum to help set the tone for the season,” Ryan said.
The goal of the coaching staff is to prepare properly and not let the team rest on its laurels. Once Ryan has looked at past mistakes to remedy them, he needs to pass on a similar mentality to his team.
“We have to instill in the kids that it’s day-by-day and week-by-week,” said Ryan. “We need to work harder than we have ever worked before.”
Ryan and the program have tasted success at its highest level, and they want to stay there.
“At the beginning of this journey we were told we weren’t going to win,” said Ryan. “Now we need to keep winning to show last year wasn’t us catching lightning in a bottle.”
So far, the Lakers have continued to win. The team has started off the 2012 season a sterling 5-0, including a tight 7-6 victory over No. 3 Dowling. But that’s not good enough for Ryan.
“We still have a long, long way to go,” said Ryan. “We know what’s at the end of this if we work hard.”
With high expectations, the team needs to not look too far ahead. If the team loses a game or two, it could miss out on the playoffs. The Lakers need to stay focused through the middle of their season.
“Everyone is concerned about making playoffs,” said Ryan. “We are already in the playoffs; this is the playoffs.”
Ryan has instilled a certain mentality in his players. That mentality is showing with the upperclassmen leading the way.
“We have terrific leaders on this team with high character and maturity,” said Ryan. “We have to trust them.”
In the early season, the team is showing no ill effects of a championship hangover.
“We don’t hear anyone in the locker room talking about anything but the next game,” said Ryan. “It is next game or bust for us.”
One thing for Ryan to worry about as a coach is that his team falls short even when the talent is there to succeed. With 20 upperclassmen returning from the championship squad, the talent is obviously still there.
“My biggest fear was not playing to their potential,” said Ryan. “I can digest winning and losing, but I can’t digest not playing to our abilities and fulfill our potential.”
Every coach can take a page out of Ryan’s book on how to succeed following a championship year. A team changes from year to year, and there is always something to learn from.
“I only get one year to coach each team and get them to play to their potential,” Ryan said.
If coaches learn from past mistakes, keeps their team focused on the next game and prepares their team to fulfill its potential, then their teams will be successful.
Ryan and the Lakers have been successful so far, but they aren’t satisfied yet.