IMG_0212-0  Lacrosse has been the fastest growing sport in America for quite a long time. When I was a kid it was just starting to gain traction in Maryland at the youth level. There was no such thing as a lacrosse game on TV, a specialty lacrosse store was a rare find, but even more rare would be an aisle of lacrosse equipment in a big box store. Lacrosse themed t-shirts didn’t exist, certainly not full apparel lines just for this sport. The love of lacrosse is evident in it’s spread not only across America, but into all of the countries that are now playing with pride.  Who could watch Uganda play in the men’s tournament without getting excited about how this sport is growing and touching lives.

But what is the cost to a sport growing at an unprecedented rate, and is it too late to back up and build up our foundation to ensure that the growth is positive and sustainable?

Lacrosse, no matter how it grows, has a reputation for being a small and close knit community. In the past chances are, if I met you and you were involved in lacrosse, we were either from the same state or we had mutual friends somewhere in the country.  But with more players and teams, the community is getting large, and in comes the need to start organizing our programs for what they have become, BIG! If your program is small and you are brushing off this concern, hear this:  There is little doubt that a fortunate but serious problem of growth is coming your way, that’s the nature of lacrosse.

As a trainer, I talk to coaches and board members around the country and it seems no one is immune to the politics, drama and pitfalls of reeling in a program that has too quickly outgrown the tiny infrastructure it started out with.  If we, as a community, put our heads together perhaps we can figure out how to get more administrative involvement, more structure, and less headaches.

Many programs start out with that one person who moves to an area without lacrosse, and they gather kids to play in a clinic or on a small team. They probably will wear some old funky looking equipment, half of them showing up with fiddle sticks and hockey face masks, and they are generously assigned to a field that hasn’t been mown in months, partially in the woods or a swamp, use rocks for cones and painters tape on a helmets for pinnies, drive two hours to play the closest opponent, and of course, they have a great time. It doesn’t take long for that little clinic or small team to become a BIG team that caters to all age groups and divides for both boys and girls. From that point, it’s a quick hop to more teams, waiting lists, and before you know it, you have a league. We all know where that goes, a sanctioned high school team, local college club teams, NCAA programs, travel teams, clubs, local tournaments, and camps galore…

But with all that growth going on so rapidly, these programs are often still running on the same administration and by the same one or two people that started the original program and quality control can quickly break down. Some programs have really done a great job of laying a strong foundation with a board that has by-laws, elections, checks and balances, coordinates with the high school coaches, requires certification for youth coaches and referees, background checks, meetings, etc. But more often than not, our programs have administrators that are swamped with coaching, promoting, officiating, stringing sticks, running a league, trying to convince the city that YES we needs fields and no we can’t use soccer goals, etc, all the while – organization and planning become an afterthought, something that would be nice to have, but who has time for it?

Does your area have the same couple of people running it all still – even though player participation growth has outgrown their availability? We have a burnt out lacrosse leader problem in this country, and they need help. We all know a parent or two that would make a better athletic supporter than a coach..  Lets show them ways to get involved!

A strong foundation is key to the longevity and quality of a program, and it’s not too late to go back and fill in these blanks as your program builds. Here are some ideas to start thinking about how to build this foundation for your programs.

  • Do we have someone in charge of quality control? This person is responsible for making sure coaches are certified, referees are certified, practices are being taught within the guidelines of program’s philosophy and mission statement.  (do we have a mission statement and philosophy?) Do we have coordination with local high school and college coaches so we use the same terminology? We need to keep tabs on what’s being taught and how its is being taught. Coaches are amazing and volunteer their time, but still most are not trained in the sport or even in coaching and a little help goes a long way. Coaches Certification is a great way to head this off from the start!
  • Have we covered safety from all angles and is someone in charge of this? Written plan of action for things like inclement weather, if parents are required to stay for practices, medical releases, proper concussion knowledge and extreme hot/cold weather protocol, background checks on all volunteers (included with certifications), checking for an AED machine, and do coaches know what to do in emergencies? Do you run practice safety drills? Are they familiar with proper conditioning protocols to limit injures? (dynamic warm ups, cool downs, appropriate rest and water breaks, signs of heat stroke, frost bite, asthma attack, hypoglycemia, etc)
  • Is anyone in charge of recruiting, both parents for volunteers and coaching, as well as players? Growth comes in spurts and in lags, recruiting helps even numbers out for the season to avoid the dreaded wait list or team canceling.  How inclusive is the recruiting? Did we approach every local school, every demographic, offer scholarships, grow both boys and girls programs?
  • Parent Involvement brings more success. Sometimes programs avoid too much parent involvement to limit confrontation and getting “too many cooks in the kitchen”, but in the long run, parents drive the success or downfall in programs and their involvement is pivotal in growth and having the support that is needed.  Between their ability to volunteer, become coaches, cheer, utilize business networks and help the admin, every parent needs to feel like they are appreciated and important and needed in a role, larger or small.
  • Sportsmanship monitors make games less stressful for everyone. The teams I enjoy the most as a parent or a coach, are the ones where we have an awesome sportsmanship monitor. This person can do anything from handing out rosters to parents so they can cheer to making a set of sideline guidelines for cheering enthusiastically while allowing the coach to do the coaching.
  • Non Lacrosse related issues such as Apparel, equipment trade-in opportunities, bulk orders for deals, website, registration, refunds, team requests..etc.  Having someone for each gender is helpful because they won’t both want the same things or have the same needs, and especially do not use the same lax equipment.
  • By-laws, these are important! How will you handle elections, problems with a volunteer, conflict of interests, incidents, training, refunds, etc.  Without written by-laws and rules, every incident will feel like a fire, and it’s hard to recruit or retain board members when every other Friday evening is a meeting that goes 5 hours long trying to put out fires. Boards that prepare and plan ahead, divide duties with clear concise job descriptions and instructions are supported by more parents, and are more pleasant to be a part of.

What other key foundation items do you have in your community program and what do you wish you had that would help with current issues? There isn’t a single board that I have served on or spoken too that hasn’t had its share of problems; perhaps together through knowledge sharing we can build a successful program model that ensures the best experience for our kids.

By Kate Leavell

2 thoughts on “#GrowthProbz”

  1. I wish I something to add at this point Kate, but you are Spot On! It’s exhausting, but like any organization, we’re all subject to the 80/20 rule.

    The folks in the US Lacrosse Chapters group have a terrific roadmap and is of great help, but you nailed it…the best laid plans are only as good as those involved in the organization and committed…did I say committed…FULLY COMMITTED to making it last (long-term).

    Now if we could only stop the madness that is club/travel lacrosse. That’s tearing the fabric of lacrosse at the seams!!

  2. Thanks Kevin, I love that US Lacrosse has so many resources for programs. The more coaches, admins and officials we can get certified, united, and on board with PCA and a developmental focus, the better off our sport will be in the long run. I love the quote you posted earlier about more practices and less games, so very true! Kids around here don’t have much practice compared to the amount of games they play, and many of them skip the practices and just show up without consequences. Development, going by the wayside is not producing quality players.

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