5 years ago, I had a phone interview with a non-profit company that had started up back in the 90’s, in my home town of Baltimore. Passionate about the game, about teaching it to others, and about learning in an environment filled with coaches who all have different insights, I was incredibly excited at the opportunity to be a part of US Lacrosse.
Back then, Chris Snyder was running things over in the formerly named Coaches Education Program, and he grilled me for a good 45 minutes. Then, just when I couldn’t get any more anxious, he offered me a position as an apprentice trainer and off I went to learn the ropes. As if learning to stand up in front of a group of your peer coaches and speak isn’t stressful enough, the training weekend for new trainers involved speaking in front of the BEST trainers at USL. I remember very vividly sitting at Lindenwood University, staring at the lunch that was provided knowing there was no way I could eat with that presentation looming afterwards.
I stood up in front of the group, in front of fellow new trainers, the original training crew from the creation of the program, and some slides that I had just learned that morning. I tried to emulate Joanna’s command of the room. It was harder than it looked. A lot harder. Dang, I thought, she’s good!
But as I finished my part and sat down, the mentors who I thought would be rolling their eyes at my feeble attempt, instead leaned towards my seat, patted my shoulder and said, “great job Kate!” It was my first introduction into what the family of USL actually is. I remember a thumbs-up from now CDP Director Kevin Greene, and a full, enthusiastic pep talk from Tucker White that completely put me at ease. And of course, David Antol, who gives the best feedback, was happy with me because I kept under my time! (had to get that in there) Fellow newbies Mark and Andrew who have become absolutely incredible trainers. I had been so worried, but they were nothing but accepting and encouraging, wanting me to become the best trainer I could be. A weight was lifted off my shoulders and some incredible new friendships were about to start.
It wasn’t long before I got to know the people behind the Coaches Ed Program. The more I got to know them, the more inspired I became because of what USL actually is. I thought it was great that we had a governing body; making things streamlined, a central place for info, some sort of regulations to make sure the sport is moving in the right direction, but I didn’t GET the enormity, true purpose and passion of it, until seeing it in action before my eyes. I actually just kind of thought it was a place that collected money, handed you a number that let you play or coach in tournaments, and sent you a magazine. I didn’t always understand what they were doing, or what went into the decisions that were being made or what the motivation behind it all was. I had no idea, and I’m incredibly grateful for what I now know USL does for lacrosse. The reason I understand that is because I now know the hearts of the people behind it.
I think I did 14 or 15 clinics that first year in states all over the country. I went to places I’d never have thought I would be. Omaha, Sacramento, Short Hills NJ, Wisconsin, Michigan, Wisconsin about 6 more times (I’ll be honest, I’m pretty partial to the awesome Wisconsin coaches and I think I’ve now met them all!), Texas, Arizona, New York..you get the idea. I attended conventions every year, sometimes as an attendee and sometimes as a trainer. I saw the behind the scenes action. I can confidently say that we have NO idea the work that goes in to putting on this event. I’d tell you it was impossible to get done what they do every year except that I’ve witnessed it.
Convention is where my appreciation and my awe of the passion from every employee I met at this organization really hit me. These guys and gals were going nonstop, on caffeine fumes because sleep doesn’t happen on this weekend or the week leading up to it. But they would be doing their thing, with SMILES on their faces, love of the game reflecting in their words. They were focused on how they could make the experience better, they answered the same questions over and over and yet put the same care into each response. They weren’t complaining, they were excited, tired and blurry eyed perhaps, but these USL people are at USL because they thrive on this game that we all love. I have no doubt in my mind because I’ve seen them at work, and I’ve see that passion from work carry outside of work into their lives and their families lives. It’s not a job, it’s a mission. USL isn’t perfection, it’s run by humans who are growing, learning and navigating new territory daily. But if we are measuring heart and intent, they’ve hit the mark.
As the Coaching Development Program has grown over the years at an incredible rate, most of these people behind the scenes are doing the jobs of about 5 people, squeezing every dollar to get it’s worth and every hour to get more done. I don’t know how they do it, but I know why. I’m inspired by the work ethic that comes out of this place. If you’ve ever crossed paths with TJ Buchanan, then you’ve just met the hardest working and most humble person I’ve probably ever met. The theme has always been the same, it’s the reason I love this company and proudly wear my USL logos. They live and breathe for these kids out there playing and learning the game. They have kids in the game. They volunteer to coach and organize and even still play just like the rest of us. I’ve never seen anything other than that kind of heart as the pulse behind what they do, no matter how many growing pains have hit lacrosse, no matter what steps or backtracks or redo’s or triumphs have come out of there.
It was more recently that I got to talking with Steve Stenersen, someone I’d heard about a lot and seen talking at convention, but hadn’t ever directly connected with. What I discovered, was his transparently open passion for the future of the kids in our sport, the culture they play in, the development of lacrosse, and the direction we are going. It was the same drive as I have seen in all of the CDP team. There was no dismissal of concerns, but instead, a passionate answer or desire to address what’s ahead and always an open mind on issues in the present.
Our sport, and I call it ours because if we play it, teach it, and love it then we are a part of it, is growing at a rate that is unprecedented. Like all success, nothing moves in a straight line. This organization is bringing the sport of lacrosse through a time of great change and growth, and as our curvy path winds through new obstacles, roadblocks, celebrations, frustrations, and numbers, it has always been clear where the destination will be. Even through times of difficult adjustments, readjustments, changes and feeling out the right path, communications or miscommunications, I’ve never seen the mission falter and I credit the incredible people at USL and their unwavering passion for that.
To be honest, this is the most exciting time yet for me as a trainer at USL. The new LADM is like nothing I’ve ever seen, based on research that is cutting edge in all sports, not just ours. I’ve witnessed how it has excited participants in a way that could only fuel the passion and growth of this sport for our coaches and players while making it more accessible for attendees. I watched the direct impact it has had on players and the smiles coming from it. The addition of trainers across the country, so that more coaches can have the opportunity to learn about lacrosse and feel empowered to coach a team, is going to help us finally keep up with the player growth rate.
There are obstacles in youth sports, I write about them all the time. I’m incredibly grateful that USL is facing those obstacles head on, figuring out the best way to navigate those obstacles and always committed to learning and adjusting as things roll out. Adjust we must. That’s our saying at USL CDP. I’m not sure which trainer coined that saying but it’s been passed on from trainer to trainer from the inception of the program, and we all live by it. It was probably Feffie. All things came down from the genius that helped this program get off the ground. It woudn’t be a homage to USL CDP without a big thank you to her!
Can’t wait to meet coaches, share stories, learn, laugh and grow this CDP season. This program and this mission are a part of me and I’m eternally grateful for being able to share it with you. The trainers and great people at USL are my family. I don’t “work” as a USL CDP trainer, it’s a part of who I am, and I’m fairly confident the other trainers would say the same.
Love you #CDPFAM #USLFAM
and I can’t end without a big shoutout up to heaven to Chris Hall. Thanks for the time you spent as an impactful part of this great family.