Jim Connolly — One of a Kind
I had a chance to sit down with Jim Connolly recently to talk with him about lacrosse, and the clinics and private lessons he’s offering at HGR. I’m going to de-cloak as the Roving Reporter for a moment and confess to being a parent who has two sons who’ve played lacrosse (though not in Massachusetts). I cannot tell you how impressed I was with this young man! His thoughtfulness and depth of caring about the kids he works with made me wish we did live in Massachusetts! Yes, he has a list of accomplishments longer than my arm, but that’s not what makes him great. That just makes him talented. What makes him great, in my opinion, is that he’s truly a rare combination of talent and wisdom and compassion. Any kid would be lucky to have him for a coach. See what you think for yourself.
It goes back to my father, who was a lacrosse coach. He got me started playing the game when I was very young. The reason why I coach now is that I still have a real passion for the game. I really get a sense of fulfillment out of teaching the young guys the necessary skills to become better players.
When you started playing, how long did it take you to realize this was a game that you loved and could enjoy playing for a long time? Did that happen right away or did it take a while?
No. It doesn’t happen right away. Just like with anything else, you have to work at it a little bit to get good enough to enjoy it. Of course I had the advantage of my father helping me out. But at the same time, I took the time to practice the skills. You have to have someone show you the right way to play. And then it’s on you to keep practicing.
You’ve had an impressive career. What are you most proud of?
As an individual moment – Either playing in the National Championship in college or in the Major League Lacrosse All-Star game last year.
But when I look back at my career in it’s entirety, I’m probably most proud of the way I’ve been able to do everything. I mean, I’ve really been able to do it my way. I’ve always had goals in mind, and then I’ve had the ability and the support necessary to stick to those goals.
When you say that you’ve always done it your way, can you elaborate on that?
I mean that mostly in terms of coaching. I feel there are coaches out there that are so focused on creating travel teams and other aspects of “club ball”, that they simply don’t have enough time to really focus on making the individual player(s) better….. I’ve always been a big believer in fundamentals. If you don’t have the fundamentals down and you don’t have the proper technique, you’ll never be able to reach your full potential as a lacrosse player.
What changes do you hope to see coming in Lacrosse?
The big one would be the recruitment process. All the pressure that there is on these kids to perform in middle school and high school is crazy. I’d like to see everything take a step back a little bit. Top level Division 1 coaches are recruiting these kids so early. They have kids traveling all summer, all over the country and really just playing non-stop. They’re supposed to be enjoying their summers but they’re really just worn out from all the travel and stress from “being recruited”. Everyone is chasing the dream of a scholarship, which is nice and obviously it can help some families financially but in reality, there are just not that many opportunities to go around.
On the whole, I think there is too much emphasis on summer recruiting. There shouldn’t be so much pressure on these kids to perform at such a young age. A little bit less on the competition and travel team side and a little more on taking time to practice and improve the fundamentals and basic techniques. It’s important to help kids improve at a steady rate, this is how they really improve and are awarded the opportunities to earn scholarships and play at the college level.
It sure can seem that there’s not much sanity in sports these days. So I can tell you that it’s very exciting to hear you say that.
That’s pretty much the whole reason for me starting these clinics, so we can really emphasize player development at HGR. There just aren’t enough places where kids can go and learn the stick skills they’re going to need to compete on a high level. Kids need the proper teaching and the proper coaching. You can’t just throw kids into a game and think they’re going to learn the skills they need on the fly. We’re trying to take a step back and really instill self-confidence in our players by giving them a chance to see how they are improving every week. Once they see how investing time and energy into practice really pays off, they start to invest more time and energy into other parts of their life as well.
Instead of having kids play, play, play, we want the kids to play some but practice more and really improve as a player Our clinics are the perfect place for both boys and girls to learn the skills they will need to be successful and above all else, really see an improvement from week to week.
What do you hope to bring to HGR?
I’m excited to be joining the HGR team. I grew up and went to high school right around the corner. I don’t think there’s anyone more Home Grown than I am. I went through the recruiting experience, but everything’s just gotten really ramped up since I went through the process. So I want to be there for these kids to help them improve their stick skills. I’m not interested in coaching the travel teams; I’m interested in being there for these kids to teach them, to be somebody they can communicate with, and to be a role-model for them.
