By Eric Black
When Brian Langtry first moved to Colorado 20 years ago, few people were involved with lacrosse at the youth level. Aside from a handful of coaches and a high school scene dominated by only a few teams, lacrosse was a largely-unexploited sport.
“Then everyone went all-in on the club scene,” Langtry said. “And I felt like there was a piece of development that wasn’t really getting done.”
Langtry, a Long Island native who played over two decades of professional lacrosse, noticed that while there was a lot of team building going on, there wasn’t a big enough focus on individual development. A few years ago, he began training players on the side before their parents spoke up, wanting more. They told him he should start putting club teams together and when his brother, Rich, doubled down on the thought, Langtry committed to the idea.
Today, 6 Star Lacrosse has boys teams at the 2023, 2025, and 2026 level with tryouts for 2024 and 2027 teams set to take place in August. At the core of each of their practices is specialized training based on what each specific player needs to work on or what the team struggled with in their last game. Langtry’s commitment to player development and training is what he believes sets 6 Star apart from other programs.
“I spent 16 years as a teacher, knowing that each kid needs something different,” Langtry said. “So I try to look at the player as an individual and meet their needs.”
Langtry played attack for two seasons during his lacrosse career - his senior year of college at Hofstra and his last year with the Long Island Lizards of Major League Lacrosse, when he was 35. In order to adjust to playing the position, Langtry focused in and studied the game.
After starting in the MLL when all midfielders had short sticks, he had to break down how to carry against a long pole, especially in the latter stages of his career. To do so, he began to watch more lacrosse, something he still does today. If he’s not going to a high school or youth game he’s watching college games, either live or taped.
“I played 21 seasons of professional lacrosse, and I'm not exactly the most athletic person on earth,” Langtry said, laughing. “So I know the skill aspect of the game.”
Langtry’s love of watching lacrosse extends into his coaching and training, as at least once per season he’ll break down video of his team’s game, minute-by-minute, writing notes as it goes on. Then he’ll send it out, notes and all, to the players and their parents for them to review. In the fall, he’ll even go over video with the parents and players himself.
During practices he’ll use Coach’s Eye, an app that allows him to film a player shooting and break down their body movements. It allows him to determine the technicalities of how they’re shooting, like if they’re snapping their wrists or not. With help from Chase Clark, another coach in the program, 6 Star also does Black Diamond training, which involves offensive and defensive groups splitting up. The defense goes with Clark while the offense follows Langtry, then the players begin playing 1-on-1, 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 before shifting to a full-team situation.
“Practices are really intense, I personally have my hand in everything,” Langtry said. “...My goal is to make every individual player better, and at the end of the day the wins will follow if every player is improving.”
Langtry explained that he’d rather have five more kids join 6 Star than have a team win a gold medal or a t-shirt from some tournament. The growth of Colorado lacrosse at the youth level is what’s most important to him, and so far he’s making a difference.
There weren’t many kids committed to the sport when Langtry first started coaching in the area - rather, it was more of a “fun sport” that they played on the side. Now, he’s seeing players get to the point where they’re being serious and seeing their potential opportunities with lacrosse. Quality-wise, there’s a long way to go to get to the level of play of their peers on Long Island, but the gap is smaller than it used to be.
“I couldn't have played on these teams, like my sixth-grade team,” Langtry said. “When I was in sixth grade I wouldn't have made this team, in Colorado, and I lived on Long Island. They're just a lot better. The level of everything has been raised.”
By Eric Black
Recently, US Club Lacrosse has been notified of the issue of players switching club teams for a weekend, game, or tournament. Often, these players are some of the stars of their teams, and their absence or presence could decide a game one way or another. These “ringers” are becoming apparent all around the club circuit, and raise the question over whether or not the practice is fair or in any way undercuts the value of tryouts or the sportsmanship of competition.
On one hand, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, most players compete in these club tournaments in order to get exposure from college coaches. Many tournaments are even deemed showcases, rather than tournaments, because the ultimate goal is to have players display their skills.
Tad Doyle, the founder of Rising Sons lacrosse, is generally not in favor of adding players to load a team, despite the fact that he’s seen it been done at the younger ages. That being said, he permitted one of his players to briefly switch teams in an effort to improve his college hopes.
“We did just have one (player) who Amherst wanted to see play,” Doyle said. “So I called (the team) to see if they would let him run with them. They were short kids and obliged. That is how and why it should be done. Not to stack a team versus regular club teams.”
Patty Daley, the head coach of the 2020 Check-Hers Elite team, has seen her players been recruited by other teams in the past. While they’ve never decided to change teams, Daley’s players are given the opportunity to make the decision for themselves and consider the pros and cons of doing so.
She believes that ringers defeat the purpose of a team’s tryouts, and no matter what team a player decides to play for, they’ll always receive exposure and recognition.
“It really comes down to the team and coaches a player wants to play for,” Daley said. “And the philosophy of the club. All three things are considerations for players.”
