I’ve heard some terrible reasons for athletes dropping out of sports when they move on to college. There’s a lot of talk about recruiting and whether or not a player is “good enough” to play at the collegiate level and/or the recruiting window closing by 10th grade, and I think that scares a lot of lacrosse players away from trying.

Here’s the truth. There is a team out there for anyone who wants to continue to play, regardless of age, skill level or athleticism. If you want to play, you can play.

It may not be Division I, it may not even be Division III, but those are just classifications that determine who plays each other. Some of the best programs out there never get any press or huge awards. Some of the best coaches are hiding out building amazing experiences at a small school that might just be in your backyard!

If the school you fell in love with doesn’t have an NCAA team, it doesn’t mean you’re done. Even if you’re a senior or already in college, you can join a club team in the MCLA or NCLL (for men) or the WCLA (for women).

Never let anyone tell you that you’re done playing!

Why do you play? It’s for the love of the sport and the family it creates for you. It’s not only about the team on the front of the jersey, but also the family of names on the back of the jerseys that you belong to.

I’ve heard players say they may not continue playing sports in college because they just want to have a break and hang out with their friends. Here’s a piece of advice that you’ll hear from just about any adult who’s been there: Partying is overrated.

When you leave college and move onto your career, there’s very few who look back and say, “I wish I had spent more time partying.” What you’ll hear instead is, “I sure wish I’d been a part of something, especially something that I love. I don’t have time to do that anymore.” As we move into our adult lives, the opportunity to have 20 best friends to stay up with all night and laugh until you can’t breathe just doesn’t present itself anymore, and you’ll miss it. I promise.

If I could go back for even one more year and be a part of a college team, I would do it in a heartbeat. It’s what I miss the most. I don’t care if we’re the best team in the country or a no-name team in the middle of nowhere. I just want to run down the field with my best friends while we face challenges, overcome obstacles, cheer together, cry together, be pushed and driven together.

Coaching gives me a small piece of that team feeling again, but there’s no equal to the actual player experience. Before you write off your chances of being a part of a lacrosse team after high school, take another look. Think about it a little bit more. It’s not too late, and if someone tells you that your chances are over, then walk away and find someone who knows what they’re talking about.

If you played lacrosse and miss playing as much as I do, think about coming back as a coach. The lacrosse community needs you, and it might just fulfill that longing. Can’t you still smell that spring grass and chilly air just after the rain as you took the field, mud splattering up against the back of your legs, stick in hand, adrenaline pumping?

Play as long as you can, be a part of something amazing and cherish every second. And when you’re done playing, come back and give the gift of lacrosse to the next generation.

Kate Leavell is a national coaching education trainer for US Lacrosse, as well as a high school varsity and NCAA Division III women's lacrosse coach in metro Atlanta, and a certified strength and conditioning coach.

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