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Emily Gibson & Paul Krome | @egibson32 @paulkrome
Six years ago, Sean Duritsa, a father of two, sat in a meeting with his daughter, Gabrielle, and 17 other first-year lacrosse players and their parents when the director of the Ashburn (Va.) Youth Lacrosse Club announced they would have the opportunity to play. Just one catch: They needed a parent to volunteer as coach.
“I took my daughter to the local lacrosse team tryouts that first year,” said Duritsa, a purchasing manager for Iron Workers International. “I didn’t realize I’d be coaching her team by the time I came home later that day.”
Duritsa grew up around basketball, football and track. These days he indulges in Ironman competitions. He had never touched a lacrosse stick, let alone played the sport, but now was responsible for providing a positive experience for 18 eager girls.
“I tried the ‘Coaching Lacrosse for Dummies’ book, searching the Internet for answers, and none of it was working,” Duritsa said. “So I turned to US Lacrosse. I’m the kind of person who likes to do everything right.”
During the sport’s unparalleled growth in participation since the 1998 inception of US Lacrosse, such tales of unsuspecting parents thrust into coaching duties have occurred thousands of times. That fueled the 2005 debut of the US Lacrosse Coaching Education Program (CEP), the first national, sport-specific curriculum for teaching adults how to teach youth how to play lacrosse. Eight years later, more than 20,000 people have completed at least one online course or instructional clinic through the CEP.
“We knew investing in the development of coaches would go a long way toward sustaining the responsible growth of lacrosse,” said Erin Smith, director of education and training at US Lacrosse, who worked with many of the game’s top coaches to develop and implement the CEP. “To have a kid get involved in the game and then leave because of a bad experience with a coach was a scenario we wanted to eliminate. Making sure players have a high-quality lacrosse experience remains the focus of a lot of what we do at US Lacrosse, and educating coaches is a huge component of that.”
Duritsa completed the CEP Level 1 online course and signed up for a Level 1 instructional clinic in Leesburg, Va. He recalled the lunch break where he met an older female participant that shared tips about goalkeeping. She played at Maryland.
Since then, Duritsa has gone on to obtain certification as a coach from US Lacrosse through Level 2 of the CEP. Certification includes completion of CEP courses, Positive Coaching Alliance’s Double-Goal Coach workshop and a background check through the National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI). Now a coach for six years, Duritsa continues to attend multiple clinics at multiple levels.
“You can always learn something new, not only from the different instructors US Lacrosse provides, but also the different people you meet at these clinics,” said Duritsa, now the girls’ lacrosse coach at Broad Run (Va.) High. “It is fascinating to hear the different tactics people use to teach different parts of the game. Nothing is too small.”
Duritsa’s investment in US Lacrosse resources became apparent to his players and their parents.
“Because of the training he had gone through, I could definitely tell a difference from other coaches I had growing up,” said Brittany O’Braitis, now a freshman at Radford University. “One practice we were having a really off day and everyone, including coach, was frustrated. He put us on the line to do sprints. But right before he blew the whistle, he stopped and brought us in. He decided talking to us and calming us down was a better solution. We ended practice playing better and went on to win our next game. Instead of running us until we puked, he brought us in and built us up.”
“Sean is all about the fundamentals. He never belittles anybody,” said Mike Hayes, whose daughter, Mary, is a sophomore at Broad Run and has been playing for Duritsa since sixth grade. “The comments to the girls are always positive. He gets on them, but it’s always instructional.”
Having experienced the benefits of certification, Duritsa, who’s also served as an administrator with the Ashburn Youth Lacrosse Club and the Northern Virginia Youth Lacrosse League, has become part of an increasing national trend of youth organizations requiring their coaches to obtain US Lacrosse certification. He started the Ashburn Select Lacrosse club team in 2011 and requires a CEP Level 2 certification for all coaches within his program.
“The coaching certification makes sure our families are comfortable with who our volunteers are,” said Bob Rhein, a Level 2 certified coach and the president of Eastern Knights Lacrosse, a youth program in the York County (Pa.) Lacrosse Association. “Having US Lacrosse as the national governing body behind certification — it gives a new parent one less objection to their child playing lacrosse. In fact, it’s a benefit to playing. I’m not aware of baseball or spring soccer at the youth level going at it as diligently as US Lacrosse is.”
That diligence fueled the inclusion of Level 1 coaching certification as one of seven national standards in the new US Lacrosse Gold Stick Program, a collection of best practices by which youth leagues can employ to help provide players a high-quality lacrosse experience.
Even before the formal development of the Gold Stick Program, youth organizations across the country — from one of the most established, the Mass Bay Youth Lacrosse League, to those within developing areas like the Wisconsin Lacrosse Federation (the state’s US Lacrosse chapter) — had begun requiring coaches to obtain certification through US Lacrosse. More than 3,500 coaches were certified as of press time, according to Dara Robbins, CEP manager at US Lacrosse. New Hampshire and New Jersey also rank among the states with significant percentages of coaches achieving certification.
“Certified coaches make a better, safer environment for the kids, and our parents have bought into that,” said Dave Wollin, a Level 1 certified coach and the president of the Wisconsin Lacrosse Federation. “If parents are buying in, they don’t have a problem paying a couple extra dollars to cover certification.”
Most coaches in Wisconsin receive reimbursement for costs associated with CEP certification, and the chapter has implemented a system to aid parents who are asked to coach youth teams just days before a season starts. Wollin said parents can “qualify” to coach by beginning with the free online CEP and PCA courses, then complete full certification within 16 months.
Many organizations work with US Lacrosse staff to provide instructional clinics. The Jersey Girls Lacrosse Association certified 250 coaches in 2011-12, according to education coordinator Courtney Turco, and will have offered its 850 coaches five CEP clinics by the time the 2012-13 clinic season concludes in March. Mass Bay president Tom Spangenberg estimated his league has had 1,800 coaches go through the program at some point.
“The most important thing we do is train coaches,” said Spangenberg, a former player at Babson College and a 20-year youth coach. “If you think about it, the towns we raise our families in, we don’t have choice of what league we can participate in. Having leagues and US Lacrosse put out standards and what should be expected, to raise the bar, is a great thing.”
For Duritsa, now in his seventh year as a coach, he’s built memories over a career that may have never happened had he not done what thousands of lacrosse parents have been asked to do at the last minute. His favorite memory remains his first season with those 18 girls who had never touched a stick.
“I owe my coaching career to US Lacrosse,” he said.
An edited version of this story appeared in the February 2013 edition of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. To start your subscription, become a member of US Lacrosse today.
The US Lacrosse Coaching Education Program gives coaches what they need to teach the sport and provide parents a comfort level with their children’s coaches. Learn more about certification and register for a clinic today.
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