I’ve been seeing a lot of youth lacrosse lately…perhaps too much…not in my role at US Lacrosse, but as a father. Both my son (a rising seventh grader) and daughter (a rising ninth grader) play on local club teams with which we chose to affiliate because of the philosophies and perspectives they represent – both are nonprofit organizations, both encourage participation in other sports, both embrace club lacrosse as a companion to recreation or school-based programs, and both have coaches who believe that becoming a better player requires not only sound instruction, but also moderation and fun.
My wife and I have spent six summer weekends at multiple girls’ and boys’ tournaments – the divide and conquer method of youth sports parenting – and I’ve meandered around for hours in between games getting a better feel for the motivation of parents (like me) who embrace the tournament circuit as part of the new definition of family time. While I’ve been to many youth lacrosse events throughout the country in my role at US Lacrosse, but it’s certainly a different experience as a parent who feels both pride and internal angst when watching my flesh and blood run up and down the field.
It’s clearly an emotional challenge with which many parents are not able to cope.
Kids, coaches and officials are destined to make mistakes on the lacrosse field and, despite this certainty, we parents still feel the knot in our stomachs when they happen. Some parents feel the need to passionately vocalize their feelings during games…sometimes through supportive comments and other times in ways that make me feel sad for their children. Witnessing such behavior week after week is like riding a roller coaster that makes you throw up, but getting right back in line for another ride as soon as it’s over.
This is America, the free market rules and tournament owners are providing a service that the consumer (in this case the club teams that we chose for our kids), can take or leave. But tournaments rely on the participation of club teams to make money and, in my opinion, club teams need to exercise their power as consumers to improve the tournament experience for our kids. Here are two quick suggestions:
1) Require tournament owners to hire only US Lacrosse-certified officials. The integrity of the rules and safety of players should not be compromised by officials who have not been properly trained, yet too many officials in tournaments in which my children played did not consistently understand and enforce the rules…or practice the correct rule mechanics. The cost for officials is often the biggest expense for tournament directors, but cost should never trump quality…especially when it comes to the safety of our kids.
2) Require tournament owners to limit registrations in each age division such that no team is required to play more than three games a day…and none back-to-back. Because many tournament owners are focused on maximizing profits, they shoe-horn as many teams as possible into an age division and ignore the resulting impact on player safety. For example, my 11-year-old recently played in a tournament that required the teams advancing to the championship to play five games in eight hours in 95 degree heat...the final two of which were back-to-back. Who in their right mind believes this is a decision made in the best interest of children, why do participating club coaches accept it, and why do we, as parents, allow it?
A post script suggestion to tournament officials…always wear the standard striped uniform and look the part whether you are officiating a college game or a youth tournament. Wearing neon green or black t-shirts, cutoff sleeves, or anything other than the appropriate uniform only hurts your credibility as a capable official in the eyes of coaches and parents….and, believe it or not, has an impact on coach and parent behavior.