In Billy's letter - there are so many important points he makes (here is a link to the letter: Dear Parents by Billy Jaffe in his letter but one that stands out to me so much is this:
"I’m sick and tired of people talking to me how good their team is and how high they’re ranked nationally as 12-year-olds. How they only have four losses. I just laugh. I don’t know anything about rankings.
And who cares?
Did they have fun? I’d rather be the best team at 19 than at age nine. The rankings, whoever started those things; ugh. I can tell you dozens of stories about kids who were good players but nothing great until they were 16. Then they were great. "
Why are we ranking 12 year old teams? Who makes money off of these rankings? Why are we having "national championships" for U-15 and U-13 players?
As an owner of a travel lacrosse club, some people might think that I may be part of the problem. How many articles do we see about travel sports ruining youth sports? Recently I posted on social media about single sport athletes getting injured at extremely high rates. Kids as young as 10 or 11 having full ACL surgeries. This is crazy! The reason I am writing this is because I think we can all add value to student-athletes if we do it the right way.
As a long time athlete who has played at the highest level - D1 Football, Wrestling and Lacrosse at Brown University and professional lacrosse for both the NY Saints of the NLL and the Bridgeport Barrage of the MLL - I bring a unique perspective to youth sports. I have also been a long time coach of multiple sports - lacrosse, soccer and ice hockey. I'm also a high school lacrosse coach and I as run a premier travel lacrosse program - www.TeamElevateLax.com
Therefore - here is what I want all of us to focus on - FULL DEVELOPMENT OF THE ENTIRE STUDENT ATHLETE. I am writing about student athletes but this also relates to kids who focus on art, music, debate, chess or any other activity. We as educators need to develop the entire child - not just the athlete. Let's help kids!
We are focusing way too much on games and not enough on practice and player development. I ran our town's K-2 girls lacrosse clinic for many years. My focus on these clinics was to make it fun and to teach them skills. I can't tell you how many times parents asked me - "when do they get to play games and not do all of these drills and practicing?" My answer was always - "they will play in plenty of games, we have a small window to teach them the right skills early on." Today I find it so much easier to teach a brand new player how to play the game of lacrosse than someone who has developed really bad habits over time because of improper training.
Give me a kid who is playing other sports and I can teach them how to play lacrosse. If a girl knows how to serve a volleyball she can shoot a lacrosse ball. If a girl can play great basketball defense - she will be a great lax defender. Over the last two years I have recruited two different players to my high school team who have never played lacrosse before. I recruited them right off the basketball court and off the soccer field. Both of them became starters for me and this past year we won the 2019 Class A Catholic School State Championship in NY.
What is also amazing to me is how many people say - well my daughter (or son) can't start now, all of these other kids have been playing since 3rd grade. That is so ridiculous! I've taken countless players who did not start in 3rd grade and helped them develop into great players. I've taken boys tennis players and made them into lax players - the swing is the same as an overhand shot. I've helped a girl who was a great hockey player who never played lacrosse become her team's high scorer in 10th grade after never playing lacrosse before that year.
One of my all time favorite stories is about one of my players Bridget Vilbig. My daughter Victoria was playing with Bridget on the Island Trees soccer team. We had left our own town travel program because we had a crazy coach who was truly ruining the experience for the girls (I'll save this story for another time). The first time I saw Bridget play soccer I was blown away by her athleticism. I immediately went up to her and asked her if she played lacrosse. She said no and I said you are now. That spring we put a stick into Bridget's hands for the first time. We always told her - be an athlete first.
To make a long story short, Bridget went on to earn a scholarship to The Ohio State University to play lacrosse. Bridget then became one of our best Team ELevate coaches. She is an awesome motivator and now Bridget is a teacher at New Albany HS in Ohio where she is also the head women's lacrosse coach. Last year Bridget led her team to a 21-2 record and lost in the Ohio State finals. So glad she picked up a stick with us in 6th grade!
Bridget was a member of our first ever Team Elevate girls team. Her class was high school graduation class of 2012. When we first started Elevate our motto has always been the same - Elevate Your Mind * Elevate Your Body * Elevate Your Game * Elevate Your Life. We told these girls from an early age that there job was to be leaders in everything they do - school, community and their teams. We gave them the goal of becoming team captains for their high school teams so they could make an even greater impact on their teammates.
