US Lacrosse New Age Guidelines Present Challenges For Emerging Lacrosse Markets

Having been associated with US Lacrosse for many years and having been appreciative of their guidance as they advocate for the growth of the sport of lacrosse, I understand how much time and research they put into their decisions.  Thus, from the outset of this article, I want to be clear that I admire and respect US Lacrosse and appreciate their efforts and guidance.  Many decisions are made for the greater good and will inevitably render some unwanted consequences.  The US Lacrosse age segmentation policy effective 9/1/2017 is a clear example.

US Lacrosse this year transitioned away this year for the under age categorization to an age and under categorization.  For example, the old U15 age bracket which would have represented players that were under the age of 15 as of the US Lacrosse cut off date of 8/31/2017 is now 14U with the new cut off date of 9/1/2017.  Under the U15 categorization, 15 year old athletes could play youth ball provided that they turned 15 after the cut off date.  In the 14U classification, 15 year old players are now eliminated from youth lacrosse eligibility.

I understand the intent here, which is to establish age categories that correspond more closely with the grade most kids fall into in a given age bracket, and in the case of the 14U division, this generally prohibits any high school freshmen from participating in youth lacrosse, making 8th grade the final year that a player may participate in youth lacrosse.

For long established lacrosse markets like my childhood state of New Jersey and other areas like New York, Maryland, etc., this does not generally present any challenges since most of these areas have thriving middle school, JV, and Varsity programs.  However, in my adopted home state of Florida and particularly the Florida Space Coast where the sport is still very much in emerging market phase, we are facing difficulties at the 14U division and its enforcement.

One of the most pressing concerns is that we have several counties that do not have middle school athletic teams and high school programs that do not have enough players to field JV teams.  This translates to still prepubescent and/or still developmental freshmen either being promoted to varsity or not playing at all.  Such a move puts such a player in physical danger often pitting a young player who is essentially a boy or girl against young men or women.  It also stifles lacrosse skill development for players who struggle just to physically keep up with far more developed athletes that they should have no business going up against.

Another issue is players that have been held back a year for academic reasons.  Although a player may be in 8th grade, he/she will likely be ineligible to play youth lacrosse, yet he/she cannot play JV because he/she is not a member of the high school.  On the flip side, there are academically gifted players that have skipped a grade which would make such a player a high school freshmen, still youth age eligible, but deemed ineligible for youth lacrosse due to school year.

These are all of the issues we are facing in our lacrosse county rec league here in the Florida Space Coast, the Brevard Lacrosse Alliance.  I know that we are not alone in the state of Florida, hearing the issue raised among colleagues all over the state.  I am certain that other states that are still emerging lacrosse markets are in similar predicaments.

Thankfully, US Lacrosse at this time provides these guidelines as exactly that: guidelines.  At this time, I have been assured by US Lacrosse, that tweaking the guidelines for the unique needs of the individual programs will not at this time affect our liability concerns as it pertains to program insurance obtained via US Lacrosse.  Also, this really is only an issue at the 14U level and seems to work just fine for all younger divisions.

Our ultimate policy in being a club that feels strongly about following US Lacrosse guidelines as closely as we possibly can, is that we intend to follow US Lacrosse guidelines for every division with the exception of our oldest youth division.  Our policy is to enforce the 14U age bracket with exceptions for the allowance of 15U age eligible freshmen that are not concurrently on a JV or varsity roster.

Enforcement may prove challenging as our league grows, but by the time that becomes an issue, we are hopeful that with the growth of our numbers and more high school programs having thriving JV programs, the 14U age classification will no longer be as much of an issue.

We remain grateful for US Lacrosse and their national leadership in the sport of lacrosse.  We are also grateful for the flexibility in transitioning to strive to meet their guidelines.  A lot of smart people with countless years of experience in the sport of lacrosse and sports science that work for US Lacrosse constantly debate these issues which gives us tremendous respect for their adopted policies.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality through a number of topics 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.

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.