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University_of_MichiganLacrosse is the fastest growing sport in America. For the past 10 years or more it has been exploding out of its traditional hotbeds on the East Coast. In states like Utah and Idaho, where there was no lacrosse at all, there are now 20, 30 or maybe even 50 high school teams. In states like Michigan and Ohio, where there were maybe 20 teams a dozen years ago, there are now over 100.

College lacrosse is growing just as quickly. With over 200 varsity teams and more than 300 club teams, there are now opportunities to play lacrosse at every type of college in every corner of the country.

I’m often asked for advice on what it takes to build a good high school program. Great coaching is one obvious answer. A good youth feeder program is another. School, family and community support is also important. Recruiting athletes who are playing other sports like football and soccer in the fall and basketball and wrestling in the winter is a must.

One thing that is often overlooked when building a high school program is the culture of the team. The best teams have everything I listed already, but they also have built-in expectations of playing at the next level. Most, if not all, of the players on those teams expect to play lacrosse (or one of their other sports) in college. They take their athletic participation very seriously because it’s fun, yes, but also because they understand what playing team sports can mean to their futures.

I’m not going to get into all of the possible benefits of playing a sport in college. There are too many to list here. Instead, I’m going to give you a few ideas on how to build that culture I mentioned on your high school team. If you are a coach, captain or booster, here are some things you can do:

1. Research summer and fall camp opportunities for your players. What camps should they attend based on their needs and skill level?
2. Get to know the recruiting process. Talk to high school lacrosse coaches at established programs for their advice (good high school coaches should be helpful through the process, but not controlling).
3. Talk to college coaches about the recruiting process to get their perspective. What are they looking for in a player? How should players contact them?
4. Get to know as many college coaches, at all levels, as you can. Invite some of them to come to events to speak to your team’s players and parents about recruiting and college lacrosse opportunities.
5. Film every game! Not only is the single most useful tool for improving your team, but it’s also very valuable for putting together recruiting videos for your players.
6. Watch college games as often as possible. Whether it’s the latest Virginia vs. Syracuse game or the local college club team game, expose yourself and your players to college lacrosse as much as possible. Record games on TV and show them to the team weekly.
7. Invite college players to speak to the team about their experience.

These are just a few things you can do to start building a culture on your team that leads to more players aspiring to play at the next level. It will help your players individually, and it will make a huge difference for your team.

Good Luck!

John Paul
Michigan Lacrosse

Read more from Coach Gafner at www.coachgafner.com

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