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Hot Pot Of Lax: Disappointment And Youth Sports

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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