The Champions in the Room
This is the time of year when the spotlight really shines on every level of our sport. The many factors that influence team success – culture, personality, work ethic, field IQ and chemistry, to name a few – take the full course of a season to fully develop, and they collectively form the magic elixir that can culminate in a championship season.
A season is often defined by how it ends – at least by those who aren’t stepping on the field week after week – and our collective focus in May and June is always on the team that’s left standing at the end of the last game. That’s the appeal of sport…the dream of winning it all…and the annual journey toward that goal. But there are over 42,000 men and women playing college lacrosse, more than 315,000 girls and boys on high school teams…and hundreds of thousands more playing youth lacrosse. Winning it all isn’t just incredibly hard, it’s exceedingly rare.
Being crowned a champion on the field deserves the recognition it receives. But what does that mean for the other 99.9% of players and coaches? How do we perceive their season commitment and outcome? Every player and coach wants to achieve success on the field, and those relative few who have won championships treasure the experience for a lifetime. In many ways, however, the challenges of coaching and playing for a team that finishes 2-12 are far greater than coaching or playing for a team that goes 12-2. Yet the perseverance of a 2-12 team goes largely unrecognized and, perhaps, unappreciated. It’s the American way…we simplify the measurement of success into wins and losses…and I think that’s a big reason why national youth sports participation has been on a steady decline over the last decade. And, while lacrosse participation has more than tripled since 2001, few realize that our sport has seen an alarming trend of flattening growth over the last few years, as well.
Now I’m not an everyone-deserves-a-trophy guy but, particularly given the downward slide in youth sports participation, I do long for a sports culture that more appropriately recognizes how hard it is to be the 7th attackman…or the senior on the JV…or the coach of a 2-12 team. These players and coaches enjoy the sport and being part of a team as much as – and sometimes more than – anyone else. They are the silent majority who comprise the collective heartbeat of our sport. After all, only a small fraction of athletes possess the God-given physical attributes and innate drive to position themselves for competition at the highest level. And very few in our sport – even the most gifted athletes – will ever have the chance to compete for a championship, let alone win one…but they play on.
So this year, as we celebrate this season’s champions for the hard work and good fortune that enabled their success, let’s not forget to recognize those who may never experience the glory of a championship season or personal accolades…but who love our sport and cherish the opportunity to step on the field and compete nevertheless.