The world’s spinning a hundred miles an hour for some of these kids. Sometimes they just need someone to be there and just talk to them. It could be about lacrosse; it could be about anything.
Obviously, I’ll be willing to help with the recruitment process but I also know that’s an aspect of HGR that they really excel at. That’s something I can help parents through too—there’s just so much to it. When it’s the first time through for a player and the parents, it’s tough. It helps to have someone who’s been through it and knows the ropes in your corner.
What is your coaching philosophy? What makes you different from other coaches?
What makes me different from other coaches is that I really take the time to pay attention to the details. If I’m doing a private lesson with someone, I might spend the whole hour on only one or two techniques, but we’re going work at it until the technique is perfected. I’ve been coaching individual stick skills for so long now, I honestly feel I’m one of the best at breaking down the game to the most basic levels and then communicating it to the player in a way it’s easily understood. You’ve got to really break things down slowly, piece by piece. Once you do this, and offer step-by-step instructions most players are able to pick things up quickly. Unfortunately, this is not the process that many of the players in this area have become accustomed to.
—and parents, if they’re interested. I’m always happy to have parents watch the private lessons or the training sessions that we do at HGR. It’s great when the parents get involved. I always welcome them to come, watch and bring the instructional info back to their local youth or travel team.
I’ve been doing private lessons for six years and clinics for four years, and I can tell you that it doesn’t take long to see big results in how much these kids improve when they practice the right way – the emphasis needs to be on stick skills and improvement. We all need to get away from thinking that players will be come great simply by playing year round or the continued practice of bad habits.
I’d just like to say that Bryan and I are both excited about the announcement of these skill clinics. We are working hard to make our player development program the very best in the area. We know that we have the best product out there in terms of actually teaching the kids and for the first time ever we will be offering this opportunity to both boys and girls of all ages.
Professional: Major League Lacrosse
- Boston Cannons : 2010-2011
- Ohio Machine : 2012-present
- Club: 3d Lacrosse, Home Grown Lacrosse, Raptors Lacrosse, Laxachusetts
- Assistant Coach – North Andover High School (2012)
- 5 plus years of private lessons
- 2012 MLL All-Star
- Division 1 All-American (Umass Amherst)
- 2009 ECAC player of the year
- 2006 National Championship participant
- Tryout for team USA (2012)
Interview with Coach Brazill on Hiring MLL All-Star Jim Connolly
How did you hear about Jim?
Jim is a North Andover legend, which is the town that HGR is in. I first met Jim’s dad, Steve, when I was coaching at Haverill High School. My first year in the league, he was the league rep for the CAL Conference and I was in the MVC. When I went to the league meeting, he introduced himself; he was just a really nice guy. Come to find out that he’s in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame and he was a head coach for the Boston Blazers. He started Billerica and the North Andover program, which are two of the best programs in the state.
I found out his two sons, Ryan and Jim, were stars at UMass Amherst, which is where Steve had played as well. Ryan was a mid-fielder there and did very well. Jim got there and in his freshman year played in the National Championship and tallied three goals. And he hasn’t looked back!
Since I’ve been in town Ryan, Jim, and Steve have all come by the place to see what’s going on; they’re pretty much the network of lacrosse in this area. They popped in and we started a good relationship. Ryan coaches one of our HGR teams. He’s the guy in “The Day Ryan Connolly Ruined My Favorite Game” blog post.
Jim’s always been coaching private lessons—player development stuff. That’s always been his passion. A lot of guys get into team coaching and I know Jim has certainly had a lot of opportunities and job offers to do that, but he’s really just passionate about making kids better and helping them develop quickly.. He works with young kids, high school kids, and even still works with a lot of college guys while they’re still in school. He tries to help his players find the love for the game that he has.
He’s our head coach of player development now. He’s going to be running all our clinics and teaching all the player development.
How did the hire come about?
We’ve always worked alongside each other. He’d come in and do private lessons at the place or I’d ask him for help with a clinic. So I know what a great fit he’s going to be for us. I’m very excited to have him on board.
