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The Hybrid Program
When Travel and Rec merge to create a “total player development” and “talent nurturing” program.
The two options for lacrosse players outside of high school or middle school teams thus far has been a choice between option A and option B. There are developmental and inclusive Rec teams, which are struggling to survive in many areas, or the alternative select travel program focused on gathering the best talent, can sometimes exclude lower income players, and are recruiting driven. Each type of team carries with it positive and negative characteristics depending on what you are looking for in a team for your player.
But there’s another kind of program, it’s what I like to call the hybrid lacrosse program, and it’s a model worth looking into further. These programs are finding success and are turning out some pretty incredible talent, providing a fun family-like bond amongst its players, and building strong, confident young athletes. They are popping up all over the country, and there just might be one near you!
With all the focus on the “trouble” with travel teams, how about those that have built onto the travel concept by adding development, inclusion, finance options, leadership training, quality coaching, more practices than tournaments, serious focus on fundamentals, and team unity. Think travel teams are just in it for the money? Some programs are proving that we need to take another look.
Ever heard of the Eagle Stix? If you’ve been around girls’ lacrosse, you’ve probably seen their pictures or players around. They’re at many poplular tournaments in groups so large it looks like they are taking over, and they finish in the top of their divisions. Are they from Baltimore? New York? Nope, unexpectedly, they herald from the Atlanta Metro and the program is huge, inclusive, developmental, and down-right talented. I got a chance to interview Coach Tim Godby, head coach of nationally ranked Milton High School Girls Lacrosse, and the man behind the Eagles Stix pre-k to 12th grade dynasty (along with Co-Director Matt Snyder). I got the scoop on how his program model is set up, how it found success, and how they can still focus on development, including players from all skill levels and metro areas without sacrificing wins. (see link below for full interview)
Eagle Stix core principles are based around working with every player to reach their own personal potential, so that they can grow to become the best lacrosse players they can be. This may be on their try-out Elite team, or within their locally playing regional teams. Each offer a unique opportunity depending on what the player’s goals, commitment, schedules, and financial abilities are, all within the same umbrella of Eagle Stix and with the same high level coaching.
How did this huge program get its start? It may surprise you to learn that Eagle Stix began as a rec program in 2005 with weekly after-school clinics. Its roots are a developmental clinic-based model expanded over time to meet the needs of the growing Atlanta metro talent. Growth expanded age groups from just middle school teams to kindergarten through U-15. Soon, the desire to play in competitive tournaments led this program to begin traveling. As the talent grew, the players wanted to find opportunities to play at the higher level and recruiting tournaments were added into the mix. This program is a testament to how quickly an area can build talent when the emphasis is on quality coaching, outreach to find athletes in the community, and drilling fundamentals.
Eagle Stix is devoted to growing the game in Atlanta. With camps, coach clinics, continuing education for their own coaches, reaching out to elementary schools and an emphasis on providing a quality experience, much of their growth can be credited to word of mouth. When you see the pure size of this program, it’s easy to see that these kids are coming back for more every year, and they are bringing their friends. Eagle Stix players are going on to play collegiate lacrosse, and then in the summers they come back and coach the very teams they used to play for. It’s that kind of full circle in a program that shows just how much these players value the experience that they had.
Outside of skills, drills, travel and recruiting, Godby’s focus on “important life and leadership skills that enable [the players] to be successful on and off the field” brings about development of the complete player. This program is looking beyond the win, they want these players to be successful in life outside the confines of lacrosse. In a hybrid program, the tournament whistle doesn’t signal the end of the team, it’s just a small part of a much bigger picture, one that for many of these kids extends from the time they are in kindergarten until they graduate from high school.
But what about price? Travel is expensive, it will always cost more to incorporate travel and tournament costs into a team’s fees. This is just one of the many reasons Rec teams, though they may be less competitive, still need to exist. However, for those athletes who are ready to play higher level lacrosse, a hybrid program that includes total player development can give a player a lot more for their money than the typical travel team. When you live outside a lacrosse hub, any sort of tournament becomes a cost challenge due to having to travel long distances (often by plane), stay in hotels and feed teams. By keeping team base fees as low as possible, Eagle Stix is able to offset what could have easily become unaffordable to many players due to travel costs, and they offer options to players who need help affording this kind of team.
When asked what advice he would have for someone starting a travel program, Godby says. “..Our advice would be to remember that it is for the kids and give them the best experience possible. Development is key at all levels, not just elite. You have to start from the bottom to grow the sport and teach the right skills and help players understand the game. At the end of the day, be ready to work hard.”
No team or program is perfect, there will be mistakes and business decisions or board decisions that some may feel take away from the player focus at times, and no one is immune to growing pains and pressure from all angles of the community. Perfection isn’t really a realistic goal with too many different wants and needs out there. But the strength of these hybrid programs is their focus on development both on and beyond the field, with the typical superstar wearing the same uniform alongside the beginner while sharpening fundamentals. They are making the effort to include those with or without the means to be considered financially privileged and inviting kids from all around the state.
These programs are often times the catalyst in the growth of proper fundamentals and talent in developing areas -as each of their players brings their new-found skills back to their own towns, exponentially bringing up the skill level and understanding of the game across the state. In each state there is usually a program someone can point to and say, they really brought up the game in this area. I’d be willing to guess that their program is likely based on development of the complete player and not just tournaments or recruiting, even if they do travel.
The discussion that I hope is happening out there in the lacrosse community, is not about who got recruited to what program, and at what age, but more importantly, on how can we take the positives of the programs out there now, and build on that. We can give our kids an overall great experience in a format that works for what each area needs the most to grow. It may not be a traditional model that a team uses, but if its focused on quality and the kids’ best interest then we are moving in the right direction. If the players ask to be signed up again when the season ends, if they look forward to practice, are gaining confidence and growing as an athlete, then we’re getting it right. Players wanting to work hard for the chance to play at the highest level is a tribute to our sport, it’s something to celebrate. But the false scholarship information floating around the community is misleading our parents and taking away precious time and money from athletes who are eventually learning that the scholarship pot is half empty, not half full. As coaches, parents and administrators, we have the power to make the foundation of our programs firmly planted and focused on responsibly meeting the wants and needs of players, their families, coaches, education, and the future of kids’ sports. I’m so thankful for the programs out there that are devoted to doing right by our kids and their families!
Read the full Eagle Stix Interview by clicking here.