Belisle instructed 24 high school defensemen last Wednesday, a little after 4:15 p.m. Eastern.

"> Virtual Training Resources Helping Connect During Pandemic | USA Lacrosse Magazine


Virtual Training Resources Helping Connect During Pandemic

“Eyes up here,” Mitch Belisle instructed 24 high school defensemen last Wednesday, a little after 4:15 p.m. Eastern.

But instead of addressing the group at a local turf field or gym, Belisle communicated with them through his laptop, perched on a white Yeti cooler on top of the patio table behind his West Orange, N.J., home. 

Minus a couple of ESPN alerts that disappeared when muted, if you could only listen, you might have had trouble distinguishing Trilogy Lacrosse’s Backyard Clinic Series from an in-person event. The defensive skills clinic for eighth- to 12th-graders — an hour-long training session via Zoom — featured real-time feedback, corrections and adjustments. It also looked like a lot of fun. After Belisle demonstrated the various footwork drills in his tree-lined backyard, he divided the players into breakout rooms with fellow Trilogy coaches, so they kept the player-to-coach ratio at eight-to-one. During the wall ball and push-up contest that capped off the clinic, “The Final Countdown” played in the background. 

“I’d say the general core of what Trilogy is all about and how we coach and teach is still similar,” said Belisle, Trilogy’s vice president of sales and marketing, who was a three-time MLL All-Star and a member of the 2014 U.S. national team. “It’s just virtual.”

Trilogy launched the pilot program in mid-April to fill the void in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that curtailed seasons across the country. Trilogy had to postpone or cancel its numerous showcases and events, including ICE, its weeklong Intensive Club Experience.

“We went from a full spring and gearing up for our prime summer season to being at a full stop and trying to figure out what is a moving target,” Trilogy co-founder and CEO Ryan Boyle told The New York Times last month. 

Still, the show goes on. Boyle drives from New York City to West Orange on Thursdays and hosts Trilogy’s offensive skills clinics from Belisle’s backyard. The numbers have gone up each week. Each time they’ve maxed out a session, they added a coach for the next one to accommodate more players. They’ve had players from over 30 state — including Wyoming, California, South Carolina and Alabama — for the virtual sessions that cost $35. 

“Is that a Mater Dei sweatshirt?” Belisle asked one of the participants last week. 

“Let’s not lose any windows, most importantly,” he added during a demo for an over-the-shoulder catch off a bounceback he built out of an old door. 

“The most rewarding part is kids have come back four, five, six sessions now, which shows they clearly value them,” Belisle said in an interview after the clinic. “At the end of the day, people just want to connect, and that’s what sports are about.”

“The most rewarding part is kids have come back four, five, six sessions now, which shows they clearly value them. At the end of the day, people just want to connect, and that’s what sports are about.” — Mitch Belisle


Whether through Zoom, YouTube or Instagram, the virtual resources to connect players and coaches despite their physical separation have surged. Earlier this month, Front Office Sports detailed the growth of both The Attack Academy and First Class Lacrosse’s online training platforms. The article also noted US Lacrosse’s expanded digital offerings for parents, coaches and officials through the centralized #LaxAtHome resource and mobile coaching app, as well as the national governing body’s plan to roll out player education contents in the coming weeks.

“Those who view this challenge as an opportunity and operate during this uncomfortable time are the ones that are gonna come out on the positive end on the other side of it,” former Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala told ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra over Zoom last week as part of IMLCA’s Whiteboard Wednesday series. 

Many lacrosse instructional camps, coaches and teams have embodied that mindset. While Joe Nardella, a faceoff specialist for the Premier Lacrosse League’s Whipsnakes LC, admitted that some of his proteges are “chomping at the bit” for in-person competition at the X, he’s tried to prioritize the technical focus the position requires in the Faceoff Factory’s virtual group classes and private lessons. The added ability to break down film during these sessions facilitates that type of learning. 

“Right now is a really good time to focus on not just beating other people, but trying to be the best version of yourself and do things the right way,” Nardella said.

Reevuu, a virtual training and coaching app, allows athletes to submit a video to the platform and then matches the athletes to the top five coaches best suited for their needs. Coaches come from all levels — U.S. national team players, Division I college coaches and professional lacrosse players — and are used to complement training in other areas.

“Reevuu is an excellent platform that allows players to access some of the best coaches in the country with the click of a button,” Dylan Maltz, a member of the Premier Lacrosse League’s Whipsnakes LC and a Reevuu coach, said.

On the coaching side, the Harvard men’s lacrosse team has posted more than 35 episodes of its “One Clip / One Drill” coaching clinic series on YouTube in the past two months and has used Twitter as a way to drive interest. 

The videos, lasting anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, stem from free Zoom sessions that the Harvard staff hosts. The subjects range from head coach Gerry Byrne “Teaching Team Defense,” to more niche topics like “Quick Release is a Skill, Not a Pocket,” with Lars Keil, the team’s director of operations, who’s also known as the “Sidewall Jedi.” Harvard expanded the curriculum to a second series called “HLX360°” in which the coaches diagram some of the drills mentioned from previous webinars in more detail on a whiteboard.