Well so many of these girls not only became captains of their teams, they became captains of their college teams and are also coaching now. Need to put my proud papa hat on for a minute. Last year my daughter Victoria was named Nassau County Coach of the Year at Friends Academy. She is doing such an awesome job making a difference in young girls lives at both her HS and at Team Elevate. So many of our alumni are making such important impact right now. One of our coaches from that first Elevate team are also doing huge things. Chelsea Peters, who played lacrosse at Bucknell University and I had the opportunity to coach in HS at Cold Spring Harbor is now the Chief of Staff of UNICEF. Chelsea is literally changing lives for children all over the world. We have helped develop so many leaders. How? Because, we never told them that lacrosse was the only thing - it was just part of who they were. We also made lacrosse fun for all of them. The more fun you have the more you are willing to work. We also taught them life lesson through sports - commitment, teamwork, grit, sportsmanship and being coachable. They now bring all of those skills into their daily lives and are taching the same skills to the next generation.
We also need to let kids be kids. They need to do everything they want in school - join the play, sing in the chorus, go to after school activities. Some of these kids practice more than professional athletes do. One key problem is that so many clubs and travel teams are forcing kids to commit more and more time. They are asking kids to bypass their local town teams for their travel teams. We are seeing this with travel soccer and now we are seeing it with travel lacrosse.
At Team Elevate we have always laid out what we believe a players commitment should be. We put them in this order:
1. Family First - Always, no explanations needed.
2. School - this includes all extracurricular activities including band, theater, specialty clubs and sports.
3. In Season Town or School Sports - as an example - in NY soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country are fall sports. Those should take precedence over fall lacrosse.
4. Team Elevate - practices, training or games.
At Elevate we don't practice during the spring when the girls are "in season" for their local town teams, middle schools or high school teams. We may have the occasional training session - but we don't have formal practices. We do this so kids do not get burn out or get hurt. We expect them to commit fully to their schools and towns. I have witnessed many of my players going on to win County, Long Island and State Championships. Those girls will remember those championships and their teammates forever. That's where there focus should be!
As a parent and as a coach - I know that I have changed over the years with how I do things. The reason I have changed is because I made so many mistakes. Of course there are things you wish you can take back, but most importantly we need to learn from those mistakes. Parents - we need you to let your kids make mistakes. Coaches - we need players to make mistakes. That is how they learn. That is how they learn in school too. Nobody knew Algebra before they first learned it - they had to make mistakes and keep learning. We need to do the same in sports. Kids who are free to make mistakes while learning from them will develop so much more than those kids who are afraid to make mistakes and never push their own boundaries.
We need to develop more leaders. Just the other day, Miss Universe from South Africa was highlighted because she said we need to teach young girls more about leadership - here is her answer on YouTube: Miss Universe 2019 - On Leadership. Even Oprah Winfrey tweeted out to her:
We need to be teaching our student athletes about the psychology of sports. How to create the right mindset to succeed. We need to instill in them the belief that if they truly want something and are willing to work at it - they can achieve anything. And we also must let them know if they don't believe in themselves they will diminish their ability to achieve their goals. Henry Ford said it best with his famous quote.
Our student athletes will play tons of games. Games to me are just a way to show off how hard you have worked in practice. We also need to instill in our kids that they will need to put in the work on their own and not just when they are at practice. College coaches want self motivated coachable kids. Employers want self motivated coachable employees. How you practice is how you will play. Make practice important and make it fun.
Another important point, parents - until your child is in middle school, you need to be their advocate. If you think something is wrong, speak up. Trust your gut. If you have questions, ask them. However, please make sure that you are asking things only about your child's development and don't reference other children. If you feel you are in the wrong program, then make a decision to move but do your homework first. The grass is not always greener.
Don't let your kids quit - if they make a commitment stick it out. It will help them learn about GRIT. As they get older they need to be their own advocates. They need to know they have the RIGHT to speak up for themselves. If they want more playing time, they should ask their coach how to EARN more playing time. If they want advice on how to get better, ask for specifics. When they value their own ability to speak up for themselves, they will further develop their own leadership skills.
As a community, let's stop worrying about creating athletic superstars - lets create awesome well balanced kids who will thrive in all aspects of life. Let's stop worrying about winning a youth lacrosse game and focus on winning the real trophy - developing great kids who go on to make a difference in this world. Thats what we really need.
The picture below says it all. Alonzo Stagg is considered one of the greatest football coaches of all time:
Stagg went on to say - "let's see the type of husband and fathers they become and I'll tell you how successful this team was."
Thanks for reading and please send us your comments.