This fall we have all read a number of articles talking about youth lacrosse problems, and problems that face almost all youth sports. The specific topics covered were diverse, and the entire collection of readable material paints an interesting picture.
All of these articles address youth lacrosse problems in one way or another, and all of them provide useful perspective and guidance for parents, coaches, and players. Give them a read to really get to know what’s going on out there before you continue on below to my opinions and observations on the matter.
When it comes to problems in youth lacrosse, there are many, but the majority of them have been around in one form or another for decades. So what are the major problems facing youth lacrosse?
There are more players today than there are experienced coaches. The same is often true with referees. As our sport has grown, demand has simply outstripped supply. Good coaching is a valuable commodity, and parents and players feel the pressure to find it however they can. Sometimes this means joining an elite travel team. Sometimes it means making weekly road trips in the family car of over an hour for practice under “good coaches”. Sometimes it means giving up the sport altogether to either focus on something else or find something new and enjoyable.
Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo
The other major problem with coaching is “big name” vs “not big name”. People are entranced by big name players and coaches, and have been for a long time. Many of the materials that teams send out to prospective players hits on their coaching staff and its many big name players. But that doesn’t always mean great coaching. Sometimes it just means great marketing! Does the big name player coach a lot? Is this their profession? Will they be there for events? Or is their name just being used?
If a club team has 14 teams and 7 really big time coaches, are you guaranteed to get one or more of them? Or will you get a local college drop out who is just coaching for now to pay the bills? Maybe that college drop out will be a superb coach… but have you ever heard of him or her before? Could the big name be an awful coach? Could the director never show up to your child’s team’s events? It’s all possible and confusing, and a major problem.
Pressure used to occur in the form of direct head to head competition. I wanted to be better than my friend Rob, he wanted to be better than me, and we both played for the same town team, as it was our only option. Nowadays, Rob and I would still be locked in competition, but we would probably play for different club programs, and we would base a lot of our supposed success off of how good “our” program was. We no longer compare two players with peer pressure, but entire programs, their reputuations, tourney wins, famous alumni, and coaching staffs. This latter peer pressure makes everything seem bigger than it really is.
There is also pressure to play “better” competition, and not just in a league with “a couple town teams”. A town league is fine for beginners, but once your kid hits the 4th grade, it’s time for travel lacrosse! We need to travel to play the other best kids out there, right? The peer pressure of today says yes, you absolutely need to do that.
Keeping up with the Joneses used to be about the family next door, now it’s about keeping up with any person named Jones anywhere in the country. Who cares if your kid is better than the Jones next door… there is a Jones in Oregon that is still better! That attitude is simply not healthy in my estimation, as someone out there is ALWAYS going to be better than you in some way. Why extend it so far, and at such a young age?
The Crush Of Gear
You used to sign up for youth sports and you got your uniform on the first day of practice. It was usually pretty basic (because you’re a kid), and your greatest hope was that the jersey would actually fit you. Didn’t get “your” number? Tough luck, kid. It’s just a number, and you’re 11 years old. I think you’ll be ok.
But now? Forget about it. Kids see basic uniforms, or don’t get the number they want and it’s game over. Parents can be irate that their kids are wearing mesh jerseys and don’t get team shorts. No custom helmets? Well, looks like we’re playing for someone else! Really? REALLY? Since when did youth sports become all about gear and uniforms? Why do more people ask about custom bags than ask about your development plan for their kids?
(The gear in the photo above was picked up over 20 years by a pro player, Randy Fraser. I know of some 14 year old kids with an equally impressive gear collection. Is there something wrong with that? I think so!)
It’s because we are all being sold a false bill of goods. Look good, play good is the bane of my existence, and it’s totally backwards. Play good, look good is the way it used to be. Teams with ugly uniforms that won games looked good. Teams that lost games looked bad, no matter what their choice of uniform happened to be. The focus was on playing the game, not walking down a runway, turning, and sashaying away. Do I blame gear companies for this? To a certain extent, yes. But I really blame the coaches and club team organizers, because they don’t have to buy in to all that stuff.
Look at the Duke’s LC outside of Philly. No custom helmets, no custom gloves, no swag. No sublimation, no team shorts, no silly BS. They wear navy mesh reversibles that say “Duke’s” on them in white and have a number. That’s about it. Their “swag” comes from their talent. Kids want that Duke’s pinnie because it stinks of success, and not fashion. Duke’s has made their mesh pinnie cool, they aren’t cool because of their pinnie! To me, that’s an important distinction.
The Great Scholarship Lie
I still hear parents talk about lacrosse scholarships like they grow on trees. They do not. . . .