Is it Time for the NCJLA to Exit the Travel Team Business?

Is it Time for the NCJLA to Exit the Travel Team Business?

Postby picknroll » Thu Mar 11, 2010 6:48 pm

The NCJLA sponsored Nor Cal youth travel teams have served our lacrosse community well for as long as I have been involved in youth lacrosse (since 2005). For years we have sent U15 and U13 teams to Vail and to the US Lacrosse Festival. Those tournaments were the place to showcase the growth in quality of Nor Cal youth lacrosse. Those teams became a rallying point to bring us all together to proudly root on our boys. We have seen our teams reach continually higher level of competition, even resulting in tournament wins at Vail. These accomplishments have given us all reason to be proud of Nor Cal youth lacrosse.

But even as these Nor Cal travel team accomplishments kept growing, other problems were surfacing. The growth of travel teams has not kept pace with the overall growth of youth lacrosse in Nor Cal. Each year the number of Nor Cal travel team participants becomes a smaller percentage of the total population of youth players. Also the geographic footprint of Nor Cal lacrosse widens each year, but the Nor Cal travel team participants continue to come from a narrow set of large Bay Area clubs. In fact the travel team participants have increasing become more concentrated in a smaller number of clubs. Even as the NCJLA geographics and demographics become more diverse each year, the travel team geographics and demographics become more concentrated. Last year's U13 Vail team had 10 players from just two clubs, almost half the team. For the Nor Cal travel teams participation there has been a growing divide between a handful of large clubs and the rest of the NCJLA population. Each year these Nor Cal teams seem to represent a fewer number of clubs. This is perhaps just a reflection of the concentration of talent within the NCJLA, but nonetheless the concentration certainly weakens that sense of support that we have all felt for these teams.

In 2009 our top travel team switched from the Vail tournament to the new US Lacrosse National Championship tournament. This is a troublesome tournament for the NCJLA as the format of the tournament allows 9th graders to play in U15. In the first year of participation in this National Championship tournament the NCJLA resisted the temptation to put 9th graders (non-NCJLA players) on the team and basically sent the same set of boys that would have gone to Vail. This team did well, but not great, finishing in the middle of the pack. You can legitimately argue that we disadvantaged our team by sending our 8th graders out to play in a tournament agaist 9th graders. This year the NCJLA has chosen to "level the playing field" by adding CIF High School 9th grade players.

So now our top NCJLA U15 travel team will contain players who are not even players on NCJLA teams. Just as it became harder and harder for folks to root for a team that included representation from a small number of clubs, now we don't even have our own youth players to root for. Those outstanding players that we face each week on the field come to respect may not even be on the team. While there is still the sense of community in Nor Cal lacrosse and we certainly can root for these 9th grade players, they are not our youth players' friends and teammates. These 9th graders will certainly make the team more competitive, but whose team has this become? The longstanding identity of the U15 travel team within the youth community will most certainly diminish.

Now if this National Championship team contains CIF players (non-NCJLA players) we can ask why the NCJLA is sponsoring the team at all. Through the years the NCJLA has been very useful in providing our NCJLA youth players the opportunity to play at Vail and the US Lacrosse Festival. Their NCJLA leadership has been great infrastructure and organization for these teams. Now we have reached the awkward point where the (paid) NCJLA leadership is investing time and energy adminstering a team that is not our own NCJLA players. Each of our teams pay $450 to register as an NCJLA team and close to 80% of those fees go toward the paid staff of the NCJLA. Do we employee these people to help administer a team of outside players? Is that good use of our NCJLA team fees?

This 2010 National Championship team may be the trigger point for the NCJLA to exit the travel team business all together. The landscape today has changed considerably from the early days of these Nor Cal travel teams. Look at the burgeoning set of private travel teams at the high school level: Starz, Alcatraz Outlaws, Braves, etc. These are all private organizations. There is no support from the NCJLA or other similar organizations. At the high school level we have reached the point where running a private summer travel team can be a successful business. Why is this not true at the youth level? I think it is because the NCJLA has held a monopoly on youth travel teams up to this point. It is not smart business to go into competition with the NCJLA. Braveheart tried and were successful for only one year. The NCJLA came roaring back with vengence the next year and I believe Braveheart travel teams are now defunct. It is like trying to compete with the government.

