In my little corner of the world of the Florida Space Coast in an area very steeped in the traditional school sports, the introduction of lacrosse has been an uphill climb. With the first elements of lacrosse having been seeded in 2008, while the game continues to grow, it is still very much in the emerging sport category. Although our lacrosse growth is a very positive development, it was only a matter of time before we would draw the attention of a growing problem in our sport: the for profit organizations and coaches that aim to pick away at established not for profit clubs and leagues with the promise of the best coaching in the world and a path to a Division I scholarship at a marquis college lacrosse program.
Having played along side incredible talent from my home state of New Jersey, having come from a high school program that has yielded a lot of Division I talent and to date has seen 6 players have success in the professional Major League Lacrosse, I have a unique perspective and insight into the world of Division I lacrosse. The truth is, Division I scholarships are very rare. Even top talent coming out of lacrosse hot beds like New Jersey, New York and Maryland often feel very fortunate to earn a no scholarship roster spot or receive partial scholarships at best.
Thus, while players should all strive to be the best lacrosse athletes they can possibly be, a coach who understands sports and is being honest will tell you that as much great coaching as a player gets, it is ultimately up to the player to perform. Many factors that cannot be taught, such as innate speed, physical size, strength, and demeanor, go into the entire player package. Does good coaching help facilitate that? Of course it does, but it will only take a player so far.
What’s more, just because a coach may charge parents a fortune to play for his team does not make him necessarily a better option. Case in point, in the not for profit youth lacrosse club I preside over, we have 6 boys coaches with college playing experience (3 from Division I programs) and three girls coaches with Division I and Division II playing experience. Double that number are US Lacrosse Level II and III Certified. Just because we choose to volunteer our time for the kids and love of the game does not diminish what we bring to them in their lacrosse development.
I will tell you clearly what we are NOT doing, filling families with delusions of grandeur that their only path to a Division I scholarship is through us. That kind of propaganda as as unethical as it is untrue. Unfortunately, there are parents out there that drink the Kool-Aid and break out their check books so that little Johnny will be assured that roster spot at Johns Hopkins one day.
In the end, it is generally not the parents of the best players who fall for the draw of the for profit rhetoric, but more commonly it is the parents of the average or slightly above average player. As parents, we naturally have pride in our children and want them to succeed. However, this pride sometimes leads parents having an unrealistic outlook of their child’s innate talent. If he or she is not getting the playing time that the parent expects or their performance leaves them far short of being stars of the team, it cannot be that their child’s talent has limits, it must be because of the coaching.
For profit entities in the sport also cause animosity and discord in communities that are otherwise tight nit. Because their livelihood depends on it, they often do not stop at puffing our their chests and touting their lacrosse resumes and credentials, but they belittle the selfless and tireless efforts of volunteers that have given their their precious time, hearts, and souls to the community, the sport, and the kids. Sadly, their belittling takes root with some parents and we have occasionally seen once appreciative members of our club join the for profits in denigrating our efforts.
For longstanding volunteers, this can be at times hard to swallow and simply shrug off. At times, I will be honest, it feels like a punch in the gut. But just like in my playing days, when I was knocked down and it made me more motivated to work harder to make certain that next time I was in that same position, the tables would be turned; my fellow volunteers and I are ready to push back against the influence of for profit groups in our lacrosse community.
Many other lacrosse friends I have all over the country share my motivation curtail the influence of profit driven organizations in the sport of lacrosse in their respective corners of the world. If/when the day comes that you are faced with the decision to jump on board with the bells and whistles of a for profit team or stay with the not for profit club that provided your child the opportunity to play lacrosse in the first place, always remember this quote by the great James Doolittle:
“There is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.”
That is as true in the sport of lacrosse as it is in anything else.
Dr. Roger Welton was a 4 year starter for Montclair State University and was selected as a First Team All Knickerbocker Conference Midfielder in 1995, 1996. He is the founder of the Viera-Suntree Lacrosse Club and Space Coast Elite Lacrosse Club in Brevard County, Florida.