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Choosing the best Baltimore lacrosse club

A variety of factors should play into your choice

By Arlene Karidis, For The Baltimore Sun

4:24 PM EDT, August 20, 2014

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Joining a lacrosse club is a huge commitment that involves the entire family, and there are a number of things to consider. There’s the fit between coach and player, the number of practices required and, of course, cost. Maryland Family spoke with two experts -- Wendell Lee, director of US Lacrosse and Erin Brown Millon, owner of Legends Lacrosse Club, Owings Mills -- to get their advice, gleaned from their playing, coaching and business experience with the sport.

Wendell Lee, director of US Lacrosse

US Lacrosse is the national governing body of lacrosse, which provides training and certification for coaches, youth program funding and guidelines on safety and player development. The organization is based in Baltimore. 

How can you tell if a coach is a good fit for a player?

Lee: The best fit for any child at any age is a good teacher. This would be someone who engages with children and helps them learn life lessons through the sport. A coach will be a good fit for almost any child if he or she listens and talks to them as young adults. The coach should be willing to put extra time in to make your child better.

Look for a coach who stays with a team or group of kids over two or three seasons; that begins to tell you this person has good and consistent relationships with a majority of the kids in the program. Ask other parents what they know about the coach. Ask: How does your child do? Ask the child what’s going on.  

And be aware that just because someone has played and is gifted does not mean they are a good teacher. So focus more on the relationship and not the status of the coach.  

How many practices per week are normal or optimal? And what would kids be doing during those sessions?

Lee: The practice schedule depends on age and skill levels. Depending on the level, age and geographic location, players may practice from once a week to three or four times a week. 

Some clubs have an indoor season and go 10 months a year, though practices may not be as often off season, depending on the club. 

The focus in the “under 7” to “under 13” group is skill development, with emphasis on time on task, developing specific stick skills and lacrosse IQ, which is primarily knowledge of the basic concepts of the sport. 

Practices at the “under 15” and up levels focus on refining basic skills and more detailed understanding of the concepts of offense and defense. Additionally, players begin to refine position-specific skills and knowledge.

Can parents find out about tournaments (number, dates and costs) ahead of time?

Lee: You should be able to find out where you are going and what the goal is as it relates to tournament participation. For some clubs, it may be incumbent to participate in every available tournament. 

You should find out most dates within a month of the finish of the previous year’s tournaments. So each tournament is posted about 10 months to a year in advance and should be on the club’s website with dates and times. 

You should be given a generalized idea of the cost for tournaments as well as all other club team costs.

Should the child try out for multiple lacrosse teams, or is that frowned upon?

Lee: Sometimes a child has to try out for multiple teams to find the best fit. But once you make a decision, communicate to each team which one you are going to. You do not have to tell a club in advance that you are trying out for multiple teams.

While club sports tend to be very competitive, in deciding where to try out, do not be a “trophy chaser,” or your child will miss out on the real benefits of youth lacrosse.

Stick with the program that is the best fit for you rather than shop for the team with the reputation for winning. Look for a team that fights and may sometimes win and sometimes lose. That’s how kids learn life lessons, commitment and loyalty.

At what age should kids play club lacrosse?

Lee: By the time they are of age for the “under 11” to “under 13” clubs is when players and families become involved with a club, a travel or select lacrosse team. 

College recruiters are beginning to look at the “under 15” group. So recruiters are now looking at high school graduating classes of 2017. If your goal is to try and get recruited, know that under 15 is the time to play more seriously and to look for clubs with a track record of a commitment to preparing players to get into college.

What would you tell parents about club sports in general? 

Lee: Look for a club where the coach will bring out the best in your player. Look for a club where the parents understand team play, which is about realizing it takes a village. Every team player is as important. 

A good club team is one where coaches, players and parents have a good moral compass. When there are positive relationships and a commitment to playing, teaching and learning, winning comes naturally. And that would go for any club sport or any team scenario.

Erin Brown Millon, owner of Legends Lacrosse Club, Owings Mills

Millon was on Team USA from 1990 to 2001, and she won gold medals with the team in 1997 and 2001. She was also the first Women’s Division director of US Lacrosse. 

What is a club team, and what distinguishes a club from other teams?

Millon: A club team is a select team composed of players looking to extend their skill set in a particular sport. It’s a similar concept to travel teams that recreation leagues offer, where you try out and must be selected. Club team coaches are expected to have a little more expertise. There is typically a greater financial and time commitment to a club than most other teams.

Who would a lacrosse club be a good fit for? 

Millon: Lacrosse clubs are for athletes who want to continue to play beyond other opportunities, such as recreation, junior varsity or varsity teams. Players must be willing to make a big commitment timewise, as some clubs are very intense and play year-round. While other clubs may not play all year, they expect more time than most non-club teams. So this is for players who are looking for something beyond the regular season. And the family must be on board because the tournament schedule can take up much of the summer and often requires traveling for entire weekends. 

Who would club teams in general be a good fit for? 

Millon: Club teams are for players who love their sport, want to get better and keep learning. While some club teams primarily focus on participating in a lot of tournaments, others spend more time on player development. You should determine not only if a club is a good fit for you but what type of club is your best fit, which will depend on your short- and long-term goals. 

How should families pick a club?

Millon: Research. Speak to program directors. Find out what their club is about, their coaching philosophies, playing philosophies and age groups they work with.

See if the club provides what you want, whether it’s intensity-level training where the focus is developing an NCAA Division 1 player, or whether they are looking to develop skills and playing opportunities without that focus.  

What if a child wants to be considered for an athletic scholarship? 

Millon: Parents would love to have their child be considered for scholarships, and a lot of clubs claim they can make that happen. But it really is the individual who needs to do the work. I don’t think a club gets you your scholarship, even though it helps to be playing at a high level. It is also important to play on high school teams and go to summer camps. 

But I do believe if players want to work toward a scholarship, they need to participate in a club program in addition to these other involvements. However, ask program directors specifically if their program offers assistance with the recruiting process and exactly what they do.

What might it cost to participate in club lacrosse in Baltimore or elsewhere in Maryland? And what is included in that cost?

Millon: The fees vary widely. The low end is $600 to $700, but a lacrosse club could cost over $1,600 a year. These fees may include uniform and tournament fees, and an opportunity to engage in a higher level of focus on the sport. The cost also helps to pay for a club’s expenses such as coaches’ salaries and facilities. 

What is the relationship between team members in a lacrosse club? Might this be different than in other types of teams? 

Millon: Club team players typically share specific personal sports goals. For instance, if their goal is to play on an elite level in the most competitive tournaments, you are bonding with people with these same goals. 

The relationship broadens players’ abilities to work together and expands their horizons because they become teammates and friends with people from other towns they may not have met before, or who are on rival teams they may compete against during the regular season. But on the club team you are teammates.

As with all team sports, players begin to have a synchronized way of working together where they learn to quickly adapt and to gel as a group.