Daley thinks that the mid-season recruitment of players shouldn’t occur as much as it does, but there isn’t really any plausible way to police it. Another coach that has seen his players been recruited in a similar fashion is Andy Pons, the Director of Lacrosse Operations for Thunder LB3 lacrosse. Teams have reached out to the kids on their Elite teams in the past through social media, something Pons described as “slimy”.
Thunder LB3 Elite, based out of the Atlanta area, never recruits kids outside Georgia because that would “hurt their overall mission.” While they do have a national team, with players outside of the state, Pons explained that they only play in one tournament (Naptown Challenge) and instead enjoy weekends filled with college tours and training. If a player is already on a team scheduled to play in the Naptown Challenge, Thunder LB3 doesn’t take him.
“The topic of ‘ringers’ is always a hot conversation,” Pons said. “Personally, I don't understand the attraction. Our guys get the best training in the country and we have developed a great track record of college commitments...We do not want to develop a reputation for ‘stealing kids.’”
Dave Mitchell, the President and Owner of Next Level Lacrosse, often sees ringers at big-time recruiting events in the November, June, and July months, he said. Many of these kids are likely on a different team than usual because their original squad either wasn’t playing in the event, or they thought they’d get more exposure on the new team.
If this was the case for all ringers, there’d likely be less brushback from opposing coaches, parents, and players. Although winning games is always important no matter what the setting, that concept may need to be viewed through a different lens when it comes to the future careers and college choices of teenagers.
Mitchell doesn’t think ringers are a problem for club lacrosse, but he does think they “undermine the value of the team,” and its long-term chemistry. What do you think? Is the increasing frequency of ringers in club lacrosse good or bad for the sport?
By Eric Black
Greer Hanlon was the only one of his friends who owned a stick when he began playing lacrosse in the suburbs of Chicago in the late ‘90s. They didn’t know the game, nor did they have much opportunity to watch it, and instead opted for more popular sports. Hanlon had to work on his game by himself.
He ultimately committed to play the sport collegiately at the University of Denver and played there for four years before moving to Charleston. There, last July, he started Charleston Elite, a new club lacrosse program for boys and girls in the area. Although it’s still early on in its stages of development, the program is already inspiring kids to start playing the sport of lacrosse at a young age.
The first call Hanlon made before he started the program was to Matt Brown, the current associate head coach at Denver. Brown is also one of the founders and directors of Denver Elite Lacrosse and the Denver Elite Box Lacrosse Program. Despite the distance, Hanlon knew he wanted his program to be connected.
“I said, ‘Matt, look. I want to start a club. Can I affiliate with you?’” Hanlon explained. “And he said ‘absolutely’...One of our players is going to play for their box team this summer and we hope to have them down for some clinics and things of that nature to help promote the game by us.”
Box lacrosse is a major part of the plan to teach the game and develop players by Charleston Elite, which runs a box lacrosse academy in the winter. If Hanlon had it his way, all kids in 5th grade and below would play box lacrosse instead of field lacrosse, where many kids could take a number of trips up and down the field without even touching the ball.
With box, they can develop their comfort with and without the ball in constant high-pressure situations, which field lacrosse games feature significantly less often. The skill aspect that box lacrosse can help with is something the program is really trying to expand in with its teachings. One of the ways they’re doing this is by going to schools, classrooms, and specifically physical education classes to teach the game. Hanlon’s found that it’s a great way to organically introduce the game to young kids.
“I talk about it with PE teachers all the time,” Hanlon said. “(The kids) like sports, they’re okay at sports, but they’re really enthusiastic about lacrosse. Whereas they’re not enthusiastic about soccer or football or basketball or whatever else. For me, that’s awesome. If we do that for one person, we’re doing our job of growing the game.”
Hanlon explained that they’ve ventured to four different middle schools so far, all with about 700 kids in them, in addition to a high school. He’s been helped by the fact that there’s “no better place” than Charleston to play lacrosse because of its climate, aside from some rain. So far, Hanlon estimates that they’ve introduced lacrosse to over 2,500 kids that otherwise would’ve been unable to play due to barriers of entry such as cost and equipment.
Charleston Elite features six boys teams and two girls teams in the program, numbers that are expected to grow in the near future. The girls' teams are specifically of interest to him because he’s noticed that there’s a drop between 8th and 9th grade in the level of participation.
“What we're trying to do is garner that interest early on,” Hanlon said, “so that we can push through that drop-off.”
Another way Charleston Elite is trying to establish interest in the game is through the free clinics they offer, which kids can just show up to and play at. After the first clinic, there are five or six sessions of only stickwork that follow, so the key is just trying to get the kids to stay with it. Using freelacrosse.org to spread the word, they got 75 kids to come to the first clinic and play the sport for the first time, of which 50 signed up for the next clinic.
