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Club Directors Panel: Early Recruiting & Coaching Staffs

We’re off and running after a spirited Week One of the Club Directors Panel. This week we dive into something a little more specific, the accelerated recruiting process. Perhaps the most intriguing part of lacrosse today is the development of D1 coaches accepting verbal commitments from sophomores and freshmen. This is a topic we will go over again, and surely revisit. But let’s get to the Panel’s first thoughts on this topic!

Photo Credit: Craig Chase

Panel discussion questions: 1) Given the shift towards freshmen and sophomore recruiting, have you considered, or are you, considering, moving your top coaches to the younger teams? And 2) how are you preparing 14 and 15 year olds and their families for this accelerated process?

Now the first question may have been unfair. I didn’t expect any director to say, “yes we’ve moved our best coaches to the rising freshmen team and our rising senior team is getting our worst leadership”. However, it is interesting to look at the resumes of coaches leading younger squads. I think it speaks more to the club’s ability to attract quality leadership in general, rather than simply a decision to overlook the arguably the most important teams for D1 recruiting purposes.

We’re kicking off this discussion with Ryan Danehy. As co-director of the Michigan based Go Blue program and current assistant D1 Michigan, he is uniquely positioned to answer both questions.

On moving their top coaches to the younger teams –

This question doesn’t necessarily apply to us.  We only have 4 elite programs: 2015, 2016, 2017, and a 2018 (U-15).  We have 5 coaches in our program and we all coach each team.  We’ve found that in order to run a productive practice we combine two teams at each grade level (2015’s and 2016’s practice together as do the 2017’s and 2018’s).  By having numbers we are able to create our practices at a high tempo and pace that allow for maximum reps – very similar in many ways to our practices at the University of Michigan.

On preparing families for the accelerated recruiting process –

This a great question and given that I’m on both sides of the equation (recruiting the younger players as well as coaching them within our club) it’s important for families to understand one thing:

If you are a sophomore or younger, there is NOTHING you can do about the recruiting process in terms of Division I lacrosse. The only thing you can do for your process is to GET BETTER and play as much lacrosse as you can under great instruction (playing as much lacrosse as you can will help with exposure).

At this point in the process, it’s a one way street. There’s no back and forth communication via email (Division 1 coaches cannot reply to emails unless generic about their camps and/or questionnaires).  They cannot pick up the phone and call you directly.  You cannot convince a coach to put you on their radar because there’s not enough information you can give them.  Bottom line, coaches are evaluating and reaching out to players that they are interested in – and that’s it.  If you’re not getting calls, it’s probably because the coaches haven’t seen you play enough.  And while you may think the process is “unfair,” unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to change it.  Letting your emotions get to you will effect your play and many other aspects of your life.

The process these days is NOT geared towards the athletes playing the game.  The process is geared towards the college coaches. With that being said, the college coaches are the ones taking on the most risk.  The number of spots that are available at the Division I level are still very minimal and there are thousands more playing the game each day.  Don’t let it control your life.  Play the game for the fun of it.  Enjoy it. Meet some new people.  Ultimately, it’s the connections you make in this game that will take you far; it’s really that simple.

John Harvey – No Excuse (Tennessee)

For us, it has become vital to get our better coaches working with the younger teams as much as possible.  It is not so much for recruiting purposes, but the fact that we are fundamentally so far behind a lot of areas in the country.  Stick skills and field IQ are still behind the curve in Tennessee and coaching is the easiest way to catch up.  If we can make a commitment to develop younger players using our best coaches, the whole state will benefit.  I feel that it is so important to have your 11’s and 13’s playing the game the right way and holding those boys accountable so that bad habits do not develop.  If you have coaches that are committed to this, your club and area will see progress.

We are preparing our 14-15 year old kids and families by trying to expose them to more national tournaments. Coaching in a “non hotbed” area, most of our guys are great athletes that will learn the game and will not peak until junior or senior year.  If you are not starting on your HS team in TN, and at least considered for All-American your freshman or sophomore year, you are probably not getting tons of early offers from top D1 schools.  This is perfectly okay with me and you have to be realistic with your kids and your families.  If we start exposing our best kids to the national scene at an earlier age, they get a taste of what is out there and what they need to do.

There are so many great college opportunities out there these days and I think any of them at any level can be the right fit for our players.  I hate that at a time in these boys career, where they should be so focused on team and improving their own game, they have the stress and pressure of college, and that is how their success is measured.  It is ruining a lot of what is so special about youth and HS sports, but if you do not adapt to it, you will loose kids to other clubs.  Again, you have to do your best to find balance in your club program between exposure and development.  I just hope we as a group can keep a bit more emphasis on the development side even with this early recruiting.

