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Congratulations!First Team All-League, Inter-Ac League:Beau JonesBobby TaitConnor CrumpJake AdoniSecond Team:Reid WeberSean RobbinsHonorable Mention:Billy OppenheimerRyan CraneFirst Team All-EPSLA:Bobby TaitBeau Jones
The subject of this speech is something that I have been giving a lot of thought to the last couple of years. I hope to spend a little time helping you understand a little more about where lacrosse is heading and if it is heading in the right direction. Obviously, this is one man’s opinion and my hope is that it is a starting point for an ongoing discussion in the lacrosse community at-large.
Please indulge me for a minute or two while I tell you a little about my background. I grew up on Long Island and received my first lacrosse stick at the age of eight, a wooden stick, when my oldest brother starting playing the game. My love of lacrosse grew quickly. I played for the Bethpage Police Athletic League in the spring of 1966 and had lots of fun. I continued playing lacrosse each spring and still play to this day. I also played football, at first on our local teams and then in high school. Throughout the year and even while in season I played sports all the time… in the neighborhood, at the school yard, in the park. It didn’t matter where I just played with my friends and anyone else willing to join in!
Let’s dial ahead a couple of years when I entered high school. I played for a legendary lacrosse coach, Fran McCall at Bethpage High School, as tough a man as you will ever meet. He demanded your best all the time and was never afraid to let you know when he thought you weren’t giving it: “very old school!” He believed not only in the power of lacrosse but in the power of athletics! He coached all three seasons, football, basketball and lacrosse and believed that his lacrosse players should also be playing multiple sports!
I then went onto college and played for another legendary coach, Dick Garber, at the University of Massachusetts. He was the complete opposite from Fran McCall in his style of coaching. He never raised his voice, always encouraged you to try your hardest and not to fear making mistakes. He was also “very old school” in his approach to athletics. At the college level he coached not only lacrosse, but football and basketball for many years as well as being a full professor in the Department of Physical Education. I remember very clearly going to speak with him after fall lacrosse of my freshman year and asking what I should do to get ready for the upcoming season. His answer surprised me at the time, but it’s one that I think about to this day. It went something like this, “Well, first I would concentrate on your school work and enjoy your time as a college student. Maybe play some basketball or some racquetball. By the way, would you like to play me in racquetball?”
So what is my point? Well I’m getting there. This is my 23rd year at GA. When I first started coaching lacrosse, there were 32 high school teams playing in Southeastern PA. The Ashbee Lacrosse Club was the only youth program I can remember in the area. The Inter-Ac schools were considered unique because they had middle school programs. How times have changed! We now have 87 high schools playing locally, and I counted 31 programs on the SEPLYA website this morning. And that’s just in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Lacrosse is booming to say the least. Now the challenge for all of us is managing the growth.
Let’s talk about that. On the positive side, many more kids are being exposed to all that our great sport has to offer. The fast paced action draws people young and old alike. Lacrosse is fun the play and fun to watch!
Growth also presents problems and one of them is specialization. We have seen it happen in other sports, soccer, ice hockey and basketball to name a few. It is a new phenomenon in lacrosse. My question for all of us to think about: “IS THIS IN THE BEST INTEREST OF OUR KIDS?”
This past summer I read a book titled The Tipping Point. I’m sure some of you have read it as well. It’s about the point at which things change from one way to another. I personally believe that we are at a tipping point in lacrosse. Where we head in the next few years will be crucial to what happens to the future of lacrosse locally as well as nationally. Do we become like other sports and endorse the notion of specialization or do we support and nurture the ideal of letting kids be kids and let them enjoy lots of different sports and activities? Let me try and make my case.
Society is always changing. Some changes are for the good. Some, I would argue, are not so good. We are now engaged in an era in which kids are being asked to choose an area of special interest earlier and earlier in their lives. Most of this pressure is coming from our generation of parents. If a little bit of something is good, then a lot of something must be great. If our child is really bright, then we should have them do more academic enrichment programs. If they are talented musically then we should push them into taking more and more lessons. If our children are good athletes then we should have then play sports all the time and not just many sports, but we should have them specialize in a particular sport.
Specialization is something that lacrosse has been able to stay away from until just recently - the boom years. Now kids are being asked to play lacrosse all year round, even if they are playing another sport. They fear trying a new sport because they may fall behind in lacrosse. Frankly, I think we are doing our kids a disservice when we don’t encourage them to play multiple sports and then give them the time to do so. I am seeing an interesting trend here at GA. More kids are playing lacrosse in the area then ever before, but we have fewer kids playing in our Upper School. The reason is two-fold. First, they are specializing in other sports. Soccer kids think they need to play year round, wrestlers buy into training for 12 months, and swimmers really believe they need to be in the water 365 days a year. That’s just to name a few. Second, kids are hesitant to pick up a lacrosse stick if they did not start at the age of 6 or 8. I believe all of these notions are driven by adults, and they are false and misleading. We need to change the mindset. And we have got to change it soon, because if we wait to long we will “tip” in the wrong direction.
Ask college coaches in lacrosse what kind of kids they would like to recruit. Most would tell you that they want athletes, not specialists. Read the bios that are posted on laxpower.com when a student-athlete chooses a college. The overwhelming majority touts the fact that so and so is a multi-sport athlete in high school. For example, ‘Johnny Smith is the captain of the football team, plays receiver and safety, wrestles and plays lacrosse. Jimmy Jones is all conference in soccer, plays basketball and lacrosse.’ There is a reason why they recruit that kind of student-athlete. They want kids who are well rounded and have had a lot of different kinds of athletic experiences. Dom Starsia, head coach of Virginia, is quoted as saying, “I want athletes on my team. I can make them into great lacrosse players.”
Ask Steve Brown, GA class of ’99, who came here as a highly touted soccer goalie. He tried lacrosse in the spring of his freshman year, fell in love with the game, went on to be an All-American in high school, captain at Penn and is now playing professionally for the Long Island Lizards. Ask Steve Holmes, GA class of ’01, who didn’t start playing until Middle School and wound up a two-time All-American, playing both football and lacrosse at Virginia and now plays professionally for the San Francisco Dragons and the San Jose Stealth.
I have had the privilege of coaching 13 All-Americans while at GA. Every one of the 13 was at least a two-sport athlete. Seven did not start playing lacrosse until Middle School. Four did not start playing until Upper School. My point is that you can have a lot of success in lacrosse when you play multiple sports and when you start later in life.
In conclusion, the challenge is in each of our hands. How do we get kids interested in lacrosse and at the same time encourage them to get involved in other sports and activities? I truly believe that kids should be doing all kinds of things. They should not be asked to specialize in one activity at too early an age. As adults, we know that time will come all too soon.
LET’S LET OUR CHILDREN BE KIDS FOR AS LONG AS THEY CAN!
SEPYLA CLINIC TALKFEBRUARY 10, 2007
Brian GradyEMAIL | 267-405-7472
Dave SamsonEMAIL | 267-405-7277
Head Coach: Jason StraubEMAIL | 267-405-7287
Assistant: Doug Cooper
Jamie MurrayEMAIL | 267-405-7364
Paul HenryEMAIL | 267-405-7425
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