After the interest has been garnered and the fundamentals established, Charleston Elite’s goal is to ultimately compete at the regional and national levels. To do so, Hanlon hopes to be able to grow the game organically around Charleston and attract kids from all over the region to come play for the program. Even though Hanlon had to create his own path into the lacrosse world, Charleston Elite is making sure kids in the area don’t have to do the same.
"There is a lot of similarity, so what I see is the same thing Illinois had, is athletes that just haven't played the game very long or don't know the game very well,” Hanlon said. “So if we can just capture those athletes, teach them the game the right way, foster the growth, I think the success will come, it's just gonna take a bit of time.”
By Eric Black
Ryan Flanagan didn’t last more than a quarter through a high school lacrosse game in the spring of 2012. The North Carolina graduate had just graduated and was interested in continuing to work with lacrosse, so he decided to check out the quality level of high school teams in the area. It was so difficult to watch that he left before the first buzzer.
Seven years later, the former NCAA division-I defenseman of the year is back watching high school games and nowadays, he can watch contests from start to finish.
“I went and watched Weddington High School play Mallard Creek,” Flanagan said, “and I’m watching a kid who’s going to Towson covering a kid who’s going to Duke...It’s a pretty good lacrosse game.”
Flanagan, a three-time All-American with the Tar Heels and current player with the Chrome of the Premier Lacrosse League, started Team 24/7 Lacrosse when he graduated from Chapel Hill. Nearly a decade since, Team 24/7 has partnered with Team Carolina at the high school level, now has 12 travel teams and puts sticks in the hands of hundreds of kids who otherwise never would’ve played lacrosse.
From the get-go, he’s encountered those cultural differences regarding the sport in the area compared to where he grew up, in West Islip, N.Y. On Long Island, lacrosse dominates the youth sports landscape and most kids, from fifth or sixth grade on, even walk down the street with a stick in their hands. In the Charlotte area, Flanagan explained, lacrosse takes a backseat to baseball, soccer, and football.
“It’s just not as ingrained in the culture,” Flanagan said. “You have a handful of guys that are playing lacrosse, but up and down your roster, your kids aren’t as committed to it.”
That lack of commitment has lead to a significantly smaller pool of athletes than areas like Long Island or Maryland have to choose from. The best athletes in the area or in schools are playing football or baseball and focusing on it, as opposed to up north, where many kids play lacrosse as a “1A” sport and another sport as a “1B”, Flanagan explained.
The next offshoot of the cultural differences is stick skills that aren’t as good, if only because kids are rarely working on them on a consistent basis. While there are always top players that will lead the team and be mostly, if not entirely, committed to lacrosse, the talent gap is more apparent as you go down the roster. That’s despite a lot of players being great athletes - they’re just unable or unwilling to play lacrosse year-round or close to it.
Flanagan described the growth and future growth of the program in terms of a pyramid. First, you have to attract more athletes to build a bigger pool of players to choose from. After that, those players have to practice and be trained and build consistent skills.
“Part one is always build the base,” Flanagan said. “Then develop the base. You have to have your pool and develop it, and then a byproduct of that is going to be consistently competing at the national level. And then another byproduct of that is going to be more recruiting opportunities.”
To build the pool of athletes, Team 24/7 has employed a number of different strategies. What first started as a singular camp has advanced to a rec league, travel teams, and day camps. Early on, they worked with 20 to 30 kids per camp, but now their day camps are filled with upwards of 100 players and their winter league has double that.
Flanagan made sure to emphasize how important the initiative to grow the game at the youth level is, both to him personally and his program. Team 24/7 has partnered with South Park Youth Association, the same one NBA star Stephen Curry was a part of as a kid, to build a lacrosse program. When Curry was younger, there was no lacrosse program. Now, Flanagan hopes that in the future, the next Stephen Curry will take advantage of the opportunity.
Team 24/7 also began Little Stix Lacrosse, an after-school lacrosse program for kids at the elementary school level. It’s one hour, one day a week, and last year, it gave 400 kids the ability to have a lacrosse stick for the first time.
“As that grows, and those kids come through the youth programs and into the high school program,” Flanagan said, “it’s gonna be huge for the sport.”
It’s not always as simple as just putting sticks in kids’ hands, however. During the first practice Flanagan ever ran, he told his team to go into a clear and none of them knew what he meant. Between shapes and positioning, some kids need to be taught the game from the ground up. But as those fundamentals have become more known in the community and at the youth level, the quality of play has improved in addition to the jump in numbers.
Flanagan’s long-term goal is to improve the recruiting process and success for kids in North Carolina. He doesn’t understand why places like Atlanta, which doesn’t have a college team nearby, should have so much more success on the recruiting stage than North Carolina, which has schools like Duke, UNC, and Limestone in the area.
He hopes that one day, there will be someone like Peter Baum, a Seattle native who was the first West Coast player to win the Tewaaraton Trophy, from North Carolina to give kids someone to look up to and emulate.
“We’re years away from that, but that’s a working process,” Flanagan said. “And there’s all the parts of the process to get there.”