(Editor’s note: The following article was written by new LAS contributor TreeInTheMirror about the future of lacrosse. In his first post, Tree talks about being a head coach in a highschool where lacrosse is still finding its place)
Practice started at 6:45 PM and as the clock approached 7:05 one of my most promising players approached me with a scared look on his face. He proceeded to tell me that the head football coach told him that playing lacrosse was a waste of his time and would decrease his athletic ability on the football field.
My initial reaction was a mix of furious hatred and utter confusion towards the football program. I told my player that I would like to meet with his family to discuss why lacrosse would make him a better football player and a better athlete. I started thinking about why the football coach would ever tell a player that playing another sport would damage his football game and after careful deliberation three possible motives came to mind: weight loss because of the conditioning required in lacrosse, injury possibilities, and missed offseason weight lifting.
After consideration of these possibilities I discussed the football coach’s argument with Jordan and his family. Jordan is a sophomore receiver/special team’s player and has no need to pack lineman pounds on his bones. He is the most-fit player on my varsity lacrosse squad and is an absolute threat when given the open field. Injuries are a nightmare for coaches to worry about; but if a coach preaches injury woes to an athlete, in hopes of discouraging him from playing another sport, he is wishing injury upon that player.
Injuries happen and they happen all the time. How will players react on the football field if you tell them not to play other sports because they will get injured? Football is the most physically demanding sport at the high school level and well trained, athletic bodies will be more prepared for the contact that football offers. Jordan has been under my wing since February and I know that he will be in the weight room no matter what. His body’s performance and glam are of upmost importance to him. If I know this in only four months, the football coach must know this. My lacrosse team has an offseason lifting program, but I would much rather have my players playing other sports and becoming better athletes. The better athlete you are, the more important the weight room is; players realize they need to become bigger, faster and stronger if they want to succeed. I share this story because lacrosse presents an interesting dilemma in the world of sports, especially sports that are trying to grow into respected, school sponsored varsity programs.
Lacrosse is the ‘oldest’ sport in North America, but it is so very new to a vast majority of people. These people include ignorant football coaches, confused parents, optimistic players, doubting haters, tempted outsiders, and lovely girls who need lacrosse players in their lives. I joined the lacrosse community as a senior (2003) in Eagle, ID and instantly fell in love with the game. I remember thinking “I can make individual plays in an open field, hit people via stick or body, and have finesse all in one sport?” As a former baseball, basketball, and football player the sport was a combination of all three for me. The game knowledge was just like basketball, the physicality was very similar to football and it had the finesse and precision required in baseball. This relation lacrosse has to other sports is what brings me to the point of this column: More athletes need to be taught the game of lacrosse, not lacrosse players being taught how to be athletes. Yes, it is my responsibility to teach the basics of athleticism as I am a high school coach; but after the fifteenth time of explaining how to do a sit up, my efforts seem hopeless. Everyday at practice I watch the athletes on my team flourish into better lacrosse players and better athletes. I also witness a group of very athletically challenged individuals continue to struggle with passing, catching, walking, running and even talking.
All varsity school sponsored programs come with cuts in order to protect the unprepared and ensure the school is represented by its best athletes. The ability to make cuts also solidifies the competitiveness of the team and coaching staff. This is a hard topic to touch, but my goal here is not to turn people away from playing lacrosse, but for lacrosse to have the same impact that baseball, basketball, and football have on potential players and coaches. I know that a select group of my players will not return for another season because they didn’t realize that lacrosse is what it is and have spent many days at practice crying on the sideline.
I have received emails from parents asking me to “tone down the physical play at practice because Johnny was sore.” I cannot interpret my fuming rage while I read such emails. The closest comparison is Dan Hawkins’ famous “This is college football!” speech. As lacrosse beings to leave its infancy in America; its TV coverage, applicable fan knowledge, and diehard fan base remain a very small minority in the gigantic American sports pool.
I realize that I am coaching high school club lacrosse, but I am willing to bet that every coach of every high school lacrosse team wishes that the unprepared students were afraid to try out for the lacrosse team because the players are big, fast, strong, and intimidating. It takes courage to put yourself and your pride on the line and risk getting rejected and those are the kids of players that are a coaches dream. I know that the football coach would have never told Jordan that lacrosse was a waste of time if my team was comprised of the previously described big, fast and strong athletes.
My team consists of JV and Varsity rosters with a total of 29 players. Complaining about weak players seems irrational when I only have 29 players over two squads, but it’s a gripe I must pull from page one of my “Coach’s Book of Frustrations”. It is of upmost importance to solidify the sport of lacrosse at the high school level in order gain respect from fellow coaches, potential players, and the athletic department. I continually hope and pray for the day that I make a legitimate cut at tryouts. I envision nervous student athletes sitting at their desk with a butterfly churned, feet tapping lazer focus because lacrosse tryouts is on their minds.
Written by TreeInTheMirror