A past coach of mine loved to use a phrase which became the “brand” for many of the successful teams that he coached: “Freedom Through Discipline”. To me, this simple phrase has come to have two meanings.

  1. As individuals, we gain more freedom, choice, and options in our lives the more disciplined we can be with the other aspects of our lives. (i.e. Patrick Mahomes has the freedom to throw no-look passes because of years of disciplined practice).

But it also takes on another meaning as it applies to effective culture building and mentorship…

  1. Leaders are most effective when they build cultures of discipline that also allow for autonomy.

Recently, I have seen so many instances where this simple message perfectly encapsulates what great cultures possess. As leaders, we hope to encourage each member of our team to have the discipline, work ethic, restraint, toughness, and perseverance it takes to be successful – but we also hope that it comes from their own motivation to have choice in their lives. This is immensely effective in government structures, business cultures, and (as it turns out) youth lacrosse development. As mentors, we want to harness the intrinsic motivation of autonomy while driving them toward disciplined decision making, disciplined practice, and disciplined leadership.

So what does this look like?

For starters, it is hard work, sometimes messy, and always a work in progress. As coaches, we want to have control. We tend to create high expectations for the outcome on the field and tie it closely to our own ego. It is our job as mentors to create the metaphorical “bumpers” within which the kids can find their own style, correct their own mistakes, and take ownership over their own game. We also want to set the parameters so that success will only come from performing the skills and behavior that we want to encourage…

This is a game of keep away – you can pass however you would like but it must be with your off hand. Each catch is a point and we will play to 20. If anyone hangs their head, puts their palms up, or yells at a teammate, they get subbed out.


When your teammate runs toward you, you have a lot of options that you get to choose. You can fade, set a pick or cut through. The one thing you cannot do is stand still because you may get your teammate hurt by allowing your man to jump the ball carrier. We must always send our teammates a message that we want to help them however we can by giving them as much space as possible.

Always build systems which are conceptual, gives players choice, and allows them to contribute. Ask the athletes what they want, what they think would be a good idea, or how they could make a drill better. Give them tasks that they want to perform…

Who wants to figure out a better way for us to get good at picking up GBs? Who wants to be the coordinator of our goalie warm ups? Who can think of something we can carry around from game to game that gives us a uniting symbol to rally behind? Who wants to address the team before our game this week?

For our athletes, we must put into plain sight the joy of hard work. The reward of discipline cannot always be in the unattainable future – it must, at some point, be in the present. Inscribed around the seal of my alma mater is written (in latin) : “Hard Work is True Joy”. Few things I believe to be more true. While that path between hard work and joy may seem dark to the young men we guide, I believe it is our job as mentors to the light the way.

Until Next Time…

Ryan Klipstein