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Club Directors Panel: Successful Lacrosse Programs

0 - Published March 21, 2014 by in College, High School, Training

An article recently surfaced warning parents about the recruiting racket, and an industry has certainly popped up around off season events and teams. As with any industry, some businesses will be near the top and others will be near the bottom. Not every club team fails to focus on player development. Not every club team is singularly focused on promoting their recruitment stories.

There are clubs who do right by their families and that is often backed up by the longevity of their program or their fast asseccension in saturated markets.

We’ve gathered a group of industry leaders from different parts of the country and from different sized programs to discuss the current state of off-season club lacrosse, their roles as club directors, the state of recruiting, and what the future holds for amateur lacrosse. You’re going to find a group of men who are very passionate about their profession, which is helping young athletes and their families.

If you’re considering joining a club this summer, take the insight these gentlemen share and weigh it against your local offerings. If you’re currently a member of a club, a parent, or coach, do the same. There’s no reason you can’t have a great experience playing on a club team.

This Week’s Panel

Ryan Danehy – Go Blue (Michigan) established 2013

Rob Horn – Minnesota Elite established 2003

Lee Southern – New Jersey Riot established 2012

Marty Kupprion - NXT (Philadelphia) established 2010

Terry Mangan – Trilogy (New York) established 2005

John Harvey – No Excuse (Tennessee) established 2010

Jay Fox – Ottawa Capitals established 2012

JC Valore - SouthShore (New Jersey) established 2008

Anthony Crimmins – Stickstar Dallas Select/Texas United established 2004

Tom West - Team Florida established 2004

Ric Beardsley – Team United (New Jersey and New York) established 2009

AJ Auld – Titanium (Midwest) established 2009

Nate Watkins – Wild Lax (Colorado) established 2010

How did we select this panel? It was critical to bring in clubs of various sizes, ages, and geographic locations to see if we could find common ground among the top organizations in the country. We (American Revolution) have competed against eight of these clubs so we’re directly familiar with the quality of the people involved. We have a high level of respect for all programs on the panel otherwise they wouldn’t have been asked to participate.

Over the course of the next few months, we will present the panel with a question that is designed to generate passionate responses and foster discussion. The topic may continue into the next post or we may switch questions entirely. We’ve asked the panel to remain intact for each post, but understand there may be discussions they can not participate in, simply due to timing.

We could very well start a separate blog around this week’s panel question. Participants were contacted Sunday morning and had until Tuesday night to respond. There wasn’t a word count restriction, but in some cases, answers were shortened. We wanted the focus to be on their beliefs not necessarily who could use the most colorful language.

Due to the large participation, we will not be including the views of the American Revolution Lacrosse Club. Feel free to interact with us in the comment section or on Twitter @AmRevolutionLax. Shameless plug, but I waited a long time to drop it.

Now, on to the panel!

Question #1 

What makes a club lacrosse program successful?

Ryan Danehy - Go Blue (Michigan) 

Looking at the panel, I think that our situation with GBL Lacrosse is slightly more unique than the typical club program. Because of our affiliation with the University of Michigan and the NCAA, we are limited to a 50 mile radius of campus, limiting our range as to where our talent can come from. We also have limitations regarding publication of materials on websites, when we can hold events/practices etc., so it’s always a balancing act.

With that being said, I don’t think our goals are much different than most club programs out there. Our number one priority is to create a positive experience for our players to grow and develop into the best players they can be. If they leave our program happy, then we have been a successful program.

While we may help them get in front of coaches and help them communicate with coaches in the recruiting process, we can’t control how they play on the field on game day. We can only give them all the skills necessary to perform the best. With that being said, we have kids in our program who may not even play lacrosse at the next level. If we have top tier D1 talent on our roster and players who MAY choose to play college lacrosse, then our only goal is to justify their time and energy when they come to play for us. Happy players, happy families, and happy programs make tougher times easier and the overall experience a good one. You would hope that a great experience will lead to great play and then hopefully, in turn, results in a player going off to a great school where they can enjoy 4 years of lacrosse. As we all know, we can’t please everyone, but I know we all work our hardest to do so.

In short, we strive to create a positive experience, where players are excited to participate, learn, meet new friends and enjoy a beautiful game that can put them in a position to pass the same experience on in the future. Happy players make successful programs!

Rob Horn - Minnesota Elite 

I want to thank LAS and Peter Tumbas for inviting me to be on this panel. I’m extremely thankful to have the opportunity to not only share some thoughts and structure of our organization with the lacrosse community, but I’m very excited to exchange thoughts with some of my peers that I’ve really enjoyed getting to know over the years.

