Is Lacrosse Evolving
Into A Program Sport?

By Gordon Boone

Until recently I thought training for lacrosse was pretty extensive. With all the club teams, school teams, recreational summer leagues, year round tournaments, indoor, camps, etc., that's a lot of lacrosse. But as I have watched my own son advance in both high school lacrosse and football, I have concluded that my assumption was wrong. High school lacrosse doesn't hold a candle to football regarding productive preparation. What I was also surprised to learn is that lacrosse is not "King" in many high schools, even in the Baltimore metro area. And some of these school names may surprise you, but Gilman, Loyola, McDonogh in the MIAA and Arundel, Broadneck, Hereford, Perry Hall and River Hill in the public league are all really football schools now.

For more than 2 years I have witnessed my son's football experience at perennial powerhouse Hereford High School in Parkton, Maryland and envisioned a possible future of high school lacrosse.

My son actually entered the Hereford Program 3 months before he entered the school and his focus has been very simple: keep the grades up and win the State Championship. That's it.

So what is a Program? Well it's a well thought out component system that includes: constant weight training, footwork and aerobic training, film study, hours of repetition of fundamentals and technique, team building events, mental preparation, and parent participation that is year-round. And what's really crazy is there is no burn out, only passion.

In the Summer (mid-June through July) there was a four day team instructional camp, footwork & endurance training for a minimum of 2 days per week, weightlifting 3 days per week, and Captain's workouts 1 day per week for the balance of the summer.

In season (August through December) his days consists of pre-class morning meetings, classes, watching film during lunch, more classes, a 3 hour practice, dinner, core weight lifting, shower, homework, some Madden, sleep - REPEAT.

Games are the reward for all that hard work and preparation and have real value because there are only 10 in regular season with the potential for up to 4 playoff games. Because the games have real value the attendance (2,000+) and community support is great. And kids also love to play in front of big crowds. Attendance at most lacrosse games is weak at best because there's too many and they don't have serious value.

The Hereford coach's true gift is managing these young attitudes. He reviews and teaches them on Monday & Tuesday, then breaks them down on Wednesday, builds them up and challenges them on Thursday, and on game day they explode. It's all by design and it works. Also the mental preparation is incredible. Before one of my son's big games he surprised me when he knew everything about the All Metro kid he was going up against, including all his tendencies and how to counter, his girlfriend's & parents names, what kind of car he drove, and all his prior injuries.

In the Spring (March though May) there's weight lifting 3 times per week and lacrosse practice each day. There are also a least 2 football combines that measure speed, strength, and agility. Oh yeah, and 15 plus lacrosse games.

So what does all this have to do with lacrosse?

Presently a lot of lacrosse people think a high school player just needs to run a bit and play year round to be ready. Outside of University Lacrosse, no one teaches or seriously trains kids after rec until college. For example, most kids in the MIAA are basically considered finished products by some coaches when they're 15. And if they're not ready, they're discarded.

In the old days of lacrosse, there weren't 20 games per season, 5 games per tournament, 5 tournaments per year, and 15 indoor games. Training was unheard of and training rules were a joke. And while the sport was much more fun and fraternal then, the sports' huge growth is forcing change.

Outside of traditional lacrosse hotbeds many burgeoning lacrosse teams have had only the football program to model themselves after. The program model is why out of state teams can now come into hot-beds like Baltimore and be competitive without having anywhere near the experience or so-called talent to do so. I began to realize this while watching St. Andrew's in Boca Raton, Florida practice 3 years ago. It was no fluke when just last year St. Andrew's had a close game with nationally ranked #1 Boys' Latin and defeated McDonogh of the powerful MIAA. St. Andrew's Coach Goldberg runs his program a lot like a football program and because his kids are hungry and having fun, they buy in and learn what they are taught.

The problem with high school lacrosse (besides crazy parents…which I was one) is that the lacrosse only kids play way too many games and the game is too serious at too young an age. Playing only lacrosse limits a player's toughness and the cross over benefits other sports add. Kids who wrestle, play hoops, play football many time end up being better lacrosse players on the whole than those who play lacrosse alone.

Now I know a lot of people are making some serious cash with all the out of season events and that the exposure is important for recruiting but playing games year-round kills the excitement for the players and the fans, and can burn the kid out on lacrosse. How many high school kids play in organized real football games out of season?

And what happens when a physical well trained team comes into Baltimore from football areas like Texas, Pennsylvania, or Ohio and is competitive with higher skilled teams? I hear a lot of "Well, they are not really lacrosse players. They're just athletes" or "they'd never survive the MIAA schedule". What a joke! The truth be told, many high caliber programs would get worn down and hurt playing against the better trained teams every week. And D1 college coaches are always looking for kids who are prepared physically. The best teams always have a mix of skill guys with some athletic hard nose guys.

In a football program, players come and go, but well lead programs remain consistently strong due to the system. So is lacrosse evolving into a program sport rapidly? Just ask the recruiters.

The answer is yes, just not in the so-called hot beds, yet.

December 29, 2007


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