Decades ago, Open Tryouts for college lacrosse teams were much more common than they are now. A coach might have known that he was getting a couple of star players each year, but pulling athletes from the general student body was a time honored tradition, and one that yielded some excellent players and, eventually, some excellent coaches. In some cases, it was also required just to round out the roster.
Dom Starsia, for example, had never played lacrosse before he got to Brown, but ended up being an All-American defenseman, and now he’s a legend of the coaching game. Ed Woodson, a true game grower and Chazz Woodson’s father, informed me that back when he tried out and played at Middlebury, there just weren’t enough great high school players to choose from. Sometimes you just needed to pick up some athletes!
While we still see some of this today (Michigan just announced their Open Tryout date), I am nearly certain that we see less of it, and far fewer walk on players in general. Many teams today don’t hold any sort of open tryout. Of course, nowadays, this no tryouts approach actually makes a lot of sense…
It makes sense that coaches would rather find “their guys” before the season has started. It’s better to know what you have earlier… I can buy that. And with so many high school programs now, it stands to reason that collg coaches can pull this off numbers-wise, where they struggled to do so in the 1980s, and before, when there was less high school talent to choose from. Coaches can recruit larger classes on average, and can even plan on cutting some of recruited players.
So why should anyone even bother with Open Tryouts?
In my estimation, Open Tryouts are great for a couple of reasons:
1) You could find a stud. It’s rare, but tryouts can reveal a future star, or at the very least, a player who makes an impact. Jeff McLaren had never played lacrosse before transferring to Wesleyan from URI, but he picked up the sport during the football offseason, and ended up being a captain as a senior. He has played for the Vermont Voyageurs box team after college, and still hits like a truck.
2) It’s good for the team. If the coach forces the team to attend the try out and watch, they get to see how badly other kids want it. It can also be good to throw the freshman out there, as it is a good way to see what they have. With try outs, it’s all on the line, and while the average size, speed, and skill of the walk ons might not be that high, their passion levels sure should be. It’s never a bad idea to remind the guys already on the team that it is a privilege to be in their position, and that other people want to be in their shoes.
3) It’s good for support. Football teams draw support naturally, but lacrosse teams often need to work for it. I can’t think of a better way to drum up a small, but dedicated, group of fans each year than by hosting Open Tryouts. Give each attendee a T-shirt that says “I tried out for men’s lacrosse”. Or sell them at cost if the NCAA forces you to. See if the students don’t wear it with pride. It’s small, but it’s a start in creating a buzz on campus.
4) It’s good for the game. I know some big schools host tryouts for football for exactly the above reasons. I believe they also do it to inflate the football fraternity. The kid who tries out for his college’s football, or lacrosse, team might not make it. But that kid got a taste of the sport, and might have liked it. Maybe they will go on to coach at a local high school in the future, or coach their yet unborn kids in youth league. The point is that a taste can make a difference, and we all need to do our part to Grow The Game. Open Tryouts present that opportunity. I can’t see why anyone would pass it up! Oh, and you know where that yet unborn kid is going to want to play in 20 years? Yup, the school that let his dad try out. It’s even got aspects of long tail recruiting!
Ok, that last part was a tad silly. And I can still see why coaches would pass the opportunity up. There is only so much time in the day, and Open Tryouts take time to organize and run, especially if one takes them seriously. The potential payoff in terms of talent is probably low, and there are even some risks, like injuries, or the less likely angering of a potential booster’s child.
At the end of the day though, I believe the positives outweigh the negatives in a pretty real way. If done right, the Open Tryout does a lot more for a program than just run a magnet over a haystack, in search of a needle. It creates a basic bond with the student body. It can get current team members excited. It has the potential to spread lacrosse. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that kid you didn’t know existed, and now can’t live without.
At lower levels of college lacrosse, the Open Tryout is a no brainer. I can’t see why a single D2, D3, or MCLA program wouldn’t hold one. As for D1, I can see why some schools might not think it is worth it, but for anyone outside the Top 20, it seems like a done deal.
Open Tryouts, I’m all for ‘em! Tell me why I’m wrong!