Should my teenage son continue to play for a losing team or switch?
July 7, 2013 8:56 PM   Subscribe

My son has been playing lacrosse for a regional team for about 4 years now. He is heading into his Senior year and is a team Captain. The team has struggled the last couple of seasons with terrible losses and very rare wins. Morale is low. Should he approach the coach of another team, a coach that he plays for in an off-season league, to discuss playing for him in the regular season? Or, should he struggle through what is likely his last season with his current, struggling team? What advice can I give him to help him decide?

A little extra detail: the two coaches are very close friends and their teams will play each other in the upcoming season.
posted by retrorider to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What does he want to do? Senior in high school is old enough to be sorting this stuff out for yourself without parental involvement.

My advice would depend on specifics you haven't given. Is he close friends with his current teammates? When you say morale is low, what does that mean? Your son's morale, or the morale of the entire team? How does that affect his relationships with his teammates and his enjoyment of the activity? How important is winning to him? What is he playing lacrosse for? Is it for fun, or because he's very competitive, or is there a level of ambition there I'm not anticipating? Is the other team more ambitious in general, and a switch would lead to opportunities for him that he wouldn't have with his current team?

I'm not really a sporty person, but it's never occurred to me to quit a team I otherwise enjoyed because we weren't winning. That said, this is something that's up to him and should depend on his goals.
posted by Sara C. at 9:00 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

It also occurs to me that there's no substantial pro lacrosse presence in the US, and while he might play in college, this is probably his last year playing lacrosse. How does that factor into all this? Does he want to spend one last year playing with his friends, team reputation be damned? Or does he want to spend one last year kicking ass and winning trophies?

As a non-sporty person, and as an adult, my advice would probably be to remind him that high school sports matter approximately not one entire whit past age 18.
posted by Sara C. at 9:04 PM on July 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

Don't discount the educational value of being on a losing team.

Sometimes life is like that. You don't always win. The sooner (younger) you learn that lesson and learn to deal with disappointment and frustration, the better.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:07 PM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

My friends played lacrosse, it was a sport my high school supported.

Will the other team have him? Does he want to switch?

It's fun to do the thing you love and be successful with it. Yes, your son deserves that experience if the transition will be smooth.

That's all I got.
posted by jbenben at 9:10 PM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

It seems to me that this is more about learning and developing leadership skills. You said he's a team captain. If the team's morale is low, it's partly on him to pull that up and to help build a stronger team for his senior year and beyond. It's a chance for him to make a lasting impression on the junior class men on the team that will extend well beyond his leaving.

I would also think that a university program would look more highly on someone willing to step up in a difficult situation than someone who steps away.
posted by michswiss at 9:13 PM on July 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Depends on his goals. Does he want to play in college?
posted by Dansaman at 9:13 PM on July 7, 2013

He's a captain, it'd be a Bad Person Thing to quit.
posted by Grandysaur at 9:16 PM on July 7, 2013 [16 favorites]

I have two sons who play high school lacrosse at a competitive level. I played in HS myself. I have coached many of my kid's teams although not lacrosse, only basketball and baseball. I have had teams that won the league championship and teams that were the worst in the league.

I think there are three things to consider here. One, is he enjoying himself? I have had losing teams that were loads of fun and winning teams that were not so much. Two, is he looking to play at the next level? As a rising senior he should already have interest from coaches at the next level, he should be playing in showcase games this summer and his coaches should be reaching out on his behalf. If he is looking to play at the next level, the next question is will this new team help? Winning is not what gets you recruited, although it does get coaches to show up at games. Talent will win out. There are times when a good players talent will stand out on a bad team more than they will on a good team surrounded by other talented players. I would also ask what position he plays. Is he a long pole middie, defender, goalie or what? Lacrosse play has become very specialized and his role on the new team should be defined before he considers a switch. The third question I would ask would be about his commitment overall. Does he generally follow through with his commitments and is he a team player? If he is generally not considered a team player, switching now could hurt him more than it helps.

If it were my son, although it would be his decision, I would counsel him to find a way to make his current team work. Unless he was being treated unfairly by the coaches, I would stick with the team even if they are expected to lose every game. I would also counsel him to sit down with his current coach and discuss his apprehensions about the coming season. I would suggest he needs to discuss this with his coach who might actually suggest he switch if he thinks it is in your son's best interest. It is a conversation your son needs to have with his coach, not his parent with the coach.

