Elite Team Tryouts: Harsh Reality With A Silver Lining

Tenacious Turtles elite youth lacrosse club travel team college lacrosse recruiting

Editor’s Note: Barry Marenberg is heavily involved in youth lacrosse in New Jersey.  His kids are full-on lax die hards, and when he’s not working, Barry stays busy getting more than his fair share of lacrosse.  BM stops by to offer up some thoughts on Elite travel team tryouts, and we think it’s important that he did.  There are more and more elite travel teams out there every day, so players and parents need to understand expectations, and how things work.  Barry was kind enough to lend his direct experience with this to us, the LAS Nation!

Are you a player, parent or coach?  Have something to say?  Can you write half as well as Barry?  Then we want you!  Email your potential story ideas to info@lacrosseallstars.com and we’ll get you rolling!


Summer elite team tryout season is rapidly approaching.  As the boys get to the middle school age they start to consider playing on the Summer travel elite teams and begin to undergo the trials and tribulations of numerous elite team tryouts.  Typically these tryouts take place in October and November, in order to select players for a team that starts practicing and playing the following June.  Most of the time there is a substantial fee (oftentimes exceeding $50) just to attend the tryout.

I have been coaching youth boy’s lacrosse for many years, at a bunch of different grade levels. I have also personally attended a number of these summer elite team tryouts with my son who has played on a number of different summer elite teams.  While I tend to keep to myself at these tryouts, observe what takes place, and hope my son does well, I am constantly confronted by parents after the tryout ends who lament about the whole tryout process and its seemingly inherent unfairness.

There are never-ending complaints about the difficulty and intensity of the tryouts, the cost, and the subjectivity of the player selections by the coaches.  I have witnessed team tryouts where 100+ boys were vying for what I eventually learned were just 6-10 openings on the roster.  The parents then protested that the team holding the tryout was robbing them by charging a fee and encouraging mass attendance at the tryouts, when the coaches and team knew in advance that over 90% of those in attendance had almost no chance of making the team.

I do admit that is a harsh reality.  As a father of a player who attends these tryouts I concede that such a reality is difficult to stomach.  As a coach and a businessman, who has been involved in the lacrosse world in a number of different capacities, I can say first-off that these tryouts are part of running the business of a team and organization.  The private lacrosse teams are “for-profit” businesses and we are its “customers”.  While I believe wholeheartedly that these lacrosse organizations have a genuine interest in providing a great lacrosse experience for their players, training them, helping them improve and fielding winning teams, this is all done as part of a business.

And how does a business grow? By providing quality products or services.  When a lacrosse organization continuously fields winning teams and helps to train players for playing with top-notch collegiate teams, more and more attention is focused upon this organization and the attraction of playing for that organization grows.  So each year more and more players show up for the tryouts hoping to become a part of this winning organization.  But the team does not turn over all their players every year and usually a majority of players return from the previous year.  As such, there are only a few true openings on the roster that the coaches are seeking to fill.

Tenacious Turtles elite youth lacrosse club travel team
The Tenacious Turtles are an elite youth lacrosse team.

Photo courtesy Amy Keogh’s SmugMug.

Despite what many disgruntled players and parents might lead us to believe, it’s not actually a scam. Its often true that the actual number of open roster spots are few, but that should be expected in a winning organization where turnover is minimal.  Nobody forces any player to sign up and pay for these tryouts.  Coaches within these lacrosse organizations are genuinely interested in putting together a team of the BEST players available to them and one of the best ways to find these players is to watch them perform at a tryout.  That being said, parents and players also need to know exactly what they’re getting into.

Holding such a tryout has numerous intrinsic costs.  A tryout requires the presence of many coaches, the rental of a field or indoor facility, a sports trainer and/or EMT, marketing and promotion, etc.  This all costs money.  Every player that attends a tryout has a “chance” to make the team.  However, it’s up to the player to demonstrate that they have the skills the coaches are seeking.  If not, they get cut.  Parents and players cannot then cry sour grapes, because nothing is really being hidden from you.

There is a flip side to all of this that many players and their parents very often forget.  Again, I am not unmindful that some of these tryouts are expensive and run for just 90 minutes or 2 hours. Can a player’s true skills be seen in such a short period of time in a seeming “cattle call” of players?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  The hope is that that every player who voluntarily attends a tryout brings his “A” game, and puts forth his best effort in the time he is provided to show his skills.  If such efforts did not warrant him an invite to a particular team, perhaps there is another team that might provide a better opportunity.