This is all really part of the improvements and expansion and more offerings that we have available. HGR has reached a new level for what it can offer the young lacrosse player in eastern Massachusetts. Now we’ve got teams, leagues, and private training and stretch conditioning. We’ve got the complete package for any kid that wants to develop their lacrosse skills.
What is it about Jim that you think makes him so good at what he does?
Approachability. Jim’s an MLL All-Star player, which is our best professional lacrosse league—it’s like the NBA or the NFL. He made the All Star game and he’s a really incredible player, but he’s just “Coach Connolly” to these 10 and 11 year olds. He puts on no airs. He’s very good with kids and making them feel accepted, and teaching them in a way where they’re learning advanced skills and they don’t even realize it. He’s never tough on kids—he’s really just an incredible teacher. He goes to whatever level he needs to go to so that the kids feel comfortable. But if he needs to push a high school kid, he’ll push a high school kid. He does it in his own way to get results without being a yeller or a bully. I’ve never seen his blood pressure spike in all the years I’ve known him.
Do you have any Fun Fact that you can share about Jim?
He doesn’t know how to string his own lacrosse stick. I think that’s hysterical. He’s so extremely talented and he has his brother string his sticks for him.
His credentials are very impressive.
Yeah, for sure. At one point, he was the number one points producer of all time in the state of MA. He was multiple HS All American. He was college All American. MLL All Star. That’s as impressive of a player portfolio as I think you can get. He’s been good at every level: High School, College, and Professional League.
This is Your Competition
So you want to be the next great lacrosse player? I want to show you what your competition looks like.
His name is Sean Fagen. He’s 12 years old from North Reading MA.
Sean has been participating in then Home Grown (now HGR) camps, clinics and teams since he started playing lacrosse in kindergarten. I have witnessed countless signs of Sean’s impending greatness over the years, but this past week at HGR youth camp Sean left no doubt that he is the real deal.
Lot’s of kids say they want to be great; they buy the latest and greatest equipment, wear their lax shorts to school so everyone knows they play, and they may venture out into the backyard to shoot a couple of balls from time to time. Here’s what it really takes to be great:
Sean was wrapping the cage lefty(which is his off hand) and released a low to high shot as he was popped by his defenseman. The shot hit inside top corner and Sean braced himself for landing with his right wrist. Bad news for Sean’s wrist.
Here is what a dinner fork break looks like. The forearm sits above the hand like a handle of a fork and the hand sits below like the head of a fork with the wrist acting as the bend in the fork. It is a very painful break that needs to be reset at the hospital before it can be placed in a cast.
Sean handled it like a champ and barely batted and eye to a break that our trainer, Andy, said has reduced a number of college athletes that he has worked with to tears.
Here is Andy securing the sling on Sean.
Here is Sean 5 minutes after the break, already smiling and giving the thumbs up.
All that makes for a pretty tough and pretty cool kid but what sent me over the top and what makes Sean an unusually driven player is this photo.
This photo was taken the next day by Sean’s father, Chris (former Merrimack College assistant coach and current North Reading youth lacrosse president). Sean was out playing wall ball, his broken and dominant hand in a cast. Sean got to work on developing his off hand. And for the cynics and critics, Sean isn’t posing for this picture. It was simply snapped without him knowing by his proud father. The same way we received the below photo of Sean shoveling a path to his throw back in the middle of winter after a big snow storm.
That photo won our Facebook cover photo challenge and the above photo of Sean simply inspires me!
–by Coach Brazill
Meet HGR’s Intern — Chris Roach
We’ve been lucky enough to nab Chris Roach as our intern. Among his contributions to HGR Lacrosse, he’s the guy to thank for all the recent pics that have been showing up here and on Facebook.
Chris lives in Boxford, MA and graduated from Masconomet High School in 2010. In the summer and fall of his senior year of high school, he played for the Raptors elite team, which is where he was recruited to go to Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). He’s going into his senior year at SNHU and his major is sport management. Chris is hoping he’ll have the chance to do something lacrosse related once he graduates next spring.
