Let’s talk about American Lacrosse, shall we? I watched the U-19 USA/Canada matchup, as well as the USA/Denver game solely for the purpose of my own enjoyment. I wasn’t studying offenses or taking notes. I didn’t have any intention of doing anything but enjoying myself. Enjoy myself, I did! But watching these games also brought up some pretty intense thoughts on something seemed missing from the large American Lacrosse scene… and the wheels simply wouldn’t stop turning.
Seeing the future stars of the NCAA/MLL/NLL play in the U-19 game was superb. Watching Casey Powell still dominate while running with and against guys who are literally half his age… what an absolute treat!
To boot, the games (along with two women’s games) were streamed for free by US Lacrosse, and can still be watched after the fact. Which is nice, because I couldn’t/can’t say no to a powder day in Park City, and wound up watching the games later on in the afternoon yesterday. If you’re wondering, it was a picturesque day on the slopes and on my computer. It was my Saturday morning cartoon. I stared for hours. It was awesome.
However, seeing CP dominate at FORTY YEARS YOUNG and seeing the clip of the U-19 selection process combined to bring a familiar thought banging back to the front of my brain. Twenty-four hours later, and it still hadn’t gone away.
What Is American Lacrosse Missing?
All I could think about when I saw the U-19 boys playing was that the majority of them only have four of five more years of playing left. They’re all going to Division 1 schools, sure. I would assume that some of them will go on to the MLL and NLL, and a few might even get to play for the US National Team once or maybe even twice. Who knows…
But if Casey can play until he’s 40, and there are more and more guys playing longer and playing better and better at older ages, where exactly does the next generation think their spots are post-college? I think competition is so much more than healthy, it’s imperative, for any sort of growth. However even with young guys potentially being able to work their way on to practice teams and then maybe eventually active rosters, we’re still wasting upwards of 90% of our players when they turn the ripe old age of 22 or 23.
My issue is with the post-collegiate options for athletes stateside. My primary concern, which is shamelessly selfish, is for lacrosse, but the issue is universal with the current model of athletics in America. Some players will go on to the professional level. Whether it be the NFL, NBA, or our own two brands of professional lacrosse, we’ve all heard the statistics of how low the percentage of athletes who advance from the collegiate level to the pedestaled position of the heroic American demi-god of professional athlete.
So… what about the rest of us?
I had dreams of playing pro when I was just a kid in the backyard shooting around a goalie I had constructed from cardboard boxes and some zip ties. After twenty-six years, I still have lacrosse dreams, as we all do, but now they’re just dreams of playing. I miss it, as I know you do. The team, the early practice, the frozen mud that would cut you to shreds in March. I miss it all, and I was far from an all-star.
Truth be told, I sat the bench in college playing for a middle-of-the-road Division 3 school. I was ashamed of that for years, and I still might backspace over this part, but if you’re reading this, I guess I’ve come to terms with my mediocrity. But shouldn’t I still be able to play? Shouldn’t you? Just because I can’t hang with the pros doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to play a game that is literally a game for everyone.
Amateur lacrosse in America. Does it exist?
Sure, there are recreational summer leagues. There are weekend tournaments you can go to, from Lake Tahoe to Vegas to Lake Placid to Hawaii. If you know the right guys, and you’ve got a couple hundred in your account you can spare, sure. You can play a weekend or two a year. You can also play club ball for a team, but it’s usually pretty loose, and guys come in and out over the course of a season. It’s nothing like the college or high school experience.
That’s not how amateur sport operates in the rest of the world. After playing club lacrosse for a season in Australia, as well as coaching and playing for a club in Italy, I can say with 200% authority that every country in the world has a better set up for club/amateur lacrosse than the United States of America. AND LACROSSE IS A GAME THAT’S FROM HERE! How are we so backwards?
Native guys up in New York play on senior B teams all across New York. Australian men and women can play Senior State, Division 1, Division 2, or even Divsion 3 for their club until they die. A twenty-nine year old man in Germany has more legitimate chances of playing amateur lacrosse in the ELL than you have as an American living in a country with an estimated (and growing) 775,000 players.
Thousands more of us will be done playing in 2016.
