Hot Pot Of Lax: Just Play Lacrosse

Just play!

Clear those mis-preconceptions out of your mind, this week’s Hot Pot is filled with… TRUTHINESS!

Just play!

There is an entire industry built around expensive Summer and travel lacrosse teams.  This is true at the youth, high school, college, and even post-collegiate levels.  And for a long time, this large, expensive, professional seeming experience was sort of required, because lacrosse simply wasn’t that commonplace.  Sometimes, if you wanted to get a decent game in, you simply HAD to travel.  But for a lot of the lacrosse playing US, I just don’t think that’s the case anymore.  Do we need to take another look at our priorities?  Or is lacrosse simply taking the same path that soccer, basketball, hockey and a number of other team sports, have gone down over the past few decades?

I was lucky enough to grow up in Massachusetts when lacrosse, especially at the youth and high school levels, was exploding.  There were teams all around us when I played for a two-town team (Weston-Wayland) in junior high school, but we still had to travel to New Hampshire, or Billerica, MA once in a while to play a game… and while I’m glad we went to play these other excellent teams a little further away than usual, I do remember hating the longer car rides, and thinking that they were such a waste of time.

20 years later and I can’t agree with myself more.  Only now, the need for traveling long distances to get a good game in seems to be diminishing as the game expands.  Yet, somehow, it seems like people are driving further and longer to play lax… People used to say they “had to do it” and now they’re doing it to find “better competition” or “more recruiting opportunities”, but to me, this seems more than a little backwards.

Families rarely used to leave Massachusetts to go play lax.  Ok, maybe we went to New Hampshire once in a while, but we weren’t driving to Jersey, or Baltimore, and we definitely weren’t heading to Vail.  Now I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have liked to do ONE of those trips in my young career, but no one does just ONE anymore. It’s a Summer of traveling to play lacrosse now for a lot of kids… and I just don’t agree that it’s necessary.

Time spent driving in a car, flying at 30,000 feet, sitting in traffic, or posted up in hotel rooms and airport waiting areas is time wasted IF you have a nearby summer league, some friends who play in your town, and access to one wall.  Players today seem so intent on growing up into D1 players before they’re even out of high school.  You ask a 7th grader what position he plays, and he may respond with 2nd line righty offensive dodging middie.  Seriously, I’ve heard that.  Um, what did you just say to me?  You’re in 7th grade.  You probably shouldn’t even have a set position.  Maybe you’re a middie.  Hopefully you’re just a lacrosse player.

The Powells talk a lot about how they got great at lacrosse.  Let me give you a hint: it wasn’t on a travel team.  It was playing in the backyard with friends and family.  When Wayne Gretzky talks about how he became the Great One, he says it was the backyard rink his dad made, where Gretzky skated with his friends that made the original #99 great.  Sure, Gretz also played a lot of travel team hockey against older kids, but the backyard rink was where he made his biggest strides, and probably where he had the most fun, and fell in love with his sport.  And it trickles down to the athletes you’ve never heard of as well.  Like me.

I played very little “travel lacrosse”.  None really.  And I only went to one lacrosse camp ever as a camper.  But I played in my sideyard with my friends, or my brother and his friends.  A bunch of us would go to either our public school or the private school on the other side of town and play and shoot for hours.  It was where we all became better players.  And even though my high school team didn’t exist until my Junior year, my class still sent kids to Syracuse, Hofstra, Harvard, Wesleyan, Tufts, Assumption, Fort Lewis, Loyola (Nola) and Vanderbilt to play lacrosse.  How did that happen?  Not from travel lacrosse, but from Just Playing the game.

If I had focused on lacrosse only, done the travel thing, and not played other sports in high school, I’m not sure I would have been a better player.  And even if I had been better, I don’t think I’d love the game the same way.  We played soccer with a kid who ONLY played soccer.  He played on our HS team, a travel club team, ODP, and anywhere else he could get some run.  And he was better than us.  But not by that much.  (Ok, he was a lot better than me, but I was a pure hooligan with a mean throw in on the soccer field.  Not a “skill” player one bit.)