Having open and honest conversations with these younger families is so important.  Sometimes it just means adjusting some expectations and that you are not a failure of you do not go to a top 10 D1 school.  To me, it is a success when a kid finds a fit to play college lacrosse at any level.  It means they have worked hard and still love the game enough to want to compete for four more years.

Jay Fox – Ottawa Capitals

In answering the first question we believe all of our coaches are “top” coaches and we feel that our u11s and u13s deserve the same top level coaching our Varsity guys do. No need to shuffle coaches as all of our coaches are so highly thought of that at one point in their careers they were paid for lacrosse skill. Either through a professional league or through a NCAA scholarship.

We prepare our young players by holding a recruiting seminar at our training camp after try outs. Last year it was conducted by Jim Stagnitta. In addition to the in depth seminar we regularly send out recruiting articles and information to our families. From our inception I have always recommended as a service that our players should sign up for. It was instrumental in my own sons recruitment and I truly believe it makes contact and staying organized in the recruiting process easy. As the recruiting calendar accelerates it is a must have tool to the young lacrosse player looking to get noticed. We also start reviewing academic grades at u13 and working with players on the expectations of character and academics. We stress to the players and families they can’t just wait to HS to straighten out behavior or their academics. If they do it very well could be too late.

Ric Beardsley – Team United (New York and New Jersey)

I think that all our coaches are great. They are dedicated and care about the kids they coach. All of them were top notch players in their hay-day. I think that is key. But do we put our best coaches with the recruit-able ages teams? No. Our Offense and Defense philosophy is geared toward showcasing the players. Our coaches at every level do a great job of this.

We are honest and up-front. We also make sure they know that we are here to help in anyway we can. The process is different for all college programs, it’s just learning to roll with the punches the process can give out. We try to so this all the time.

On the director side we always seek out answers for the questions we have from colleges coaches we speak with often to make sure we are on the cusp of the process therefore being a good resource or information for our parents and players.

Rob Horn – Minnesota Elite

We take a different approach with our programs than most do.  Due to our distance of travel, we tend to take multiple teams to the same events.  This allows a coaching by committee process at the events we attend.  We will usually have 4-5 coaches with two teams allowing for each player to get a variety of individual instruction during games as well.   Our practice model is very similar as we do practice all teams at the same time, and this allows for a variety of instruction in individual and team settings.  All of our coaches are familiar with the recruiting process, so if there is a reason to help, they know how to address it. Our goal is to help as many players as we can develop, and at the same time, be supportive of them in the recruiting process from rising sophomores to rising seniors.

Regarding the new recruiting world, we begin the education process the same way as most programs, highlighting the lay of the landscape, the percentages, and the true commitment it takes to be a student athlete at the next level.  We provide parents and players with he information they need to start their research and map out the resources they will need to have at their disposal if they chose to pursue those options at that time.  We believe that you don’t have to want to play NCAA lacrosse to be in our program, and that everyone’s timelines are different.

Our staff is then at their disposal for individual meetings and discussions regarding each players recruiting process and timeline.  The process is just as much about educating yourself into the schools that you might be interested in, academic offerings, admission requirements, and potentially the academic financial aid processes as it is sending emails and highlight tapes.

Of course, these days you need to be prepared for the situations that the schools express interest earlier than a student athlete and his family might be prepared for.  In those times, you still need to take a moment and look at those items above before you begin any discussions.  Take the time and make sure it could be a proper fit.  This process is about a 40 year decision not a 4 year one, and the players need to be a 100% committed to the work that comes with making any type of decision.

Lee Southren – NJ Riot

Though Riot is a little over a year old, we have put a strong emphasis on providing recruiting support to our HS membership.  We added experienced current College coaches to head our HS teams coaching lineup.

I feel that this gives the boys a head start in what the level of expectation is to play at the next level as they are going along.

With the consistent shift to early it or not..we need to be “when in Rome people”..If we are not..then our players will be behind the 8 ball and starting their process playing catchup…i have been speaking to numerous Coaches on our players behalf..and though there is a variety of different answers to the same questions..The characteristics they are looking for are the same.. grades, character, experience and playing proficiency to name a few..

