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Club Directors Panel: High School Teams Vs Club

0 - Published April 11, 2014 by in College, High School, Training

Imagine you’re a high end D3/low end D1 prospect on an average high school in a non traditional area. You have decent grades. Your family can afford a college education for you through student loans. The schools interested in you saw you play at a fall event. They’ve never heard of your high school. They won’t be at any of your spring games. They do, however, want to know your summer schedule!

(Main photo credit: Tommy Gilligan)

We’re at a stage now that club teams aren’t just for the hypothetical elite athlete who is hell bent on playing at the next level in the example above. You’re almost considered sub-human if you don’t play on a club team in the summer. Is this fair? Does it get great results?

Our fourth Club Directors Panel presented a bit of a challenge for our participants, because we asked about attitudes of those associated with off-season lacrosse. By no means are we being accusatory of our panel, but as the scene continues to evolve, we are simply wondering what they’re experiencing from their side of the table.

Perhaps the most interesting response detailed how the rules of a state’s governing body have influenced the club programs within that particular state. On to the panel!

Question 1: Are you noticing a shift to club away from high school because of the emphasis on recruiting? Is this a good thing or bad thing?

JC Valore – SouthShore (New Jersey)

I would say that we are noticing players wanting to play for our club program because of the emphasis we place on becoming a better player for their High School team. Southshore was originally created to allow our own players that we coach in the spring an opportunity to play together throughout the summer. Players from other schools were welcomed to join and play with our team to become a better player, not to get recruited necessarily. As the initial intention was to simply get better as players and as a team. Opposing coaches were more on board with the opportunity we were providing for their players. It was simply to provide instruction, experience, and the possibility of exposure. We still hold true to those principles.

As years have gone by and we now hold tryouts for each team, our teams are comprised of players who have “bought in” to their high schools.  We do not do club helmets, gloves, stickers, shafts, or bags.  We want each player to be proud of their high school and to represent them in the summer. Players from other schools want to be a part of that as well, but in the summer. It is great when college coaches ask us “What school is that yellow helmet from? The S means what? Or why do those kids have orange gloves?

Our club players are bought in to our culture as well, they represent Southshore in the summer just as much as their high school, but the representation is simply done with a vanilla pinnie, shorts, and hustle.  The club team may be comprised of many kids from our high school, but that is because they want to play together.  Kids buy in because they want to build something special.

Now, recruiting has definitely become the reason most players choose to play club lax in the summer. And yet, we only have a percentage of players on each team who will go and play in college. We like to treat our club teams like other sports treat theirs. The kids are there to play to better themselves, enjoy it, and hopefully learn something about the game that they can bring back to their team.

Marty Kupprion – NXT (Philadelphia)

There is no denying that club lacrosse is playing an increasingly important role for high school lacrosse players looking for college exposure. As a high school coach myself, I’m comfortable with that fact. The bottom line is that college coaches have a tough time recruiting during their season, and high school programs can only get so many guys on the field in each game.

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As a high school coach at Episcopal Academy, it’s good to know that all of our players have ample opportunities to get not only playing experience but also exposure in the summer and fall seasons.

As a club coach and director, I know that there are players in our program that are competing against better players at our practices and events than they see during their high school season. Many of these players and families depend on the club experience and appreciate the intensity and exposure that our club provides for them.

John Harvey – No Excuse (Tennessee)

I am not noticing a shift away from high school ball to club too much in this area. Everyone here has done a good job of shaping their club season around the HS schedule. Unfortunately, we are seeing more kids quitting other sports to play a longer club schedule. I understand the recruiting aspect of this shift, but I do not like it. I feel very strongly that the time you get to spend as a high school athlete is very special. There is nothing better than representing your school and the time spent with teammates on and off the field. I hate seeing kids give up that opportunity. If the club game gets bigger than high school, I will really lose some passion for coaching.
Ryan Danehy – Go Blue (Michigan)

Being in the midwest, there is still a significant commitment to the high school season, however, like some other non-traditional areas, the club seasons provide our players the opportunity to play at a higher level more often and get the exposure to college coaches that don’t normally come to spring games (college coaches are less likely to travel out to the midwest for one HS game, than they would drive down the street to see a couple).

Since the summer club circuit is so important to our players’ futures out here, it’s often a stressful time for families to choose which program that will best help their son navigate this process.  It’s why we put so much time and effort into making sure we design the right path for each of our players.

