Business of Travel Lacrosse

Aug 5, 2022

As many of you know, most travel lacrosse programs have become a business.  Recently, I have been sent a few copies of letters that other organizations have published on their websites.  After some reflection, I decided to review what I think is good, bad, and hopefully helpful.

Positives of Travel Lacrosse Organizations

Mostly every big organization has a good coaching staff.  They are passionate about the game, create competitive practice environments, offer skill development training, and most coaches are good people who love the kids.  Some are college coaches, some are former college or current college players, and some are parents, but mostly all know the game and how to coach.  

Another plus is that your son will meet some friends he will have for life and play outside his comfort zone.  He will learn similar concepts, but it will be a different voice, and many times, a player will pay closer attention when outside his familiar surroundings.  Your son will also have to prove himself daily vs. competition he doesn’t know, which could help him later if he decides to attend prospect camps.

The Business Side of Things

I did notice that many of the authors had one thing in common.  Travel lacrosse is their career choice.  It is what they do for a living.  I am not talking about college coaches who supplement their income over the summer.  I am talking about business owners who depend on selling you, like every other business.  

I remember when most of them first started in North Carolina and watched first-hand how they grew into the business they are today.  Many write about growing the game, but the bottom line now is profit, and they depend on your support.  Travel lacrosse programs usually start with younger teams to get the ball rolling.  As that team moves up an age bracket, they create another, and so on.  If successful, they start looking for players in nearby surrounding programs and promise college careers or incredible opportunities to compete at the highest level.  

It seems that there is an inevitable point where some will sell their business to more prominent names or offer National Team tryouts.  National Team tryouts will flip flop every couple of years from ‘open to everyone’ one year to ‘must play for their regional team’ the next year.  The first few tryouts are usually open for everyone.  You pay for the new helmet, gloves, and bag and are now a National Team player.  Everyone is happy until the next tryout when they announce that the new policy for the National Team is you must be a player on the Regional Team.  Why do you think they do this? Again, the answer is profit. 

They have ‘open’ tryouts to draw in talent.  When they start to lose families for cutting their regional players for players in other organizations, they ‘close’ the tryouts to only their regional teams and hope the new talent is vested enough to join.  The cycle continues with new customers as they broaden the empire.  Sound familiar?  At the next ‘open’ National team tryout, ask the organizer if they are willing to put in writing that the tryout will remain ‘open’ for as long as the team exists.  Let me know if anyone says yes because the team that actually does it will have a chance to put a very good team together every year.

Almost every organization in NC started off the same way.  Somehow, many have forgotten why they started a program in the first place.  Once, they all hated other programs contacting their kids, and now, they do it themselves daily.  What bothers me the most and hopefully separates us from other programs is when kids become a product for profit.  When this happens, it is an immediate red flag that something is wrong.   

Currently, I am seeing a bunch of red flags.  We all hear about the one or two kids that played all over and made it to the highest level.  I can confidently tell you that those one or two kids were outstanding players before they left their local organization.  What about the hundreds of families that spent the money but never made it?  

As discussed, some of these organizations claim to be in it to ‘grow the game,’ but those days are long gone for many of them.  How many travel programs sponsor players and families who cannot afford travel lacrosse based on need, not talent?  How many do skill training at a reasonable price?  (If your son is not a great student, spend your money on academic training.  I promise it will go further in the long run!)  How many give back to their community?  

It may seem like I am against National teams, but it is the exact opposite.  If you see an ‘open’ tryout and have the means, I think it is a great experience to see how your son fairs vs statewide competition.  If he makes a team is when you need to start being careful.  As a parent, you need to do your homework.  You should be able to find enough information about the owner, team, and organization online.  Some teams do a great job, play in fantastic events, and have an incredible staff. 

Over the past 10-15 years, Shamrocks have played for NC Varsity Elite, Adidas All American, Brine All American, Single A, Double AA, UA All American and now a few National teams. Some have been incredible experiences and some a waste of time and money.  What amazes me is how many national teams we have in North Carolina, and the number keeps growing.  As the number of national teams grow, the quality of the teams will be watered down, and someone will come up with a new catchphrase name.  If successful, it will be copied by most of the others.  

Lacrosse and College

If your son is playing high school lacrosse in NC, most college coaches will not care about your high school or travel team record, personal statistics, or awards.  (Especially the way high school awards are done in NC)  If you want your son to play in college, your son needs to do the work in the classroom, on the field, and have some natural ability.  If your son does the work, we will do our best to get him a look at the school he wants. At that point, it is up to the player, not the coach, organization, or parent.  The player needs to perform and separate himself from his competition.  The bottom line in college recruiting for all these organizations (including us) is the player.  The credit belongs to the player and family, not the coach or organization.  The organization can help get a player the opportunity but what he does with it is on him.  

If your son is a young player, a great gift idea is a skill camp run by college coaches.  Find teaching camps that do not just roll the ball out and let them play in games.  Take advantage of the college-coached skill camps we have in NC.  I can tell you from experience that UNC and Duke have great position skill camps.  As a parent, you also must be academically, athletically, and financially realistic as your son gets older.  If your son is an average student who does not dominate competition wherever vs. whoever he plays, you probably shouldn’t be looking at Yale to play lacrosse or any other division 1 school.  Playing college lacrosse is not given; players will have to earn a spot in any division regardless of how much you are willing to spend or want it to happen for them.  

The best advice I can give to parents is to speak with as many college coaches as possible.  Ask them what they recommend for your son.  You should ask them what they think of the big travel lacrosse business and the best ways to get your son recruited.  Ultimately, a college coach will be a big part of the final decision, so there is no better resource than asking them directly.  Let me know what you find out. 😊

Enjoy the Ride

Most importantly, enjoy the moments!  For my family, Shamrocks was more than just travel lacrosse. Don’t get me wrong, the lacrosse piece was awesome and the lifelong friendships we made along the way was more than a bonus.  

My point is, at the Jones house, we were always going in different directions.  School, scouting, practice, games, plays, concerts, and it was always challenging to get my kid’s undivided attention.  On Shamrock trips, I got to talk with my sons about life, family, religion, manners, moral compass, personal goals, hopes, dreams, dating, drugs, alcohol, and so many other topics.  I am extremely grateful for those moments.  Remember, lacrosse is something your son does but only a piece of who he is.  Thank you for taking the time to read the coach’s corner.  It goes faster than you think, so enjoy the forced family fun vacations you spend with each other and your families!

-Coach Jones-