Chris plays lacrosse defense. He has some experience playing short stick d-middie, as well as long stick middie, but this upcoming season he’ll be staying at close defense.
Thanks again, Chris! We appreciate all you do!
Coach Brazill Interviewed About Merrimack College Lacrosse Team Winning Streak
Coach Brazill (who is also the offensive coordinator for the Merrimack College Team) has earned some bragging rights:
“We are on a 7 game winning streak and are the number 2 team in the country right now.
We are 5-0 in conference and we beat the number one team in the country LeMoyne on March 26th at home.
We have 5 games left in the regular season and our next game is a home game against Pace University at home this Saturday at 1:00.”
Show the coach some love and come watch if you can!
Happy Birthday Coach Brazill !
A Birthday Interview with Coach Bryan Brazill
Coach Brazill just celebrated his 31st birthday. We thought it’d be a good time to catch up with him to ask him a few questions.
When did you start playing lacrosse?
What’s your favorite lacrosse memory?
Going to the Eli Jamboree in 5th grade. It was a big youth tournament at Yale University and it was the first time I saw and started to understand the community and culture of lacrosse. My Dad and Grandfather took me and they seemed to think I was pretty good, which I was proud of.
What are some other sports you play/enjoy?
I love to surf and snowboard. For team sports I was always into basketball and still love playing pick up hoops.
How does your wife, Danielle, feel about lacrosse?
She says she’s grown to love it. I think she’s grown to really like it– love is a strong word. She grew up in Winthrop, MA, a super small town just outside of Boston and they didn’t have lacrosse. The first game she saw was at Merrimack, and now she is married to a lacrosse-obsessed husband.
Greg Melaugh–Face of New England Lacrosse Journal’s January Cover
Kelsey Brazill’s interview with Greg Melaugh, who was recently on the cover of New England Lacrosse Journal
How is it being on the cover of the New England Lacrosse Journal?
When I first heard about it I was pretty excited; it’s the first time I’ve ever been on the cover of anything. I guess it’s just really exciting.
Has that coverage done anything for your team?
It’s obviously good for our school because it helps with recruiting and stuff, and it helps get our school name out there.
What are your hopes for this season at Merrimack both personally and for your whole team?
I think as a team we obviously want to go all the way and win a national championship. And personally anything I can do to help my team win that will be my goal.
What do you think your chances at a national championship are?
I think they’re pretty good; we have a very good chance. Especially with the new way the playoffs work (8 teams make the NCAA playoffs this year, previously it had only been 4). We have a better chance of making it. And we have a really good team with a lot of guys returning.
How do you like playing for Coach Brazill, having him as your offensive coach?
I love playing for Bryan, he’s an awesome coach. He’s laid back, lets us play our game, and coaches us when we need it.
Do you have any advice for kids hoping to become part of HGR?
For anyone who wants to play for HGR, I would just say work hard every day. If you work hard, the coaches will give you their attention. They always give you their best, so if you’re willing to give them your best then you’re going to succeed.
How did playing for the Raptors prepare you for playing at the collegiate level?
Playing with the Raptors was a great help because we always had great coaches. I mean if you ever need anything they were there to help you out. Now that Home Grown is working with them, it’s just going to be even better–with more coaches and better facilities and everything.
What is your favorite movie?
What is your weapon of choice?
Favorite stick would be the Evo 3 (Evolution 3).
What is your favorite dodge move?
Definitely the triple jabs (a three step crossover).
What are some things outside of Lacrosse that you like to do in your free time?
I like to mountain bike and ski.
Interview With a Faceoff Middy
Coach Bryan Brazill (CB): I’m here with Pat Coskren, Merrimack college faceoff midfielder. In your own words how do you feel last season went?
Pat Coskren (PC): I really believe we had a great team. However there were a few games where we lost trust in one another, and along with a lack of communication we had some tough loses, that otherwise never would have happened.
CB: What are your goals this year, Pat?
PC: I hope to help bring my team to a Ne-10 final, and take steps toward accomplishing our biggest goal–a national championship.
CB: You have had a great pre-season. Maybe you could tell us what you look for when lining up the faceoff X. Read more