Our organization was founded over 10 years ago by two individuals that wanted to give the MN high school lacrosse player the opportunity to showcase his abilities in front of college coaches, and while representing their state at the highest level. It’s been 10 years, and it is still at the core of who we are. For us, it’s important that the parents and players understand that club lacrosse is not above your local HS programs and coaches (many of our coaches are high school varsity coaches), but we are resource that is here to help anyway we can.

Success can be many different things to many different people in the industry, but quite frankly we see it as the continued development of each player while they are in the program. It’s our mission is to help these student athletes become the best person and lacrosse player they can while they are with us, and to do it in a environment that promotes good sportsmanship and hard work. Each player understands that they may be presented with the opportunity to be recruited while being a part of our program, but we are not the gatekeepers – they are through their work on and off the field.

We surely understand that often success can be seen by the number of “commitments” a program can have, but what is often lost in that number is the amount of work each of one of those players has put into their development. The opportunity to play in college isn’t about who you know, it’s about what you do. One of the main reasons we have been so successful in helping players over the years, is the continued focus on developing players in practice and so they can showcase their skills within a team environment at tournaments.

In order for each player to understand what is truly expected of them, we have developed a value system, “The Gold Standard” (kuddos to our sister organization, MN Elite Girls, for the phrase).

The standard, is made up of 3 core principals:

1.  Be a good person on and off the field.

2.  Work hard and continue to develop as a player.

3.  Represent your state with class and pride.

While it seems very simple, and almost elementary, we want the players in our program to really understand what it takes to reach your goals – whatever they may be. We aren’t saying, “live the standard and all your dreams come true”, but it’s our way of helping a student athlete to understand that you control your future, and you define your own success.

Lee Southern - New Jersey Riot

What I think makes a club program successful is a variety of factors that go beyond the talent, the game and tourney results.

I believe that a club lacrosse program should be run like a retail business, a hardware store for example. Today, someone may come in to buy some nuts and bolts. If you service them properly, they will come back in when they need to buy a lawnmower.

Sure, kids want really nice and cool gear as well as the social media involvement. They want to be on a good team where every player has at least a minimum level of talent or a great team. That what helps add to the perception of how good a club is.

If at the end of our season, the kids can say they were coached well, got better, made some new friends from other schools, won some games, and felt proud to represent the brand.

The parents can say they felt the value of what they paid either met or exceeded expectations. Then, you have something to special and something to build on. I have created Riot Lacrosse on these principles and so far expectations have been more than met.

John Harvey - No Excuse (Tennessee)

I think what makes a club program successful is if it can meet the standards it sets for itself clearly from the start. You have to be very open, honest and clear with your families about what they getting into. If you promise certain things, you must do everything you possibly can do deliver on those promises. Never puff up your program to sell it. A very close second is the people involved. This goes for both sides. The coaches are really the heart beat of the program and they have to represent the program and the qualities that are important to you. The families must also buy into what you are trying to do and be willing to let the kids play, coaches coach, and refs ref.

Marty Kupprion - NXT (Philadelphia) 

It’s too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the only thing that makes a club successful is the amount of Division I – and high ones, at that – commitments. The most important thing for a player who plays for a club is the type of experience he (and his family) will get out of it.

We want to give our third graders a different experience than our high school kids, of course, but at the same time, the organization, feedback, continuity of the team, practice competition, game competition, coaches and interactions will go a longer way in driving program success than simply wins or losses or whether the player is going on to play for Duke.

Recruiting-wise, it’s about finding the right fit for that player and his family, whether that’s Division I, II or III or even just finding the perfect academic fit for him. A successful club program should have the best interests of the player and his family in mind. With that in mind, a player achieves his goals through a well-organized club that competes and has success at the best tournaments.

Players should leave the club having felt educated on the recruitment process, what life is like as a college lacrosse player and how to use lacrosse to help them get where they want to be in life. A club, namely through passionate, energetic and knowledgeable coaches, should be about helping players find happiness through the sport and having players come away with a sense of pride and enjoyment for having played for that club.

Terry Mangan – Trilogy

Lacrosse clubs come in all shapes and sizes, and many are here today, gone tomorrow. Just about every successful program has the same fundamentals:

Excellent coaches: some programs have great coaches that do not have a lot of lacrosse experience, others have coaches that were good players but have not spent a lot of time working with young people. Most focus on learning new drills and Xs and Os, but becoming better teachers and mentors is just as important. Having organized practices, working with players as soon as they get to practice, having the patience to reach all of the players and giving them the sense that they had fun and that they think the coach likes working with them and appreciates their place on the team are good places to start.

Know your weight class: If sounds great to be in a bracket with great teams for an upcoming tournament, but if that is too much for your team, it is no fun to get clobbered or be on the losing side for every game. The same goes for a team that beats everyone without trouble; in both cases kids, parents and coaches get bored easily and players rarely improve.

