An eighth grader (class of 2020) has verbally committed to Syracuse University to play women’s lacrosse. I have no creative or clever opening for this little opinion piece, but the fact that a thirteen or fourteen-year-old child is not only thinking about, but COMMITTING to, collegiate athletics is simply beyond my comprehension.
Let’s do some simple math…
For the sake of argument, I will say all eighth grade students are fourteen years old. Kindergarten was only eight years ago, and a college commitment that will play out five years from now, however non-contractual, is an agreement period that represents over 33% of the total time that the child has been alive on this planet.
While I still can’t fully commit to a Friday night date with my fictional girlfriend before Thursday, the fact that a 14 year old kid knows what they want FIVE YEARS FROM NOW simply amazes me.
Young Lacrosse Recruits – Are We Failing Our Children?
While eighth grade is ever slipping from my memory as it edges away further and further from the present, I would like to be able to say that I was definitely not concerned with which college lacrosse team I wanted to play for. I was focused on learning 2nd year Spanish, and awkwardly trying to figure out the best way to ask my fictional girlfriend to go see Attack of the Clones. (Yes, we’ve been on and off since eighth grade.)
From what I do remember of my eighth grade playing days out on the lacrosse field, I was more concerned with just playing as much as I could and getting onto the JV team. Funny enough, there was a kid a grade level below me, and I vividly remember hearing that his father had said that Mr. John Desko himself was looking at his seventh grade son to go to Syracuse. A few years later we would wind up sitting on opposing benches as the starters on both of our division three squads squared off in the snow.
I remember playing indoor men’s league in Baldwinsville with the Varsity coach when I was in eighth grade. I used to get mauled. I wasn’t good. I didn’t score many goals. I could run, but that wasn’t doing me much good… there were boards… so I had limited places to scamper. College? Who cared? I was having a blast getting the snot kicked out of me every Tuesday night.
Did playing on that team for the Varsity Coach help me make Varsity as an eighth grader? No.
I didn’t play Varsity Lacrosse until eleventh grade. That’s what most of us did back then. Funny thing is, I got better, I got more playing time, and I HAD A LOT OF FUN PLAYING WITH MY FRIENDS. The kids who ended up at D1 schools did pretty much the exact same things, and it didn’t hurt their game one bit. The best kids played high level college lacrosse. The rest of us found spots at other levels. None of us felt compelled to commit early.
At it’s core, we played lacrosse in eighth grade because it was fun, and none of us were worrying ourselves with where we would play in college.
Granted, my situation is not this eighth grader’s situation. She was an All Palm Beach lacrosse player as a seventh grader, whereas I was still trying to master the art of cradling the ball. The Syracuse commit must be exceptionally talented, and I have nothing but honest admiration for her dedication and skill, and I hope to see her light it up in the future at Cuse, or somewhere else.
I’m sure this 8th grade girl is a LOT better than I was back then. In fact, I’d be willing to bet she’s a LOT better than I am right now! But does the extremely high quality of her play mean she is truly prepared to decide on which college she will attend? Does the fact that she knows what her major will likely be make it any better? Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t, but this article isn’t really about her, it is simply inspired by her commitment.
I would never even consider saying that this is messed up, and that it’s her fault.
But I would gladly venture that this situation is messed up, and that it’s OUR fault.
Yes, WE are to blame because WE have built a system over the past two decades that is just pumping out commitments to this school or that school. We’ve gotten so caught up in celebrating the successes of the elite few that we’ve lost sight of the goals for the masses. When do you see a club team post on Twitter about their kids having fun and learning? Rarely, if ever. When does a club team post about their most recent “big time commits”? All. The. Time.
Do quality instructional camps even exist anymore? The majority of the camps out there now all seem to be “recruiting camps” or “showcases”. Do kids stop improving after 7th grade nowadays?
As a sport, we have simply sold out.
Recruiting showcases, select teams, and year round camps and clinics, all coming in at exorbitant prices are standard for today. While these things existed when I was growing up playing, they were more affordable, and they were a lot less common. The explosion of club lacrosse has been phenomenal in bringing the game to underserved or new areas. And vice versa, it’s been phenomenal in bringing players from underserved or new areas to the game’s spotlight. Club lacrosse has definitely made it’s impact, and for that, we are all thankful.
But I digress… My love/hate/loathe/come crawling back relationship with club lacrosse isn’t what I’m blabbering about. I’m blabbering about the recruiting process.
