Before he netted 185 goals in seven seasons in the MLL, and before he broke a world record for the world’s fastest lacrosse shot at 111 mph in 2009, Paul Rabil had to take his first shot in a game. He was 12. Rabil can still recall the inaugural attempt because it resulted in a goal -- for the other team. When he pulled back his stick and wound up, the ball fell out the pocket. His defender scooped up the ground ball and went the other way to score.
He had doubts. “Am I any good? Do I have want it takes to play this game?“ Rabil wondered.
He had an option. “I could have given up right there or double down and see what I could do,” he thought.
He chose the latter, and it’s paid off.
After earning All-American honors twice at Dematha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., Rabil took the trip up I-95 to play at Johns Hopkins University. He led the Blue Jays to two National Championships and set school records for goals and points as a midfielder.
It was also at Hopkins where Rabil met Jay Dyer, the strength and conditioning coach for Hopkins and Team USA lacrosse. “I trained in high school but not like that,” Rabil said describing Dyer’s preliminary running and lifting tests as “excruciatingly hard.”
“It was at that point that reality kind of of set in, like all right this is what you have to do take that next step.”
Rabil was struggling with that next step after he completed his rookie season in the MLL with the Boston Cannons. But while visiting Hopkins in the fall of 2008 he passed Dyer in a hallway. They talked. “I’m trying to do it myself and I don’t think it’s working,” Dyer remembers Rabil telling him about his training.
The two picked up where they left off. Since their meeting on campus, Rabil has worked out at Dyer’s facility whenever he’s home in Maryland and has continued to pile on the accolades.
Rabil's been a six-time first team All-Pro, three-time Offensive Player of the Year, two-time MVP and he set the MLL Single Season all-time points record with 72 in 2012.
Though he’s climbed to the summit of the lacrosse hierarchy and earned sponsorships including Warrior, Red Bull, and GoPro, Rabil retains the same attitude he had back in middle school when took up the game several years after most of his friends.
“When I started out playing, everyone was better than me,” Rabil says. “So I’ve always been competitive to chase the better guys. “I’m always hungry to get better.”
That doesn’t mean Rabil is satisfying his hunger with junk food. He teamed up with Julie Nicoletti, the founder of Kinetic Fuel in Boston, to craft a personalized nutrition plan starting in 2011.
Nicoletti, who signs off her emails with “Eat well. Be well,” has a client list that includes 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Eric Fisher -- the offensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs and first overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Rabil’s dedication and intensity encompasses more than what he eats. Consider that he has an UpDesk at his home office in Canton, Maryland to help his posture and prevent lactic acid build up in his legs. That he reads books about character development and leadership (“Leading with the Heart” by Coach K was a recent choice). Or that he gets weekly massages and pedicures to accelerate recovery.
The end goal? To balance his mind and body, develop the right mindset on the field and extend his prime well into his 30s. Keep reading to see how Rabil intends to continue his reign as the top star in the fastest game on two feet, plus his advice for players hoping to take their next step.
29 years old
Training grounds: Cockeysville, Maryland
Days training per week: 7 (4 to 5 days a week at Dyer’s facility). “Training is a part of the fabric of my day,” Rabil says. “Everyday”
Hours training per day: 3 to 4
Go-to workout: Functional training: “We use TRX straps a lot combined with agility drills, then we’ll integrate shooting to work on the technical side,” Rabil says.
Training philosophy: “We never get stuck with one methodology,” Dyer says.” “We try to incorporate all the things you can do with different training modalities. We’re not going to close our minds and be stagnant.”
Shots per day: Between 120 and 150. “I limit my sets to five reps each so I can focus on power and form. You want to be in a mindset where you value each shot.”
On changing training techniques: “For the longest time I was trying to lift as much I could,” Rabil admits. “Now it’s more resistance, body weight and core stability work. The reality is I’m at a different point in my career then when I was 22. I’ve got to understand that I want to play at my best into my 30s, so the lower impact training helps get the range of motion back that I lost in my earlier years when I was building the wrong tendencies.”
Nutrition philosophy: Whole real food as close to its natural state as possible. “You need to think of feeding the body as fueling the body and giving it the best fuel to compete at the highest level,” Nicoletti says.
Pre-game nutrition routine: “I like to get up early and have loads of egg whites, with a healthy carb -- either vegetables or fruit. For lunch, I’ll have a large salad, chicken breasts, fruit and water...tons of water throughout the day. Before the game I’ll eat an all organic PB&J with a banana.”
Recovery tips: Plenty of sleep and everything from ice baths to massages to pedicures. “It’s generally considered a feminine thing with getting you nails polished, but your feet are the part of the body that takes the most impact.”
Other athletes he’s studied: Troy Polomalu and Drew Brees. “It’s phenomenal to see what he’s been able to do coming back from a torn rotator cuff then winning the Super Bowl and an MVP,” Rabil says of Brees, who also uses TRX in his training. “He became an even better athlete beyond what most people think of as the prime of your career.”
On the intricacy of a lacrosse shot: “It’s just as technical as a tennis serve or a golf swing. Every muscle has to work in unison from your legs to your core and up through your shoulders.”
On accuracy over power: “If you have a fast shot but it doesn’t go on net then you’re never going to score.”
Advice for younger players: Practice, practice and more practice. “I’m focused on improving by one degree or half a degree,” Rabil says. “ But for kids that are going out for their high school team, they’re in the three to four years where they can improve the most. The only way to get comfortable with your stick is to go out and shoot 200, 300 times a day to build that muscle memory.”
Most memorable game: The next one. “As cliché as that sounds,” Rabil says. “But if you are reveling in the past then it’s only a deterrent for what you can do with what’s in front of you.”