Your child is finally at the age where he’s old enough to strap up the pads and become a full fledged laxer, but your city doesn’t have a youth program. If you’re also looking to break into coaching, the perfect solution for the ambitious parent/former laxer is to start your own youth program. Although at first the task may seem daunting, with the right help and resources this can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for you as a parent and as a potential role model.
Before you dive headfirst into laying the foundation for your town to become the next lacrosse hotbed, make sure you have all the pieces in place to ensure success.
Ultimately, the success (or lack thereof) of your program will come down to whether you’re able to quickly instill the proper fundamental lacrosse skills in your players. There must be a plan in place for all levels of youth players to learn the fundamentals of lacrosse and then apply them on the field in game situations. Throwing, catching, cradling, shooting, ground ball play, checking, and basic defensive footwork all need to be taught before any advanced strategic theories or principles can be put in place.
At the same time, you can’t have your coaches acting like drill sergeants all the time, not accepting failure from the kids. The players need to have fun and enjoy themselves if you want them to tell their friends to come out for the team, and really begin to build a community of dedicated laxers. Do your best to balance skill-based practice drills with fun things for the kids to do at practice, whether that means simple scrimmaging, or an occasional water-balloon fight or shooting contest.
Hot Tip: Hot Weather Lax
One of the best ways to ensure that your players have fun and get better all at once is to send them to summer camps. Once the season ends, some players will not pick up their sticks again until the next season starts. Remedy this problem by encouraging them to attend summer camp(s). Pro and college players and coaches work at camps all around the country, so find a good one and get that young man registered!
Do your best to ensure that the kids in your program learn to play the game the right way from the very beginning. But also work to create a fun environment so that young players want to come out to the field. This is the surest way to keep them coming back and bringing all their buddies year after year.
Create Coaching Consistency
A must-have for any youth program is coaching consistency. Coaches that are dedicated to their craft and show up every day enthusiastic about teaching the game and helping kids improve are vital to your program. From the kids’ perspective, new coaching every season (or worse, in-season) sends the message to them that the coaches don’t care about the players and aren’t even as committed as the kids themselves.
The coaches you hire don’t have to be former college All-Americans (although that definitely helps), they just need to be dedicated people who love the game of lacrosse, and want to grow as coaches. Young kids can sometimes be difficult to handle, so do your best to make sure that your coaches have previous experience working with children.
Ask your coaches to commit up front to at least two consecutive years of coaching in your new program. Having a great coach for one year, and then an inferior one the next year doesn’t do much for the program, or your players’ ability to build on the instruction they receive.
Find Field Space
One of the biggest challenges to new teams and programs is a lack of available field space. In many regions, youth soccer is so overwhelmingly popular that every available field in the city will be hosting soccer practice or games on a daily basis.
Many cities now invest in multi-purpose synthetic turf athletic fields for community sports teams. Get in touch with your local parks and recreation department and ask that a field be lined for lacrosse, both men’s and women’s. Write as many letters and emails and make as many phone calls as possible. When city officials realize how committed you are, they will be forced to take you more seriously.
Reach out for Resources
Since lacrosse equipment can sometimes cost a pretty penny, it can be tough to get as many new players involved as you might prefer. Sometimes when a family can’t afford the initial cost of buying new gear, they will be hesitant to enroll their child in a youth program. The U.S. Lacrosse organization offers grants for new teams to purchase a team set of equipment and eliminate the high initial cost of gear. U.S. Lacrosse awards $20,000 grants to new teams just looking to get on their feet.
Another way to subsidize costs is to find a local business sponsor. Many teams hang banners at games featuring their team logo. A corporate sponsor’s logo can easily be printed on one of these banners, or a logo can be placed somewhere on your team’s uniforms.
When it comes to fundraising for your program, there are a few simple and fun things you can organize to raise money. Letter writing campaigns are a quick and easy way to reach out to people outside your community who may be willing to donate. A local car wash event on a hot day can be a blast for the kids and can make some good money. Be creative with your fundraising efforts and make sure to have a good treasurer to manage your program’s finances. And for more ideas, be sure to check out the guide, “Fundraising Ideas for Your Lacrosse Team” (link to the right).
Partake in PE
Some programs initially have trouble drawing enough players to field a team or build the program long-term. It’s likely that these programs haven’t gotten out into the schools to find new players. Most local elementary and middle schools are happy to have a coach or representative come to their PE class and introduce a new sport to eager young minds.
Lacrosse can be a very easy sell (especially to pre-pubescent boys) because its fast-paced action and frequent stick whacking are appealing to many youngsters. Have a few players accompany the coach to the PE class, and give the students a sneak peek into the game of lacrosse. Do a little shooting and checking demonstration. Bring a set of equipment with you, and the fans of football or hockey will instantly have their interests piqued.
A good way to supplement your in-class demo is to send flyers home with the kids advertising the sport and your team. Appeal to parents by pointing out that lacrosse offers students many excellent college scholarship opportunities, as well as the rate at which the sport is growing on a national level. Do your best to draw athletes from other sports to your program, without pressuring them to quit other teams to focus solely on lacrosse.
Getting on Top and Staying There
The success of a new lacrosse program is all about participation. The more kids you have, the better. Good athletes will start to show themselves as budding players early on, and you should quickly have some players to build your program around. The effort you’ll have to put in to recruit new players at first may seem like too large of a commitment, but once you’ve got the team up and rolling, you should see positive results quickly.