With the spring lacrosse season having arrived, my to-do list seems to be getting longer with each day as my “part-time” lacrosse coaching job begins to consume my life. We all make sacrifices for our beloved sport, however, for me, it’s a labor of love.

I believe that being a part of lacrosse and the world of athletics has molded me into who I am. It has given me a gift of inner strength and perseverance. Many of the important life skills that I’ve learned have come from my experiences within the world of lacrosse. These are lessons that I hope to give back to my players.

As a high school coach, I learned a great lesson about building a team and a winning culture from a rival team in Winchester (Mass). This team was a competitive high school team that year-after-year would beat my team. I came to find out that they had the “missing pieces.”

Suzanne Ontso, Winchester’s head coach for 23 years, had created a program which all high school coaches should strive to replicate. Suzanne’s high school players coach every traveling youth team in their town, grades 5-8. The young, developing, and impressionable players on these youth teams have high school athlete-coaches serving as some of the best mentors around.

This tradition began in 1999 with the novel idea of developing a program which embraces the building of a relationship between the local youth and high school athletes. Since its inception, Suzanne has maintained 100% commitment from her high school players.

These girls are not only giving back to their community but strengthening their program. They are adding their piece to the puzzle and leaving behind a legacy.

Coaching a youth team has taught them to manage their time, plan a practice, and differentiate their teaching to individualized learning styles. It also doesn’t hurt to say that Suzanne has developed strong lacrosse players in Winchester but most importantly, provided each of them with the opportunity to become better people.

I recently committed to replicating Winchester’s model in our town of Marblehead. We adapted their program and made our own version. Our high school players and alumni now dedicate time to coach clinics for developing players every summer.

As the leader of the program, I’m rewarded just by watching my players, past and present, interact. It is a continuum of learning like nothing else. It makes me proud to watch my players make educated decisions and work towards paying forward the gift of lacrosse.

Every year, like many other teams, we end our season with a senior game. That game has turned to a true celebration of lacrosse, with almost every one of the 300-plus youth players in our town attending. The youngest Marblehead lacrosse players come and give a flower to the graduating seniors. It is a way of saying thank you to the players who have dedicated the years to our program.

My challenge to other coaches is to think deeper about our teams and seasons and to find ways to reach out to local youth programs. We need to allow lacrosse to provide a classroom for life skills. Ultimately, if we, as coaches, can give these opportunities to our players, then we have done our jobs.

Annie Pugh is in her sixth year as head coach at Marblehead (Mass.) High School. Her blog is one in a series of blogs representing the US Lacrosse Women’s Game. We would love to hear your stories from the field. If you have experiences to share, please contact Caitlin Kelley, women’s game senior manager, at [email protected].

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