LACROSSE CAMPS: Are They Out Of Control?

By Michael Spinner

It was nine years ago when I made one of the wisest investments of my life. A High School Junior, I worked early mornings for an entire summer to pay for a trip to what was considered the nation’s premiere lacrosse camp run by a coaching living legend. I had heard about the splendor of Richie Moran’s Cornell Lacrosse Camp for years, and in my final summer of lacrosse camp attendance, I was not going to be denied the opportunity to experience what everybody I knew had been talking about.

Richie Moran is still teaching the game. He was Team Ireland's coach in Perth

It was the best example of “money well spent” I could think of. Not only was the camp well run and the instruction fantastic, but the atmosphere was just incredible. That week, I developed what will be an eternal admiration of Richie Moran as his enthusiasm for the sport, love of the people involved, and passion for young athletes was crystal clear. By the end of the week, he seemed to know everybody’s name and he took every moment he could to help with the instruction. His daily calls for chants of “it’s great to be here,” and his desire to play lacrosse at Yankee Stadium when baseball went on strike were well taken by the campers and antics such as a presentation of the “Park School” song by Coach Moran and an elderly staff member of his are memories of the week I will never forget.

Camps can be the highlight of your summer!

Was there talk of recruiting? Sure there was, but it was casual. There were dozens of good college coaches there and I distinctly remember my team being coached by former Notre Dame Assistant and current MLL big-wig Tim Shea (Tim and I had a conversation about that week of camp last summer at a Bridgeport Barrage game). But, Cornell lacrosse camp was anything but a “meat market” for recruiting. It was a week for instruction, competition, and love of the game.

Less than a decade later, the world of lacrosse camps has taken on a different tone and I hardly think that campers will enjoy the memories I do nine years from now. The lacrosse camp, and the recruitment opportunity it provides, has become a major money-maker for coaches…and at the expense of kids, as well.

Boys' and girls' camps are increasing in popularity

It seems that today, particularly in men’s lacrosse, a coach can put the words “Top, Best, Elite, Peak, Blue Chip,” or anything advertising the very best in lacrosse talent on a camp, invite a few college coaches to attend, and kids flock to campus to be recruited. Some pay $500-$600 for less than a week of work. Most of these camps involve nothing more than glorified league play for the sessions offered and the instruction is minimal at best. At some point, there is an All-Star Game where the best of the bunch get to showcase their talents and hope for future recruitment/scholarship opportunities.

It is called “free enterprise” and it is a legitimate means of income for college coaches. After all, very few lacrosse coaches at the college level enjoy truly comfortable income and the camp is the way for them to supplement what is pretty poor salary compared to the numbers of hours spent on the job. There is nothing wrong with a coach wanting to engage in this enterprise…the problem is the impact on the kids.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to work several camps renowned for recruiting opportunities. By the time July rolled into August, I myself could barely stand the site of a lacrosse stick anymore. I was burnt out, sun-baked, and tired…and I had not played in a game all summer. Somehow, I saw some of the same faces at nearly every camp I worked—some kids went to two, three, and four camps with the hopes of recruitment glory. That’s up to four weeks (in a five-week span) in the hot sun, playing hours of games a day, eating the worst food for an athlete, and sleeping in a hot, dirty dorm room. You ask the kids why they would spend thousands of dollars per summer and live in such misery and the answers were commonly—“college recruiting.”

Look for camps with small staff to camper ratios.

One camp in particular that is run by a large group of High School Coaches, the kids who play at the schools who’s coaches run the camps are forced to go to the camp, “or else.” Sure, the camp is advertised for recruiting, but in this case the kids must go if they ever want to play for the varsity team at their school. The fact that their coaches pocket a wad of cash for each kid who signs up is perhaps a great motivator for the coaches to get their kids to go.

All of this is a prime example of a camp scene that has spun out of control and, in the end, the kids are the ones who are losing out. For the “elite” players, the camps are a wonderful showcase of their talents…but what about the average lacrosse player? Do 4-6 weeks of camp really make them better lacrosse players or put them in a better position to be recruited? In the end, probably not. But the camps simply collect their money and put them on the field.

They're sporting the new REBEL/STX Uniforms!

Again, there is nothing wrong with free enterprise and the opportunities at recruitment are legitimate…but at the same time, don’t we owe it to the athletes to at least be honest with them? There will be the point where recruiting camps are a summer-long thing and any time a camp advertises recruiting opportunities, there will be a line of kids, checks in hand, willing to pay to be showcased. Many or most of these kids would benefit much more if they would spend their money on an instruction camp—but coaches seem to be forgetting that. Yes—instructional camps still do exist, but their enrollment has waned a bit because of the presence of these meat-markets. It seems that the reason behind camps in the first place—instruction and fun—has been replaced by dollar signs and college dreams.

The camp “industry” has evolved to the point where there are some coaches who will not recruit an athlete who does not attend their camp. While this is not such a common thing (yet), I coach a pretty competitive High School Girls team where several of my athletes are Division I prospects. The number of times I have been told that a college coach will “not recruit an athlete” unless they attend that coach’s camp or “we do almost all of our recruiting from our camp” is shocking and it makes me sick. Of course a coach wants to think that way—if a kid goes to their camp, the coach needs not leave their home to recruit and they earn extra money as well—a major bonus. But to tell a kid they have to do this if they want the opportunity to attend a certain school is simply extortion and it is wrong. And, the kids listen to these coaches—they have no choice if they want to play for the school of their choice.

Actual instruction from the game's best is invaluable.

In the end, the business of the lacrosse camp is not accomplishing what it should be—the kids are not being instructed but are being pushed in the wrong direction. It is an atmosphere that has spun out of control and it is unfortunate because the people getting hurt are the ones who make this industry—the kids with their high hopes and dreams. For $500-$600 a kid deserves a lot more than a league and a game or two in front of college coaches. Entire summer league fees for adults are often 600 to 800 PER TEAM. If the athlete in question is not becoming a better lacrosse player despite paying hundreds of dollars, these “camps” should be called the showcases they are to at least avoid misleading the hopefuls. As they are now, they benefit only the best players and the coaches making the money.

Learn what you can at camp, but always have fun!

The Photos above are by John Strohsacker and other E-Lacrosse Staff. They are of two instructional camps run by Tom Ryan and Tom Marachek and Champ Camp at which teams come in tact to participate with coaches either as an extension of the High School team experience or regional selected teams. Both of these models are positive experiences and provide instruction while still availing recruitment exposure without concentrating on it.

July 20, 2002

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