Letter to the Editor: Coaches Cornered
Small school athletes struggle with unequipped coaches, indifferent administrators
Fairfax County is home to many award winning athletic programs. Long-standing programs of large schools with experienced talent bases on which to draw attract committed coaches with extensive backgrounds.
Smaller schools with more diverse populations suffer from talent bases lacking knowledge of particular sports, family needs around work obligations and childcare. Many programs at smaller schools run basically on fumes: programs are kept barely alive by athletic directors who take the path of least resistance and hire coaches from within their schools who may have no background or desire to learn about a particular sport: in spite of parent concerns and willingness to find experienced coaches and assistants, put together off-season training, camps and clinics, administrators bristle at volunteer efforts to better equip school teams for regional competition, and chances to play beyond high school. Apathy at the administration level results in ill-experienced coaches hindering a program’s progress.
What then happens when underequipped high school programs receive an injection of youth club-trained talent wanting to play a sport for their school? This is the situation at J.E.B. Stuart High School, located in the north-eastern section of Fairfax County. One of the smallest schools in the county (~1600 students), it has the highest percentage of reduced school lunches (63 percent), and draws from a diverse population of students (over 70 different languages). Although some athletic programs at Stuart fare well in their divisions, lacrosse has been struggling for the past four years.
Enter the supportive parents of individual sports and the booster organizations. Many parents of athletes and members of booster clubs are continuing or former athletes themselves, human rolodexes of connections, helping programs do everything from providing meals to teams, to sponsorship opportunities, uniforms, and connecting to untapped, experienced coaches. Stuart parents are no exception. But building a program takes time and real, consistent effort not just from the athletes, but also from schools and parents.
Lacrosse is a relatively new sport to Fairfax County, and is enjoying a surge of interest from local youth organizations fueled by programs like Annandale Youth Lacrosse, Braddock Road Youth Club, and other powerhouse youth leagues in Northern Virginia. The well-trained talent rushing out of the youth programs and into JEB Stuart meet immediate resistance with an under-qualified, under- prepared program that struggles year-to-year to find coaches and assistants: the positions require quirky hours around after-school practices and evening games. Schedule demands alone reduce the talent pool, as many working professionals cannot balance the desire to offer their talent and expertise and meet work demands.
Lacrosse athletes are hitting a wall: they either have to face the frustration of disorganized, skill-less practices just to be able to play a watered-down version of the game, or sit out the season, as there is no club alternative in season. Parents and their athletes need school administrators to see their efforts to better programs through outside efforts as crucial, integral, and essential to the health of the program, and not dismiss or minimize those efforts. The need for experienced, qualified, and certified lacrosse coaches is real: and small school lacrosse teams should expect nothing less.