If the NCJLA were to exit the travel team business I believe we could see considerable growth in private Nor Cal travel teams. That would make a conducive environment for the private guys to run youth travel teams. Then the marketplace can work on solving the growing set of problems in our Nor Cal travel teams: geographic concentration, lack of opportunity for 8th graders, etc. Those private travel teams could fill the needs of the Nor Cal youth community. Several years ago I would have been opposed to such a notion, but I think that now the time has come. The handling of the National Championship team by the NCJLA has demonstrated that they are no longer serving the interest of the NCJLA youth community (that pays them). It is time for the NCJLA to get out of the way and let the private guys take over Nor Cal youth travel teams. The marketplace will ensure that our interests are served.

When private youth travel teams are allowed to thrive in Nor Cal, we will also start to see Nor Cal summer youth tournaments. That is the next logical progression in Nor Cal youth lacrosse. We need that to help build our Nor Cal players. Instead of 2 teams that travel across the country, there needs to be a dozen teams that can meet and play each other at Cherry Island or Treasure Island or wherever. That is the next step which is not only an opportunity for youth player development but it is also a business opportunity. I know that many of you cringe at people making money off of lacrosse, but in my opinion we will need private ventures to take Nor Cal lacrosse to the next level. It is not going to happen with the NCJLA alone. The NCJLA has unfortunately become a hindrance to our youth travel teams.
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Re: Is it Time for the NCJLA to Exit the Travel Team Business?

Postby motiv8orr » Thu Mar 11, 2010 11:41 pm

I sort of agree with this.

I traveled to Vail with the Marin-Sonoma All Stars, and it was a memorable experience for all involved. Also, it costs less than the NCJLA teams charged. "Private" doesn't necessarily mean "for profit". All it takes is some committed volunteers, some sponsors, and an energetic coach.
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Re: Is it Time for the NCJLA to Exit the Travel Team Business?

Postby chmdave » Fri Mar 12, 2010 1:11 pm

Well Done Pick!!!

We sometimes forget that THE LEAGUE is a handful of volunteer women and men who have a VERY big job simply keeping the wheels on for the regular season...it's too much for a small group of overtaxed volunteers to run national teams effectively...

The private travel teams can probably do a better job in servicing the 200 or so kids who have the talent...the desire...and the money to barnstorm the country...

For the other 7800...All West is putting together local post season tournaments and I'm sure there will be others...assuming they're well run...they'll provide an inexpensive alternative for the other 7800 kids to have access to a high quality post season developmental experience...
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Re: Is it Time for the NCJLA to Exit the Travel Team Business?

Postby backdoor » Sat Mar 13, 2010 8:32 am

picknroll wrote:Now we have reached the awkward point where the (paid) NCJLA leadership is investing time and energy adminstering a team that is not our own NCJLA players. Each of our teams pay $450 to register as an NCJLA team and close to 80% of those fees go toward the paid staff of the NCJLA. Do we employee these people to help administer a team of outside players? Is that good use of our NCJLA team fees?

In talking with an NCJLA staff member, it is my impression that the NCJLA is not really "administering" and sponsoring the team in the full sense. They plan on paying the entrance fee for the tournament and facilitating communication and the tryouts. They are not intending on making travel arrangements, running the tryouts, collecting player fees, etc. All that is supposed to come from the parents and coaches, etc. for the traveling team.

I would also argue that these 9th graders are "our" players. Did they not play in the NCJLA for several years? Did they, their parents and clubs not make contributions to the league for several years up to their 9th grade year? And considering the huge budget surplus the league has on hand, I would even say those 9th graders have earned the right to draw from it still.

picknroll wrote:At the high school level we have reached the point where running a private summer travel team can be a successful business. Why is this not true at the youth level? I think it is because the NCJLA has held a monopoly on youth travel teams up to this point. It is not smart business to go into competition with the NCJLA. Braveheart tried and were successful for only one year. The NCJLA came roaring back with vengence the next year and I believe Braveheart travel teams are now defunct. It is like trying to compete with the government.

