So often, when it comes to sports, parents live out their past athletic triumphs and disappointments from today’s sidelines while watching their own children. We project our own desires and dreams onto our kids hoping to re-live the experience or get a do-over. But, what if we weren’t relegated to the sidelines? What if lax moms everywhere stopped being satisfied with just watching and began playing again? I say that our age, place in life, or role as parents does not preclude us from having our own fun on the field. Can we once again, in our thirties or forties, revive our competitive spirit? I say we can.
It took some time for me to get back into the game, but I can happily say I found a place where I am most comfortable. For me it happened slowly. We moved from Long Island to upstate New York. With the move I left behind my job as a nursery school teacher. My boys, ages eight and ten at the time, were pretty self-sufficient. My husband was still connected to his job in New York City during the week, so there I was… alone… left to create a new life for myself in a new town where we knew absolutely no one.
Of course the first thing I did as any diligent mom would, is find the nearest lacrosse program and sign my boys up. It was a natural choice since both my husband and I had college playing experience. I played at Hofstra University and my husband at Bryant University (then called Bryant College and a developing club program).
As I watched my boys play on fall weekends, developing new skills and new friendships, I found myself on the sidelines. I watched the boys play while noticing there was no fall ball for girls. Hmmm…. Spring arrived and lacrosse was in full swing. Wouldn’t you know, there on the field were about twenty girls and two coaches, a mom and a dad, volunteering to impart their love of the game to these up-and-coming competitors. A light bulb went off and I approached the lacrosse association president. “Could you use some help with the girls program?” I asked. “We certainly could,” he replied. And that’s just how it happened.
After a twenty-three year hiatus, I found myself coming back to the game I had once loved so much. I began volunteering as a coach that spring, as well as that following fall. U.S. Lacrosse offered an excellent opportunity for me to re-learn the game and gain some valuable coaching tools through their Coaches Education Program. Just as it happened on that spring day in ninth grade, I was hooked on lacrosse once again.
And I didn’t stop. From coaching in the community program, to volunteering as an assistant coach at my son’s middle school, to becoming a U.S. Lacrosse umpire in my region, I sought to re-learn all I could about the game. Funny thing is, the game looked the same, but I soon discovered it was the level of skill of the female athlete that had raised the game to powerful new levels. Gone were the dominant-hand, one-sided, wooden stick clad, shovel shooting players that I once knew.
The book The Baffled Parents Guide to Coaching Girls’ Lacrosse by Janine Tucker and Mary Alice Yakuchik, provided a window into this new lacrosse player. As I read,
“We are encouraging coaches to get “unstuck” from tradition for tradition’s sake, to embrace the more progressive style of play that has emerged over the past half-dozen years, and to start teaching this style to the youngest players instead of waiting until some ambiguous age when ‘they’re ready’.”
I began to see just how this confident athlete had emerged. Yet, another light bulb! And, I began to understand the evolution of the game from 1985 to today. I loved the idea! It provided me with a remarkable way to approach coaching girls. I understood that how I coach these young women would help them to see that there is nothing they cannot do!
One thing I did not realize was how many resources US Lacrosse makes available to folks like me. There is a valuable Coaches Education Program, instructive seminars at the annual National Convention, and an excellent training program for umpires. The best players, finest coaches and most professional and supportive officials produce these educational programs that are undeniably beneficial and simply inspirational.
Perhaps my greatest challenge coming back to the game occurred when I discovered my local summer club team, the Adirondack Women’s Lacrosse Club. It was where I discovered just how different the collegiate and post-collegiate game had become. I brushed off my old crosse and purchased a pair of those things they call “goggles.” Off I went with some butterflies in my stomach to my first game and yes, once again I knew no one. But, Nancy, the club president, assured me that I would fit in just fine. I soon discovered that at age forty-five, I was the oldest player in the club. Many of the players were still in high school or college. Only a handful were moms and most legally ineligible to join the team for a friendly beer after the games.
So from my vantage point, what did the games actually “look like”? The games were FAST! Yes, it was the fastest game that my two feet had seen in a long time. They were aggressive. Each opponent was more certain than the next that she would get that ground ball. There was an intellectual and practical understanding of the field, player positioning and a deep ownership of the game of lacrosse. It was sheer beauty, awe and finesse. Often I found myself asking fellow teammates Nancy, Jamie or Christy, “How does she DO that?” Or, “Show ME how to do that!”
The highlight of my forty-something experience was my participation in Brenda Doll’s over 30 master’s team at the Lake Placid tournament this past August. There, I found women who understood just where I was coming from and where I had been. There was a wooden stick on the field and a shovel shot or two, which I must say actually made it into the cage. We huffed and puffed in the ninety-degree weather and our umpire Marybeth assured us that we could keep on going.
So all the while, what were my husband and kids doing as I went off to coach, officiate or play my own games? It wasn’t easy. A sitter came to get my boys off the bus and get them started on their homework. She’d stay later on the nights I had my officials training. On those days I’d scramble to create some semblance of a dinner and make sure snacks and lunch were prepared for the next school day. I’d rationalize the cost of paying more for the sitter and the gas than I would make officiating games, by assuring myself that it was just the start of a new career. It was an investment that I was sure would develop into something more than a hobby.
That’s what I would tell my family too. In the end they was impressed with my stick-to-it-ness. And my boys loved the fact that my club team won the championship. I’d like to think it was with my help but really, I am not so sure. I’d just like to thank my club team – those high school and college girls – for putting up with my learning curve coming back to the game.
A portion of this article was published in Lacrosse Magazine in March 2013