Additionlly, instead of ranting, raving and complaining about the process and about the price, about the seeming unfairness and about not making the team, there is an enormous opportunity to learn and grow from the experience!

Participating in the tryout, but not making the team, still provided the opportunity to see (first-hand) the level of play by others necessary to make that team.  Hopefully, what is gleaned from participation in a tryout can provide encouragement to work harder, practice more and take additional steps to raise a player’s level of play for the next tryout or the next year.  So instead of getting upset about all this and looking to place blame on a seemingly unfair process, look at the silver lining in the opportunity that has been provided, and then learn and grow from it.

For more of Barry’s blogging, make sure to check out his site: BJMLaxBlog!


  1. Nicely done Barry. Our society at large, and parents in particular, look to cast blame whenever there is failure. “Little Johnny should have made the team, but the coach was a jerk.” “Little Johnny should have gotten an A in English, but the teacher didn’t understand his book report.” There was a day, not so long ago, when a kid failed that his parents would tell him to work harder or that he wasn’t as deserving as the other kids. For some reason, that ship has sailed and everyone’s kid is God’s gift to this earth or our’s.

    I don’t have a problem with either the process or the cost of these try-outs. I think the fee is typically just high enough to give the parents pause, to assess their kid’s ability, and realistically weigh their chances. Without a fee of some substance, every kid and their brother would be showing up to try out.

    The fact that there remain only a few spots open on one of these teams may be the only place where more transparency could improve upon the process, or the perception of the process. If you equate one of these elite teams to a college admissions process, they are very similar. You apply to a college by sending in a non-trivial application fee, show them your body of work (grades, SATs, activities), and then put your best foot forward with an essay. Some people get in and some don’t. It’s often a very subjective process too. The only difference is that most applicants know that they are vying for one of X number of spots.

    The UA underclass tryouts cost $125 and about 200 kids in the Baltimore area came out for the tryouts. When the team was selected, there were very few unknown quantities among the 24 who made the team. I probably could have picked 18-20 of the kids before the tryouts started. It was no surprise to me and it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone trying out. That’s the nature of the beast.

  2. Barry,  I agree that these for profit entities need
    to generate cash in order to fund a competitive product,
    I completely get that.  That being said, the real problem I see
    is the proliferation of faux elite teams in growing lacrosse regions.  These elite teams tend to replace community
    based programs like truly “Grow the Game” like the B.U.L.L (Brine Upstate
    Lacrosse League) I played in as a child.  


    I can’t tell you how many club teams I’ve seen hold
    “tryouts” and charge $50+ per kid and then decided
    to miraculously keep every kid who tried out.  Typically these
    rosters swell up to 30+ kids per team. 
    Obviously many of the kids get buried at the end of the beach
    but pay just as much as the starters who play 90% of the time.  You may
    argue that these kids should just go on to another team, but most of the time
    there is no other team, and to make the situation worse, the coaches that run
    the club team are their Middle School or High School coaches for the regular
    season. Now I understand that inter team competition is an important part
    of competitive sports, particularly when lacrosse is a cut sport, but
    keeping that many kids on one team for a competitive tournament is ridiculous.
    The real reason is $$$.  I know that many
    new developing areas like Miami don’t have the community based infrastructure
    or public school system to support a B.U.L.L, so I understand that club
    programs help serve the off season need for lacrosse.  But I am fearful that even once there are
    enough laxers in Miami to support its very own inter county league, the
    interests who make tons of money off their “elite club” programs will fight to
    keep their kids away from a community league which may do a better job of
    fostering young laxers.   Lastly I do
    know a couple teams that have 35+ kids on a roster that DO have the best
    interest of the kids in mind.  First off
    they don’t charge $500 to play on the team, secondly they form “B” teams
    whenever possible, and lastly they may provide a geographic benefit to the families
    that sign up.  So like anything in this
    world there are exceptions to everything, sadly they are exceptions and not the


    Sorry for the lengthy reply, but I feel strongly about
    this considering I run my own travel team. 
     It’s never a shame to make money
    off of the hard work you do, but don’t pretend that duping parents or robbing
    kids of play time is hard work.




