Q&A with Saint Andrew's Coach R.J. Dawson

Saint Andrew's School has truly set the bar for excellence in boys' high school lacrosse in Florida and across the nation. Under longtime coach Jeff Goldberg, the Scots capped their 14th overall state championship -- and eighth in a row -- with a 14-8 win over Lake Highland Prep in 2010. However, unexpected changes followed in the offseason when Goldberg was relieved of his duties as head coach of the program.

In 2011, former associate head coach RJ Dawson takes over the reigns for the highly successful lacrosse program and has intentions of establishing a new culture while maintaining a championship mindset. In this week's high school lacrosse Q&A, Dawson talks about his coaching philosophy, personal and team goals, and also reveals how he keeps the team focused despite so much recent success.

Talk about some of the biggest differences between being a head coach and a top assistant?
"There are a lot more organization-oriented things you need to focus on, like responding to e-mails and making phone calls. Then there's the planning of practices and making travel arrangements. Now, it's on me to make decisions on the majority of things for this program."

What are your goals as head coach this season -- personal and team-related?
"We are trying to establish a new culture and hopefully with that will come success. We feature a lot of out-of-state games this year and we are excited about that. We use those games as a barometer for how we will approach our other in-state games and the district tournament.

Personally, it's about being a point guy and making all of the decisions that come with that. For instance, making all of the crucial decisions during a game, from calling specific plays to calling a strategic time out. The biggest challenge for me is that we do all of these things again successfully."

How would you define your coaching philosophy?
"It's about competing. I believe that healthy competition in practice makes us better. As a team, we will shuffle things up a bit and see who's hot. If you are hot, you are staying on the field. I believe this philosophy brings out the best in every player, every day. I'm also about trying to get more intrinsic motivation. We are motivators as coaches, but it's ultimately up to the players to get motivation for the next game."

What's different about this year's team compared to recent championship teams of the past?
"The difference is the amount of depth at midfield. We have nine sophomores competing with four seniors and four juniors -- all capable players. We have the ability to substitute a lot of guys this season, and that really comes in hand considering the Florida heat late in the season."

After eight consecutive state titles, how do you keep the team hungry and focused?
"We constantly challenge the players. For example, we are opening up the schedule against some of the top teams in the state. Every game will be a real test for us. Over the last eight years, the state has seen a huge increase in overall talent. With that, you have to get better to be successful, and I think the players understand that. Plus, many of the guys compete with opposing players on club teams across the state. They know we need to continue to push to sustain the success we've had over the years."

Talk about the competition in Florida this season. Who's going to give you a battle for the 2011 title?
"Lake Highland could be the favorite. They are loaded. Winter Park is also a very good team. They had a very good year last year and they beat Lake Highland. Ponte Vedra is real strong as well and they have a very good feeder program with lots of involvement. Closer to us, Gulliver Prep, St. Thomas Aquinas and Pine Crest should be competitive as well. The gap is closing now in Florida lacrosse and many programs have gotten better. There are a lot of teams right now that can knock each other off on any given day."

Paint the scene for me. What does it look like at the end of the 2011 season?
"We hope to be smiling."



To contact staff writer Adam Warner, send an e-mail to adam@laxpower.com.

2011-03-07



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