University of Virginia 2014
Lauren Goerz had just one year of college lacrosse under her belt when Cal Berkeley cut five sports programs, including the women’s lacrosse team, in 2010. It’s a story that Tenacity knows well: founder Theresa Sherry was head coach at the time. Lauren was devastated. Cal had been perfect—close to her family in Danville, CA, academically rigorous and beautiful to boot—but she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her lacrosse career. Instead, she transferred to the University of Virginia and joined a DI program consistently ranked in the top ten. The only west coaster on the team, she became a staple on the defensive end.
After graduating from UVA in 2014 with a degree in English, Lauren joined the Scotland National Lacrosse Team as an assistant coach. I know what you’re thinking—what? how?! where do I sign up?! No one better to ask than the lady herself. So, we caught up with Lauren while she was running lax clinics, riding bicycles, and making toast with hagelslag in the Netherlands. Here’s what she had to say:
You started playing lacrosse in seventh grade and ended up playing with more experienced teammates at UVA, one of the best programs in the country. I’m impressed by how well you seem to have adapted to the level of play. How do you think your relatively late start impacted your attitude toward the game? How was the adjustment period?
I think my late start helped me become a fast learner. When you are surrounded by people with more knowledge and experience than yourself, you have to adapt efficiently and quickly to meet the standard. This was my same experience at UVa. Without a doubt, I had the weakest stick work on the team when I arrived for my first day of practice. In order to improve my hand eye coordination one of my coaches told me I had a week to learn how to juggle, or the whole team would run. When you are under this kind of pressure, and surrounded by individuals with exceptionally good stick work, you learn to figure everything out quickly in order to get by.
Did you ever have moments of doubt? How did you overcome that? I think confidence and the mental game in general is such a challenge in girls’ lacrosse, so I’m curious. Any tips for a strongly fortified mind?
Of course. I don’t think you’ve been challenged enough if you have not had moments of doubt in your lacrosse career. Confidence and mental toughness were both a huge part of my own lacrosse journey. On any given team there are only 11 spots on a lacrosse field and every person around you is vying for one of those spots. It’s a highly competitive and cutthroat environment. It’s not uncommon for players to do a cost analysis of all the hours they spend training with the correlating minutes they see on the pitch – I was definitely one of them at one point.
However, I think I felt most empowered and at peace as a player the summer before my senior year. I wanted my last year to be my best yet, and I did it by changing my mental focus. Instead of hyper focusing on my performance during the 60 minutes of match play each week, I took some of the pressure off by considering my success and failure in the moments outside of each 60-minute game. Overall my mental state and performance improved as I realized I could be successful in many different arenas. I could feel successful building stronger relationships with my teammates, successful every time I had the opportunity to play outside on a nice spring day, and successful by acknowledging that I got to be a part of something much bigger than myself. I think that a strong sense of gratitude can greatly contribute to a player’s mental strength.
How did you balance academics and athletics at such a rigorous school?
I think achieving balance is nearly impossible for a collegiate athlete. As soon as you arrive you throw balance out the window and instead realize a new kind of reality, one in which life is a bit more unbalanced. You have less time and energy to complete the same number of assignments as your peers, and late nights studying make your 6 AM workouts even more challenging. It can be difficult to reconcile the feeling that you are always sacrificing something, either your academic success or athletic success.
Two things helped me keep it all together. Firstly, I learned to distinguish essential from non essential work so I was efficient with my time. Secondly, I made sure I was mentally present and engaged in my lectures and section discussions. I studied English and French, and it was not uncommon for a literature class to list a novel a week on the syllabus. Even though it would have been nearly impossible to read and analyze 3-4 full novels a week with the time constraints of my sport, I took detailed notes and paid close attention in class so that I could extract the information I needed for my coursework and exams without reading each book in its entirety.
When did you start working with the Scottish National Team? And how’s it going? Any perks?