    I am not sure
    what team you are referring to in the article, but I would hope that
    the number of roster spots available to fill would be disclosed beforehand,
    then the parents can do a better job, like any consumer, of weighing the costs
    vs. benefits of paying $50 to try out.   Otherwise it’s just plain deceitful.  

  3. Should town recreation youth lacrossse teams be charging money to tryout?   In our town they do. They also run a series of prep clinics to get the kids ready for the tryout (I think the cost is $150).  Doesn’t that exclude some kids from lacrosse because of financial hardship?   There is no equipment swap, or equipment share program.

    • Lax dad, laxdad here. I don’t know where the rec. league you describe is located, but every one I know of takes all comers, and evaluations/tryouts are only to determine the team to which the kid will be assigned, or where there are both travel and in-house league teams, whether the kid makes the travel squad. Where we are in Connecticut, an all-comers policy in the CONNY league bylaws requires that each local program must provide a lax opportunity for every kid who registers. CONNY also requires kids to play for the town in which they reside … no shopping between programs. Seems to work as growth here has been explosive. Perhaps you could suggest that your Rec. League consider such a policy.

    • In my town’s Rec program we do not hold a tryout.  The only fee we charge is a registration fee to any player who registers to play. I am not familiar with any Rec lax teams in my immediate area
      that does this. Obviously from your question it is done in other
      places. I think different programs may have different circumstances but
      in my view, the Rec program is the program that is open to all players
      of all skill levels. Thats why there are elite programs that operate in
      the “off seasons” and these are the programs that have tryouts and
      select the “best”. I have heard that in programs where there are huge
      numbers for a particular grade, a tryout may be held to split the team
      into “A” and “B” squads but unless there is a fiscal need to raise funds
      (with advance notice provided), I can’t see charging for a Rec team

  4. Sunday, 01 December 2002 09:59 Lacrosse Magazine – Tom Rock

    There is a legend. It comes from deep in the green mountains of New York State. It comes from a time when the Iroquois culture dominated the landscape like the highways and Wal-Marts that are there now. It comes from a sense of fairness, a nod of honor, and above all, it comes from a love of lacrosse.
    The animals gathered, according to the legend, and divided into two teams. One side, the bear, the deer and al the mammals joined together; on the other side the hawk, the eagle and all the birds formed the other team. Then the bat came along. He wanted to play with the mammals, but they turned him away because he could fly. So he went to the birds, but they turned him away because he was a mammal. The wise old owl finally convinced the birds to accept the bat. The game was played, and the bat ended up scoring the winning goal, swooping in over the mammals to become the hero.

    The legend has taught centuries of Native Americans the importance of accepting all players. But it also illustrates the important posture of lacrosse in Iroquois society. It suggests that lacrosse was developed by the Creator and passed lovingly to his people for his enjoyment just as a parent will enjoy watching a child play with a new toy. It is legend that, even today, older Native Americans share with younger generations as a way of continuing the arc.

    At the Onondaga Nation, just south of Syracuse, the legend is still told. That’s because Onondaga is one of the places where lacrosse continues to have a grip on everyday life. It is a place where sticks are still curled from steamed hickory, where your clan still determines your team, where old teach young the lessons of life through lacrosse. New York City has its subways and skyscrapers as cultural touchstones, San Francisco has its Golden State and Chicago its lakefront. Onondaga has lacrosse, and life in the Nation is in a constant swirl around it. Lacrosse has been described as one of the Iroquois’ most revered traditions and celebration of health, strength, courage and fair play.

    “It’s a game of respect for each other’s gifts,” said Chief Irving Powless, who has been playing lacrosse for 68 years and is a link between his grandfather, who played in the late 1800s, and his sons who play and coach today. “Families here have been playing lacrosse together for a long time. It is part of our lives.”  GROW THE GAME!

