Hot Pot Youth

Hot Pot Of Lax: Disappointment And Youth Sports

youth lacrosse big kid small kid
Big kid, little kid. It happens.

Making a high school or college lacrosse team can be tough, and emotionally devastating for some, if they don’t make the roster.  But I’ve noticed an ongoing trend in youth sports where “making the team” has swollen to ridiculous levels of importance as well, and this really has me concerned.  This week’s Hot Pot has to do with perspective, and the parents’ and coaches’ roles in enforcing this life skill.

In most places, a kid would sign up for youth lacrosse, get put on THE team, or one of two teams, and then play their season.  Teams were usually pretty even and everyone was just out there playing the game, having fun, and getting better.  When I was growing up, there was no A, B, and C team stuff.  There were just teams, and some were better than others. It was life, and we were all used to it as kids.  Sometimes we won big, sometimes we had close games, and rarely, we got smoked.  It happens.

youth lacrosse big kid small kid

Big kid, little kid. It happens.

But nowadays most programs hold tryouts, and kids are assigned to teams based primarily on experience and skill.  For every youth program out there that still has only one 6th grade team, there are many that have multiples, and some have as many as 4 or 5 6th grade teams.  And this is where the stratification comes in.  A leagues are formed, where programs put their best players.  B leagues are formed where up and comers get to play, and then there are also C leagues, where newer kids can test out their skills.  I don’t know that the stratification itself is bad, but I do know that we could do a better job of managing it!!!!!

First of all, we shouldn’t call the tryouts “tryouts”, and they probably shouldn’t even BE tryouts.  Frankly, that’s just a waste of time.  Instead hold “clinics” where kids can come and learn.  Can coaches decide where to put kids based on these clinics?  SURE!  But the point should always be to help the kids improve, and not evaluate them.  After all, they’re still just kids, and NOT ONE OF THEM is going to be making millions as a professional down the line.  So let’s stop with all this “tryout” nonsense right now and get back to teaching the game as our constant top priority.

Now by dispensing with the tryout mentality, issues can be raised.  The first is that the kids might not be put on the proper teams.  But honestly, THAT SHOULD NOT BE SO IMPORTANT!  So an A kid is put on a B team for a year, or a C player is put on a B team for a year… what’s the big deal?  The A player can help those around him get better on the B team and has the opportunity to be a leader.  The C player has the chance to play up and learn from more experienced kids.  I really don’t see any problem with that.

It also means your “A” team could play your “B” team in a practice or scrimmage, and it wouldn’t be as lopsided of a game.  Kids would be forced to take on new roles, learn new skills, and elevate their game.  Mix the kids up a bit and you’ll see less 6th grade D-middies or man-up attackmen.  Trust me, that’s a good thing for the game, AND for the kids.

And most importantly, this approach takes some of the pressure off the kids to make the A team.  They can get back to focusing on just playing lacrosse.  And this is all about the kids, right?  As coaches and parents we’re not trying to win for some other reason, like our own self-satisfaction, are we?  We might be.  It’s worth thinking about.

There are plenty of Elite Summer teams out there for kids to play on and brag about.  But when it comes to youth league games in the Spring, I think we’ve lost our path a little bit with this whole A, B, C team stuff.  It’s easy for kids to lose focus on what’s important.  It’s easy for them to forget that they are still in 4th grade or 6th grade, and for the focus to move to what team they are on.  So as parents and coaches it is our responsibility to make sure they keep the focus on improving no matter where they are, or what team they play for.

We can do this by talking to our kids, but words only carry so much weight without real action.  The key here is to take the focus off ranking the kids, and just making sure they are all getting better together.  I’m not advocating for everyone to get a trophy, or that we should totally even the playing field, but I do think that we need to take a step back and focus on the kids’ best interests a little more.  From my experience I’ve found kids just want to play… when we much it up with tryouts, rankings and select teams that focus becomes blurred.

Let’s save the tryouts for high school, and just let the kids play the darn game.

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About the author

Connor Wilson

Connor is the Publisher of LacrosseAllStars.com. He lives in Brooklyn with his better half, continues to play and coach both box and field lacrosse in NYC as much as possible, and covers the great game that is lacrosse full-time. He spends his spare time stringing sticks and watching Futurama.

15 Comments

  • I think for certain teams that only field a few squads in each age group, this theory should be implemented. However, some of the organizations have over a hundred kids to manage each spring. The Severna Park Youth Lacrosse League in my neck of the woods has so many kids applying that they have to split them up into A, B and C. That way they can make sure that the C kids get taught the basic fundamentals over and over while the A and B teams can concentrate on more advanced techniques. The goal of every lower team player is to advance to the next bracket year after year. It works well for them and the area is a breeding ground for lax talent. They field at least 7 youth teams in a few age brackets each year.

    Great topic. O and I think it’s total BS that this post only gets 175 views and a picture of a helmet gets 1300!

  • We have a single non-profit youth program in a city with 4 high school teams. We divide teams up geographicly, so the kids for the most part play together as they grow older and get to high school. I do see a time where our program will grow to several hundred and we will need to take a close look at how we make our teams. I will be taking a close watch of other programs now and going forward to learn from their successes as well as mistakes.

  • if you did have several hundred kids in one organization, do you think you would try to create teams based on talent, or stick to location based teams?

    Say you had enough kids for 8 teams in one age group, would you divide them up into A. B, and C teams?  Or would you try to create 8 relatively even teams?

