I witnessed a great turn of events for an 8th grade boy this past weekend. This young man has a older brother who lives and breathes lacrosse, currently a starter on his varsity high school team as a sophomore. The parents are wonderfully supportive of lacrosse and have done everything they possibly can to nurture their boys’ love and participation in the sport.
This past fall, their 8th grader played on my middle school tournament team. He is a good player, not quite as obsessed with lacrosse as older brother, but a nice, coachable young man who always came to practice and worked hard.
As the season wore on, I could see in this player’s body language that he was not enjoying the game as much as he had in the past. I had a conversation with him and he confided with me that he was not feeling the same love of the game that he had in past seasons, that there were other things like fishing that he would often prefer to be doing.
I shared with him that as much as I wanted to him to stay on the team, I would not judge him if he decided lacrosse was not for him. He ultimately had a heart to heart discussion with his Dad and they decided together that he would finish out the season (there was only one tournament left to go at this point) to see his commitment through and take a break from the game, possibly permanently.
This past Friday, the day before game 2 of our rec season, the 8th grader’s Dad contacted me and asked if it would be too late to have his son rejoin the league, as he really missed playing. We did not hesitate to get him signed up, get him a uniform, and he plucked right in and not only had a great time, but pumped in 3 goals. He was smiling from ear to ear.
This young man just needed a break, needed some time to miss the game; needed to just be a boy who did not have constant after school commitments. He was the inspiration for this article.
Below are some tips for parents and coaches to help young people just like the young man I wrote this article about to help nurture the love of lacrosse while avoiding burn out.
1.) The multi-sport or multi-activity experience is crucial. Letting your child participate in as many athletic pursuits as possible prepares him/her mentally and physically for staying excited about lacrosse. Not necessarily a sporto? No problem! How about boys scouts, art, musical instruments, dance, skateboarding or surfing? Case in point, this morning, I took my son out to the park to run some shooting and dodging drills. Shortly after that, we loaded the surf boards on the car to enjoy an hour of one of his (and my) other great passions, surfing!
2.) When players are showing less than exciting or engaged body language, do not ride them, but engage them in a calm, open and honest manner. They may be experiencing trouble in the home, at school, or are just feeling the effects of burn out. Talk to them and ask them if everything is okay because you observe that they are not themselves. Give them the opportunity to open up without judgement.
In the aforementioned player’s case, he was facing the pressure of an older brother in his family who is not only an exceptional player but has an extraordinary lacrosse ambition; while having some misgivings about whether lacrosse was for him. All he needed was a break.
3.) When they do not play up to expectations (whether they are yours or the players), let them know it is okay to have an off day. Let them know that effort always trumps performance.
My own son had 5 goals in last week’s season opener. Yesterday in week two, he had 2 goals and had a strong game; yet, he walked off the field disappointed. I asked him what was wrong and he told me that he was disappointed that he only had 2 goals. I let him know that I was just as proud of him this week than I was last week and that it actually is not normal to score 5 goals a game; that the number of goals should not be the measure of a successful season. I told him that fun and effort are the more important aspects of enjoyment of lacrosse, that he should never play with that kind of pressure placed on himself (he is only 8).
Let us never lose sight as parents and coaches that for these young men and women, there is so much more to life than any sport. There are social functions, school, time with friends, and other pursuits that are integral to their growth and enjoyment of their youth. While lacrosse and other sports provide many positive aspects of growth, we always need to allow them enough room to just be kids.
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.