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Growing Pains

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It depends on the program, your school dynamics, the year, and many other variables, but some years – growth seems to come easily and other years you wonder if you’ll have the numbers to field a team. Some may think that the growth of lacrosse is always steadily up, but I’ve found that “steady” isn’t how it works. I’d compare it more to long term investments in the stock market, always trending up but with dips, climbs and plateaus.

So what can a program do when numbers take a dive, maybe the year after graduating 12 seniors, or a program that splits in half because it was two schools combined?

I faced both of those scenarios together – in the same pre-season, a few years back. Add into that set of challenges, a proposed discontinuance of lacrosse at our school due to budget cuts leading many players to sign up for other sports before the schools final decision to allow the sport to stay. We faced a challenge that had us debating if we could carry a jv program, if we could field a varsity program, if there was any way to recruit girls at the last minute and could we even dream to compete anywhere near the level we had prior.

A program needs to always be growth focused, or what I alternately call “fun centered” to have players who bring in their friends, siblings, Sunday school buddies, etc to try it out. If the word on the street is that lacrosse practice is THE place to be and that the coaches are supportive and kind, then the biggest hurdle in kids sports today is already taken care of. But what else can we do?

Here’s a few ideas, try them out and see if they don’t pull in those numbers you need to survive the dip years!

1. Host non-lacrosse activities. For the youth programs, ask the local varsity team to host a bbq, Disney movie outside on the lawn night, potato sack races, water balloon battles, or cookie decorating party. Anything to get the kids making new friends within the lacrosse community and getting to know and feel comfortable with coaches.

To attract players to high school programs, have a joint boys team/girls team bbq with fun games, or sponsor a local charity food drive or volunteer event. Have captains host study/mentoring sessions with kids not yet signed up to play a sport. The key here is to build relationships with kids that are looking for a group to be a part of. We already know they will love lacrosse, get them to fall in love with the team first, teach them the sport second when the season comes around.

2. Host free clinics! Grab some sticks, some soft practice balls or tennis balls and invite kids to come out and have fun. The key here is not to teach them too much, make it fun -play games, run around, play play play. The major instruction can come later after they are hooked 🙂 Try to teach basics in 3 steps or less, and then back away and let em go! Allow them to do it wrong as they have fun learning through trial and error and from their friends, just keep them smiling, laughing and moving.

3. Have a contest! Make up a cool T-shirt or jacket or ask a local business to donate a great stick or prize package and announce a YouTube contest for the coolest stick trick, longest shot or some other challenge. Put fliers up all over town and at schools. Offer a date where loaner sticks and iPhone filmers (maybe the captains or parents can help here) for kids who don’t have sticks at home. If you have enough extra sticks consider signing them out to kids to borrow so they can practice at home. Have a panel of experts(local college club team, principle of school..whatever) pick the winner and announce it via YouTube.

4. Have some open practices that are fun centered, where newbies can come try out the sport! Invite youth students from local schools to your games to cheer your team on and give prizes to anyone who brings a sign for a player, give them roster cards with your players interests so they feel like they have things in common, connect high school players with youth players as mentors, hold practices that make students wonder what in the world goes on at lacrosse practice! (we used to do footy pajama practices in minnesota, because well..it was freezing and why not?) Try using non traditional equipment at practice to make it more fun, such as playground balls, beanie babies, nerf balls, pool noodles, agility belts, ladders, hoola hoops..etc. (dollar store and 5 and under are a coaches paradise, i promise!)

What great marketing ideas do YOU have for number growth? Share them here, and let’s get growing!!

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