Byrne has produced iterations of similar webinars for almost 15 years. He has always believed that technology can expedite a player or coach’s development. Back in South Bend, where he spent 16 seasons as the mastermind behind Notre Dame’s imposing defense, he created NDLaxTV. Harvard’s YouTube channel, HLX 1881, serves a similar purpose. Byrne noted the initial inspiration was rooted in being a good lacrosse community citizen. He hopes the presentations can provide some value and a much-needed distraction to coaches who are craving the usual rhythms and familiar faces of spring. 

“Nothing can replace actually being with your players or being with your assistant coaches, so we’re all trying to find what’s the next best thing to that,” Bryne said. “Although we’re not physically together, we’re digitally connected.”


Jules Heningburg had just launched Mission Primed — a training experience to prepare high school seniors for college — when he saw the sports landscape change almost overnight. The PLL All-Star attackman for Redwoods LC had already picked out venues on the East and West Coasts.

Heningburg forged ahead. Mission Primed became Mission Primed Digital. Heningburg and his staff worked to develop a curriculum for the four-day, invitation-only event in July that consists of interactive workshops to mirror what he envisioned for the live camp. While he was a “little itchy” at first about the transition to an online format, he soon discovered he could have a broader reach to prepare the 2020 seniors for the next step of their athletic and academic careers. 

“That’s the exciting part about technology, because we’re still able to communicate everything we wanted out of it,” Heningburg said. “This is a way to give hope to these kids who’ve had their seasons canceled. I think as time goes on, more people will realize that this is the way of the future, and you can deliver these meaningful experiences digitally.”

“Lacrosse is a rare sport where you can access the top athletes in the world,” said Rachael DeCecco, the head of Premier Lacrosse League Academy. “If you’re a basketball fan, you can’t get on a Zoom with LeBron James and learn from him. It just doesn’t happen, but lacrosse is one of those sports where we’re able to provide that.” 

DeCecco joined PLL Academy early in March after almost three years as a senior vice president with the WPLL. She and the rest of the PLL executive team were in New York City for meetings scheduled around the Paul Rabil Foundation’s annual fundraiser on March 12. On March 11 the Ivy League canceled spring sports and the NBA postponed its season indefinitely. But much like the PRF’s auction that was held online, DeCecco realized the league needed to pivot its events business to a virtual platform, so it could still connect with young players seeking instruction. 

Most of the strategy discussions centered on how to convert PLL Academy’s in-person offerings from overnight camps and players tour events that were postponed or canceled to a digital platform while still maintaining the connective tissue between PLL athletes and the next generation of lacrosse players. The league prioritized simplicity and user experience. 

“Luckily, the world went virtual together,” DeCecco said of users’ ability to navigate the platforms. “I have two kindergarteners, and they’re proficient at Zoom now.”


Ryan Boyle instructs his online viewers from Mitch Belisle's backyard in West Orange, N.J.

The PLL Academy’s current offerings feature live one-on-one film breakdown and small group training sessions for $19 that cover topics like dodging with Ryder Garnsey and “Maximize Your Impact in the Midfield’’ with WPLL pro Taylor Cummings. (The WPLL also hosts its own digital training platform called WPLL+.)

Before the PLL postponed its season and subsequently adjusted the format to a fanless, fully quarantined tournament starting in late July, Redwoods midfielder Joe Walters was gearing up for the PLL’s opening weekend at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Walters, who also works as an athlete training coordinator for PLL Academy, transitioned his focus to his “Hit the Wall” virtual workout series.

Walters prepared for that first interactive stickwork session May 17 as if it was a game. He scoped out the location at UCLA, pinpointed the wall he wanted to use and planned where he’d position his iPhone 11 on a tripod. He even drew up a “game plan” of the 15 different exercises in his leather notebook with the same attention he’d devote to decoding the Whipsnakes defense. 

“That’s why it’s so gratifying,” Walters said. “It’s just like a game. You prepare, you go out, and if you win, there’s no better feeling.” 

But instead of the scoreboard or the stat sheet to gauge his performance, Walters relied on the feedback of the campers.  He loved the ability to help players correct mistakes and see improvement almost immediately in the live setting. He was impressed with how attentive they were and the thoughtful questions they asked in the Q&A session after the workout. The four-time All-American at Maryland called the virtual training session one of the most gratifying experiences of his career. 

“I’m excited for the next one,” Walters said. “It’s only going to get better.” 

The PLL Academy plans to roll out a more “robust” product within the next few weeks that will further the engagement with its athletes. DeCecco also said that the league has had talks with World Crosse to potentially offer some virtual training sessions outside of the United States. 

“We’re excited about opening those doors both internationally and in parts of this country that we haven’t been to yet,” DeCecco said. “We’re looking forward to growing this and making lemonade out of lemons, as they say.” 

Back in West Orange, N.J., Belisle noted his wife was not thrilled about the toll the backyard has taken after all the clinics, but that the landscaping worries are a welcomed problem to have. 

“We’re ready for any scenario, and these have been a great way to ease the pain for both players and coaches,” Belisle said about Trilogy’s outlook for this summer. “Coaches just want to coach like players just want to play. Having these to look forward to each week has certainly been a blessing for us.”

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