Grow the Game®

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp

Magical Mystery Tour

I think it’s vitally important that parents and prospects don’t confuse exposure with improvement. There’s a vast difference between getting better and being evaluated. A young players focus should be on improvement and then later to be seen and categorized for appropriate college placement.

Here are anecdotes that may help you navigate the club calendar:

When on the road, invest in camaraderie. “The most memorable part for the kids is hanging together at the hotel,” said an experienced father. “Whether in the lobby or hotel rooms, let them bond and have fun. But make sure they get to bed at a decent time.”

Good luck with that.

“Emphasize fun, 100% effort, and on-the-field communication for your kid. Summer ball isn’t the place for perfection,” explains the parent. “You will experience a wide range of enthusiasm and effort levels from different teammates. You can’t control that.”

The sun isn’t your friend. Multiple game-days melts players into zombies. “Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. Rest in the shade between games,” said the Dad.

Some parents unfortunately treat these trips like spring break and set an irresponsible example for their children. “I’m anti-social but most parents aren’t,” said the Mom. “Find like-minded parents to hang out with. Chances are you will be on the sidelines with these people for years.”

On the club circuit, parental behavior isn’t always stellar. The parents, too often, set an ugly example for the young player to emulate when shipped off to college. “There is an unhealthy parent culture surrounding tournaments…too much drinking,” said the father.

Yelling at officials has become widespread and ugly. The guilty parties are parents, coaches, and even players. These aren’t college games on television and it’s not the PLL mic’d up with Matt Palumb. Shut up and play. Shut up and cheer. A D1 coach told me, “This summer, it’s honestly as bad as I have ever seen.”

Event organizers and referee assigners are putting refs in a no win situation. Officiating 6-8 games in a row during a sweltering day doesn’t work. To survive, the refs don’t move, and that doesn’t go over well with the loud-mouthed coaches and parents. Events should be staffed with one trainer per field. Balls should be plentiful on the end lines.

“The complaining from coaches is out of control,” said the D1 coach. “It’s not the cool thing to do – just coach your teams.” Too often the obnoxious parent is the fool on the hill.

So, leave the complaining at home and instead load up the family truck with positivity. What are the travel essentials? “Pack sunscreen, a bathing suit in case there’s a pool,” said Mom. “Pack healthy snacks and a case of water. You’ll need lawn chairs for the kid and parents under a tent between games, pack some podcasts for the drive and a good book.”

Photo via PrimeTime Lacrosse

Magical Mystery Tour

If you’re competing in a club event here are some tips:

  • Stick to your pre-game routine.
  • Don’t put any opponent on a pedestal.
  • Attack early and often. Shorter games necessitate fast starts.
  • Trust your training.
  • Be coachable.
  • Be a goldfish. Have a short memory, win or lose.
  • Invest in the WE over the ME.
  • Get off your feet in between games.
  • Drink more water.
  • Don’t look at the tournament brackets.
  • Don’t complain to the refs.
  • Avoid negative self talk like “I’m a loser” or “I’m so tired”
  • Learn from the wins and losses.
  • Invest in relationships with teammates. Put down your phone.
  • Play to your strengths.
  • Take more calculated risks.
  • Believe in your team.
  • Surrender the I, Me and Mine into the Us, We and Ours.
  • Smile and enjoy. All for love. Be grateful for the opportunity.

Most consumers, the parents and their children have a very positive experience…especially if food trucks are involved. But let’s get real – there are major issues encountered on the club circuit.

Cost is a prohibitive barrier to entry in lacrosse. It wasn’t always this way. I grew up during an era of community-based, inexpensive rec ball and school supported lacrosse before the club circus pitched their tent. We played pickup lacrosse during the summer in the backyards, driveways, streets, and on the beach. Nobody was burnt out. Grass grows faster in the shade.

I don’t believe in lacrosse burn out. The problem players face is that the demands of being a D1 lacrosse player (academics, weight training, film, practice, meals) are not being effectively communicated to prospects. The high school hero doesn’t know what they’re walking into.

Once upon a time, success wasn’t tied to access. It wasn’t about who could afford private lessons or pricey specialized coaching. The sports demographic, always a sore spot, is trending towards the lifestyles of the rich and famous. You could argue that the game has become less inclusive, especially at the top of the pyramid.

