Head Respect

Sportgevity caught up with Tom Ryan who is the head coach for the Charlotte Copperheads of the North American Lacrosse League. He has also held several head coaching positions for other teams including the Boston Blazers of the National Lacrosse League, the 2007 U.S. Indoor Lacrosse Team for the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships, and several women’s and men’s college teams. Prior to his coaching career, Ryan was named a college All American attackman, and he played professionally for the Boston Blazers, Baltimore Thunder, and the Philadelphia Wings. Tom shared with us what he learned during his many years playing and coaching the game. 



Lacrosse is a young man’s game. The punishment you take during play is tough to sustain as you get older. That being said we have seen an explosion in leagues and tournaments catering to players in their 30s, 40s, and even over 50. In order to play until those ages, one has to train properly with strength and flexibility exercises. But even more importantly, players need to modify their mentality and behavior on the field to keep themselves and each other safe.



Genes, luck and playing with a “self-preservation” mentality is important, especially as one ages. I had difficulty making that shift.



I was forced to retire at 32 because of complications from a series of concussions.  I am proud of the way I played. But I could have paid closer attention to my brain when I got my bell rung. It’s important to tune into subtle post-concussive symptoms, including mental fogginess and lethargy. In retrospect, I should have given myself more time to recover before going back to play. If I could go back, I would rest my brain after a big hit and give it the time it needs to heal.



Learn the proper way to hit people. Do not lead with your head. 



If you get a concussion you are at an increased risk of getting another. In my experience, I would estimate that 50-75% of lacrosse players have had a concussion at some time during their career. It is rare when I find someone who has never had one.



The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association, NLL (National Lacrosse League) and other leagues are taking steps to deter head-shots by enforcing harsher penalties, with the exception of fighting in the NLL. 



The US Lacrosse League formed the Sports Science & Safety Committee to function as an advisory group to the leaders in the organization as well as the  various committees. In addition, the committee serves as a source of education for the entire lacrosse community. It uses existing sports medicine literature to be as objective as possible in recommending policy changes. It also hopes to stimulate growth in the body of knowledge relating to concussions as well as other injuries sustained during play. The ultimate goal? - to enhance the safety and quality of experience in lacrosse at all levels.



For me, I think the biggest pressure to play came from within. Lacrosse was the most important thing in my life to the degree that my identity was based on my lacrosse persona. Playing was what I lived for...it was the purpose of my being. The thought of missing a game was not really an option, until it was too late.

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