Happy Holidays & Thank You!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from the Creator's Game Lacrosse Blog!I love the holiday season, always have, always will.  It is a time for reconnecting with family and friends and for giving.  From a lacrosse perspective – at least here in Florida – it is a much needed break from the grind of the fall tournament season with the spring season right around the corner (we start our spring lacrosse season in January in Florida).

Once the holiday season is over and life goes back to its regular pace, the lacrosse pace hits break neck speed with pre-season planning, season logistics, and practices about to start.  As I prepare for the grind to come, I am left with a major sense of gratitude for the gracious, courteous and enthusiastic response to my lacrosse blog only a few weeks in existence.

The Creator’s Game has quickly reached a national, even global readership in a very short time in large measure because of my initial few readers sharing my posts on social media and taking the time to comment and contribute to discussions.

I bid you all a wonderful and peaceful rest of your holidays and a happy and prosperous New Year to come!

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality through a number of tpics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.

Why Major League Lacrosse Is So Unique As A Professional Sport League

Lyle Thompson Playing For the Major League Lacrosse Florida LaunchMajor League Lacrosse, also known as the MLL, is a professional field lacrosse league that started in 2002.  It is perhaps the most unique professional sports league in all of sports.

Having the honor and pleasure of having several friends that currently play or have played in the MLL, I have quite a bit of insight into the dynamics of the organizations, the league, and the players.  What is most striking is that MLL players make very little money.  The best players may pull $1000 per game, while the rest may make $500 or slightly more.  In a 16 – 20 game season (depending on post season success), do the math and it does not add up to much.

Some pro lacrosse players supplement this income through endorsements if their star power is strong enough.  Paul Rabil is probably the most extreme example of this who hit the 7 figure income mark a few years ago as the name and face of Warrior Lacrosse.  Other players that have successfully cashed in on star recognition are Lyle Thompson (Nike) and Rob Pannell (Brine).  The vast majority of players do not carry this kind of name recognition, so most have Monday – Friday day jobs that they actually earn a living with.

Since MLL players do not get paid an amount of money to even nearing the ability to uproot and live in the community of the team they are chosen to play for, Friday evenings they are flown into their playing venue (whether as the home or away team) after completing their regular work week.  They have a midnight practice, then morning walk through before playing the game in the evening.  Sunday morning, they are flown back to where they are all from.

For this reason, the quality of MLL games increases considerably as the season wears on, as the teams develop chemistry, which is often sorely lacking early in the season due to few opportunities to be on the field together.

Thus Major League Lacrosse players ultimately do what they do for love of the game, and give up their summer weekends off to play lacrosse.  It is easy to see this love of lacrosse when they are so gracious and accessible after the games to sign autographs for the kids and shake the hands of fans.

Major League Lacrosse players are pioneers in a sport that is on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream of American culture.  It is my sincere hope that they may continue to have the fortitude to blaze a path to a day when professional lacrosse can be a lucrative career that will continue to grow awareness of the fastest game on 2 feet.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality through a number of tpics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.

Lacrosse Embraces and Promotes High Academic Achievement

Lacrosse Embraces High Academic AchievementOne of the greatest aspects of the sport of lacrosse is the general embracing of superior academics as being just as important as superior play on the field.  Even Division I top 25 programs will reject superior blue chip lacrosse players before rather than admit a great athlete who is an academic slacker.

This is the reason why academic powerhouse programs like Harvard, Cornell, Princeton, Brown and Johns Hopkins are also college lacrosse powerhouses.  It is also the reason why in general the quality of Division II lacrosse lags behind that of Division III Lacrosse.  With Division III lacrosse programs having a greater wealth of high academic achievement colleges in comparison to Division II, they tend to attract the better players.