Make it easy on families: does the practice schedule change too often? Does everyone know when thunder and lightning is on it’s way that practice is cancelled in a timely fashion? Was the block of hotel rooms reserved early enough or do families have to make a long trek to get to the fields? The little things always mean a lot for families, and the smoother club directors can make it on the families, the happier (and more loyal) they will be.

Great parents: The club directors do a lot of the heavy lifting (and rightfully so), but parents that see the big picture help greatly in making clubs successful. Complaining about things that are not in their control (officiating at tournaments, what the club in the next town is doing, the college coaches that are (or not) watching their sons play, how well their sons are playing, etc.) can make the summer club circuit a lot less fun in a hurry. The parents that deal with highs and lows evenly, and see that their sons are having fun and getting better can make playing for almost any club a great experience.

It takes a lot to have a consistently successful club program. In many cases, who you beat and by how much is the last thing that is important. Players that keep improving and like their coaches, and families that are on the same page have the best chances of long term happiness.

Jay Fox – Ottawa Capitals

For us our mandate is to move our Canadian players on to Prep School opportunities and NCAA lacrosse. While the Canadian lacrosse player is in vogue currently, we are located in market not considered a hotbed.(Eastern Ontario/Western Quebec). While we dont have the volume of players that an area like Toronto has we do have players that can play at the next level and it is our goal to find a home for any player that wants to move on and experience lacrosse in the USA. I believe we have been successful in this short time because we have learned lessons and best practices from existing and established clubs. (I was a long time manager in the Edge program based in Toronto) Our coaching roster includes professional players such as Callum Crawford and Kyle Buchanan and we have gone out and brought other pros such as Ryan Boyle, Mitch Belisle, Chad Weidmeirer, Chris Boland and last year we hired Jim Stagnitta to run our training camp.

What makes a successful program is being player focused, meeting and assisting with their needs and goals. Having incredible coaching and also supplementing that with hired pros or those with extensive lacrosse backgrounds. Teaching the players how to reach out to coaches and programs to advocate on their own. Teaching players about academic requirements and character requirements. Developing relationships as a program director with college and prep coaches to advance our players. Going to events that coaches actually attend.

JC Valore - SouthShore (New Jersey) established 2008

We believe that the landscape of lacrosse has created its own definition of what it means to be successful as a club program. For SouthShore Lacrosse, we believe success is ultimately determined by two groups, our program’s staff and our program’s families. Our goal is to get these two groups thinking on the same plane. If clear goals and expectations are set by club directors, then the families will have an understanding of what the program defines as success.

Families feeling success is a priority over wins, trophies, or big name commits.In many club circles, success is gauged by quality showings against talented opponents and total number of commits. We don’t disagree with this, but we do take a lot of other things into account when determining a successful season. We highly value the student-athlete who creates relationships with their teammates, coaches, family, and community members. We strive for an atmosphere of one team, per grade level, staying together for multiple years. This builds a sense of unity, regardless of the schools kids plan on attending. Making each player and parent realize that they are a significant factor in our program being successful, allows us as a staff to measure each season as a positive experience.

Anthony Crimmins – Stickstar (Texas)

If I had to sum the answer to the question above in one word, I believe it would be DETAILS. With our program, Dallas Select, and Texas United, we are very detail-oriented. You must be thorough. You must have a plan. That plan should not be limited to what is happening on the field but should carryover to every aspect of the program.

One of the most important areas where details are crucial is tournament execution – providing for your team and making sure that the players can have one focus, competition. Our program handles all the details that revolve around the trip. Players need to arrive to the designated airport. However, once there, we transport, lodge, feed, clothe, our players. It is all part of the experience! Parents are ALWAYS welcome to travel, but chaperones are not necessary. Coaches stay with the teams to oversee the players and to create this truly unique team atmosphere. Traveling from Texas is not easy and expensive to boot, so we try to provide options that can cut down on expenses. Those are all details which we hope give parents peace of mind!

Details are crucial from a development standpoint as well. What are your players being taught? We believe in teaching players the skills and functionality involved with playing at the next level (whatever that level might be). There are certain truths that players at the next level understand, and we do our best to instill these details in our players at a young age. As we draw players from all over the State of Texas, it is important for everyone to be on the same page. We have a vocabulary which allows ever player to have a common understanding. One of the most stock phrases out there is Lacrosse IQ. We approach it a little differently. We believe that vocabulary allows for players to create an understanding and ultimately speak the “Language of Lacrosse”. If your player can communicate, he can adjust, execute, and move in and out of systems seamlessly regardless of the program.

