What the falafel is going on? Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the one who’s confused. Here’s what I thought we were doing for our kids when we started offering off season “opportunities.” I pictured new players who wanted to work on their skills in the off season finding a place to continue training. I saw athletes who were excelling looking for a place to continue to enhance their skills. I saw places like where I am, newer and developing, offering travel opportunities so that players could see the sport played at a higher level, face harder competition to grow, and get some exposure to coaches that wouldn’t be otherwise out to our home turf halfway across the country to see what’s here.
Too make a long description short, I thought off season teams were to DEVELOP players skills for their in-season. When I was a kid, playing in Maryland where lacrosse lives and breathes, I was fortunate that I didn’t have to try out to train in the off season. I signed up, I played, I got better and I benefited from what used to make sense to me. I like to call that the open system. You want to play? You get to play! I call the system with tryouts and massive cuts a closed system that makes lacrosse exclusive and difficult to be a part of. It’s usually expensive, requires multiple team tryouts and sometimes ends with no team at all.
But what I’ve seen over the course of this summer has me so upside down and backwards, so confused, and in so much disappointment that I am at a loss for how this became the standard. How recruiting became the primary focus of every option out there, and I don’t care what’s on their marketing, recruiting is the focus. They may do other things that are great but the center of that program is on who we can get recruited and where, because that is what brings in the top players and the money. (see disclaimer at the end!)
I understand that in certain climates, in areas where the sport is thriving, there needs to be some elite options because of the sheer number of players and levels. What I’m talking about is developing areas going straight to this step, every team jumping in offering elite exclusion, virtually killing the growth of the sport, all in the quest to claim the “best team, best coaches, best players in the state” title.
Programs I used to believe in, who still regularly preach about values and development, cutting huge groups of players at a tryout that didn’t have any space to take them in the first place. Tryouts that these families pay for the privilege to attend, with no clue that they are trying out in vain. Elite and exclusivity as their calling card, they prefer to make it a team that takes only the best schools’ players all while claiming a developmental focus. What they don’t advertise, is that they are developing only what they consider the best players, and until someone else develops a player to that point, they aren’t interested – athletic or not. Or there’s the team that takes a player only to rescind the offer because they didn’t perform at a practice the way they were supposed to and they saw someone they wanted more. I would hate to be 10, 12, 14 years old and be exposed to this kind of scrutiny just to try to get a little better. No wonder our kids are quitting.
Who are we developing? There’s a reason there is a huge skill gap that is gaining width rather than closing it. We are developing the ones already showing high level of skill, throwing out the rest. That’s not development, that’s exploiting talent to go to a tournament and get high level recruiting to claim “look at me” status. People ask me where to send their athletic but newer kids to train and learn and I can no longer answer that question. I don’t know!
I see athletes all the time who are hockey stars, soccer phenoms, pure athleticism that hold a stick like a pizza platter because they don’t know how, but have more potential than you could imagine. And yet, they are passed over because they couldn’t perform that neat stick trick circuit at tryouts. If they were given the chance they could, but who will take the time to develop an athlete at the expense of someone thinking their program isn’t elite or exclusive enough?
There’s a group of people being forgotten about while we all fight for that exclusive spot at the top, that team with the most college scouts on the sidelines. It’s the kids. It’s the ones who want to be trained in the off season but are being told you aren’t good enough to get good enough.
I’m angry and I’m frustrated, not for myself or my daughter who thankfully prefers to play in things that are just for fun, but for the players I try to guide into off season opportunities when they ask. Who come back to me and tell me horror stories of their experience and the heart break of their kid that I love dearly. Who trusted me to guide them to a place that would take care of them. For the kids who have to go through this mess. For the parents who are being sucked into to belief that these teams will make or break anything.
Bring me your athletic and excited athlete who has never played before. I’d prefer to develop that kid any day because it means I get to coach and teach and not just “show off.”
My disclaimer is that I know these are blanket statements, there is good out there, I’ve seen it. For those who are the exception thank you! But we all know, there’s a lot more like this than like that. I considered it a privilege to be a part of EagleStix, that to this day, has been the best balance I’ve personally experienced between recruiting exposure, development, quality training, and inclusion. They carried something for everyone, waited to grow to a point before adding a recruiting level, and kids often moved up levels each season because they were being taught well. If your team is an exception, shout them out so we can recommend them!