Let us take out of the equation that professional lacrosse does not pay all that well, and simply take a look at the percentage of college athletes that go on to play at the professional level.    According to NCAA.org statistics averaging 5 sports (basketball, baseball, football, lacrosse, hockey), only 3.4% of NCAA college athletes will go on to play at the professional level.  That static is actually artificially inflated by baseball with 10.9% of college players going on to play professional ball, the majority of which bounce around A, AA, and AAA Minor League baseball for a while but ultimately fall short of making the Major Leagues.  Take baseball out of the average calculation, then the probability of a college athlete playing professionally drops to 1.96%.

The bottom line is that for the vast majority of college athletes, their athletic career will be finished after their NCAA eligibility expires and they are faced with the rest of their life having to rely on careers that their academic achievements prepared them for.   When I hear of some of the abysmal graduation rates of college football players, a sport where only2% of players go on to play professionally, I am saddened the fact that such little emphasis is placed on having academics play a more prominent role in the sport’s culture.  My intent is not to just pick on football, as this is prevalent in other sports as well.

I remember we I was a kid and despite lacrosse being very popular in my town, our parents (our Dads especially) were so resistant to those of us that left baseball for lacrosse as our chosen spring sport.  Part of it was that lacrosse was foreign to them, but part of it was that they had some inner pipe dream that their children may go on to play sports professionally.   Consequently, the answer I heard all too frequently from our Dads was “Why lacrosse?  There’s no money in that?” (There was no Major League Lacrosse until 2002)  Such sentiments imply that the primary reason to play youth sports is to one day play professionally, which completely is not only unrealistic, but completely misses the point of youth sports participation.

I do believe that professional lacrosse in the not so far off future will be a lucrative career.   I also hope that will be the case, as dedicated full time professional lacrosse players would raise awareness of the sport and bring it ever closer to the main stream.  However, I also hope when that does happen, that lacrosse maintain its dedication and commitment to academics first and foremost.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality through a number of subjects and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse though his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.

What Ever Happened To The Multi-Sport Youth Athlete?

Bo Jackson was a king among multi-sport athletesWhen I was growing up, my friends and I looked forward to seasons.  Fall was for football or soccer; winter was for basketball, wrestling or winter track; spring was for lacrosse, baseball or spring track.  It was great because as a young athlete started to feel for repetitive burn out as one particular season wore on, he could look forward to the next season of a different sport that was a completely different experience.

In recent years, there has been increasing pressure to specialize in one sport as the only path to playing a sport beyond high school.  I call this the Tiger Woods approach to youth athletics, which clearly serve him well for most of his career until he got plagued with a rash of injuries for the past several years.  With overuse injury being one of the negative side effects of single sports specialization, I wonder if Tiger’s body would not have broken down at a relatively young age had he supplemented his young golf experience cross training in other sports pursuits.  There is also the reality that an athlete with the magnitude of talent like Tiger Woods is extremely rare, and in the vast majority of cases, single sport specialization serves little more than to deny a child a varied experience and a big level of disappointment when specialization does not pay off.

Single sport specialization young keeps a child living in the single box of one experience in sport.  It not only limits the child’s options as to what he personally may excel at, but it also predisposes a child to burn out.  Case in point, by the time my college roommate made it to college where he needed basketball to gain acceptance (he was a bit of an underachiever in high school), he really could not care less if he played another minute on the court because that was all he had done all of his life.  When he got stricken with appendicitis mid-season, upon returning following his recovery from surgery, he realized that he was going to have to work to regain his spot.  Rather than work through this setback, he just quit.  When I asked him how he could just walk away so easily, he simply told me that basketball had begun to feel more like a job than a sport to him.

In Florida where I live, the weather facilitates the ability to play any sport year round.  This is both a blessing and a curse because on one hand it is great to be able to be outside year round, while on the other hand, the pressure to specialize year round is worse than it is in most places.  Still, with the expansion of indoor athletic facilities, year round participation in one sport is a nationwide phenomenon that seems poised to get worse.