Right now I’m an assistant coach for Scotland, and had my first training with them in October 2014. So far it has been an incredible coaching experience. This past summer we came in third place at the European Championships in the Czech Republic, and we are currently building up to the World Cup in 2017. I think the greatest perk is the opportunity to being a part of the international lacrosse community and attend international competitions. Several times now I have had a chance to walk out with Scotland during the opening ceremonies, and sing ‘Scotland the Brave’ before games. Every time we play it really means something.
Can you talk a little bit about your transition from player to coach?
This past year I continued to coach the Scotland national team and also served as one of the player coaches for my own lacrosse team at Durham University where I am working on a masters. I think my transition to a coaching role came naturally since I have been coaching on the side nearly as long as I’ve been playing. When I was a Junior at Monte Vista High School I started working as a coach for Tenacity and additionally ran individual training sessions for players. Even throughout college I continued to coach at Virginia clinics and as well as Stanford and Cal camps.
Since I am still an active player, as a coach I really make an effort to look at my training plans with a player’s eye as well. I think you get much more out of players when they are enjoying a challenge and can see an opportunity for development in each activity. You don’t always get it right but I think it’s an important element to think about.
What’s the most fun you’ve ever had playing lacrosse?
Hands down, playing in international lacrosse tournaments. There are so many in Europe that I had no idea about until I moved out here. Some are serious, and others are social, but regardless it is incredible to be surrounded by teams from so many different countries that have come together for lacrosse. I love every minute of it.
Any advice for young defenders? What should a ninth grade defender, for example, be focusing on? How can she practice it?
I vividly remember my 9th grade year, and how I was so lucky to have such awesome upperclassmen teammates that helped me get up to speed with everything since I was still very new to the game. So firstly 9th graders, when you get an opportunity to play with older or more experienced players, work to find a ‘mentor’ or player you respect and don’t be afraid to ask for help or support!
More specifically for 9th grade defenders, there are three points of focus that instantly came to my mind. Firstly, focus on your voice (your ability to direct and communicate with others), then your vision (not only your peripheral vision, but your ability to anticipate and understand the movement of an attack), and lastly your presence (how you take up space and command respect from attackers). These three things are so important because they are absolutely essential to you as a player no matter what kind of defensive system you are playing in.
Voice: This is something that is great to develop early. No matter your skill set, everyone has a voice. Practice becoming a vocal leader by keeping the flow of communication constant, even when you are off the field or taking a rest in a drill. A sideline player can be like an extra man in defense by communicating to your teammates where the ball is, what direction the help is, etc.
Vision: This is a bit harder to practice, but one way to do it is to try to get your hands on some film and watch with some teammates. Each time a goal is scored, think about what could have been changed in the defense to prevent the goal. Again, when you are at practice playing sevens with your team and the defensive unit successfully recovers the ball or gets scored on, take a quick moment to review with your teammates what went right and wrong so you can understand what happened. Its one thing for your coach to tell you what went wrong, but you reach a whole new level of awareness when you can solve the problem on your own.
Presence: Over the years, I have found you end up playing a lot less defense by simply appearing to have a commanding presence. Attackers are smart, and they are far more likely to take on someone who looks nervous or scared than the defender that confidently takes up space and approaches the ball with a cool, knowing confidence. When you are playing defense, try to think about the ways you can use your body or your voice to communicate your strength and presence (even if you don’t feel so confident on the inside!). Be commanding, and be decisive.
How did Tenacity impact your game? Anything you learned during your time with Theresa that has stayed with you?
I think one thing that resonated with me was a conversation I had with Theresa after my first or second year at UVa, and she told me I needed to “fake it ‘til you make it.” There came a point at which I needed to stop acknowledging my comparative lack of experience and learn to use the skills that I did have to become a competitor. It’s a mental reversal. Sure, I didn’t come from a hot bed lacrosse area. I didn’t have fancy stick work. But I had other strengths. Once I had convinced myself that I was good enough, my play elevated enough to convince my coaches and my teammates too.
April 14, 2016
Written By: Courtney Bird