    • KK,
      Thanks for the story. I don’t think my knees will allow me to get remotely close to Chief Powless’ age and still be playing this great game.
      When I was a kid growing up on LI in the 70’s, my uncles played lax. The game was so cool to watch. The aura around the game was everything Indian. Sewanaka ruled and Massapequa and Sachem are also towns on LI that have great programs. My uncles had authentic hickory sticks, and they bought me my first stick when I got to jr. high. I was a baseball player at the time, and the sports conflicted due to both being in spring, so I didn’t play lax. When I got to HS though, I decided to go out for lacrosse and I never looked back. Still playing and loving it to this day.
      Recently, I watched the North/ South HS game. We had a few great talents fro LI there, but the naturals were the 2 boys from Iriquois nation. Men amongst boys they were. True gentlemen I was told as well. Both were attackemen, but 1 was asked to play middie and did it willingly.
      Btw, I think it’s a crime that the nation was not allowed to travel to the worlds (passport crap – thank you homeland secutiry).

      Lacrosse – America’s 1st Sport!

  5. Barry,

    I whole heartedly agree with you and this article.  Parents who sign their kids up for Elite programs have to understand the game.

    1.  These are For Profit organizations.  They want to recruit as many kids as possible and who can pay for their services.  But they want the very best kids in order to grow their reputation and cache.

    2.  A 90 minute tryout doesn’t really display your child’s true breath of ability.  But in reality, it is all that can realistically be offered.  An Elite program by us offers as many tryouts as you can attend for the same enrollment price.  They have tryouts across 5 or 6 date and locations.  So if your child has a “bad dday,” then tryout again.

    3. In life, not everyone makes the team.  Sorry.  I have had my children make the team and I have had them get cut. Currently, my sophmore daughter made the Varsity Soccer team.  Three games into the season she was put back on JV.  What a GREAT teaching opportunity for me as a coach and more importantly as a parent!!!  The coach did a good job of explaining her decision.  I took the time to positively re-enforce my daughter strengths with her and told her the areas that she needed to work on.  Her attitude went from crushing disappointment to determination to work hard.  She has been called up to Varsity again do to her leadership at the JV level and her positive attitude.  I am more proud of her overcoming the obstacles than of her original achievement.

    4.  Failing to make an Elite team doesn’t mean your child’s lacrosse career is over.  Kids all grow and mature at different times and speeds.  The hot shot 12 year old may not be the same player at 16 years old.  Keep trying even if you don’t make the team.

    5.  Parents, please be reasonable about your child’s ability and the overall impact lacrosse will have on your children’s lives.  Even at the very top levels, lacrosse doesn’t pay life altering money.  It is far more important that your children love and learn from their lacrosse experience than it is for them to make the Elite team.


  6. Sadly, these self-styled “elite” teams, by their substantial cost, exclude all but affluent families. If these teams and the events they attend are to become the primary way kids get recruited to play in college … as opposed to their high school careers … how will the kid from a family that can’t afford the cost of these teams ever get to play in college? Is this just a subtle way to keep lacrosse mostly a sport for rich white kids?

  7. Thanks for the post Barry,
    I have heard all of what you said for the past 5 years, and it is true.
    Just because you can’t make the cut at Elite team tryouts, however doesn’t mean the end. There are a ton of camps out there to help imporove your game. Besides, one of the best things about this sport is how much is has grown in popularity. Just because your kid can’t make the Elite clubs also doesn’t mean college is a long shot. There are places in this country where 10 years ago if you mentioned lacrosse, you might be speaking a foreign language to the locals. Look around at some of the new programs all over the map. Look at the programs thatb were new 10-20 yrs ago that are big now. Opportunities are everywhere. Not that you should be making your sport your only reason for going to college, but we understand why some of today’s parents use every angle out there to help achieve that goal. Bottom line is grades should be the priority, and your sport next. I was raised under the law of poor grades = no play!
    Now as far as some of the newer ‘Elite’ clubs that have gotten into the biz for some of the wrong reason$, do your HW, ask the right Q’s, and if all else fails learn from the experience – good or bad. If you are a parent of a kid who you feel has what it takes to be on one of these teams, and 1 tryout doesn’t work out well – move on to the next one. Tell your kid that maybe another year on the PAL club or county club will be just as fun – maybe more fun. Plus you can use the loot you saved to pay for that camp at the college they root for.
    My summer camp experiences are part of what got me into the college I attended. No tryouts to attend the camp, but a campers/ counselors game to display your stuff should get the attention or the right people. Then remember, without the grades you won’t be playing there anyway.
    On that note, some of the greates lacrosse players I have ever been assocoaited with played at community college. Another great stepping stone to that scholarship at the big Div. 1 school of your dreams – if you have the grades ;)
    Heres to another great year of lacrosse in 2012.