Finally, the drills and skills taught to our program all build into how our players execute on the field. Everything builds. There is a reason for everything we teach. Our vocabulary is a function of how we are trying to get our players to move and react. There are questions associated with everything we are trying to teach, and those questions stress, you guessed it, certain details. The Socratic Method is crucial in creating this environment for learning and fits seamlessly into our system of instruction.

These are not the only areas in which we are detail-oriented, but they are some of the most crucial. Everyone does it differently. At the end of the day, though, it is our collective attention to detail that distinguishes our program!

Tom West - Team Florida 

Team Florida is unique in the club world. The program was designed to offer recruitment and allow all of the best lacrosse players in Florida to play together on one team. We only go to one event in the summer and one in the fall. Although we pride ourselves in teaching the game and the focus on fundamentals, we do not interfere with the local club programs. We are proud of the number of players we are able to connect with colleges due to our yearly showcase and our teams performance at the gait cup and battle of the hotbeds.

Our success is based on we do what we say we do and don’t try to do what we can’t do. We take lacrosse players in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina and connect them with colleges. In addition, we compete in the highest level of summer tournaments. We’ve been attending hot beds for 9 years and are in the final four or championship each year. We won hot beds in 2012. With the support of the top programs in the south, we are able to get the top level players and coaches.

Team Florida is a perfect complement to our local clubs that offer instruction and development. That’s why we have been so successful over the past 10 years.

Ric Beardsley - Team United (New Jersey and New York)

Steve Carcaterra, co-founder, and I try to give the best possible instruction to anyone that comes to one of our teams or events. We take a lot of pride in increasing our players abilities.

Instruction is what we saw that was lacking and is a first priority for us. You will never seen any or our coaches just “roll a ball out.” We write precise schedules for everything we do so our instructional time is maximized. We built our teams, clinics and camps toward trying to get/give the best coaching possible to our players. If you do this, players will get better and then end up going to the right level college for them if that is what they choose to use lacrosse for. For the youth players we end up making them have a good core of basics so they can be successful as they grow in the game.

We have grown to be large (800 boys and girls in 5 regions of the US), we have camps, clinics, recruiting tournaments/showcases and team tournaments now but still when applicable, which is most of the time, the first thing we always think about is how we can provide players with the best instruction.

Another thing I think we do very well and it has shown with the list of players we have committed to colleges is recruiting. Steve and I actively provide guidance to our players on this complicated process. We do this for free, there is no extra charge for this. I know almost every college coach in the country in one way or another so I often call or email coaches to work with them to find the right player from our program that might fit in theirs.

We provide document templates, template emails and consulting so players and parents don’t feel overwhelmed with recruiting. This has been something that is of great importance to us. Lacrosse changed my life and it can change others too. So the right college is imperative for a player to end up at and we want to help with this.

AJ Auld - Titanium (Midwest)

It depends on how you define “successful.”  At Titanium, we strive to be “player-focused” in everything we do. Titanium focuses on developing each individual player from a holistic perspective – as a lacrosse player, athlete, student and person. To that end, all of our efforts are aimed towards providing exceptional training, guidance and opportunities that are in-line with this approach. Therefore, we determine our success based on our ability to holistically-develop each player involved with Titanium.

In order to achieve this success on a large/broad scale, a club must invest heavily in intellectual capital, establish and adhere to relevant key performance indicators, develop quality control mechanisms and, most of all, operate like a “real” business. Just as a patient pays a doctor or a client pays an attorney, parents pay club lacrosse programs and expect to receive value in return. The clubs that frame their value proposition very clearly to players (and their parents) and deliver on those promises are the ones that are most successful.

Nate Watkins – Wild Lax (Colorado)

There are many factors that contribute to the success of a club lacrosse program. Factors that include the talent of the athletes, the knowledge of the coaching staff, and the organization of the administrative side. However, the most important factor and our greatest focus has always been our philosophy to create a fun and engaging environment for our players. The idea is to provide an environment where players are comfortable learning, competing, and always looking forward to their next experience. We encourage our staff to provide positive and fast paced practice sessions. Maximizing the opportunities to actually play and limiting individual instruction to 1 on 1 talks on the side and by offering private lessons.

For us, the club team is a much higher level of competition than they get at their high schools/local teams. So giving every opportunity for them to experience real lacrosse situations with a greater talent pool serves their interest levels and the development of their individual game in the best possible way. We view the tournaments as rewards for the work that was put in and a fun chance to compete as a group against top talent across the board.

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The major takeaway is that each club defines success in different ways. It is critical that your definition of success as an athlete and family aligns with the definition of the club program. If it does not, there’s nothing wrong with switching clubs or stepping away from the club scene. You’re the customer. You decide who you pay. It’s our job as club directors to help you. We owe you, not the other way around.

Do you play on a club team? What makes your experience a success? Leave us a comment or tweet us at @4onetwolax.

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