Single sport specialization may also limit opportunities in other sports that a child may have more natural ability in.  A good friend of mine, Brian Megill, shared with me that he first got noticed by Syracuse via football, which then got him on their radar for lacrosse.  Brian went on to have a brilliant lacrosse career at Syracuse and star in both indoor and outdoor professional lacrosse leagues, as well as Team USA.

Finally, most trainers and sports medicine specialists opine that multi-sport is what is best for developing athletes mentally and physically.  Says celebrity trainer (and former high school football, player, wrestler, and lacrosse player) Steve Jordan:

The multi-sport athlete has several advantages both mentally and physically that are important. First and foremost it prevents mental burn out and overtraining physically which are two very common outcomes when you focus on one sport. The person participating in that one sport start to feel resentment or develops a lackluster attitude towards practicing, games and their teammates. And since the athletes often times focuses on one position the repetitive pattern overload can diminish gains that one would expect from that amount of time invested. Overtraining can show up in a variety of ways including acute injuries like hamstring pulls, torn ACL’s, sprain ankles, elbow and shoulder issues as well as an overall sense of feeling tired or lethargic. 

Some other advantages worth noting of the multi-sport athlete are:

Transfer of sports skills. Do be a great athlete you have to coordinate the ability to accelerate, decelerate and stabilize the body in motion. When you have the ability to create different sensory inputs that come from playing different sports you are hard wiring the nervous system to be more flexible and adaptable for pure athleticism.

There clearly is no question that multi-sport is what is best for young athletes.  The question remains, is it possible that we will ever see a time again when kids play 2-3 sports?

Dr. Roger Welton was a 4 year starter for Montclair State University and was selected as a First Team All Knickerbocker Conference Midfielder in 1995, 1996. He is the founder of the Viera-Suntree Lacrosse Club and Space Coast Elite Lacrosse Club in Brevard County, Florida.

Lacrosse Goalie Is The Most Difficult And Frightening Position In All Of Sports!

Lacrosse Goalie Is The Most Difficult Position In All Of Sports!You stand in front of a gaping 6 foot by  6 foot cage, defending against a shot that ranges from 20 feet to point blank, with a 5 ½ ounce hard rubber ball.  Protection is minimal, consisting of a helmet, throat guard, a chest protector that is thinner than a catcher’s mitt, a cup, and an oversized lacrosse stick.  Welcome to the world of the lacrosse goalie!

Let’s take out of the equation the shear pain induced when a high velocity shot hits muscle, bone and skin for a moment and focus on the reaction time necessary to save a shot.  According to the reaction time calculator at LaxPower.com, a 20 foot shot travelling at 85 miles per hour (a shot speed that many 12 year olds reach) requires a reaction time of 0.16 seconds.  Cut that shot distance in half to 10 feet and the reaction time necessary to save it drops to 0.08 seconds!

In a sport where it is not uncommon for shots to exceed 100 miles per hour, the courage and athletic ability necessary to be a good goalie is off the charts.  Honestly, I cannot imagine why anyone would ever choose to be a lacrosse goalie, but I have the utmost respect and admiration to the select few who choose to specialize in this crazy position.

In my lacrosse travels playing and coaching at all levels, I have found that all goalies have a couple traits in common.  First, they are great athletes.  Successful goalies are usually one of the best athletes on the lacrosse field and commonly excel at other sports outside of lacrosse.  Case in point, my childhood buddy and trusted goalie through the duration of my middle school and high school playing career, Jake Doran, was one of the best goalies in the state of New Jersey our senior year of high school.  He went on to be an All American wide receiver for Fairleigh Dickenson University Football.

Second, they are adrenaline junkies that have no regard for their own personal safety.  A few years ago while coaching a U11 boys division, I lost my star goalie to a broken wrist…not from lacrosse, but because he was testing a zip line he constructed from his two story bedroom window to his backyard fence.  One of my current high school tournament team goalies gets excited when he receives new bruises after particularly hard impacts, at the prospect of how large and hideous they are going to get as they mature.