We can’t get back to where we once belonged, a wholesome era of multi-sport athletes – decades where college coaches, like migrating birds, actually attended high school games in May and June. Yesterday, was an age where teaching camps ruled the summer landscape. The summer circuit is most beneficial for great players who play for crappy high school teams and non-hotbed based prospects.

So how should parents operate?

Parents provide. That’s what they do. And unfortunately too often, they are the problem, not the solution.

“The lazy club coaching is too common,” said the Dad. “You’ll often see coaches playing kids based on past reputations as opposed to current skill level.”

I’m not here to clobber clubs, been there, done that. Ten years ago I wrote this piece.

I’ve got to admit, it’s getting better. Clubs try their best. Some are more knowledgable and staffed to properly serve the customer. Others take your money and run. “We saw a revolving door of coaches from year to year,” said Dad. “ It happens too frequently, resulting in a lack of consistency regarding teaching philosophy.”

Clubs like the Annapolis Hawks, 3D New England and Team 91 LI set the standard. They foster elite skill develop, incorporate film study and lay a baseline for conditioning and weight training. They coach the details and prepare young men for college.

If your club coach is wearing flip flops, it’s a bad sign. I’ve seen the complete spectrum of clubs. Some have college level coaching and provide elite instruction, skill sequencing and guidance. Parents should seek great teachers. I’ve seen club coaches who are transformational leaders who develop relationships that transcend lacrosse. They become life leaders for young people who seek direction. The coaches I want to be around are the ones who discuss and teach character, work ethic, discipline, effort, focus, mindset, habits and attitude.

Some clubs have college players coaching and club directors who are business men, folks who are in lacrosse solely for the Benjamin’s. They aren’t educators or professional coaches. These clubs are transactional. They offer a service, but with fewer wholistic benefits.

The variety of expertise, professionalism and positivity in this industry runs the full gamut. It’s A to Z and everywhere in between.

Meanwhile, prospects are reclassifying, repeating a grade to be 18 or 19 years old at high school graduation. This more often, has become the norm for high-end prospects. “We witnessed top team rosters being dominated by holdbacks,” said Mom.

Many clubs are tied closely to a specific high school program. When a coach is involved in both, be careful. What promises have been made? If you come to my high school, you will also get playing time for our club. Playing time can be political.

And so the result is that high school lacrosse in the hotbeds has become unsavory. The MIAA has lost its soul. On Long Island, St Anthony’s and Chaminade raid the public schools for players. The high-end private schools with boarding capabilities are recruiting on a national level, including at these club events. Ask yourself, why has Connecticut suddenly become the epicenter of high school lacrosse?

So, unsatisfied helicopter parents become impatient. Far too many kids become club hoppers. “When your kid doesn’t play enough, parents look to switch to a new club. Year after year,” said the Dad. “Usually it’s parent driven but also encouraged by some clubs.”

Being a lacrosse parent in this environment is not easy. I have a rising ninth grader, who recently transitioned from gymnastics after a ten-year career. She traded her leotard for a stick in February and isn’t club ready yet. So right now, where should she play? Lacrosse, too often, builds barriers.

The overall sense I receive from parents, current players and college coaches is that the summer grind isn’t the magical mystery tour. It features too many road trips and too many games. Eight days a week is not enough. The club circuit is big business. Team directors often receive kickbacks from event organizers to play in certain events, which can determine destinations and lead to an over-scheduled calendar.

The consumer must find a sweet spot. One club that I respect, played in four events in June and then gave the girls and their families the rest of the summer to enjoy. However, too many parents and players are on the long and winding road, chasing the dream to nowhere.

At its core, club is the measuring stick to see how you’ve improved. Club is a gauge. The events are tests. Good club coaches will provide the tools and IQ pieces, to be a more cerebral player. There are many excellent clubs with a plan…and others that are subpar, and ultimately blowtorch your wallet and summer.

Nobody grows with limited touches during a competition – in comparison to a highly intense hourlong training session. Too many parents think these summer club games correlate to improvement. They don’t. Skill training and repetition make you better.

Invest in a bucket of balls. Practicing in the yard with a friend or two has merit. Ask the Powell’s, the Gait’s, and the Kirst’s. Those that spend time with their stick, will be compensated.