A candid and insightful blog post by a former D1 assistant coach

As a High School/Youth coach and President of a non profit lacrosse organization. I receive emails and questions about the recruiting process weekly. As a coach I have a responsibility to my players and parents to provide honest information. The blog post below is a very interesting and candid look at what is occurring in the lacrosse recruiting world.

TUESDAY, JUNE 26, 2012 AT 2:00PM
“Summer, summer, summertime
Time to sit back and unwind
Here it is the groove slightly transformed
Just a bit of a break from the norm
Just a little somethin’ to break the monotony
Of all that hardcore dance that has gotten to be
A little bit out of control it’s cool to dance
But what about the groove that soothes that moves romance
Give me a soft subtle mix
And if ain’t broke then don’t try to fix it”

- Fresh Prince AKA Will Smith 

Summertime…that means BBQs and pools and beaches and bikinis and free time! The summer is supposed to be all fun and games, right? Umm…wrong. For myself, most lacrosse players and their parents, the beautiful summer season means club teams, camps, tournaments and travel. And that could be a lot of fun, but unfortunately, “it’s a jungle out there”. For a lot of people in our community, the summer means pressure to win tournaments and find their sons a scholarship or get recruited. 

The tournaments and camps that should be enjoyable for everyone, feel like a battle ground with hostility between parents, kids, officials and coaches. It’s kind of a huge buzz kill on the whole notion of summertime! I was just up in Vail (one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in the world) last week for the U13 and U15 tournaments with our club teams, and coaches and parents were screaming, ranting and raving at each other like they were in separate Juarez gangs. All of this seriously makes me consider getting away from it all. I should have listened to the Fresh Prince and followed his advice on what to do in the summertime…

The reason for this environment that we have created in the summer is due to a lot of misconceptions by parents and players and manipulation by lacrosse programs and coaches. Instead of just using these summer events as opportunities for everyone to have a good time and play lacrosse, we have turned them into a means to an end. That end in sight is to get recruited or earn a scholarship somewhere. However, I have bad news for a lot of you out there, that storybook ending is most likely not going to come to fruition for most players.

Perhaps, I am hypocrite for bringing this up and saying this. My full disclosure is that I run our Denver Elite teams, our DU team tournament and 205 West lacrosse camp. I make a chunk of my living off of those events and services. For the most part, people sign up for these things in hopes of getting recruited because we provide exposure in front of college coaches for the players. To hope fulfill that wish, I do my best to get our teams to some of the biggest tournaments and get coaches out to our events. 

Here’s the problem though, for both you and me : there are close to 100,000 high school senior lacrosse players graduating every year. There are about 60 Division I college teams which means there are about 720 spots on those teams for an incoming freshman class. That’s less than one percent of all the players out there!!! Your chance of earning a scholarship is even less! Those teams have a TOTAL of 12.6 scholarships for all four graduating classes on their teams. Lacrosse is not football where almost every player on the team gets a full ride. An absolute star Division I lacrosse player might be getting $10,000 to $30,000 in scholarship money per year and then having to pay the difference, depending on the school he is going to. 

Now there are over 600 more Division II, Division III and MCLA teams so that means there are some more spots out there to play. But, in case you do not know, those teams do not have scholarships. So, there are another six to seven thousand more opportunities out there for lacrosse players to continue on in college, but that is only six to seven percent of the total high school senior lacrosse player population!

This might be bad for my own businesses but I don’t really care. I would rather be honest than manipulate and make money off of people. If you are a parent out there and you think all of these camps and tournaments are a good “investment” because of the recruiting opportunities, then think again. When recruiting camps and tournaments first started in the nineties, only the most elite players were being invited or were on club teams. What happened was that these players (myself included in the mid-nineties) got recruited to play lacrosse for the top colleges after going to these events. Then, these tournaments turned it around on everyone and said, “Hey! Our tournament helped these kids get recruited. You should come too!”. Now, there are so many tournaments and so many club teams that they are all diluted. College coaches now have to travel all sumer long basically looking for a needle in the haystack.