So often, it is the prolific scorers, face-off specialists, and fancy stick artists that get most of the attention in lacrosse, and heck they deserve it.  But for this post, I give a shout out to the guys and girls that I admire most on the lacrosse field: the goalies!  To all of the courageous, fearless, and athletic goalies of all ages male and female, this one’s for you!

Dr. Roger Welton was a 4 year starter for Montclair State University and was selected as a First Team All Knickerbocker Conference Midfielder in 1995, 1996. He is the founder of the Viera-Suntree Lacrosse Club and Space Coast Elite Lacrosse Club in Brevard County, Florida.

There Is No Such Thing As 6 On 6 Lacrosse

Settled Half Field Lacrosse Is Not 6 on 6 LacrosseWe have traditionally called half field settled offense versus settled defense 6 on 6 lacrosse, but I will challenge you to re-think that 6 on 6 lacrosse actually does not exist.  In order to score in settled offense versus settled defense, someone has to get beat on the defensive side.

This may occur when a defenseman trails a cutter that leaves him open for an easy catch and shoot off a feed.  This may occur when a defenseman gets beat off a dodge and the slide comes to late, or, the slide is timely but the the ball is dumped down to the offensive player where the slide came from because a second slide was too slow.

In all of these scenarios, at least one defender has been taken out of the equation, creating for a brief moment 6 on 5 or 6 on 4 opportunities for the offense to score off their advantage.  Thus, this really expands our thought process as to our traditional mindset that number advantages only occur in transition and with penalties.

From a coaching perspective, it already made sense to adopt the transition focused training models of programs like Brown and Tufts when we considered that more than 60% of goals in lacrosse are scored in unsettled transition.  It makes even more sense to focus on unsettled transition considering now that goals scored in settled half field lacrosse occur in transition scenarios that briefly create a numbers advantage.

Having transition focused practices does not risk priming a team to live and die by the run and gun, but instead trains the offense to take advantage of holes in the defense created by transition or athletically during settled half field play.  Likewise, it trains the defense to plug holes, fill, and react when they find themselves at a disadvantage.

Dr. Roger Welton was a 4 year starter for Montclair State University and was selected as a First Team All Knickerbocker Conference Midfielder in 1995, 1996. He is the founder of the Viera-Suntree Lacrosse Club and Space Coast Elite Lacrosse Club in Brevard County, Florida.

With The New Face-Off Rules Is Pinch and Pop Still An Effective Lacrosse Face-Off Technique?

Brendan Fowler Pinch and Pop Lacrosse Face-off SpecialistPictured here is Duke FOGO (Face-Off, Get Off) legend Brendan Fowler, one of the great all time masters of the pinch and pop face-off technique and credited with being one of the biggest reasons for their 2013 National Championship run.  The video below is a good demonstration of the technique that when executed successfully, leaves the ball on the back side of the head and pocket.

The face-off man then will flip the ball to the correct side of the head mid-stride to pass the ball; some have even learned to throw the ball accurately from the back side of the head.

This year’s face-off rule change targeted the pinch and pop specifically, when it was deemed that once the ball is in the back side of the head, the face-off man may not run with the ball and may only take one step with it before flipping it to the correct side of the head.  This majorly curtails the potency of  what has become the signature move of many lacrosse face-off specialists.  So the question is, is pinch and pop still an effective move with the new rule change?

While the rules definitely take some of the sheer dominance away from players like Brendan Fowler that have perfected the skill, it still has a place in the face-off arsenal.  For one, the pinch and pop can be used not to immediately possess the ball, but to plunge the ball in the direction of the momentum of the face-off man who won the clamp.  In fact, when you watch Brendan Fowler highlights, he won many face-offs this way even when the rules allowed him to run with the ball in the back of his head.  This was simply because the opposing player restricted enough of Brendan’s head to prevent him from keeping a firm nesting of the ball in the back of his head.

