By Eric Davis
Thinking about starting, or helping to start, a lacrosse team? This guide is specifically based on starting a post collegiate "recreational" club, but will be helpful to anyone starting a high school, college club or youth team as well. Here you will find descriptions of the struggles you may encounter as well as tips and advice that will make your job easier. Starting up a team takes some luck, but it really requires the kind of dedication that will keep you pushing, and pushing until you have the satisfaction of fielding a team for your first ever game.
Many of the ideas presented here are drawn from the formation of a new club team in the Kansas City, Missouri area, 4 Winds Lacrosse. Made up of several alumni from Kansas State University, the team has been eight months in the making, and is still trying to get on its feet. Because of the differences in geographical location, some particular things may or may not apply to your team, but many of the general concepts of getting started are universal, such as finding a place to play, acquiring the equipment you will need, and recruiting your players.
We will start with the most important element of any team, the players.
The first and most important thing to remember about recruiting
for your team is that the process never stops. Realizing this, you have to start somewhere to build your team. Most club players played at a collegiate level, and there is a good likelihood that some of your former teammates have relocated to the same area as you. A great resource is your college alumni association. A phone call here may save a lot of wrong number calls you will make later, as you pick out familiar names from the phone book.
Another good resource is your former team. Often times they will keep alumni records for fundraising and alumni games. There is also the possibility that someone on the current team may be graduating and moving to your area. You should also contact all the lacrosse programs in your area. This may be a tall order for some of you on the east coast, but how else will you know who is coming out of school?
Based on experience, you will have much better success if you can develop a "core" of committed individuals such as yourself, who will help you with recruiting, as well as a few other things discussed later on. This core group of players often will know someone who knows someone who plays lacrosse. There have been several players added by this word-of-mouth method.
Besides the word-of-mouth, the Internet is a great marketing tool for your team. Find a free website host and slap a page together using MS Publisher or something similar. Steal code from E-lacrosse pages to get started if you like. Something crude will do at first, and later you can upgrade it (or delegate it to another team member). Ask the league you plan to participate in if they have a website, and if they do, ask them to link your site. Even if you can't join the league right away, it's important to get your name out there. In addition to your league, most metro areas have their own websites. Here is another opportunity to link your web page to a high volume of readers. And, of course, send your team link to E-Lacrosse.
In addition to your website, post, post, post! Get on at least two or three message boards and post a link to your site or your e-mail address. You'll be surprised at how many lacrosse players are on-line and just looking for a team. Some good resources are here on E-Lacrosse forums page, the US Lacrosse message board, and the alt.sport.lacrosse newsgroup.
Finally, there are lots of opportunities to get involved with
your local community to promote your team. With fall upon us, there are many festivals and other outdoor activities where you may be able to score a free booth or table where you can set up a demonstration and a TV/VCR with some wicked lacrosse action like the E-Lacrosse Rage on the Cage tape. A TV showing sports is guaranteed to stop any male walking by.
You really must recruit nearly a full team before you secure a home field, and there are several reasons why. If there are only four or five of you, you don't need the hassle or expense of keeping up a field. This does not refer to mowing or fertilizing, but the reality of a sue-happy society that forces teams to carry INSURANCE. This can be the biggest pain for a new team, and you need to examine a few options that will be presented later. Play at a local park until you have enough interest that you are either: 1) hosting a game, or, 2) teaching new players full-field lacrosse. Once you have either of those conditions, you will begin to call upon the strengths of your fellow teammates. (This will be a repeated theme - watch for it)
Many times someone will be serving on a volunteer board in the community or may have a relative who is doing so. This is an opportunity for you to drop a name when you call the local city Parks and Recreation department. Not only will dropping the name help, sometimes (not always) the department will work with you closer than they would with a run-of-the mill softball or soccer league. If no one on the team has such contacts, you are just going to have to call "on your own".
When you talk with the Parks official, there are a few things to remember. The first is that this individual is envisioning a worst-case scenario the second you start the conversation. Visions of lawsuits and bankrupt parks departments will arise at the mere mention of our sport. So, secondly, do not become insulted or take it personally when you are required to prove that you have insurance. The city is just looking out for its own interest. Insurance can be expensive, so ask if you can "rent" the field. This will often put you and your team under the city's insurance (so you can't sue them). If they are unwilling, don't sweat it. US Lacrosse has joined with an insurance provider, and now has a couple of options that should make any municipality happy. Contact them, and as part of their "New Start" program, they will send you this information.
