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Shannon Dean has coached Vero Beach (Fla.) to nearly every Florida High School Athletic Association girls’ lacrosse championship since the FHSAA recognized the sport in 2008, plus several more unofficial state crowns. The Indians finished 2013 ranked No. 9 in the final Nike/US Lacrosse National Top 25, and their alumnae dot the rosters of several NCAA teams.
Dean has reached the pinnacle of coaching in high school girls’ lacrosse by being a self-described “student of the game.” He sets aside vacation time each January to attend his favorite class, which happens to last three days and has drawn 7,000 people in each of the last two years.
Indeed, the US Lacrosse National Convention, presented by Champion, has become the premier professional development event for lacrosse coaches, a smorgasbord of demonstrations, concepts, schemes and drills presented by the sport’s brightest and absorbed by its hungriest. The convention returns to Philadelphia Jan. 10-12, 2014, and members can save 40 percent by registering online before Nov. 30.
“I’ve been going every year since ’06, and I don’t plan on missing any,” Dean said. “It’s that important to me to get there.”
Before each season, Dean typically picks three aspects he wants to improve, and he’ll attend all convention sessions related to those goals. When he gets back to Florida, he watches the remaining sessions in The Vault, an online library of all convention presentation that includes video, audio and PowerPoint slides.
Dean recalled a difference-making session on stick skills conducted by Johns Hopkins coach Janine Tucker.
“We always had athletes here, but we needed to improve our stick skills,” Dean said. “I took back what Janine and her players did. We focused on those for the next two or three years and brought our stick sticks up to where they’re comparable to other areas of the country. That really contributed to our success. Phil Barnes from North Carolina also has had some great talks on offensive strategies.”
The Indians’ run atop Florida has been well-documented, and they’ve won some of those title game by significant margins. Vero Beach alumna Courtney Swan earned All-ACC honors as a sophomore midfielder at Virginia in 2013, finishing third in the league with 4.05 draw controls per game.
Dean has turned his experiences at the convention into recruiting. He convinced Bob Windsor, girls’ coach at Martin County (Fla.) High, to go for the first time in 2013. Vero Beach assistant Megan Vatland was among the first give people to register for the 2014 convention.
“It was way better than what he told me,” Windsor said. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done to learn the game. I’ll never not go again. If it moves to Alaska, I’m going.”
Windsor’s Tigers will play their fifth season next spring, but the convention’s diverse schedule of clinics offers something for coaches at all levels.
Veteran high school boys’ coach Mike Jolly, who received the 2012 Gerald J. Carroll Jr. Exemplary Coaching Award for a lifetime’s work of developing young men at De La Salle Collegiate (Mich.) High, estimated that he has been to two-thirds of the convention since helping to start the Pilots’ program in 1984. He has seen it evolve from a men’s coaching clinic operated by the former United States Lacrosse Coaches Association to a weekend full of educational and networking opportunities for coaches, officials and administrators at all levels in the men’s and women’s games, operated by the sport’s national governing body.
Though Jolly now coaches the JV team, he hasn’t stopped learning, either.
“The on-field demonstrations, where coaches can bring in players and demonstrate, are really valuable,” Jolly said. “The first one I saw was Tim Puls [current assistant men’s coach at Stevenson] — to be able to see him position his players was so much better than seeing film, Xs and Os on a white board, or even a PowerPoint.
“It’s a more inclusive event now, with instructional classes now going down to the youth level. Any coach could find worthwhile things to go to all day.”
The convention schedule borders on manic. More than 200 speakers populated the lineup in 2013. Windsor recalled feeling a bit overwhelmed at times. That’s not uncommon. Veteran attendees like Dean take days to comb through notes upon returning home. Windsor quickly found reassurance in The Vault, which gives attendees free access to all presentations.
“That online library was great to see what I missed, but it also reinforced what I learned,” Windsor said. “I looked at it several times before the season, and at least once a month after.”
Windsor believes he’s found in the convention his source for coaching.
“Coaching is a competitive world,” he said. “You have to learn new ways to keep challenging players.”
Image Credit: John Strohsacker