I have never had the pleasure of coaching a pinch and pop specialist, but I sure have coached against many.  I saw first hand at the middle school and high school level, a few gifted players who have successfully adapted to the one step rule and are able to seamlessly win the pinch and pop, take one single step, and flip the ball into the correct side of the pocket in one single stride.  I saw others struggle with this even after winning the pinch and pop only to lose the ball being called for taking more than one step or having it taken away as their forward momentum is slowed because of the one step restriction.

While the rule change definitely will temporarily suppress the dominance of pinch and pop experts, I believe that these athletes over time will perfect the art of pinch and pop within the new face-off rules.

I have seen the rules of face-off change constantly through the years in an effort to make it more difficult, only to see top athletes adjust and adapt to regain their dominance.  This new rule change will ultimately be a mere bump in the road for great pinch and pop face-off specialists.

Dr. Roger Welton was a 4 year starter for Montclair State University and was selected as a First Team All Knickerbocker Conference Midfielder in 1995, 1996. He is the founder of the Viera-Suntree Lacrosse Club and Space Coast Elite Lacrosse Club in Brevard County, Florida.

 

The Full Weekend Lacrosse Tournament – A Great Opportunity For Lacrosse Players!

Full Weekend Lacrosse Tournaments Are Great For The Sport!With the middle school and high school teams that I coach having just completed their fall tournament schedules, I reflect on the incredible opportunity that my young players have at their disposal that did not exist in my playing days: summer and fall full weekend lacrosse tournaments.

Growing up and playing lacrosse in New Jersey in the 80’s and 90’s, we basically had our spring season and a the potential for a small extension of that season to play top level lacrosse in the Garden State Games.  We eventually had a short informal winter box lacrosse season, but overall the opportunities to play outside of our main season were quite limited in comparison to today.

In New Jersey and other states, that opportunity has greatly expanded with the growth full weekend summer and fall tournaments.  Not only are full weekend tournaments very fun, with teams from all over one’s home state and even out of state teams converging on large venues to compete at the highest level, they provide invaluable playing experience.  Lacrosse tournaments are one big reason why the level of lacrosse being played in my new home state of Florida has increased exponentially in the past 5 years.

If you consider that an average tournament team plays three tournaments, each tournament of which will include 4-6 games being played in one weekend, in three weekends, a player will have played more games than he or she would in an entire spring season.  When you combine that volume of games with the variety of competition and fast paced games (20 to 21 minutes running halves), it is easy to see the value of competing in state wide tournaments.

The comradery that lacrosse tournaments create is also very special.  With some tournaments attracting 120 teams or more, the hosting city or town is taken over by lacrosse families.  Whether in hotels, at restaurants, or shopping, you find yourself constantly surrounded by lacrosse parents, players, and coaches.  In a sport that still has not yet reached main stream status, especially in newer lacrosse markets like Florida, it is uplifting to be in a venue where so many people that love the sport are congregated.

To be sure, there are many aspects of the lacrosse tournament experience that make it invaluable and unique for lacrosse players and coaches.  I would advise any family with the opportunity to play weekend tournament ball to take full advantage of an opportunity that only relatively recently became available to lacrosse players.

Dr. Roger Welton was a 4 year starter for Montclair State University and was selected as a First Team All Knickerbocker Conference Midfielder in 1995, 1996. He is the founder of the Viera-Suntree Lacrosse Club and Space Coast Elite Lacrosse Club in Brevard County, Florida.