Just think that every team (on average as my rough guestimation) in the NCAA/MCLA will graduate six to twelve players this Spring. Now think about all the High School teams that will graduate ten guys. Maybe they all go play in college. Maybe two actually do. Think about the guys who didn’t go to college. The men and women who choose to serve our country instead of going to college. Don’t they deserve to keep playing? I think so.
So why can’t it exist? Why can’t Syracuse, New York have six club teams made up of men and women who love lacrosse? Why can’t Long Island have eight (we all know they never leave that island) and New York City have four? If Rochester can put up four, and Buffalo put up three, and Albany a couple, plus a North Country club, as well as a Binghamton pair, you now have a New York Amateur Lacrosse League with 20+ teams.
Regionalize the teams into 2-4 divisions to keep travel lighter, and then play regional state playoffs and eventually a state championship? That’s the great state of New York. Maryland? Pennsylvania? California? Colorado? Vermont? Florida? Admittedly I don’t know everything about anything and don’t know the geography of any of these states, but I have a hard time believing that a grassroots club system for post grad players can’t exist. While it does exist in small pockets, I’m always shocked it isn’t a more popular option.
Can you imagine telling your boss that you need next weekend off because you have state championships for men’s lacrosse? Dare I say national championships? I’d love to be that proud of something again.
Here’s another avenue. There’s an interesting entity in our community that really didn’t exist ten years ago, and doesn’t really exist abroad, and that is club lacrosse for kids. Club lacrosse has run rampant with our youth players and can be credited with expanding our game in a new way when compared to local grassroots programs. Club lacrosse has brought players from Colorado and California to the attentions of the biggest programs.
So why not just add senior teams?
One of my many criticisms of the club craze that has swept through the land is that there really isn’t much incentive to take care of players who aren’t going to end up going to play in college, and once you’ve committed it’s time to focus on the next generation of players to groom for collegiate success.
Add a senior program. Play other senior clubs. Keep that MadLax/3d rivalry alive. You’ll lose your players for four Spring seasons, but you’ll get them back in Super Saiyan form once they’ve completed their NCAA years. There would be an incentive to develop all their players to the best of their ability.
Imagine being a club player since you were literally a U11, and then once your college days come to an inevitable end, you’ve got nothing? How amazing would that be if I could come back to the club I’ve been playing for since I was 11 or younger? Crabs versus Dukes? 3d Colorado and 3d New England annual rivalry game?
Maybe neither of these models, local grassroots clubs nor travel clubs adding senior programs, are the
answer. They’re just two options. Just because what I’ve said in these past few words might not be perfect doesn’t mean I’m not right. There’s a solution for the thousands of players in their athletic prime that are simply going to waste, so we just need to make it happen.
One of my favorite environments to this day was the environment of the Woodville Warriors Lacrosse Club in Adelaide, South Australia. After games on Saturdays, everyone would come in for food cooked in
the clubhouse kitchen, and beer served over the club bar. Food and drink would be served by members of the club who volunteered to serve/cook for the night, and it all came at a cheap price for members. Scores would be read from all the teams. Girls, boys, men, and women from below the age of 8 to well above 40 filled the room. Sons sat with fathers, and both had played that day. It was awesome. Even in college we didn’t have something quite like it.
You can still play.
I know you can, and you know it too. You’re getting a little tubby aren’t you? You eat better, and you don’t do half the things you did to your body during those nights in college, but at the same time you don’t have the physical activity you had when you were practicing and playing. Don’t you want that back? Don’t you miss the discipline and the camaraderie? What would you do to get it back?
I hate lifting, and crossfit is for goobers. “Bodybuilding is a competition against yourself”… Lame. I want to run my guys against your guys. I want to score goals and if the other guys should score more goals, I’ll happily shake his hand and buy him a soda after the game. Everyone always blabbers on about how sport can teach us infinite lessons about interpersonal communication, teamwork, and responsibility…
Are we really naïve enough to think we’re done learning these lessons just because we turn twenty-three?
Imagine if everyone you work with who used to be an athlete was still an athlete and they were all ten pounds lighter and two hundred percent happier.
Sport is medicine. Physically, mentally and emotionally. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I die. Imagine lacrosse without all the pressure. I’m twenty-six years young, and I’m playing the best ball of my twenty-one year tenure with this beautiful game. I don’t want to stop, so I won’t. If you miss it like I miss it, let’s do something about it.