By the time he got to college, he was a little burned out from the 24-7 training and travel, and since the pace only increases from there, he ended up not playing all 4 years.  Whereas when I got to college and focused more heavily on lacrosse, it was like a whole new world had opened up to me, and it made me that much more dedicated.  And all the running our HS soccer coach made us do DEFINITELY made me a better lacrosse player and overall athlete.  Diversity of training is key!

I understand the draw of big-time travel teams and tourneys.  The gear is always eye-catching, the competition level is usually top notch, you might get noticed as a possible recruit… the list goes on and on.  But all the flash has to exist for a reason, and maybe that reason is that you’re not making the best use of your time and money.  So be selective with your lacrosse “events”.  Go to legit events where they give you a pinnie, keep costs down, and can either give you real exposure, or they have something to teach.  Don’t be drawn in by the glitz and glamour and big names.  Instead, focus on the bang for your buck, and getting what you need out of the event.  If you’re not at least a sophomore in HS, you should still be going to instructional camps only.  There is so much to learn!

I’m not advocating against elite travel teams, or recruiting camps and tournaments.  But I would offer the above words of caution because it’s easy to lose focus on what will make you a GREAT lacrosse player:  Just Play… and you don’t need to spend a lot of money to do that.



– Lacrosse on the lawn of the White House as part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign | Times Argus

– Former college hopeful makes lacrosse happen in Montrose | Montrose Press

– Don “Doc” Hedges simply grows the game of lacrosse in Canada.  Great work, Doc! | Tri-City News

– Kerwick leaves Jacksonville for Georgetown Associate Head Coach Position |



JT can do anything. Hysterical.  Good find LaxUNation!

GREAT story! FDA in Harlem playing lax!


  1. Excellent post!  The lack of diversity training is destroying many sports in this country.  It’s an epidemic that is under-reported, misunderstood, and bigger than most people realize.  We always encourage our players to do something different in the fall and winter; we have a lot of hockey players
    But even more damaging to lax and every other game are the non-stop tournaments.  While camps and clinics at least emphasize education, skill building, and improvement, tournaments exist only as competitions.  Players don’t get better by playing in ANY tournament, but they can by attending a well-run camp or clinic.  Practice beats competition EVERY time when you are talking about GETTING BETTER and INCREASING COLLEGE OPPORTUNITIES.  Sure a showcase game may put you on some recruiters’ radar, but demonstrating that you are willing to improve and willing to listen to coaches at a camp will go much farther (provided you have some talent to begin with).
    Soccer has been plagued by this for at least two decades.  Before MLS existed, I remember watching a special about the “dangers” of such a practice which focused on kids playing year round soccer on multiple travel teams in the summer, the local league in the fall, and the high school team in the spring (or vice versa).  The practice to game ratio between all 4+ teams came out around 3/1.  In what universe is that enough skill building?  Professional athletes in EVERY SPORT (except MLL) practice DAILY, and have film sessions and conditioning on top of those practices.  Current US youth development head and former US player Claudio Reyna is working hard to discontinue this practice.  He is working with MLS academies (which are free) to have at least 5 practices per game.  He is also encouraging breaks for players not in MLS academies to participate in other sports.  Reyna understands the value of practice and diversifying your training.
    Baseball is also falling victim to this practice.  The amount of burnout is increasing constantly, which has been great for the rise of lax, but realistically this is not something we should be encouraging.  With players on school teams, in little league, and in AAU, and all at increasingly younger ages, we are destroying the passion in so many players.  Essentially we are turning sports into work.
    Lax is at a point where we can stop this nonsense before we damage our long term prospects and the game itself – especially in areas that are more established at the younger levels.  In fact, players not in high school should not be playing in highly competitive tournaments.  Like Wilson said, these kids should limit their travel schedule to camps and clinics.  Even at the high school, travel tournaments should be limited to a marquee event (Vail, etc) and regional championships/national championships.