Lacrosse has become one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States over the last decade, and this dramatic increase in the size of the lacrosse market has resulted in the establishment of numerous additional opportunities for young players -- many of which are for-profit business enterprises -- that are not always focused on the best interests of a developing young lacrosse player. This phenomenon has created a more challenging environment for parents, who are now required to be far more educated consumers in order to successfully identify opportunities that provide their children with a positive, safe and developmentally-appropriate lacrosse experience.
The most responsible youth lacrosse team, league and event models place the quality of experience of participants as the foundation of all decisions. And, there are certainly many youth lacrosse opportunities that provide qualified and responsible coaches who teach the sport based to the physical and cognitive development stages of children, develop players through both individual skill development and team-oriented strategy, and offer a positive culture that ultimately leads to player retention. But, as parents and the primary consumers of our children’s lacrosse experience (based on the time and money we invest), how do we know if a team or event shares this ideal? We need to ask.
We lacrosse parents need to be better consumers. We assume far too much and don’t ask enough questions of those in whose care we entrust our young players. And, we need to be careful not to lose our perspective, get caught up in the experience, and project our own adult values on our child’s youth sports experience.
Last summer, my ten-year-old’s team was scheduled to play in a one-day tournament. He’s been blessed with outstanding coaches who care as much about making his lacrosse experience enjoyable as they do about teaching the game. We arrived at the tournament site early in the day, helped set up our team’s “tent city”, and proceeded to spend the day migrating from the shade to game fields…and back again. Following the last game of the tournament, the boys were exhausted. Heck, I was exhausted. And then I reflected…my son had just played in 5 games over about 7 hours in 95 degree heat and high humidity. Did the tournament organizers consider the health and welfare of my child when developing the format for this tournament? Did they consider that a child dehydrates at a far faster rate than an adult…or that the risk of injury is far greater when tired bodies take the field? The answer was clearly, “No”. But I didn’t think about it either…and that’s the bigger problem.
I recognize the increased availability of and interest in private club programs, and I understand the symbiotic relationships these club programs have with lucrative summer tournaments. I also believe that such opportunities can be beneficial to player development when introduced at the appropriate age/development level, if based on an inclusive philosophy that encourages young players to pursue additional sports opportunities (lacrosse or otherwise), and if committed to providing a positive, safe and affordable youth sports opportunity.
But, as both lacrosse parents and consumers, we need to become knowledgeable, remain diligent and exercise influence in the collective best interests of our young players, when necessary. We are the quality control for our children’s lacrosse experience, and we can’t cede that responsibility to anyone else.