Rob Horn – Minnesota Elite 

We aren’t noticing a shift away from HS, but we do see more and more players looking for a club program to continue to grow and develop their skills year round. Being sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League, we have restrictions in place where the HS coaches cannot have contact with their players except for in season through July 31st. This leaves many players and families searching for an outlet for not only to continue to help develop their skills, but to also get assistance in the recruiting process if they desire. Those two main reasons are why the club programs are growing all across our state.

With our program, we see ourselves as a resource for the HS programs due to this shift. We are not above the HS programs, or their coaches. We don’t work with players in a vacuum and cut the HS coaches out of the informational and development process, again, they might play with us, but its not who they are and where they are from. We tell players all the time, you might play with us during the summer through winter, but your spring seasons are much more important to not only your school, but your community as well. Come to practice, develop, improve, and go back to your HS programs and help make those around you better from the skills you have learned while playing with Minnesota Elite.

Lee Southren – New Jersey Riot

I have always said that 1 year in lacrosse is equivalent to 4 years in any other sport due to the constant shifts in trends. Here is central NJ, there are only a handful of HS lacrosse programs that truly run the gamut of year round playing opportunities, recruiting support, etc, all while playing at a real high level.  In fairness, High School programs need to worry more about the overall team than an individual’s goals.

The club world around here has exploded as we get to focus on the individuals that make up many High school programs. Personally, I try to be respectful of the HS teams as much as I can as I understand their objectives and how hard they work. This shift to Club taking over can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on if the player and families are being served. I have received numerous calls in the last month on behalf of a handful of players in various towns. I always ask if the HS Coach was called as well. 8 times out of 10, the answer is No.

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Terry Mangan – Trilogy

There is no doubt that clubs are playing a much larger role in the college recruiting scene, and for good reason. College coaches have the opportunity to see recruits play live for their clubs far more often than for their high schools. With the emphasis that clubs place on college recruiting, it is very difficult for high school coaches to match the accessibility to recruits that is offered by the club directors.

However, the high school programs and the coaches will always play a big role in recruiting. The coaches work with recruits much more often in practices and games, and will often see them in many off field settings, like the classroom and playing on other school teams. High school coaches can also be very helpful in creating the bridge between college coaches and the academic part of the equation (teachers, counselors, etc.).

Under the current NCAA rules, both sides play a role in the recruiting process, and it is not a good or bad thing. Even though the club scene has taken on such a big role, college coaches rely on high school coaches in many recruiting scenarios; it would be a mistake for recruits and families to believe that high school coaches can not be helpful during the process, even with the youngest recruits.

Matt Rowley – 3D

While there is a larger emphasis on club during the recruiting process, I don’t think it’s weakened the role of HS lacrosse in the development of the player. You can certainly make the case that the recruitment of freshman who have yet to play HS lacrosse has emasculated HS coaches but that’s not what we are discussing here. I also believe that for many players, whether in our “hotbed” areas or our emerging markets, there is more emotional capital invested in their HS seasons than in the club season. Very rarely over the course of the summer do the games actually matter to the same extent that they do when you’re wearing your HS jersey.

There’s huge difference when you play a couple games a week over the course of two or three months that culminates in a playoff or championship of some sort and playing six or seven games in a weekend that may end with you just rushing off to your flight. I do think that the culture of club has changed the sport as kids now are more familiar with their rivals than they might be without a local club presence.

I believe that as long as kids are as invested in their HS seasons as much they are in their club seasons that the shift of importance with regards to recruiting is a good thing. Club lacrosse has shrunk the recruiting world, and made it more democratic. It matters less now which HS you attend. If you play well in the summer you’ll be recruited whether you go to West Genesee or Charlotte Latin. That certainly wasn’t the case before the prof liberation of club lacrosse.

In New England we encourage our kids to wear their HS helmet, to symbolically put their HS before their club. Playing for something matters. I’m the spring you play for you HS, to represent your town or school. Perhaps for a championship. In the summer you play for exposure, and if your club presents it correctly, you play for the kids on your team, for pride.

Jono Zissi – Adrenaline (California)

I think both serve distinctly different purposes.  For me, being equally vested in both, I find them to be very mutually beneficial and mutually exclusive. The clubs have proven to be very fruitful vehicles in getting kids to the next level, which is especially important for us being so far away and removed as well as not having the same level of quality coaching. The older, curmudgeon type guys still don’t approve of club coaches and load it with stereotypes. This is fine in my eyes because I know we have amazing coaches who are doing the right thing and helping kids.

Question 2: Are club teams welcomed, or not supported, by the high school coaches in your area?

JC Valore – SouthShore (New Jersey)

We are located in an area of lacrosse that has been around for over 15 years, but has spun its wheels for sometime in regards to development of consistent teams and competition. The truth of the matter is that many, if not all of, the High School coaches in the area that have had collegiate playing experience, work for a club team.  here are a few other clubs in our area, but no one really competes with each other based on the landscape of high schools each draws from  So, in essence, the remaining high school coaches are okay with their players playing club.