Didn't Team Talon do very well recently? I think this was a privatized youth team. Braveheart was something entirely different in my opinion. I think Braveheart fell apart more from it's own doing than the NCJLA. What did the NCJLA do to come roaring back? They haven't set out to stomp out competition, have they? They may not have been very cooperative with some private teams, but that's different. Did they develop a new business model to compete with Braveheart? Or was their product simply more accessible, well priced and flexible? Braveheart was very expensive, invite only and was loaded with rules and requirements. Not a model built for inviting and keeping players involved.

picknroll wrote:If the NCJLA were to exit the travel team business I believe we could see considerable growth in private Nor Cal travel teams. That would make a conducive environment for the private guys to run youth travel teams. Then the marketplace can work on solving the growing set of problems in our Nor Cal travel teams: geographic concentration, lack of opportunity for 8th graders, etc. Those private travel teams could fill the needs of the Nor Cal youth community. Several years ago I would have been opposed to such a notion, but I think that now the time has come. The handling of the National Championship team by the NCJLA has demonstrated that they are no longer serving the interest of the NCJLA youth community (that pays them). It is time for the NCJLA to get out of the way and let the private guys take over Nor Cal youth travel teams. The marketplace will ensure that our interests are served.

I believe essentially, the NCJLA should be stepping away from the travel team business. But there is no reason the NCJLA and private teams can't co-exist. The private teams should work with the league in communication and support to get the teams rolling and then the league can ease out. I believe that is the intention with this team. Let the private organizations run the elite and top level teams while the league uses it's resources to foster the festival type teams with players from the youth ranks.
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Re: Is it Time for the NCJLA to Exit the Travel Team Business?

Postby norcalmom » Sat Nov 06, 2010 6:34 am

Being relatively new to the advanced lacrosse scene, I am completely confused as to the pros & cons of private travel teams as opposed to the NCJLA's travel teams ... but now that All West has rolled out their Elite Travel team program, I hope to see further well-rounded debating here about the positives and negatives to this option.

There are some issues I wonder about: 1. What about practice and/or tournament conflicts with the regular NCJLA season? 2. Will the AllWest Elite travel teams dilute the strength of the Festival and National teams? Can they coexist, and would some kids actually be on both? Or is that logistically impossible? Will they be attending the same tournaments, and possibly competing against one another? 3. Back East, with so MANY lacrosse players, I would guess they have a ton of private travel teams ... how does it work there? Do they have conflicts with regional associations comparable to the NCJLA? 4. As a mom of an upcoming player eager to try out for a travel team, are there some unseen ramifications if he tries out and makes the "wrong" one? 5. Can the NCJLA expand the number of teams they field, or would that become difficult to administer?

As I have zero experience with travel teams, I look forward to learning more now ...bring on the debating, please!
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Re: Is it Time for the NCJLA to Exit the Travel Team Business?

Postby Billax » Wed Nov 10, 2010 6:13 pm

As a parent whose son has been fortunate enough to play on the top NorCal travel teams for some years now - this coming summer will be the seventh consecutive year - I've had lots of opportunity to observe the travel team scene. Three of these teams were sponsored by the NCJLA, one was under the aegis of the NorCal Chapter of US Lacrosse, and three were run by private individuals. Regardless of ownership or sponsorship, the experiences are very similar.

To your four questions:
1) Youth travel team practices during the NCJLA season have, almost always, taken place on Sunday mornings. Usually, Sunday morning travel team practices do not conflict with NCJLA Sunday game schedules. Not sayin' your local club coach likes the boys showing up to an NCJLA game after a three hour travel team practice, but there have been very few game-day conflicts.

2) The All West Elite team will almost certainly get a good chunk of NorCal's strong youth players, just as Mario Enea's Braveheart team got a large fraction of the area's top players for the 2007 tournament season. I argued then, as I do now, that NorCal's Boys' Youth Lacrosse is big enough and strong enough to host numerous strong teams. In 2007, both the Braveheart U15 team and the NCJLA U15 Vail team attended the Vail Shootout. Both teams made the highest bracket in the tourney (the A Bracket) and - not surprisingly to me - both squads did very well. The same will be true today. The flip side of "dilution" is opportunity for players new to travel teams. NorCal has MANY strong players. It's a non-issue. As to attending the same tournaments, looking at the All West schedule, I don't see any conflicts. Am I wrong, guys?