With that said..preparing 14 and 15 year olds for this process is not that tough if you communicate with them..spell out what the expectations are for them and their parents…and handle this as an opportunity..NOT a right..because it isn’t.  College coaches also need to treat this in a fair and equitable manner and realize what they are dealing with too.  Club Directors need to pay special attention to not allow a parent to bully them into making the calls if their kids aren’t there yet.. If directors push wood..then coaches won’t take our calls the next time..

The summary for Riot is to establish a clear communication and expectation with the player and parents and then follow through with an adequate plan.

Marty Kupprion – NXT (Philadelphia)

We have definitely paid more attention to creating the right environment for our younger players to develop.  Our club is one that believes in having one team per grade that practices hard to develop players individually and collectively.  We have adjusted our practice objectives and teaching curriculum so that we are doing more to prepare players for the countless opportunities that will be provided to them not only at their high school but in club tournaments and individual camps and showcases.  It’s crucial to have a coaching staff that is experienced with both developing high school players and navigating the recruiting madness of this era so that the club experience is both realistic and productive.

The one aspect of our club that I am most proud of is the way that we communicate with and support our players and families.  When we started NXT LC,  we thought that it would be very helpful to all parties if we could sit down and meet face to face with not only each player, but each family two or three times a year.  By the time our players are juniors in high school, they will have had more meetings with their NXT coaches than opportunities to speak with any guidance or college counselor at their school.

From the fall of their freshman year, we stress academics first, we want to hear their goals, and then we give feedback based on what they’ve done on the lacrosse field.  These meetings are great because anything else is fair game for any player or parent to ask.  Obviously, not all players and parents are on the same page about what happens on the field or over the recruiting timeline, but being in the same room to talk things out definitely beats trading texts or e-mails.  We have found that having these conversations early and often help both our student-athletes and their parents to be more realistic and comfortable with the college process.  We have a great crew of passionate young coaches that embrace this mentality and the opportunity to be more than just a coach on the sidelines.  We are role-models, mentors, and life-long supporters of each one of our players and try to treat them as if they were our own children that we want to see follow their dreams, love life, and be great people.

We also think that it is important for these young players to hear the facts from actual college coaches.  We have an annual “College Night” event where we’ve had various D1, D2 and D3 coaches present and field questions from our club players and parents.  Over the past two years, we have opened this event up to our 7th and 8th grade club families just so that they can get a better understudying of the landscape and the realistic odds of making it to the next level with lacrosse.  Whether or not our boys go on to play college lacrosse, we want them to know the facts and that they have a great support system to help them mature and to reach their goals academically and athletically.

Anthony Crimmins – Dallas Select/Texas United

Due to the smaller size of our organization, our top coaches remain present and involved with every player and every team that we assemble. Needless to say, we coach a lot of lacrosse. We structure the summer so that players at every level get access to our top coaches. Additionally, we understand the necessity to help in the development of our younger coaches. By having our top coaches practicing with younger squads we are able to provide on field training for guys that may be playing college now or just starting their coaching journey. Our training occurs during practice and combines which are led by our program directors as instruction and the details remain at the forefront.

1. We train well and start early. This year, we have had 4th time. The importance of being skilled and having a fundamentally sound understanding of the game cannot be emphasized enough. We look to make more of the right plays, more of the time. The early recruiting process has really shifted focus for a lot of kids on “getting looks” rather than constantly looking to improve their game. We stress the importance of training to develop your own skills rather than just being seen. It’s what you are (or are not) doing when nobody else is looking that will ultimately make the difference.

It’s important for players to be seen by coaches, but more important that they stay focused on improving as individuals along the way. That doesn’t just happen, so the more our players understand the importance of being focused on improving and training, the better off they will be when college coaches are watching. At this requires time, we have worked on increasing the opportunities we provide our players. The more time we put in training right, the more we improve!

2. We put our players in tournaments (earlier and more often) where visibility is considerable and pair this visibility with opportunities to compete against high-level opponents. Players from Texas need to continue to play against quality opponents and not just focus on their personal recruitment. In addition to select team opportunities, individual showcases remain important. As the best showcases limit the spots available, players need to be ready to compete for those spots as well.

3. We stress the controllable barriers to entry including grades and how a player acts off the field, to name a couple. These have become even more important at the younger age as grades do not lie and neither does social media. Players are constantly worried about their “recruiting looks”, but, if equal focus is not placed in the classroom and behavior, those looks will not matter.

For the most part, players need to have their business in order, the most important aspect of the recruitment process, while remaining proactive the whole time. With the process starting earlier, parents need to be more involved at an age where children hope that parental involvement decreases.

