The Stories That Matter Most To The Utah Lacrosse Community

Bicker's Soap Box: What Does it Mean to Grow the Game?

Grow the Game ShirtAs lacrosse grows and evolves in Utah, the term “Grow The Game” is being thrown around frequently. The slogan, as it pertains to lacrosse was originally coined by Lacrosse All-Stars circa 2010 and has been used to promote the growth of the sport all over the world. According to an article published Nov. 8, 2010 on laxallstars.com, the “Grow The Game” project began with those simple words on a t-shirt with one goal in mind; make the game bigger. It is my intention to analyze the “Grow The Game” concept and describe what it truly means for the Utah lacrosse community.
To me, “Grow The Game” means developing a culture which promotes positive and healthy advancement of lacrosse with a focus on building character and improving the level of play. Lacrosse continues to grow and the potential to become financially or selfishly driven is evident. In order to continue the positive growth of lacrosse, we, as a community, need to remove barriers to entry, improve the overall product, and bring more awareness and exposure for the game.
Most people measure growth of the game by sheer number of players. But, I would also consider the number of lacrosse community members giving back to their community, specifically the lacrosse community, as a reflection of truly growing the game. The lacrosse community needs more of everything: more players, more coaches, more officials, more fields, more volunteers, more board members, more team administrators, and more fans. If you have ever said, “we need to Grow The Game”, take a second and ask yourself, what are you doing to fill a need?
As the game is being exposed to more kids via MLL and NCAA games on ESPNU, YouTube clips, and even gym class, the number of youth players continues to increase. Will we be able to provide quality coaching so our players can excel on the field? Can we provide quality officials to keep the game safe? Can we provide training for parents so they can form a board to guide the team in a successful direction? All of these positions are necessary and the opportunities are available. While talking about needing people to give back to the sport, Utah Lacrosse Association Boys Program Coordinator, Bryan Frates, says, “The future of Utah lacrosse is in their hands. Although not every player is a great coach [or official], if they are willing to put the effort in by taking classes and utilizing the resources that are provided to them, they can become great coaches [or officials].”
It doesn’t take an economics major to see that the demand for coaches and officials is exceeding the supply. In order to be able to successfully grow the game, the demand not only needs to be met, but needs to be met by people who are willing to continue to learn and get better. It’s one thing to have a parent, who has never played lacrosse, step up to coach his or her child’s team but it is something else to have an experienced and knowledgeable coach. Too often, players come back to coach and expect a large paycheck. Newsflash: there is basically no money in coaching lacrosse, especially at the youth level. This presents a problem when it comes to attracting and retaining talented youth coaches. However, when it comes to growing the game successfully the youth coaches can have tremendous influence.
I’m sure there are countless solutions to this problem but I’ll present two that come to mind. First, more college players can come back and volunteer their time by helping with local youth teams. Although their coaching abilities will probably be lacking, their knowledge of the game will undoubtedly be beneficial. Second, more parents who are stepping up to coach can improve their knowledge of the game by attending US Lacrosse classes, lacrosse coaching conventions, talking to the high school coaches and sitting in on practices, and really putting in time to learn the sport. Teaching young players the correct fundamentals at early stages will allow the high school coaches to use their knowledge to improve the level of play. I’ve spoken with too many coaches who spend excessive amounts of time in practice simply teaching passing and catching rather than teaching offensive schemes, creating matchups, defensive packages, ten man rides, or other higher level concepts.
When I traveled to Philadelphia last winter one of the field sessions I watched was about clearing. When I got to the half turf demo field a bunch of kids were tossing the ball around and I figured they would get off the field when the demonstration was going to start. Nope. These 3rd and 4th graders were following instructions from their coach about stretching the field, proper spacing, turning to the outside, reversing the field and, in the end, when and how to double on a ride. I know our youth players at that age are not practicing clears and rides to that extent because when I’m reffing I would guess that 75% of the time the goalie heaves the ball towards midfield. My point is that we need to focus on improving the level of play at the youth if we want to grow to have more successful high school players.
Once the level of play begins to improve and Utah starts having more players continue their lacrosse career in college the reputation for the sport will grow. The sport is still new in Utah and the majority of people don’t even know about lacrosse. What people do associate lacrosse with is spoiled east coast kids, private schools, drugs and partying, laxbros and other negative stereotypes. When asked about growing the game, Tim Haslam, ULA Man of the Year 2012 and laxallstars.com Game Grower of the Month: Oct 2012, says, ” It’s about erasing negative connotations and stigmas associated with lacrosse. It’s helping new players gain a love of the game and help veterans continue to love the game.” This begins with the examples that coaches, administrators, officials, and parents set for the players. We want our players to be examples in the community and proud of the sport they represent. Hold yourself and/ or your team to higher standards and people outside the lacrosse community will take notice.
If you are interested in becoming an official, coach or board member contact the Utah Lacrosse Association. Don’t let your busy schedule or inexperience with the game hold you back. Coaches can always use someone to back up shots at practice once a week, work the score table during games, or organize one fundraiser. Leagues are always looking for officials who are willing to learn. Basically, if you truly want the game to progress, you can help.
I’ve only introduced what I see as essentials to growing the game. There are certainly several other aspects that influence growth of lacrosse but I think it starts at the youth and creating a culture that develops good players and better people. So what does “Grow The Game” mean to you? What do you see as obstacles and more importantly, how do you propose to overcome those obstacles?

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