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#MTLG – The Last Step Before It’s Too Late – My Opinion

Long time readers know I will get on a soapbox once in a while . . . about supporting referees more is a frequent bugaboo as an example. This is becoming more and more one for me. #MTLG stands for More Training, Less Games I’ve been on the road at events for the last 7 weekends except for the weekend after Thanksgiving and I’ll be at Jingle Brawl this weekend.  The best one was at IMG (that will surprise long time readers given the way I’ve failed to cover the IMG teams in the past) and that one was mostly about player development.  It wasn’t perfect.  The made for LSN broadcast All Star Game was something I barely watched, preferring to catch up on the sidelines with coaches and referees I hadn’t seen much of this year, or in a few cases, getting to know someone for the first time, like Rick Sowell, who was a joy to talk to. The broadcast itself was top-notch, and I guess was just necessary to put a special bow on the event.  But if I could wave a magic wand I would have preferred every hour being dedicated to skill development and IQ improvement.  The talent on the field was tremendous, all 2023’s and by invitation.  Athleticism was off the charts and the raw skills astonishing to someone like me who first witnessed high-end lacrosse in the late 70’s.  But even with that, there was a lack of fundamentals and IQ at times. The coaches present read like a Who’s Who of college lacrosse (and high-end high school) coaches who do not run a program currently.  You know the names.  I just wish every second of that time was used by those coaches to impart even more of their knowledge.  Sports are unique in this way.  Can a high school kid interested in computer coding get to spend money learning coding from the best at Microsoft or Oracle?  Can a high school kid spend many weekends learning investing from Warren Buffett or Peter Lynch? In Sports we can. So maximize it! The coaches who run the Club tournaments know I’ve been talking about this for a while now, it won’t come as a surprise to them.  This is a complicated lacrosse environment in Florida.  If you want to bring a highly qualified lacrosse coaching staff into your high school you have to assume the school is not paying them what their time is worth.  So they need to supplement that payment in many ways and one of the biggest ways, if not THE biggest, is these Club tournaments.  That’s the tradeoff in this state.  Club teams are designed to both subsidize high school program development and to develop feeder programs for their high school. One thing that those of us who do not sponsor tournaments don’t understand is how this can be financially risky to the presenter of the tournament.  Covid hurt this business just like every other and some of these events barely broke even and a few probably lost some money.  Club tournaments are a high fixed-cost business and weather can wreak havoc on the bottom line.  Insurance is available but likely has a big deductible too. There is nothing wrong with this model except one big thing . . . it has morphed into who wins the event instead of maximizing the player development of the kids. There is no arguing with this anymore. Money has driven this since winning these events can become a competitive advantage going forward.  Throw in the national programs that are all over (there’s a reason I no longer will feature a Club uniform in a recruiting article) and you see something that has veered away from what is best for the kids to what is best for the programs.  But it’s not so broken it can’t be fixed.
Every so often I get a question from readers about why I don’t cover the results of the event or maybe judge a few players of interest who stood out, even at the events I attend.  The simple answers to that are: a) the coaches are more knowledgable about that than I am b) there’s so many games going on that I can’t monitor them even if competent c) I might be accused about favoring certain players/coaches/programs d) I frankly don’t give a damn who wins The final straw for me was about 4 years ago.  I was at one of the events and was recognized by a coach of a U-10 team.  He wrote to me a few days after the event and asked ‘why didn’t you write about my U-10 team’s 4-0 pool play record?’ . . . and he was SERIOUS about it. Yeesh. 
What is causing me to time this article now is basically because of what is upcoming.  The IMG event needs to become more of the norm, not the exception. We have pledge drives all over the place.  One of the best known is the billionaires who pledge to give away at least 50% of their assets upon death. Over the next few weeks, we are seeing a plethora of events that focus on training and skill improvement.  The Bocklet family is back in town after a number of years away and they are running next week in Delray Beach.  The IMG sponsors are running Stuart the first week in January.  I ran into Ryan Burton last weekend and he told me about his rapidly-growing training business in Deerfield Beach.  There are others, as the time before the start of high school practice tends to get busy on that. So, I am asking the current group of coaches running the Club scene in our state to take the pledge: More Training, Less Games DURING your regularly scheduled events. The system is partly broken, don’t let it be looked at 5 years from now as The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs. Dedicate Saturday to TRAINING . . . stick skills for the younger kids, game situations for the older ones, IQ for all. Last season, after watching King’s big win over Oxbridge, I walked over to Coach Ross and we talked about an impression I had from the game.  It was about the fact I was seeing lower-scoring games. Readers might remember some of my 19-17 game recaps years ago and the 13-12 double OT game with SIXTY-SIX turnovers.  That might have been fun to watch from the stands but no college coach recruiting a player is going to come off being enthusiastic about whether any of the players could play for them. Coach Ross and I talked through how the game was played with a much higher IQ level than when he first came down here, from a tempo standpoint (i.e.-run and gun was on a controlled break, not a mad dash) and from better settled offense. That’s the definition of IQ on a small scale . . . and that’s the missing piece for Florida players making D1 impacts.  When you watched Jared Bernhardt at Maryland, even with his gifted athleticism, he was a player who was of the highest IQ on the field and let the game come to him.  That’s what we need to develop in this state, so that Jared is not the exception, but the model.  NY and Maryland still dominate college rosters AND PLAYING TIME, BECAUSE OF THIS. More Training, Less Games If you want to play games on Sunday at least make them skill/strategy specific if possible (get creative in designing this!) and for Gods sake, DON’T KEEP STANDINGS.  If you don’t keep score you are sending a message loud and clear . . . that it is about the kids, not the club programs.
Oh, and take another pledge . . . invite a local charity to your event and let them solicit donations at a tent, whether of a youth lacrosse program or not . . . there is NO EXCUSE for not reaching out to your local communities, what a benefit to the sport’s reputation that would be!  Might even get you some free publicity in the local press.
Make an agreement among yourselves that there will only be THREE events each year that will be played under the current format, to let the kids experience the winning and losing. Make it SPECIAL to win an event.  Right now it’s who has their full compliment of players basically.  AND RIGHT NOW IT IS NOT SPECIAL, it’s just ONE MORE WEEKEND ON THE ROAD. And one day, if the Golden Goose plops out, don’t say you weren’t warned.  Covid might have been the canary in the coal mine. Fix it now and make it Kid-centered, not Club-centered. Your parents are a darn good demographic; they spend money on their kids and will continue to spend as long as they see a value proposition.  Attendance at the Club events is down and it’s easy to just blame Covid . . . if you don’t think there are other reasons it might well be too late when you do. #MTLG Don’t brush it off.