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Be an Educated Consumer

Nov. 18, 2008

This "Our Space" column appears in the November issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Join US Lacrosse today to start your monthly subscription to LM.

by Steve Stenersen, Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online 

One of the consequences of the tremendous growth of lacrosse has been an influx of entrepreneurs, from within and outside of the sport, who are attempting to profit from the sport's expanding participation base. Their offerings -- camps, tournaments and private clubs -- are focused on the growing pool of wide-eyed lacrosse consumers (parents) motivated primarily by the well-intentioned goal of providing their children with the best opportunity to reach their lacrosse potential. 

The driver of this economic model is, of course, the highly competitive quest for an athletic scholarship -- or even just an admission advantage to a college otherwise unattainable. 

This concept is relatively new to lacrosse, and it has rapidly and significantly changed the sport's culture. 

Nowhere is this seismic cultural change more evident than in the college recruiting process, where growing numbers of private clubs and for-profit recruiting tournaments have created a confusing maze of opportunities, some of which provide questionable value in exchange for significant financial investment. 

Even more concerning is that many tournaments and private club programs have developed symbiotic relationships that sometimes include questionable ethical practices. Club teams need tournaments to provide value for their paying customers -- young players and their parents -- and tournaments need participating teams to make money. Of course, the expense of playing on a club team and the additional cost of tournament play are passed on to the parents. And what many don't know is that some coaches -- who are assumed to have a player's best interest as their primary focus -- accept financial incentives to bring teams to particular tournaments or recommend players to a specific club team or camp. 

So what's a parent to do? The answer is fairly simple -- exercise appropriate due diligence when investigating lacrosse opportunities for your child. The cumulative cost of for-profit clubs and recruiting tournaments can easily exceed $10,000 per child over just a few years. Most families considering that type of investment for, say, a home remodeling project, would spend considerable time researching and interviewing construction firms and comparing multiple bids before making a decision. Sadly, the decision to make a significant investment in a child's athletic activities now requires the same due diligence. 

Parents should talk to the director of any privately-run program they are considering and ask respectful but pointed questions about cost, philosophy, coaching credentials and experience, and deliverables. Ask what tangible benefits your child will receive from playing in particular tournaments or for a particular club team, and how those benefits differ from other opportunities. Attend a practice or game of a club program you are considering. If you see or hear something that doesn't quite fit with your values...that should tell you something about whether it's right for your child. Peer pressure should never be a motivator for a decision. 

Parents also need to learn how to cut through the hype. Some of these opportunities promote greater exposure and better coaching but offer no real proof of either. And, any program that perpetuates the thought that youth and high school players need to play lacrosse year-round in order to maximize their skill development should be avoided at all cost. No reputable source would recommend sport specialization or year-round play at those levels. College coaches consistently advocate that aspiring lacrosse players play multiple sports. 

It can be challenging to determine the appropriate level of engagement in your child's lacrosse experience, and there are certainly many examples -- some of which you have likely witnessed -- of inappropriate parent behavior and engagement. But the decision to commit thousands of dollars, and entrust a child's welfare, to a private lacrosse enterprise requires lacrosse parents to be good consumers.

Steve Stenersen is the president and CEO of US Lacrosse.