Finally, I would again ask my son if he is enjoying himself.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:17 PM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: A few more details:

My son is a goalie; a somewhat specialized position.

This last season, he led the division in shots faced; by a huge margin. This is a reflection of the quality of the team's defense.

His save percentage was top 10 in the league, but when you face so many shots, your goals against number suffers. And your team loses a lot.

This is very much his decision. He has asked me for advice. I did not play team sports.

Is he having fun? Sometimes, but losing and being utterly non-competitive takes a toll.

Will he play in college? Not likely in Division 1, but the team's previous goalie did get a partial scholarship to a Division 2 school and my son is of similar skill.
posted by retrorider at 9:30 PM on July 7, 2013

Being a good goalie on a bad team can suck. If his save percentages are high, he will still attract the attention of the next level coaches, but it usually helps to be a goalie on a winning team.

I think you need to find out if he will get significant playing time on the potential new team. If he will and he thinks it will help with recruiting, then he should switch. If he will be getting less playing time on the new team than on the old one, I would not switch. I would then counsel him to try to recruit better players to his team.

One more thing. The last two goalies from my son's team are currently playing at good Division III schools. The thing that recruiters looked at more than save percentage was how they could lead the clear. What are your son's stick skills like after he makes the save? Can he either bring the ball up field himself or make a good outlet pass? I would play for the coach that would work with me on that part of my skill set regardless of the team's won loss record.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:45 PM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I had a similar dilemma in my youth (different sport). I stayed with my losing team, and the result was a mixed bag. Critics would say: "If he's any good, why is he with the nobodies?" I had a chance to play in a summer league and then an all-star series which were refreshing experiences. I did not look out of place at higher levels of competition, but I think my skills had not developed as well as people who had always been on the best squads. So it is a big choice. If he keeps playing with losers, he won't get better himself and then the gap will be hard to close. I know that much for sure.

As for life lessons, that is dependent on his other qualities as a person.

As for leadership qualities, I don't think much can be gained when you are with people who do not have the ability or commitment to be better.

If lacrosse is a big part of his identity, then I think he has to look at joining a more competitive squad. If it is just another thing he does, then he has other avenues for challenge and it is not so important. This is only my opinion. Good luck to your son!
posted by 99percentfake at 10:02 PM on July 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

If he's a goalie, then he should like having a lot of shots against him. I doubt he would rather stand around and have not much to do. So the points are: 1) he's getting more practice this way, and 2) he should actually be having more fun this way, if he focuses on the process rather on than the outcome. After all, in the long-run, I would say for his situation the outcome matters naught and the process matters all. What he will take with him into the future from his playing experience is not statistics but skills developed. Can you imagine him saying in the future "I was a goalie but not that great of a one because I had such a good defense protecting the goal that I didn't get all that much practice stopping shots. But the important thing was we one a lot of games!" So maybe you can help him turn what he thinks is a negative into a positive.
posted by Dansaman at 10:15 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

once he's in college no one will care about his lacrosse team. maybe if it's beneficial scholarship wise, i could understand switching. but, beyond that, it has no other ramifications. if there's no getting-into-college issue, he should do whatever his gut thinks is best.
posted by cupcake1337 at 11:03 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

When is the season, or are they playing year-round? In my schools it was always a spring sport, so switching teams now likely won't matter much for college admissions.

Can he take advantage of his position as captain to help turn the team around? There's got to be a reason they're losing so much. An extra day of drills each week, led by him? Early morning conditioning runs? Sounds like he could really use this as an opportunity to develop his leadership.
posted by charmcityblues at 11:12 PM on July 7, 2013

Though you mention that your son asked you for advice and this is up to him, I'm still not getting the sense the kid actually wants to switch teams. Yeah, losing is not as fun as winning, but does he really want to switch? Is this about getting into college, or having more fun, or possibly your frustration that as an engaged parent who knows your sons League stats backwards and forwards, you want him to be in a place where his talents will shine?

If you think there is a shred of a chance it is the latter, I'd strongly encourage you to carefully examine your own motivations behind this. I know it is frustrating to sit on the sidelines when someone you love and is very good at what they do aren't getting the results you know they deserve. But when it comes down to it, it should be up to your son to make the decision.
posted by arnicae at 11:34 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

As the captain, perhaps he has somewhat of an obligation to stick it out? Jumping off a sinking ship doesn't seem like a great demonstration of leadership to me.

