Editor’s Note: Lee Southren started the NJ Riot 2016 club team, and it is quickly morphing into something much bigger. This growth has put Lee in a new position as the man running a club team. It is a big switch from being the man who is used to questioning club teams! Read about Lee’s experiences as a club administrator, and how it made him think of his own actions as an addicted Lax Dad.
One of the oldest cliches in the book is “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it“. Speaking as a Lacrosse Dad (one who never played but found the game through his children 9 years ago), I can honestly say I am living proof that the above cliche is true to the 10th degree. I have been involved in more clubs as a lacrosse parent than I would care to admit, and I always felt that the experience was not what we expected for one reason or another. ALL of these Clubs had great aspects to them, but I respectfully felt that something was truly missing.
Last year, I decided to start a New Jersey based Lacrosse Club called NJ Riot, which featured a hand selected group of 2016 boys to compete at a high level. The idea was to keep them together year round (except Spring as they play with their HS), commit to them all through HS, work with them, “assist” them with recruiting, and that it was all to be done at an at cost basis, thus zero profit. Riot 2016 experienced a very successful Summer going 13-9-1 playing against A-AA competition and winning 2 of 5 tourneys.
To me the overall objectives were met with great success, as our membership felt that everything that was promised, was delivered. One of the boys (Cooper Telesco) who played with us has committed to the admissions process at Cornell. I give the vast majority of the credit to Cooper, and to his HS Coach Mike Pounds at Ridgewood, but it has been great to see one of our guys get a serious look in the recruiting game so early. It’s all good, right?
At the urging of the next generation of freshman (or the “2017 class”), we decided to put together another team, and this time we would have a tryout to field a similar team with the same objectives, just dealing with kids one year younger. I am humbly, and eternally, grateful to say we had 91 boys come try out for this team, which was officiated and graded by a few college coaches and former college players who were not familiar with the boys trying out.
We had two 2 hour long tryouts in which some of the standouts were offered a spot after the first one, some were thanked for coming, and the majority were asked to come back for a second look. About 10 more boys came to only the second tryout as they couldn’t make the first one due to conflicts. We ended up with a 95% acceptance rate for our invitations, and I am thrilled with the squad we have. It’s still all good, right? Sort of…
In the end, there is a lot more at play here than just a tryout. There are also politics and parents, and for the first time ever, I am on the other side of this tryout/selection process, and I feel a tremendous amount of empathy for some of parents who did not agree with the tryout results. I’ve been there myself, and before I go on to talk about dealing with parents as a program coordinator, let me first apologize to any of the clubs who may have received an email or call from me when I was a parent in their program. I had a knack for disagreeing with others’ assessments in the past, and there were more than a few awkward calls made by yours truly to be sure.
I will be the first to admit that I have made numerous mistakes in my Lax Daddy past. Today, I am trying to right my wrongs by returning every call and email I get in a timely manner, and by writing posts like this one. So let’s get to some general (no names or blame!) stories of lacrosse parents, and how we can all learn from their (and my!) mistakes.
After the tryouts were over, I went to return the calls of two parents who told me that their son was better than someone we ended up choosing. They told me they would be happy to get a written recommendation from their former coach after the results were determined, and at first I almost lost it, but then I realized… Oopsies, I’ve been guilty of that too!
I tried to get across to them that this is not an exact, or perfect, process. Heck, if you look at the NFL Draft’s 1st round picks in the last 10 years (with a ton of research, workouts, and interviews done)… THEY are still lucky to be at a 50% success rate. I have to trust that our coaching evaluators, who do this day in and day out, know what they are doing and I can not guess their selections. No one is perfect, that is always true, but at some point, we have to trust our system. I definitely wish I had this perspective when I was on the other side of things, as I had literally made the same argument these parents made to me. I can only hope that I explained our perspective well.
In my own experience, I didn’t always receive a call back from some of these clubs I called, especially when I thought I was “helping them see they made a mistake or just telling them about what I knew of my son that they needed to know“. Most likely, the lack of a call back was because they found my inquisitions disrespectful to their process. I came across as thinking I knew better, even though it wasn’t my intention. If I only knew then what I know now… Looking back a little more broadly, I began to realize that I may have done more harm than good, as I was viewed as a difficult parent.
The amount of work that goes into organizing a tryout, speaking to parents prior to, etc., is monumental. Just because I reach out to a kid I have seen play, take a reccomendation from someone I know, or field their phone call doesn’t mean that their son has a spot. He only has an opportunity, like every other kid. I took a call from someone I know casually over the years the night before our call back tryout saying that they found it insulting that their kid wasn’t offerred a spot after the first night. During this call, the parent was “consulting me” (as I had done in the past) about all the other players coming back in his son’s position and how his kid was not only better, but that it would be embarassing to share time with boys he considered his son’s “backups” in Rec ball.
Now, I have never heard the term “backups” used in Rec ball, at least where we come from in New Jersey, and at the end of the day, his son was not chosen because the other kids WERE better, but you can imagine how the following morning call went. I didn’t shy away from the conversation, as I don’t ever run from conflict, but it definitely shocked me to think that his way of “winning me over” really made me think of my own past, and how I tried to get people to see my way of thinking. The fact is, I was fighting a losing battle, and I didn’t know it.
Of course not every parent is me from 5 years ago. There were quite a few parents whose kids didn’t make the cut that stayed on the positive side. They were disappointed, but asked for any type of evaluation, and where I thought their son could fit elsewhere. I reached out to two other clubs for two boys and reccommended them highly, as their character (and their parents’ character) had really won me over.
For anyone reading this who had heard from me at some point during MY crazy years as a lax parent, I am sorry, and I deserve a slap (was saying that as a metaphor, not literally. Please don’t come slap me). But beyond apologies, where do we in the Lacrosse Club world go from here? How does this post help the situation?
I want to help educate parents to make smart decisions on how they handle rejection and use these experiences as positives. It took me a long time, and I wish I had experienced this epiphany earlier, but parents must realize that in most cases with most clubs there is nothing personal or political at play. Kids make teams, or don’t, in the eyes of the evaluators. If their son was good enough on THAT DAY or THOSE DAYS is all that should matter. Politics can come into play, but it’s much more rare than I thought it was when I was on the other side.
Instead of fighting or second guessing, use those doubts as an opportunity point. Use the rejection as fuel for your kid to do more training, hit the wall, do the work… late bloomers come around every day. I should know because I have one, and he has taken his disappointments, but he hit the lacrosse wall, he did the work, and became a commit to a top D3 school that fit all of his needs academically, geographically, and Lacrosse-wise. He stuck with it, and it panned out nicely, no matter what I said or did!
I have seen my oldest son wade through the club scene, and now that I run a club program myself, I am starting to see the big picture much more clearly. I’m no longer missing the forest for the trees. I realize it’s not a perfect system, and that there are a thousand different perspectives out there. I see how hard it can be on parents, players, coaches, and administrators, and how much can be at stake. But if there is one thing I have learned it is that you can only control yourself, and if you put in the work, keep at it, and stay positive, good things will come your way.