Harlem Lacrosse Coaches Mix Sports and Education to Shape Athletes

Coaches for Harlem Lacrosse discuss how they had to change their approach to coaching since joining the school.

Harlem Lacrosse Coaches Mix Sports and Education to Shape Athletes

Coaches for Harlem Lacrosse discuss how they had to change their approach to coaching since joining the school.

Coaching can be a thankless job. The hours can be long and the grind can take its toll. For most, however, the benefits vastly outweigh the drawbacks.

Most coaches see that reward at the end of the season in how their athletes have developed. Some coaches see conference championships, and a lucky few see state titles.

Adrian Heneveld and Eliza Halmo approach their job as coaches differently than their colleagues. For them, it’s not about winning championships or getting the scholarship to the Division 1 school. Instead, it’s about giving their kids the opportunity to better their current situations.

Harlem Lacrosse-Boston is in its first year after successful sister schools have been established in New York and Baltimore. Described as a middle school intervention program, the school develops students that normally would fly under the radar and gives them the opportunity to succeed.

“I was intrigued by the tri-component model focusing on academics, lacrosse, and community engagement, and specifically how it used lacrosse as the hook to engage students and make them more invested in their academics and in becoming a high-achieving, well-rounded human,” Halmo said.

Heneveld and Halmo are program directors at their schools, so they are with their students the entire day in addition to coaching after school. “The thinking behind that model is having another caring adult figure in these kids’ lives will help them reach their potential that we’re trying to get out of them,” Halmo explained.

With any new job, coaches must establish a culture and identity for their team. For Heneveld and Halmo, that poses issues they didn’t intend when they took the job. 

My approach prior to Harlem Lacrosse was the assumption that the players had played lacrosse, or some other sport, before, and most of them had, so the players already had the experience of being an athlete and what that means. With the Harlem Lacrosse student-athletes that I coach here in Boston, it was not just about teaching them the sport of lacrosse, but also how to be an athlete.,” Halmo said.

What many coaches take for granted, Heneveld and Halmo have to develop and coach. “It’s teaching them how to walk in two straight lines out to the practice field, how to run an entire warm-up lap without walking, how to stand in a single file line and not in a clump during drills. Patience has been the biggest key to my approach since taking this job,” Halmo said.

That starts with the basics of what it means to be on a team. “Most of the girls have never been part of a team and this program gives them an opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Halmo said. They take pride in working hard alongside their teammates towards a common goal and they encourage one another throughout practice.”

That is where both coaches begin their job. In order to have the best players on the field, they need to have the best students when they aren’t on it. “We spend a lot of time talking about and practicing team work, sportsmanship, and developing mental toughness when things don’t go your way,” Heneveld said.

After establishing how to act on and off the field, Heneveld and Halmo can start to work on technique and the finer points of lacrosse. As with any coach, they brought the ideas and drills from their previous coaches, but adjusted them to fit what works best for their team. “Now that I am coaching a team, I am developing my approach and I’ve found I am constantly using techniques, strategies, and lessons that my coaches used to coach my teams,” Heneveld said.

The end goal, more than wins or loses, is that the team becomes a family. Heneveld has seen it in his team just from how they interact with each other. “They are also very supportive of each other. When one player gets upset or down, three or four players run over to encourage them and keep them going,” he said.

As Heneveld and Halmo have laid the foundation, their players are picking up on the teachings and growing.

Cece Davis, a seventh grader, has seen the motivation her coach has given to continue to push herself “Eliza is this go-getter that she wants you to continue to do something, she doesn’t let you go as easy. With her, you have to persist,” Davis said. “She’ll give you opportunities to explore, and you have to take advantage of them.”

Fifth-grader Ralph Nelson knows that his coach gets on him to make him a better person and a better player. “He yelled a lot the first few practices. A lot of kids would get mad because in a way he yells too much, but then we realized he’s yelling at us for our own good. If we did something wrong he would tell us to do it again. He mostly cares about us as people instead of lacrosse players,” he said.

At the end of the day, that’s what any coach is trying to do. It’s not about the championships, the victories or the accolades. It’s about preparing their kids for what comes after the games. “My favorite part of this job is the numerous opportunities to teach life lessons through coaching a team,” Heneveld said.

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