That said, you gotta look out for #1 too, and in this modern age, no one is going to be looking out for your interests except you.
posted by teatime at 11:35 PM on July 7, 2013

As someone who played sports myself....having your captain change teams to play with "the winning team" may go over very poorly with his peers and teammates. This may be worth it if the benefits of being on the superior team are good enough, and I suppose it's possible that his team is...laid back and won't care (this seems doubtful), but...something to consider. Many people would think that the captain abandoning his team is bad form. Including, btw, possibly the kids on the team to which he'd be jumping ship. Just another angle for you guys to consider.

Now, if this change will get him a scholarship, that's a mitigating and understandable factor. Recruiting is something everyone understands. But if he's going to sit on the bench at the other team AND get some shit from people, he might regret it.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:42 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Senior year season doesn't really matter for recruiting. Between Junior year and what ever camps he will attend this summer that's where he will get noticed. So don't worry about the college stuff. Also as a goalie he's not quite at the same disadvantage playing on a bad team as is a field player. Especially if he's going to goalie camps and such.

If his big issue is facing so many shots (which sucks especially if the are close-in, which are basically unsaleable in a field goal) why is that happening? Good defense is about teamwork and atheticism rather than individual skill. As a goalie that teamwork is his job. So is helping guys slide. It's much easier for a bad team to have a good defense than a good offense. As a rising senior captain he should sit down with the coach and discuss how they will fix the defense. The classic bad team defensive fixit is to run some kind of zone defense. He will face shots but mostly from nearer the top of the box - which he should love as a goalie.

If the coach is non-receptive that should play into his decision. Personally I think the most important thing is he friendships on the team. Hell I still sort of resent the guys from junior high lacrosse who decided to go to the big catholic school rather than stay and play with us at our tiny high school. At the end of the day he needs to be having fun though. If he isn't maybe move on.
posted by JPD at 4:07 AM on July 8, 2013

Oh yeah - and ignore scholarship chatter. Parents love to tell people their kids got schollies - the reality is that scholarship money is very scarce in Lacrosse. I had buddies who were AA in high school (in an area that produces a huge proportion of D-1 talent), went to schools that regularly play on Memorial Day, one whom was also a college AA - and at best I think they eventually were getting their board paid for. Lacrosse is great for getting you into school, but of limited utility in getting school paid for unless you are like a top 20 recruit.

ETA: Also coaches dont' really care about stats - they recognize the team dependent nature of them. I had a buddy who could barely dodge who led the county in scoring for the first half of his junior year. Why? Because the two other attackman would beat their guy and feed him on the crease where he would more often than not shovel the ball in.
posted by JPD at 4:14 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is better to be the captain of a mediocre team than a 2nd string player on a winning team. The best thing for him might be to find a more competitive off-season league to play in so that he can improve his skills.
posted by deanc at 4:26 AM on July 8, 2013

Pro sports have a long history of "the guy going to another team to win his championship." Usually because he is near the end of his career and on a perpetual loser, or has lost confidence in the ownership to put a winning team together before his retirement. The reaction to this move is either one of total disgust: He left "our" team so that he could get his trophy, or total understanding: Ownership is so fu*ked that he had to leave. In many cases a championship may be the determining factor in a player's hall of fame status.

If your son is expecting, or looking at a scholarship, and being on a winning team may help him, then I say do it. If he is just tired of losing, then he needs to suck it up and try his best to improve the team he is on.
posted by Gungho at 6:23 AM on July 8, 2013

If his coach and team-mates can't be bothered to improve themselves, why stick with them?

It's no fun at all for a good athlete to be unable to compete at or near the same level as the other teams in the league for reasons he isn't able to control... he didn't sign up to play sports to be anyone's punching bag or pushover. Look, someone has to be at the bottom of the standings, not every season is a winning season - but it sounds like the team is stuck in the cellar and not making any progress. If, after two seasons, the rest of the team still can't get their act together enough to at least hold their own with the other teams, it may be time to leave. I think your son realizes his team isn't serious about their sport the way he is, and that alone is a good reason to leave.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:14 AM on July 8, 2013

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