They would love for more of their players to play in certain events, but there is not always enough commitment from all of the players to do so. In our location, many high schools will have their better 5-8 players play club lacrosse. There are exceptions to the rule of course, as some varsity programs have their entire team play in some fashion during the summer.

Our intentions as stated before is to provide players with an experience to better their high school teams. We communicate with many of the area coaches and take pride in having strong relationship with them in regards to having everyone’s primary goal known, the betterment of the player.

Marty Kupprion – NXT

As a high school coach, you want to know that your players involved in clubs are actually getting coached and developed to play the game the right way, not just on a team that rolls the ball out or one that is most worried about their gear. NXT is a program that has grown quickly because we are developing these guys year-round as not only players but as young men. We have a good relationship with most of the coaches of the high schools represented in our club because we care about our kids and communicate not only with their parents about their academics but also their school coaches.  As hard as it is to believe, we’ve had freshman give verbal commits to colleges before their varsity coach has even seen them play. As long as those lines of communication are open and honest, most of the local coaches are appreciative of our support and efforts for their boys.

John Harvey – No Excuse (Tennessee) 

Club teams are welcomed by most coaches in our league, but as it grows, you can see it start to become a bit more political. I love that the kids have options now, and as long as more kids are pushing themselves in the summers, the better we will be as a state.

Ryan Danehy – Go Blue (Michigan)

As mentioned before, the club teams have to be embraced.  It’s the only real way for our players to get the exposure they need. As a club, we try and respect the high school season and not run anything during the spring. We also try and not scheduled summer events where high school coaches have traditionally brought their teams to. We don’t want players feeling pressured to play for one or the other. I think that has helped all relationships with our program.

Rob Horn – Minnesota Elite

There are more and more high school programs in support of the club programs that function for the right reasons. Coaches want their players to continue to improve, and thus helping make their programs that much stronger. We are very honest with coaches as they inquire about our program regarding openings for players that are interested to make sure it truly the right fit for them. Many of the coaches in our program are Minnesota high school head coaches with very successful track records, and we want coaches involved with our program that not only want the opportunity to help their own players that make our teams, but also want to help players from all across the state.

I do feel that there are some coaches locally that do feel torn and caught between the different club programs, and I tell them all the same thing – make sure the program you choose fits not only the goal of your player, but are willing to communicate with you throughout that players involvement in that program. Club programs do not own these players. We are here to provide them with a great experience and service.

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Lee Southren – New Jersey Riot

I see club teams getting a bad rap from the reputations of a few self serving ones.  If a player gets the opportunity to be recruited and commits to a school… well, that’s a win-win for everyone. Clubs can market that for their own recruiting purposes and this shows the younger members that this can be them one day. The high school coach can use this to help fill their camps or help fundraising efforts in their town and also use as valuable information to maybe help keep a rising player to not think they have to go to private school to get that look.

Most of all, the player and their family wins as both had a hand in helping them achieve their objective. If everyone remembers that the player comes first, our game would be better off.

Terry Mangan – Trilogy

Every high school is a little different when it comes to its relationship with club programs. It is not a surprise that the best high school programs in many areas such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, Long Island, New Jersey, etc. play with players from other high schools on well established clubs. I think the majority of high school coaches welcome the opportunity for their players to play and compete against other high level lacrosse players.

One of the biggest problems that can occur is when high schools coaches would like to have his players play together during the summer, but his players have a robust schedule planned with their club team, making it difficult to do both. Rather than draw lines in the sand, smart coaches will work together to make it easier for their players to fulfill obligations to both teams.

Matt Rowley – 3D

I wanted to say that this varies region to region, but I think the fact is that club is pretty well accepted everywhere. There are outliers of course, but if they don’t have tradition of being a longstanding powerhouse in there market than their reluctance to embrace club can be prohibitive. I would say that ten years ago when I got into club in New England there were many HS coaches who didn’t believe in the value of club. At this point, I’d say that most programs have someone on staff who has club ties. The symbiotic relationship of club and high school actually seems more prevalent in emerging markets than it does in established markets. Why that is may be an interesting topic for another time.

Want to talk recruiting, club teams, tournaments or camps? Leave a comment in the comments section or tweet me at @4onetwolax or @AmRevolutionLax.

Catch up on previous Club Directors Panels:

Tournament Selection

Early Recruiting & Coaching Staff Alignment

What makes a club lacrosse program successful?

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