Profit Motivated Coaches And Organizations Are Bad For Youth And High School Lacrosse

The Scourge Of For Profit Youth Lacrosse Teams Is Bad For The GameIn my little corner of the world of the Florida Space Coast in an area very steeped in the traditional school sports, the introduction of lacrosse has been an uphill climb.  With the first elements of lacrosse having been seeded in 2008, while the game continues to grow, it is still very much in the emerging sport category.  Although our lacrosse growth is a very positive development, it was only a matter of time before we would draw the attention of a growing problem in our sport: the for profit organizations and coaches that aim to pick away at established not for profit clubs and leagues with the promise of the best coaching in the world and a path to a Division I scholarship at a marquis college lacrosse program.

Having played along side incredible talent from my home state of New Jersey, having come from a high school program that has yielded a lot of Division I talent and to date has seen 6 players have success in the professional Major League Lacrosse, I have a unique perspective and insight into the world of Division I lacrosse.  The truth is, Division I scholarships are very rare.  Even top talent coming out of lacrosse hot beds like New Jersey, New York and Maryland often feel very fortunate to earn a no scholarship roster spot or receive partial scholarships at best.

Thus, while players should all strive to be the best lacrosse athletes they can possibly be, a coach who understands sports and is being honest will tell you that as much great coaching as a player gets, it is ultimately up to the player to perform.  Many factors that cannot be taught, such as innate speed, physical size, strength, and demeanor, go into the entire player package.  Does good coaching help facilitate that?  Of course it does, but it will only take a player so far.

What’s more, just because a coach may charge parents a fortune to play for his team does not make him necessarily a better option.  Case in point, in the not for profit youth lacrosse club I preside over, we have 6 boys coaches with college playing experience (3 from Division I programs) and three girls coaches with Division I and Division II playing experience.  Double that number are US Lacrosse Level II and III Certified.  Just because we choose to volunteer our time for the kids and love of the game does not diminish what we bring to them in their lacrosse development.

I will tell you clearly what we are NOT doing, filling families with delusions of grandeur that their only path to a Division I scholarship is through us.  That kind of propaganda as as unethical as it is untrue.  Unfortunately, there are parents out there that drink the Kool-Aid and break out their check books so that little Johnny will be assured that roster spot at Johns Hopkins one day.

In the end, it is generally not the parents of the best players who fall for the draw of the for profit rhetoric, but more commonly it is the parents of the average or slightly above average player.  As parents, we naturally have pride in our children and want them to succeed.  However, this pride sometimes leads parents having an unrealistic outlook of their child’s innate talent.  If he or she is not getting the playing time that the parent expects or their performance leaves them far short of being stars of the team, it cannot be that their child’s talent has limits, it must be because of the coaching.

For profit entities in the sport also cause animosity and discord in communities that are otherwise tight nit.  Because their livelihood depends on it, they often do not stop at puffing our their chests and touting their lacrosse resumes and credentials, but they belittle the selfless and tireless efforts of volunteers that have given their their precious time, hearts, and souls to the community, the sport, and the kids.  Sadly, their belittling takes root with some parents and we have occasionally seen once appreciative members of our club join the for profits in denigrating our efforts.

For longstanding volunteers, this can be at times hard to swallow and  simply shrug off.  At times, I will be honest, it feels like a punch in the gut.  But just like in my playing days, when I was knocked down and it made me more motivated to work harder to make certain that next time I was in that same position, the tables would be turned; my fellow volunteers and I are ready to push back against the influence of for profit groups in our lacrosse community.

Many other lacrosse friends I have all over the country share my motivation curtail the influence of profit driven organizations in the sport of lacrosse in their respective corners of the world.  If/when the day comes that you are faced with the decision to jump on board with the bells and whistles of a for profit team or stay with the not for profit club that provided your child the opportunity to play lacrosse in the first place, always remember this quote by the great James Doolittle:

“There is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.”

That is as true in the sport of lacrosse as it is in anything else.

Dr. Roger Welton was a 4 year starter for Montclair State University and was selected as a First Team All Knickerbocker Conference Midfielder in 1995, 1996. He is the founder of the Viera-Suntree Lacrosse Club and Space Coast Elite Lacrosse Club in Brevard County, Florida.