Since growing up in Michigan and finishing high school in 2010, the heights lacrosse has grown to in Michigan, the Midwest, and United States are incredible. Back in 2006-2009 we can only recall two boy's travel programs in Michigan that high school players played for in the summer. Pretty simple, choose one and play. Now how many are there in the state? 15? 20? 30? Add in the girl's teams and this number increases even more.
Just this week Eastern Michigan University announced they will be adding women's lacrosse to their sport offerings in two years. In the press release, they said girl's lacrosse in Michigan is the sport that is growing the quickest in the state. Another opportunity for girl's players in Michigan and the United States to play at the next level.
Talk with anybody in lacrosse and they will continue to shed light on the growth of the game. Is the growth good? Will it continue? How big is too big?
Every year Michigan is sending players to play at the next level whether it be club, NAIA, or NCAA. This is great that they get four more years to continue a passion of theirs.
What's missing? What's needed to continue growth in a positive way?
Coaching: Are you getting coached properly? Is there a focus on individual skill development? Does the program run position specific training? Paired with the growth of the game, it seems there has been a lack of true teaching of the fundamentals of lacrosse.
There is not a coach who knows everything. Michigan continues to send players off to play in college. What are these players doing after college? Sure, finding a job has to be a priority. Do you have free time outside of work, family, etc? Get involved. Go to a youth practice during the spring and work with the players.
Getting involved can go a long way. A former travel coach said "lacrosse will open many doors for you." Even growing at this pace, lacrosse is still a small world. You never know when getting involved can open a door for you. Finding someone with connections to an interested career field, someone who knows a program looking for a new coach, someone who wants you to work with their son/daughter individually, etc. Some of the states brightest coaches (ie: University of Michigan staff) put on coaches clinics to educate coaches. These are great opportunities to network, get into coaching, or grow as a coach.
The youth level is where it needs to start. Are we teaching the basic concepts of the sport? Are we enhancing the IQ of the players? Using our experience as a player and coach we need to focus on teaching the youth players the proper way to play. And let's also have fun while doing so. Not every player is going to "get it" right away and that is okay.
In the spring of 2019 we had the opportunity to watch four NCAA Division I teams practice prior to their games in the NCAA tournament. Premier programs Duke, Maryland, Notre Dame, and Virginia were all on the field for 45-60 minutes going through their pregame practices. What did they do?
Shooting, stick work, ground balls, riding, clearing. Fundamental parts of the sport on display at elite Division I team practices.
Take a page out of the USA Hockey book. Many youth hockey teams under the USA Hockey umbrella have gone to practices only in a third or half of the ice. This keeps youth players fresher throughout practice, allows them to practice in a small area setting, and allows coaches to focus on a specific area instead of the entire ice surface.
Use small area drills in the practice plan. Apply basic concepts/rules on both offense and defense but then allow the players to be creative. As they understand and develop their fundamentals they can then expand and try new things on the field.
Is the investment worth it? What will the travel program do for my son/daughter? Get them recruited to play in college? Meet new friends? Teach life lessons that can be applied both on and off the field? Grow as a player and person? All questions that parents and players have to answer as they enter a new travel program, team, coaching staff, etc.
Michigan lacrosse has come a long way but it will only go as far as its' coaching. Sure, we will never catch up to Long Island, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or Upstate NY. That does not have to be the goal but we can learn from these areas. Let's make sure we are taking the right steps to continue to grow but in a positive way.