I’ll always remember the first recruiting call.
Coach – This is Coach “Smooth Talker” from The “Elite Lacrosse Club”. I wanted to talk to you about your son.
Me – Really, my son?
Coach – Yes, absolutely. We were incredibly impressed with his tryout. He’s a natural. You can see it in his eyes, he’s something special. In fact, we feel like he’s exactly the type of player that will excel with the Elite Lacrosse Club. We’d like him to be part of our program this year.
Me – Wow, that’s great. I’d really like to discuss it with my son and my wife before committing.
Coach – Sir, this is an incredible honor for your son that many other players would love to have. Our program can take him to the next level, through the recruiting process, develop him as an elite player that can achieve great things, even possibly on to the collegiate level.
Me – You do realize that he’s a 3rd grader, don’t you???
It’s that time of year again for travel lacrosse tryouts up and down the East Coast. You get the emails, inviting your child to take a shot at joining the best, the most elite, the most advanced program. There is no doubt that youth sports, lacrosse included, have become a big business. They’re all targeting players as young as first grade and navigating through all the noise can be a huge challenge for any parent.
As a family we’ve seen the good and the bad of the travel experience. We’ve spent thousands on big name programs and we’ve been part of an upstart program’s inaugural season. And our experiences, combined with those of friends and family within the travel lacrosse circle, have taught us 5 important lessons that any family can take with them into the travel lacrosse tryout process.
- Ask where your money is going – Travel lacrosse is a booming business and you’re going to make a significant investment to play – that makes you a customer. And just like with any other business, a customer has rights and expectations or they can choose to go elsewhere. If you’re considering a program, ask how your fees are applied for your youth player compared to older players on the recruiting and showcase teams. There’s nothing wrong with youth sports programs being for profit businesses with paid coaches. But if you’re being asked to pay the same tuition for a 4th grader compared to an 8th or 9th grade player, understand why that is.
- Beware of the “Elite Program” – The are some incredibly elite lacrosse teams in the Philadelphia area, and they send some of the area’s best high schoolers on to college every year. But we’re talking about Elementary school players here. And if you really want to see what an “elite” second grade player looks like, you’ve got a better chance of finding the Loch Ness Monster playing checkers with Big Foot. In short, there is no such thing. Clubs use “Elite” as a marketing tag line as a way to hook parents looking for the best opportunity for their budding star. But be sure to test the claim. For your child’s specific age group, simply ask how they did last year. Don’t let them change the subject and talk about their 7th grade team or how exceptional their 5th grade squad is. Ask them specifically about the team your child is trying out for. Life’s not all about wins and losses, but if you find yourself trying out for an “Elite” team that lost as many games as they won last summer, maybe you should think twice about what else they’re telling you.
- At This Age, It’s About Individual Teams, Not Programs – Travel clubs promote the best programs, the best coaches, the best facilities, etc… But at the end of the day the only thing that matters to a parent is the team that your child will be playing on. It doesn’t matter what the 2019 team did last weekend or who will be coaching the 2021’s. If your child is a 2025 and that team’s coach is a part time college kid or the roster has 30+ kids on it, you’re probably going to have a less than optimal experience. On the flip side, you may find a program that’s a second tier program but you fall in love with the coach for your child’s age level. Don’t get caught up with the jersey your child is wearing, just focus on finding the right individual team for your family.
- Watch for the Bait & Switch – Travel clubs love to promote their “Best.” This may be their best coaches, their best teams, but the message is always centered around the features that they believe set them apart. But beware, just because a club has the “best” doesn’t mean your child’s age group will get the “best.” Some of you will attend tryouts later this summer and go through a welcome session or orientation with the marquee personalities of a given program – maybe a legend in the local lacrosse scene or a team of former All Americans and Professional players. You’ll be impressed, you’ll get excited, you write a deposit and then a few weeks later you’ll meet your son’s coach – Joey Just Out of College, a really nice kid who’s earning his stripes by coaching the little guys. Unfortunately for Joey, he has no experience managing a program, no real experience interacting with today’s youth sports parent, and you are all collectively left to learn together while the marquee personalities are working with the older age groups. It’s a recipe for frustration and one that gets repeated over and over every year for too many families.
- Get to Know Your Child’s Coach – At the end of the day, this is the only thing that matters. Thriving as a youth player is 100% dependent on the coach(es) that will teach your child. These people will set the tone for your child’s learning process, they will cultivate their enthusiasm, they will help your child develop core skills appropriate for their age and if they’re really good, they’ll make it all fun. A good coach will instill a sense of excitement that will motivate your child to carry their stick around all the time and a bad coaching situation will drive them right out of the sport. So when you get to tryouts this year, ask who your child’s coach will be. Don’t settle for indirect answers, find out who will be on the sidelines to praise your child when they succeed and correct them when they falter. Ask them for 5 minutes of their time and get to know them. You are the customer here, and you deserve to know.
The travel lacrosse tryout cycle is a confusing time for many families of young players. But despite the noise, this isn’t the most important decision of your life – not even close. At the end of the day, it’s about expanding opportunities for our kids to pursue a sport that they love, and that should always be the driver for choosing a program.
Parent of 2 boys, 2025 and 2028
Director, Olde English Lacrosse Club