I recently watched an unnamed Baltimore club team “practice.” The youngsters are what their parents perceive to be all stars. Many may be high-end recruits because of geography and their early career start at 5 to 8 years old. They’ve had a massive head start, and now they chase the college dream by playing for this club.
The session is what they call “practice.” It’s a mid-week distraction in between “showcase” events in which the players will display their lack of skill and game sense in front of college coaches. Top programs are recruiting earlier and earlier — now forced to evaluate 13- and 14-year-olds. Trying to predict what they will look like at age 19 is a colossal guessing game.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is that I get to watch teams practice in many different sports. I’ve watched the Ravens practice, seen Urban Meyer and Buzz Williams conduct a practice, watched Tom Brands teach and drill at Iowa, and of course sat in on dozens of big-time DI lacrosse programs being put through their paces. Duke, under John Danowski, spends more time teaching basic fundamentals than any lacrosse team I’ve ever seen.
This “practice” was multiple repetitions of poor technique, followed by disorganized full-field scrimmaging. That’s it. Repeating bad fundamentals isn’t accomplishing anything. Running around aimlessly during a full-field scrimmage won’t make you a better player.
— I saw an overall lack of tempo, discipline and accountability. Walking in-between drills; standing around. — I did not see coaches working with individuals on footwork, decision-making, hand placement or eye discipline. — I saw long lines and few reps. — I saw 4-on-3s and 1-on-1s void of coaching. — I saw flashy gear, souped-up helmets, personalized gloves, and neon socks. — I watched an EMO-EMD session in which details of every kind were overlooked. — I saw a full-field scrimmage in which mistakes weren’t corrected and team concepts were not taught (riding, clearing, face-off strategy, subbing strategy). — Nothing is being done at game speed; it’s slow motion. — I did not see any team-building or conditioning segments. — I did not see the use of video as a teaching tool. Real coaches tape practice and watch it, writing down notes to pass along the next day to their assistant coaches and players. Every stone on the path to improvement is overturned. — The head coach was dressed in a reversible tank top, flip-flops with an Australian Jacaru hat. What are his qualifications to be in charge of these 30 young men? He warmed a goalie up without flip-flops in bare feet, showcasing a lefty lazer. “Coach” spent most of the practice over with the trainer under a tent applying sunscreen. — I did not see a single athlete stay on the field after practice for extra help. — The lack of emotion and energy leads me to believe nobody is having fun, and burnout is inevitable without fun. Lacrosse for teens should be a fun learning experience. But most of these players are already fried, having played for a school AND a club team all spring, and all summer long in weekend tournaments in searing heat.
The irony of the club system is that the “coach” is being asked to identify and quantify the 14-year-old talent within his program. College coaches can no longer utilize high school coaches for recommendations because the high school coach hasn’t seen or coached the rising ninth- or 10th-grader yet. Club coaches are judged by how many athletes they can place into “name” colleges and often funnel unsuitable athletes to schools. A club coach doesn’t know how a student does academically, acts socially, or behaves in the locker room. The club coach isn’t qualified to offer any kind of recommendation — and some recommendations can be viewed as self-serving. The more kids he places, the more money he can make. This is the main reason for the spike in collegiate transfers.
This “coach” is the classic example of a transactional leader. He’s a business man. You give him money, he delivers you to the visibility events. Don’t confuse getting seen, with getting better. To call this “coach” a transformational leader would be inaccurate. Transformational leaders change lives through sports, teaches virtues, life lessons and develop boys into young men. The transformational leader, teaches and coaches at your high school.
Back to the field…on a scale of one to 10, this “practice” rated a zero. The parents in the bleachers were focused and engaged, more so than the athletes on the field. For the parents, club affiliation is a social club, and a status symbol. That in part fuels this madness. When these players enter college and start fallball, they are in for a dramatic culture shock.
If you’re a parent and you think your son is improving in a “practice” like the one I witnessed, you’re delusional. You are wasting your money and time. Instead, I highly recommend wall ball. It’s free and the benefits can pay for college, leaving you some cash to buy fancy neon socks.
Quint Kessenich, 01 Jul 2013 Quint Kessenich covers lacrosse for the ESPN networks and can be followed on twitter @QKessenich