Don't make unrealistic demands for the times and days you want the field. Understand that there are a lot of activities that occur on every field in every community. Be willing to be flexible, and hope for the best. Give back to the Parks department if you think it will help your situation, like volunteering to maintain (this time meaning mowing and trash collection) your field.
Realize right here and now that no equipment manufacturer is going to help you by donating equipment. It's a catch 22. They want to grow the sport, but equipment is where they make their money. It simply will not happen, at least here in the Midwest. Some retailers offer team discounts and team start-up packages. Try Bacharach or Lax World and tell the E-Lacrosse sent you!
As we all know, for a new player, purchasing equipment can be a major hardship and the costs of new jerseys, shorts, nets and goals are a drain on everyone's wallet. Put all these together, and you have some major obstacles standing in the way of recruiting new players. Here again, you need to enlist the help of your teammates. Many players have an old Hi-Wall that doesn't shoot as well as their new Proton, or an Ultralite that's been replaced by a Cascade. Ask these players if they would "loan" this old or out-dated equipment to the team. If they are willing, you could have enough gear to outfit another 4 or 5 players. Buy a duck decoy bag, and keep the team equipment in it. Bring it to every practice, and pass out the equipment at the start, and collect it at the end.
If there is a shortage of extra equipment you should consider collecting $20 or $30 from everyone and going on-line to sites such as the E-Lacrosse equipment classifieds or E-Bay to see if there is used equipment that could suit your needs. Again, everyone on the team should realize the importance of recruiting new players (especially young midfielders with fresh legs) and giving them an opportunity to fall in love with the game before emptying their bank accounts.
Other team equipment that you will need to purchase will include nets and goals, balls, sideline and corner cones, chalk for marking the field, a game clock, and there are other innumerable small items that are needed to host a game, like medical tape, a screwdriver, and so on. You'll learn what these are as you go.
After outlining all the things a new lacrosse team needs to have, you have probably already done some math and found out that starting a team takes just as much money as it does dedication. This brings us to the issue that can cause hard feelings quicker than anything else - dues. Make them too high, and you tick people off, make them too low, and you'll end up dipping into your savings account.
The best method for establishing and collecting dues seems to involve a couple of things. First, make sure that you can either cover all of your expenses with the dues, or make sure that you plan a fundraiser to cover the shortfall. Second, hit your players up for dues when they are so fired up about playing that they won't mind paying a little bit for it. Those couple of weeks right before the season starts, and after a month of practices would be a good time. Always remember that not everyone can afford to drop 70 or 80 bucks out of one paycheck and be flexible in collecting the amount. Flexible about when you get the whole amount, but firm in making sure that the team eventually gets it.
Finally, we arrive at the holy grail of club lacrosse - the SPONSORSHIP. Writing from a Midwest perspective, sponsorships are pretty rare for a lacrosse team. The team that does have a sponsor in the local league only gets enough money to pay the league dues, and little else. Perhaps it is not as difficult in different areas of the country, but even if it is relatively easy, there are still a few things you should keep in mind when you pitch your team to a potential sponsor. The potential sponsor is looking for a return on their investment. If they give you $500, they want to get $500 (and then some) in new business by your team's advertising. Make your team seem like such a great opportunity that sponsoring you would be a no-brainer. Another thing to remember is the sponsor will most likely want you to wear their name. (How else do they advertise?) If you can't give up your team's name, at least do everything else you can to promote your sponsor. Give them an opportunity to sell at your games, link them on your web page, do volunteer work for them, whatever. Just remember to look at it from their perspective and realize that any sponsorship should benefit both parties. Local restaurants and bars are usually interested if you gather after each game to eat and drink at their establishment.
Good luck in starting your team, and hopefully you can take on this challenge without making a costly mistake. Anyone can start a team, it just takes the dedication to see it through. One last tip - US Lacrosse's New Start Program is a pretty good resource for newly forming club teams. There is a lot of extraneous information in the packet, but there are also some good ideas and the contacts that are provided are really useful. Contact your US Lacrosse chapter representative and they will get the packet out to you right away.
See you on the field!
Do you have experiences and tips you'd like to share with E-Lacrosse readers who are starting lacrosse teams? Send them here and we'll post them!