We work on informing parents of the choices available to their players and making the best choices. At the same time, we focus on more, targeted training, developing each player’s overall athleticism, playing in identified, key events, and more. Ultimately, though, players need to play because they love to play as recruiting has been and always will be a tricky proposition!

JC Valore Southshore (New Jersey)

Many programs would love to have every coach be a “top” coach.  Yet, we understand that is not always the case when it comes down to experience, especially when accounting for a coach’s personal life and availability being a major factor in the summer circuit.  We value all of our coaches equally.  However, there are exemplar staff members that may connect with certain players differently.  That does not necessarily mean these coaches are better, but more fit for certain areas.

As recruiting has shifted to freshman and sophomores, we have analyzed where our IQ level needs to improve the most.  What coach can best teach the game and put emphasis on the fundamentals?  We recently have added youth teams to our program, and as many know, finding a strong youth coach is ideal.  Our youth level teams are now coached by experienced elementary teachers who have playing, coaching, and even reffing experience.  These coaches can connect with our younger players as they have dealt with players their age more frequently.  Practices are drill specific and a serious environment is created to foster the best growth as a team and individually.

We may place coaches with recent/current college experience with our oldest players to allow specific skills to improve.  This could include more advanced techniques that they have learned from the recent college game to give these players a perspective on their future in the game of lacrosse. Some of the players on our older teams may have decided where they are attending school or making a decision and we want them to still see value in playing for our program.  This allows each year to be a unique experience for the players as there is constant education and development.

Finally, we do take our 8th grade and 9th grade teams into account when selecting a staff and the tournaments they attend. Yet, we feel the reason our coaches are so important, is so our players develop for their high school teams.  We do not stress a need for early commitments or traveling all over the country and burning a player out in a summer.  We value these grade levels because these are the years that players will most likely develop the most physically, emotionally, and psychologically when it comes to aspects of lacrosse and life.  The essentials that we expect our coaches to preach still come down to two things, IQ and fundamentals.  If our coaches do this and our players can end the summer with a positive reflection, then our “top” coaches have done their jobs at all levels.

At this point we are putting a lot of our focus on player development.  We keep our 8th and 9th grade families informed about recruiting, but aim to calm the stress levels that have come along with the ever changing landscape of lacrosse recruiting.  In the end, if a player is not focusing on his overall academic and athletic development, the future collegiate opportunities might not be available.

Kyle Lambert – Wild Lax (Colorado)

There certainly has been a shift in the recruiting of freshmen and sophomore players for Division I teams.  That shift has not necessarily spread as far West where the Division I talent is not as concentrated as on the East coast.  There are definitely players in Colorado who are Division I talent and get the early looks described.  Those players are the exception to the rule and a different approach is taken with them than the approach taken with the rest of the players in our program.  We often see many of the Division I players in our program secure their opportunities later in the game (Junior and into Senior seasons), where spots become available at schools for a variety of reasons. If a player is identified as a Division I talent as early as their freshman year a more individualized approach is taken.  We communicate directly with interested coaches and seek opportunities for that individual to showcase their talent outside of our team.

To answer the question more directly, we always bring in coaches that we are confident in their ability to teach the game and provide a great environment for the players to participate. We place a coach based on their ability to relate to a group and get the most out of them.  Some coaches bring more enthusiasm and energy that may be required for younger groups and other coaches bring a more disciplined style that some older groups may respond better to.  It is more about identifying the personality and character of the group as a whole and picking a coach that best fits that group.

Preparation for the accelerated process is handled by providing as many opportunities for the 14 and 15 year old players in our program.  We communicate the importance of taking advantage of as many of those opportunities as possible.  The youth lacrosse competition and coaching is not as strong in Colorado as other pockets of the country that our players are competing against for spots at the next level.  So our players need to close the gap as quickly as possible.  It does not mean that a player must play year round lacrosse, but it does mean that year round opportunities are available.

Players can certainly become better at lacrosse by participating in basketball, hockey, football, etc and we encourage that, but if they choose not to, we will offer box lacrosse leagues, individual instruction, and pick a tournament to play in during those seasons.  We communicate with the parents and their players that putting in the work is the only way to close that gap and set them up to compete for the limited opportunities that become available in the accelerated recruiting process.

Incredible insights from our panel as usual! I’ll be back next week with more club questions and answers! Catch up with week one’s discussion here. It’s a varied look at how programs across the country define success.