While varsity women’s lacrosse coach LaNon Gillins may appear to be your ordinary coach, his extreme dedication and passion for the sport and his team set him apart from all the rest.
Gillins began playing lacrosse in 8th grade and played throughout high school and college. He played goalie for Pitzer College from 2002-2005. He was a two-time Western Collegiate Lacrosse League (WCLL) all-conference goalie and part of the 2003 WCLL Division II Championship Team.
In addition to coaching the girls’ varsity team, Gillins runs the Skyline Lacrosse Club’s youth girls’ program and is the head coach of the U15 team. He is also the head coach of the Cal Women’s Club Lacrosse team and a major volunteer at Oakland Lacrosse Club.
“The reason I coach girls when I have many options to coach boys is because there’s a conversation going on between a coach and a girls team,” Gillins said. “There’s not much conversation going on between a coach and a boys team. It’s just the nature of a girl’s persona versus a boy’s persona.”
While Gillins is currently the head coach of three teams, two years ago, he was the head coach of seven teams.
“I’ve done a better job of building a support staff,” Gillins said. “Coach Dave [Simpson], Coach Kelsey [Udinski], and Coach Devon [Combe], they’re making this possible. I was never able to get the quality that I’m able to get now.”
In the past seven years, ever since he started coaching, Gillins has only missed one Piedmont game and one Skyline game.
“There’s nothing better than committing to a team, whether that’s your family, or this team out here,” Gillins said. “You’re going to do your best things in life as part of a team, not as an individual.”
Gillins coaches his teams to not only be strong lacrosse players, but to be strong women.
“When I look around the world, I see a lack of strong female energy in positions of leadership,” Gillins said. “The world would be much safer, healthier, sustainable, if half of all leaders were women. I need to help produce women who are strong enough, assertive enough, smart enough, athletic enough, and who understand how important teamwork is to succeed in the world to take over things that men have dominated for so long.”
Gillins said he loves coaching because it is a constant learning process. He said his assistant coach, Dave Simpson, uses the word “kaizen” to describe their coaching styles.
“It’s a term usually used in manufacturing, but it’s to constantly improve a process, to constantly assess the efficiency of a process,” he said. “I love that idea and that’s what we’re about. That’s what we’re always about, getting better.”
Junior Natalie Godfrey started playing Skyline lacrosse in seventh grade, with Gillins as her coach. She said he is the team’s number one fan and supporter.
“I could never have grown into the player I am today without a strong base of good fundamentals to work with,” Godfrey said. “LaNon was definitely the coach to make sure that my basic lacrosse skills were rock solid before progressing onto more advanced skills.”
Godfrey said Gillins tries to make practices as serious and realistic as possible to train and prepare the team for games.
“He gets intense and is serious when we have big games coming up, but he loves to have fun and goof around with us whenever we are playing our hardest and trying our best,” Godfrey said.
Gillins said he tries to put his players in game situations to make them learn how to adjust and adapt.
“You never know what’s going to happen, so if you’re so stuck in one mind-set, then you’re not playing,” Gillins said. “Possibility is where power comes from. Power to create your world, [and] power to accomplish your goals.”
Sophomore Abby Ramsey started playing Skyline lacrosse with Gillins in fifth grade. She said he understands her as both a person and a player.
“He’s very motivating and wants all his players to be the best they can be,” Ramsey said. “He pushes [us] to improve [our] skills by always incorporating new drills to practice on our weaknesses. He knows me very well from all the years he has coached me so he can individually help me grow as a player because he knows the exact player I am.”
Gillins said the one thing he would hope anyone who saw his team would be to recognize how his players fight until the end.
“No matter what’s happening in the game, no matter what the outcome will be, we always talk about the fact that as long as you fight as hard as you can, you can at least be proud,” Gillins said. “Life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
Gillins said there is something special about coaching versus teaching in the classroom because he gets to see his players in action and apply what they have learned.
“You’re a lucky teacher if you get to see someone’s math skills help them in the real world,” he said. “But I’m lucky enough that if I put in a drill and I do it for two weeks, I can see these girls apply it to a situation.”
Godfrey said Gillins always has the team’s best interest at heart and is extremely supportive and dedicated.
“Despite coaching a lot of different lacrosse teams, he makes the Piedmont team his number one priority, which really shows how much he cares about us and the growth of our team,” Godfrey said.
Gillins said the Piedmont team has exceptional potential and it is amazing to see his players reach new heights with their abilities.