3) On the East Coast the same public/private split takes place. On Long Island, you've got the LI Express, For Love of the Game, and several single-school teams, such as the fantastic West Islip team that represents a single town of 50,000 people. They're all great teams.

4) THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS THE WRONG TRAVEL TEAM! In 2007, Braveheart U15 had a somewhat better record than the NCJLA U15 team. In 2008, NCJLA U15 had a somewhat better record than Braveheart U15. What was the difference? A couple of Braveheart 2007 guys elected to play NCJLA with their buddies in 2008. Friendships trump teams - or at least they did back in the long-ago days of 2008. Both teams learned a lot and great friendships were formed, both among the players and the parents. NorCal has a TON of strong players. Finally, ANYONE can form a travel team, and they frequently do. There have been Marin travel teams, Sonoma travel teams, East Bay travel teams and, for all I know, a travel team for cross-eyed/blond-haired boys. The main point is that the boys challenge themselves, they get better, and they have a GREAT time. With the benefit of hindsight, that's all there is to it.

The point of all travel teams is to provide boys with an opportunity to get better. Some boys will become better than others because they grow bigger, because they have slightly greater lateral agility or straight line speed, or - and this is the big one - because they work harder at getting better. Which travel team a boy plays on in elementary and middle school is inconsequential in determining where he ends up. The uncomfortable truth is, for the dozen best sixth, seventh, and eighth grade players in my son's then age cohort, more than half of them have been surpassed by boys who worked harder. Only in America!
Sports don't build character, they reveal it. - Heywood Broun
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Re: Is it Time for the NCJLA to Exit the Travel Team Business?

Postby norcalmom » Thu Nov 18, 2010 6:38 am

Thank you, Billax, for sharing your opinion & experiences. I feel much better now and understand the field a bit more! I'm so impressed with this forum... seems like NorCal lax will be creating not only some stellar players but some stellar human beings, based on what I'm seeing from the parents & coaches on this site. There is a lot of mystery to all of this, when you're an outsider who has no lax background, and this is the ONLY place where illumination and sharing is so openly showcased and I, for one, and incredibly grateful! Thanks again!!! =D> =D> =D> =D>
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Re: Is it Time for the NCJLA to Exit the Travel Team Business?

Postby Billax » Thu Nov 18, 2010 3:17 pm

norcalmom wrote:...this is the ONLY place where illumination and sharing is so openly showcased and I, for one, and incredibly grateful! Thanks again!!! =D> =D> =D> =D>


Thank you! This is a wonderful Forum because so many lacrosse players, coaches, parents and fans love this ancient game more than any they've ever played. They honor the credo, "Give back to the Game." I have a feeling you'll be among those who give back....
Sports don't build character, they reveal it. - Heywood Broun
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Re: Is it Time for the NCJLA to Exit the Travel Team Business?

Postby picknroll » Wed Mar 09, 2011 5:16 pm

Random facts ...

Go to the NCJLA web site. Scroll down and click on "Boys NorCal Festival Travel Team website". Interestingly this link takes you away from the NCJLA site and onto the Tomahawks club web site.

The Tomahawks chose not to field a U15A team for 2011. The top Tomahawks U15 team plays U15B.

The Tomahawks U15B team lost to the Red Hawks U15A on opening weekend by a score of 9-0.

The "Boys NorCal Festival Travel Team webiste" lists five Tomahawks U15 players on the roster, tied with Central Marin for the largest number of players selected.

There are zero Diablo Scorpions on the U15 Festival teams. I watched the tryouts and saw not a single orange helmet show up.
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Re: Is it Time for the NCJLA to Exit the Travel Team Business?

Postby SkylineCoach » Wed Mar 09, 2011 5:35 pm

I'm hoping that diversity in the travel teams is not the same as dilution.

Skyline has 1 U15 & 2 U13's on NorCal teams, 2 U13's and 2 U15's on All-West Teams, 1 U15 and 1 U11 on the Cali*Lax All-Stars, and 2 U13's on Booth Elite. I think its a pretty good spread and all the boys report having fun at tryouts and enjoying the practices.

I wonder if these teams will have a chance to go head-to-head anywhere...
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