Next year will be my last for coaching my two daughters’ sports teams. It’s been an unbelievable ten years. I’m going to miss it. Coaching soccer and basketball was easy – I played those sports. Lacrosse has been different.
Up until this year, I’ve been able to hide my lack of lax knowledge by relying on the generic coaching skills of reinforcing teamwork, sportsmanship, defense (which has pretty much the same basic tenets in every sport) and just plain ol’ having fun. Oh, and the importance of snacks and candy. That never goes out of style.
This year has been more difficult because we have some future college-level talent on the Wilmington Wings (Blue) 7th and 8th grade girls’ lacrosse team. There is a set offense, rotating defensive assignments and situational plays. Fortunately, we’ve got Chris Baldi, a USL level 3 certified coach to handle all our true instruction. That leaves me leading stretching exercises, taking game pictures and making up silly nicknames for each player. But that peripheral position is a great vantage point to get periodic reminders of how special the lacrosse culture is.
This past weekend provided yet another example. Even with a roster of athletically gifted girls, we are often strapped for players. There are volleyball, basketball and field hockey club tournaments, as well as the social engagements 13- and 14-year-old girls are known for. Last weekend, we found ourselves with only 13 players – meaning only one bench player. It was 80 degrees. It was our second game of the weekend. We knew it was going to be a tough day. Sure enough, just before halftime we found ourselves down 8-2.
We lost one girl to a leg injury, and then a second girl got hit directly in the forehead with a shot. We were short one player. Chris called a timeout. “We’re getting beat pretty badly already. We can try and go the rest of the way down one player, or – and there is no shame in this – we can call it a day and end the game right now. I know you all are tired.”
I’m pretty sure Chris knew their answer before he even asked it, but he wanted to hear the response anyway. It took them a 1/3 of a second to quizzically look back and say, “Of course we’re playing. Duh.” Unlike a Nike “empowerment” ad, it wasn’t defiant, it was just calmly declared. It is the first time in my life that I’ve seen a group of teenage girls answer immediately, without looking at each other first. Our girls were exhausted, but they finished the half.
At half time the opposing coach from the Rose Tree (PA) Optimist club came over. “Hey, I know you guys drove all the way up here from Delaware. You want to borrow one of my girls for the 2nd half?” What followed surprised me. I’m as sportsmanship-py as the next guy, but I’ve never “loaned” a player in a game once I got above the age of 8.
I was surprised at how easily this offer was made and accepted by both sides. That’s just how lax people roll, because no one so much as blinked. I assumed the borrowed girl would go out on the field, toss an occasional pass, but not truly become a teammate of our girls. Nope. Kenna (our new teammate) casually flipped her jersey to our dark color, walked over to our bench and plopped down, ready for instruction. They eyed her with skepticism for two seconds. Then no one cared. They just wanted to play lacrosse. Teenage girls are not known for enjoying getting thrown into a new group of established girls. I also assumed that our tight-knit team of competitors wasn’t going to be welcoming.
Wrong and wrong. Girl athletes – especially lacrosse girl athletes – continue to astound me. Girls’ teams often take longer to gel, but when they do, the girls become very protective of one another – but there needs to be a high level of trust. A lot of guys misunderstand that dynamic – clearly I still do. Kenna just wanted to play lacrosse. She was confident in her ability and she wasn’t worried about being able to carry her weight. None of our girls cared that Kenna hadn’t practiced with them all year – we needed a player to finish. Here was a polite, quiet girl who wanted to play. That’s instant street cred. Kenna smiled, said hi to each of our girls, and played her tail off for us. She even scored a goal in our fun 13-10 loss. What a great player. What a great young lady. The more I hang around lacrosse fields, the more I learn that Kenna is the norm, not the exception.
Parents and coaches in this tribal sport are doing something very right.
Andy Podolsky lives in Wilmington with his wife and two daughters and has learned to not freak out over the fact that the biggest topic of discussion for his team before games is an assessment of their opponent’s uniform choices skort vs. skirt vs. shorts and “racer back” jersey style. Andy writes a regular column for Inside Lacrosse Women about coaching his daughters’ teams, where a version of this piece first ran.