My son was still an infant when I co-founded our community youth lacrosse club so I started coaching at the U15 boys division where expectations were highest among families trying lacrosse for the first time. I had the most lacrosse playing experience among the coaches in the club at the timeand was the only coach who had played in college.
I remained there until my son turned 5 and I dropped down to coach the U7 division, and I was following him up through the ranks for a few years until this season. In the years since I had dropped down to the younger levels to coach, I thought things were fine where I had left them with coaches standardization having been implemented and coaches stepping up to volunteer and take the initiative to get US Lacrosse certified. What I did not realize was that, with our club beginning to compete increasingly well and make a name for ourselves, some parents and players in the older divisions were beginning to feel that the coaches that were nevertheless dedicated and committed; lacked ability to take the player to the next level of truly elite competitive youth lacrosse.
Some of that criticism I thought may have been legitimate, but I assumed that the lian’s share of it was fed by a for profit club that formed to the south of us that was promising Division I scholarships if kids played for them (those for profits offering the promised land almost always inevitably show up at some point). With a few parents/players having drank enough of the Kool-Aide to jump ship for that club, I decided to jump back up to coach the elite upper middle school division of our Venom Elite program. My son is still 8 years of age and not yet eligible for elite tournament play (Venom Elite starts at U11), so I am still able to coach his and my 6 years daughter’s respective rec teams.
I thought at first I was doing this more for the perception that my lacrosse background brought to the Venom Elite team, but then one of my assistant coaches who had not played but learned to coach lacrosse through the years in our club who did not play lacrosse, shared something with me recently. He told me that when it was decided that I was to move up to take over the Venom Elite team, while he understood the necessary perception that it brought to the team and the club, he could not help but take some offense for the dismissal of the value that he and other dedicated volunteers brought to the boys at this stage in their lacrosse coaching careers. He also had never really coached along side me.
He told me that the very first day of practice, he realized that the parents had a point. He told me that he was grateful that I had moved up, not just for the sake of the club, but he realized that my ability to demonstrate skills and schemes, make set changes on the fly, manage the game, and recognize mismatches was more valuable than anything he had seen in the club to date; with his 3 years of coaching experience having occurred while I was coaching exclusively in the younger divisions.
I really appreciated this feedback because I did honestly did not know myself that there was such a difference. My perspective came from my experience learning from and working with college and professional lacrosse legends that put on summer Pro Camps for us here in Central Florida. When I watch guys like Brian Megill, Ray Megill, Marcus Holman, and Kyle Hartzell in action as they teach and demonstrate skills and schemes I feel truly grateful to have a front row seat for the best coaching I have ever experienced. I learn new concepts every time they come.
Coaches to be sure need to be confident. If they are not confident in what they are attempting to get their team to buy into, the players will lack confidence in the coach. Even kids can very easily sniff out uncertainty and reluctance.
However, ALL coaches must be open to other points of view and new ways of doing things, especially when it is coming from coaches that have played and coached at a higher level than they have. But humility does not necessarily have to come from a highly experienced coach. I regularly get valuable feedback from my assistant coaches including the gentleman I discussed in this article. Sometimes we can get caught up in within our systems where we may not notice a particular wrinkle that someone observing from the outside in may notice.
Confidence, open mind, and humility comprise the ultimate journey coaches must walk to be successful, inspiring, and to honor the game. As in all other aspects of life, the day we think we know it all and stop learning, is the day it is time to hang up our whistles and move on.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality through a number of tpics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.