As part of our regular feature, Coaches on Coaching, Swax Lax interviewed Coach Matt Belson, the founder and Chief Scoops Officer of Scoops Lacrosse in Cohasset, Massachusetts. Coach Bels is a former D1 player and long-time coach who has a unique approach to teaching young players about lacrosse and life.
Here’s what Coach Bels said:
Planting the Fun Seed While Teaching Lacrosse
How long have you been playing and coaching lacrosse?
I’ve been playing and loving the game of lacrosse since I started when I was in 7th grade. I still play and enjoy the game today just as much as I did when I played in college. I began coaching almost 10 years ago and have never looked back.
Why a passion for lacrosse? What triggered it?
Clearly, I’m biased but I find the sport of lacrosse to be the best sport to play and watch. It contains all the best qualities from all the other sports and combines them. It’s fast. It’s strategic. It welcomes creativity. There’s checking and hitting. If you’re athletic but have never touched a stick, there’s a role for you on any team while you develop your stick skills. And even if you’re not super athletic, there are skilled positions available for you on any team up through the high school level. Most importantly, it’s super fun. Fun to play, fun to coach, and fun to watch. I can’t ever recall anyone complaining of the slowness of a lacrosse game.
What inspired you to start your own program that focuses on very young players? You are very creative with practice plans, tools, and drills for your players that keeps them excited and engaged.
I guess like all good things, Scoops was born of a failure. In this case, a total dad fail. At the time, I wanted nothing more than to have my then 5-year-old son Archer enjoy and love the game of lacrosse as much as I did.
He didn’t take. I tried and pushed harder, and his disdain seemed only to grow larger. After three days of massive frustration on both sides, I realized I was the sucker sitting at the table.
That night, I ordered a dozen rainbow cones. A few days later, we went back out there and instead of asking him to try some basic drills, I chose to lead with a game; “Arch, if you get the white ball under the blue and green cones, it’s one point. If you get the yellow ball under the red and orange cones, it’s two points. And if you find an orange ball no matter what color cone, it’s worth three points. Now, let’s go for a few minutes and then we’ll see how many points you have.”
After two minutes, he looked at me and asked, “How many points?” I replied that he had 21 points. He asked if the score was a good one. To which I replied, “Yeah, pretty good.” He then responded with the words all parents and coaches no matter the sport or activity long to hear, “Can we do it again, I think I can do better.”
The realization was simple. The game of lacrosse I love and fill my DVR up with, to my wife’s dismay, is a highly skilled, fast moving, action-packed game that is not of much interest to kids his age. Starting an elementary player with a heaping of ground ball line drills that perhaps you remember doing when you played back in the day is no different to them than eating vegetables. Rather, what matters to kids is having fun, being challenged, playing games, and feeling good about themselves.
A few months later, I started Scoops Lacrosse with the goal of inspiring the next generation of laxers to be happy, healthy, and confident both on and off the field. The strategy is based on not telling, not yelling, but demonstrating and inspiring. The curriculum is designed by imagining what the game of lacrosse looks and feels like from a 3-, 4-, or 5-year-olds’ eyes. From there, we create imaginative lacrosse games like Duck, Duck, Scoops or Scoopers and Gathers for the kids to play in small groups. All Scoops activity must contain a large heaping of the Scoops Secret Sauce — tons and tons of fun while learning the fundamentals of the game. We don’t believe in pads or pressure, rather our focus is to provide a positive learning environment where kids get excited to come and play. Finally, our barometer for winning at every Scoops class is based on the number of kids that left inspired, the number of smiles, and the high fives dished out.
Where does that creativity come from? Did anyone influence you? You’re also very innovative and prolific on social media with Scoops Lacrosse.
I think my creativity in general is a direct result of my enthusiasm for the sport. I like to find a good balance on social between fun and funnier. Why not? I mean isn’t life better when you're laughing. That said, it’s easy to just post cute pictures of little scoopers, especially when you have an abundance of them, but that’s not what I see as Scoops Lacrosse's purpose. To me, I see Scoops more as a proxy to help kids learn new skills, lessons that extend beyond the field and do so while having a blast with their friends. As such, I love to post or write about an insight that’s been gleaned through an interaction at class that may focus on areas like how to deal with kids that are being disruptive, or perhaps, the importance of just letting kids play.
What advice can you give to other coaches and programs for keeping all your audiences engaged with your philosophy and activities?
It’s funny, a few months ago, I was listening to some “coaching experts” talk about how to run a successful session with young kids — what drills work best, different expectation levels per age, etc. — I seriously almost walked out. Instead, when it was time for the Q & A, I raised my hand and kindly offered the following, “If we all agree that our goal as coaches is to inspire and teach, and we can achieve that best when we have the highest level of engagement, than I’m willing to bet that when anyone in this room started playing lacrosse, we all favored games over drills.”
After everybody nodded their heads, I then said, “I’ll now double-down that bet that if given the choice right now, the majority of us would still choose games over drills. So why not think about the skills you want to convey and then create a game where competition is involved. If you try that at your next class, I’d like to triple that bet that you will see a significant higher level of engagement from your kids than last practice. Bonus. Give the kids the opportunity to come up with their own team name.”
The truth is, games are more fun. When it’s more fun, we tend to want to play more because our enjoyment levels are higher. And when our enjoyment levels are higher, that’s where the real learning and growth happens. And not just when playing lacrosse but in life. So that’s the seed I try to plant at Scoops. The fun seed.
Be sure to read our previous Coaches on Coaching column where we interview Coach Meany.