There is one question that has lingered in the back of my mind ever since I got on the bus ride home after my very last college lacrosse game. It was a bitter ending to my collegiate lacrosse career, one that you can see coming, yet there’s nothing you can do to prepare for the feelings you’ll have.
“What the hell do I do now?”
To make it more difficult, my team struggled in my senior year. Add in the pandemic cutting my junior season short, and my last game was emotional. I remember the final buzzer going off and thinking, “Well, that’s it. My whole life of competitive sports has led up to right now, and it’s over.”
If I wasn’t still on the field, I probably would’ve burst into tears. It’s a hard reality many of us must come to face – only one percent of college athletes find themselves playing competitively after college.
The thing about lacrosse, though, is that many players know this to be their fate. In this part of lacrosse’s history, it’s still growing. It’s still the underdog, hidden in the shadow of professional football, baseball, and hockey. There’s just not a ton of opportunities to play beyond the college level.
So, how do the majority of us who don’t go pro stay involved?
Like I said before, in this part of lacrosse’s history, it’s still growing, and that’s okay. We’re only in the early stages of this sport’s rise in popularity. Give it some time, and we’ll see how prosperous lacrosse can become.
Why am I so confident in this? Fans of the game can already see it happening. The PLL put lacrosse on ESPN and NBC and is pushing more and more kids to pick up a stick. Lacrosse is the fastest-growing college sport in America. The sport will be more significant tomorrow than it is today.
This is great news for us retired college players. If you want to help contribute to the growth and success of this game, the game itself is inviting you to stay. All you need is to find what you want to do.
For me, it may be writing. That’s what I’m doing now, and that’s what I enjoy. But these things can change, of course. For you, it could be coaching, or maybe it’s working with a lacrosse team at the youth, high school, college, or professional level. It could be organizing tournaments, officiating, or producing content and media for other fans to consume. There are so many ways to be involved and help lacrosse grow.
We’re in an interesting time for the sport. What we’re witnessing are the building blocks for tremendous growth and future success of the game. The bricks have been laid out, but the building won’t construct itself. There needs to be incentive, opportunity, and most importantly, people who are driving the sport in the right direction.
Paul Rabil is a perfect example of this. A co-founder of the PLL, he is one of the most important people for the game. I remember watching him as a little kid when he was dominating college lacrosse and then in MLL. He became the face of the sport, was known as the game’s first million-dollar man, and is one of the greatest to ever play.
Now years down the line, his playing career has come to an end, but he’s still the face of lacrosse. I looked up to him as a player, but now more than ever, I respect him as a pioneer of the game. And in 10 years, we’ll have him to thank for where he has taken the sport.
The last college lacrosse game of your life is when many of us will see the end of our competitive playing days. It’s a very hard pill to swallow – trust me, I’ve been there.
Like many of you, my summers were spent at lacrosse tournaments, my eyes were glued to the TV in May during the NCAA Tournament, and I’ve broken a few windows from shooting around in my backyard. We all have reasons to love this game, and there will come a time when you take off your helmet for the final time. But I invite you to take a step back and reflect on what the game has given you: friends, family, fun memories, and maybe some gnarly bruises.
The final contest of your college career doesn’t have to be a bitter end. It can be a sweet start to something great, something that will contribute to the game on a level way out of your own reach, but something that you can sit back and watch knowing you were part of its greatness.
For those of you who love this game as much as me, who have faith in the success of this game as much as me, I invite you to stay involved. Don’t let the lacrosse in your blood die out on that field. Lacrosse doesn’t have to end there. Instead, help build a legacy that only goes up from this point on.