How do you know if your son is college lacrosse material? I think people need to look at these statistics and be honest with themselves. Basically, if your son is going to be a Division I prospect, you are going to KNOW it. There are going to be people telling him that he is the greatest thing since sliced bread from eighth grade and on. He will be the best player on his team or one of them, depending on where he plays and he will most likely be considered one of the top players in his state. The bottom line is, you will not be asking people if your son can play DI, people will be telling you that he can. If he wants to play DII, DIII or MCLA ball, he better be very, very good. There is so much talent out there now that all those divisions are filled with great lacrosse players. There is no easy entry into playing college ball anymore.

So, why am I telling you all this? Well, these are the questions that many parents have been asking me all summer so they are on my mind. Secondly, this whole system that is in place right now is a complete and utter mess and I feel like something needs to be said. There are tons of tournaments and camps and tons of kids playing at them all over the place. There are college coaches sitting in their cars or in airplanes hoping they get lucky and pick the right places to go to find the top talent. There is no rhyme or reason to any of this, except for one thing. The people that run these tournaments are banking on the hopes and dreams of getting recruited to play college lacrosse. The NCAA college coaches should do something about it to get it all under control, but they won’t…there is too much money on the table. 

At the University of Denver, we have started to change our focus on what the summer lacrosse experience can mean for our participants. This is why we have started to focus my efforts on my Denver Elite teams in helping them have a fun and educational experience. We talk about life lessons after every practice and our players do a small homework assignment based on these lessons. We want their experience to be more than about getting recruited because we know that may not happen for many of them. We want them to have a fulfilling experience in which they learn about themselves, grow as people and have a great summer together. If they happen to get recruited in the process, then fantastic! We believe that this helps turn the experience into one of the greatest investments that a parent could ever make for their son.

The recruiting camps and tournaments that we run are another story. We simply try to do our best to put on a great tournament that is well organized and enjoyable for everyone. We try to get as many coaches to attend as possible, so the players that show up have a chance to be seen. However, it weighs on my conscience knowing that the vast majority of players there have little chance of playing in college. At the same time though, there are dozens of lacrosse players that we have helped find homes through these programs. Finally, we do our best so that it is a great experience for all of our participants regardless of whether they get recruited it or not.

Maybe this is like the Pepsi CEO saying something like, “You know what? Our soda is an awesome tasting product, but you might not want to drink it more than once a week or month.” Or a Toyota executive admitting, “Yeah, our shiny new expensive Lexus is a pretty sweet ride, but we are coming out with a new version next year and once it gets dirty, you will realize that it has not made you any happier. You should probably just buy a Toyota Camry, which is basically the same car and will get you from point A to point B.” Man, I would pay anything to see a commercial like that!

Basically, what I am trying to explain is this…lacrosse tournaments and camps are a great way for your sons to go out, have a great time together and learn about themselves. But, if you are using them solely as an “investment” to help get your son into college or help them gain a scholarship somewhere, you better damn well have someone telling you that your son is a great player who could definitely play in college. You better know that your son is in that top ten percent for him to have any chance at all. For the absolute elite level players, they are an essential way to be seen by coaches and get recruited. 

So, really the power to fix this system is in the hands of the players and parents. Everyone has to be honest with themselves and be able to give themselves an honest grade of where they stand or get someone who can. If you are a top player, then go for it and try to get in front of as many coaches as you can. If you’re not, then you would be better off paying all that money to find a trainer and a coach to work with you all sumer and make you a better player for the next season if playing in college is a dream and goal of yours. At the very least, we can all change our perspectives on what these summer events mean and gear them toward player and character development, instead of searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Otherwise, just save your cash and enjoy summer with some BBQs with friends at the pool. And send me an invite while your at it…I’m not sure how long I can be part of this fiasco unless we all change our perspective on what this all means and why we are all doing it.