    I remember playing town soccer growing up where all the teams had stars and zeros, and I remembers that being the most fun ever, even though I was somewhere in the middle of the pack.  I still ended up starting on varsity for 4 years in HS, and I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I just enjoyed playing the game so much, and was never focused on what team I made.

    Thoughts on that, Jsobes?

  • But do they really HAVE to split them into A, B and C teams?

    What’s wrong with creating 7 pretty equal teams, all playing at the B level?

    Do people really think the ONLY way to improve is by playing against better players exclusively?

    I’m honestly just curious about this.  I have seen NO concrete proof that playing on elite teams or A teams really makes a player better than if they play on more average teams.  As long as the kid is playing a lot, I’m not so sure it matters as much as we think it does.

    I’m not convinced either way 100%, definitely want to keep this conversation going though Paul.  Thanks for responding!

  • i just believe in dividing by age group.  i think when i was a kid we had a huge clinic and then after that we were divided pretty evenly.  coaches would determine skill from the drills we did and the games we played and then place us onto teams.  but everything was pretty even.  i think it has a lot to do with parents now, obviously wanting the best for their kids, but going a little overboard with how they go about some things.  i think they separate the kids because mixing kids could lead to a smaller and less experienced kid getting hurt in a possibly higher paced game.  but i dont really believe that should be a reason to divide kids like that because it doesnt benefit the learning curve, it hurts it.  and that hurts the later programs because there wont be as much depth.  i just dont believe in being so selective with kids that young.  

  • Connor, 
    I’m curious if you’ve ever played on a genuinely bad team. One where you might be a star, and everyone else is a zero. I’ve had this happen before (The team was 0-14, and I was the team captain as a soph in HS. It was NH lacrosse, I’m not trying to brag at all. This team was just crappy.) You’ll notice after a while, your play starts to degrade down to the other players level. The A, B, and C leagues are good because it pits comparable players against each other, benefiting them and improving their skills. A quick, stick skills strong attack isn’t going to benefit by playing against a defender that belongs in the C league. A lot of the best players are the best players because they play against tough opponents. Also many of the best players have been playing competitive ball since a young age, probably in an A-league type situation. While I am all for the fun of the sport, I feel like having separate skill level leagues allows for kids to both develop their skills and enjoy the sport instead of being frustrated by the mediocrity of their peers. 

  • i know exactly how you feel about the terrible team thing in school.  my senior year of high school i was with all freshman and sophmores, all of which had never seen varsity time, while i was returning all region and returning captain.  many of the kids on my team had no business being on a varsity team, and we went 0-13 after going 15-2.  and we moved up a league, which we shouldve done the year before.  i agree, in some situations my play dropped but i still managed to get post season honors.  

    i agree that some kids may not benefit as much but i do think that it may teach kids how to be unselfish.  and to give other kids that arent as good as them a chance to score instead of the good kid just driving through the defense.  you do get better by playing against tougher opponents, so why cant the B kids play with the A kids?  the A kid may run circles around the B defender, but it will benefit the B defender because he has to match up with the A attackman.  

  • Yes, I’ve definitely been on some bad teams.  And yes, I admit it can be really tough.

    But when a kid gets frustrated by the others on his team, he is really being given an opportunity as well.  

    It’s EASY to say “these other kids suck, this team sucks, whatever”.  It’s HARD to say “I’m the best kid on this team and it’s my mission to make everyone around me better”.  So while your lax skills might not get a whole lot better (I would argue that they actually do improve b/c you have to do so much more in a star role), your leadership skills could improve, and those are just as important.

    Notice I’m NOT advocating for creating awful teams… I’m advocating for even teams.  and in the end, I think by having even teams in youth ball, where kids can develop, and will be carried along and instructed by better players, we can avoid the “awful” HS teams.

    As for the A attack man playing in a C league… how is that part of my proposal?

    If you create even teams there will be A d guys and A attack guys.  Match ups then become important too, and that is yet another skill to teach kids: identify the threats and match up well on them.  Will there be some mismatches sometimes?  of course, but that’s just lax, right?

  • You should read Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, he speaks at length about the biggest problem with youth sports, the advantages of age and how we squander talent.

  • The C team players are new to the sport. The need to be taught how to scoop and cradle. The A team players are split dodging with both hands and learning complex slide packages. Having them on the same team would be detrimental to both of them. We do have to take into consideration the geographic location of the kids I am referring to. Probably more the exception than the rule.

  • I am certain we will continue to keep kids in line with their perspective high school affiliation. I think seeing a group of kids grow together as a team from their young elementary school years into high school is one of lifes wonderful experiences, not just for the kids but for their loved ones.
    That being said, I can see a case for putting together teams in a very large league where you have one team of exceeding talent, one team of players who just picked up a stick last week, and then everyone else be in balanced out teams. I’m not saying I’d advocate that, but I also would not condemn it. I’ve only been around the sport for 6-7 years, so I have a ton to learn. Hence my acknowledgement of watching other similar programs to learn from their successes/mistakes.
    So fantastic we are talking about the youth game!

  • I agree with the author in theory. I played on a team to play the game. That was the most important thing for me – to play. However, my 12 yr old has played since he was 5 in age appropriate brackets. Now at 12 with the influx of new players to the game, he doesnt want to play with kids that can  not pass or catch that do not work to improve.  Life is not about ‘everyone gets to play’. But everyone should get the opportunity to play and show they want to play.  Stratification occurs on the playground, parents did not invent it.  I have four sons 28 to 12… been there, done that. They are 3rd generation lacrosse players and have done their share of recruiting for the game.

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