A lot of us coaches are also parents, but because I started coaching before my kids were old enough to play and because my kids started playing lacrosse later in their lives than many other kids, I usually identify more with the coaching side of things.
When my son started playing in high school I was immediately thrown into parent mode. I first hand experienced what all of my players moms’ and dads’ had been telling me for years. I even experienced the temporary insanity that comes after watching your child get bench splinters and then come home with a pristinely clean uniform after a game on a muddy field. As a coach, I’m able to rationalize many of the crazy emotions that come with parenting a high school athlete and the trials and tribulations they face because I can see both sides. But there are some things that I still can’t understand, and even my coaching background isn’t buying into it.
What in the world are we doing anyway? Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport, but I’d be willing to argue that it’s growing because more programs are being added, not because we are being more inclusive. Over the past two years being on the parent side of things, I’ve asked and found no answer to the question: Where do I put a teenager who has started lacrosse late, loves the sport, practices in the back yard for hours every day and just needs field experience to get confidence and learn the game? Because once these kids get into middle school and beyond, the new kids are riding the bench as wins and developing super stars takes the spot light. Not only are they riding the bench at games, but this shocks me the most- they often ride the bench – at practice! Getting subbed into drills less, getting less attention and instruction, doomed to stay a newbie and nothing more. Perhaps it’s lack of man power and coaching staff, or lack of drive to focus on the tedious task of catching up kids that are far behind the others, those drill killers that always drop the ball. But it’s our job to figure out how to do that, to get the learning curve going up for every player who wants to learn.
The answer used to be to find a rec program, but good luck finding one – and if you find one, good luck finding one that doesn’t have a win first mentality. Sure kid, you’ll get field time when we play a game where we can run the score up first, then the last few minutes I’ll put you in – until you drop the ball.
Varsity programs are out there to win, and playing time is earned as is the spot to compete at the varsity level, but everything leading up to that point should be training, exposure, learning, development. Summer league, fall league, off season whatever- is for development and fun and as a coach I wonder why wouldn’t we want everyone to play in those or even playing the weaker kids more so that we have better players across the board. As those new kids sit they get more and more anxious about having to perform in the few minutes they get on the field, it breeds nerves and fear and then when they get pulled out after every mistake- it crushes the very thing that makes lacrosse players perform their best – Confidence! The only thing that makes a kid more comfortable on the field, is time on the field where they trial and error and learn from their mistakes. A kid who gets under 5 minutes a game on the field is going to take exponentially longer to get better than those that play frequently. Coaches, it’s to our benefit that these kids have somewhere to get field experience, it’s to the Varsity program they hope to play on down the road’s benefit that they all play more because they will be better for it and you have more well rounded players to choose from when the time comes.
So as a parent and as a coach, Im asking the lacrosse community to focus not on just adding more and more and more programs to areas to beef up numbers. Im asking all of us to develop, build, lead, and guide the players who are already there. To let the returning numbers define our successes rather than the scoreboard, state standings and tournament trophies.
And to those kids who find lacrosse as a middle school or high school player, my wish is that every single one gets to feel the rush of the game long enough to find their groove without being pulled out, that mistakes are allowed and that the pressure is on them only to try their best and not on performance. There are kids out there who just love the game, and want the opportunity to play, who don’t care what level it is or if the team is the best of the best. Maybe those kids never make Varsity, never play in college, but let’s let them have rec ball, fall ball, JV or club, let’s provide avenues for everyone to play at some level, somewhere, for the love of the game.