Now, it’s important to say that I have nothing but respect for Gary Gait and Regy Thorpe up at Syracuse. Both men are absolute Legends with a capital L. On and off the field. They run great programs. They’re trying to gain an advantage where they can, as adults are wont to do (and as Gait did on the field, below), and they are playing by the rules.
But the rules, quite frankly, suck. And we, the greater lacrosse community, are fully to blame.
I applaud the majority of college coaches who have advocated for solidifying the rules and eliminating these loopholes that are letting these early commitment shenanigans continue. It is a good start. But I would like to see the NCAA, US Lacrosse, and all the other acronyms consisting of the letters “L,S,W,I, and C” get together and start walking the walk, instead of just putting up mildly condescending Facebook posts every time a CHILD commits.
Junior year. Sounds fair right? I didn’t talk to my college coach until the Spring of my junior year. When did I commit? Well, if I ever did that, it was probably in November of my Senior year. I visited, loved it, applied, and said “Yes sir, I’ll be there in the Fall”. This was still before many of my classmates had decided on a school, but it wasn’t three to four YEARS before they were thinking about it. It was three months, or a year, tops.
It was all pretty simple, and by the time I was a junior, I was ready for it. Mind you this was a division three school, and I wasn’t a “blue chip” recruit, but I’m sure some parents/players today are pretty envious of my recruiting process, or lack thereof. I am also sure that most kids today would likely benefit and enjoy a slower recruiting process a lot more than today’s accelerated standard where kids are judged before some of them have hit puberty.
I went to the Top 205 camp for a week one time. That was in high school. We played at the Cornfield Classic in Tully, which was the recruiting event of the year in Syracuse after an unspoken consensus emerged that the TurkeyShoot had become a sellout. Also in high school. These two events were literally the extent of my recruiting process, and my parents’ bank account didn’t suffer nearly as much as it would have today. It was feasible, affordable, and gave me more than enough time to find a proper home. If I had truly been an elite level player, I would have stood out, and played D1 lacrosse.
This can still happen today.
We frown upon the conscription of child soldiers in Africa, the Middle East, and all those other places that irrationally terrify us. We decry child labor around the world. I’m not equating lacrosse’s recruiting regulations (or severe lack thereof) to the horrendous and inhumane abuse of children in third world countries, but I will draw a parallel here because in both situations kids are told to be adults and do adult things or make adult decisions. In most cases, we recognize young kids being treated as adults as being inherently amoral, but when it comes to college recruiting many just brush it off as “part of the game”.
It doesn’t have to be.
If any of this was inflammatory or derogatory towards you or yours, I’m sorry you feel that way. I guess I’m a bit of a purist, or a throwback. Maybe I’m just jealous that I wasn’t that good, and didn’t get looks early on in life or play varsity lacrosse for my high school as a middle schooler. But I really don’t think that’s the case. Looking back, I simply see how beneficial it was for me and my classmates to grow up a little more before we committed to play a sport at the next level, no matter what level we ended up playing in college.
Again, maybe this 8th grader is different, but even if she is advanced beyond her years, wouldn’t that just give her an even better ability to make a great decision as a Junior in high school? If she is so good as a 7th or 8th grader, won’t she be just as good as a Junior, and won’t the same schools be knocking on her door? If she’s not, will her current commitment mean anything? This article is NOT really about her, or any ONE KID (that’s why I haven’t even mentioned the 8th grader by name), but it is about our sport on a broader context.
I can say that 99.9% of the time kids should be kids because kids love being kids, if we let them. Let them have fun, love their lives, and chase their passion. Lacrosse is so much fun without the added pressure of college. Let’s keep it that way. If they love it, they’ll always love it, and their passion will carry them further than any commitment ever could. For those that deserve it, the next level comes naturally more often than not.
We spend our adult lives wishing we could be kids again. So why should we keep up the practice of pushing our kids to become adults as early as possible?
Personally, I see no reason for it, and have yet to hear a compelling argument as to why it’s beneficial for the people who matter the most: the kids themselves.
Post Script from Brian: After the publication of my first article with Lacrosse All-Stars, I took the time to read Facebook comments because I was legitimately curious as to what people thought. Instead of me hunting down your now public thoughts, drop me an email. Bwitm1@gmail.com. I received four or five emails regarding the last article, and I loved those personal and private emails so much more than your Facebook comments.
If you have a problem with what I’m saying, email me! I’d be happy and honored to listen to your perspective. That email address is good for any conversation. I love talking shop with new people. If you get me going on any sort of tangent, I’ll probably end up writing about it, thus making you the catalyst in the ongoing creative equation, and hopefully, we can keep this game great, together.