Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Nov. 2, 2017 — A level of dissatisfaction that should open your eyes

Last month, the NCAA released a report called “NCAA Division I Student‐Athlete Advisory Committee Early Recruiting Survey Preliminary Results.”

The thrust and intent of the survey was ostensibly to show the landscape of today’s recruitment process, which saw the nation’s lacrosse coaches vote earlier this year to limit their recruitment efforts after some notable commitment announcements from Canada showed the lengths to which some coaches have been angling at younger and younger players.

And of course, there have been years upon years of tales in football and boys’ basketball involving shoe money, club coaches, and magazines ranking middle-school basketball players which have also been pushing the recruitment envelope.

There are a number of findings from this NCAA survey, which was given to some 15,000 student-athletes. A few results were not calculated for specific sports because of low response; there were just 72 rugby players and 45 men’s hockey players.

But there is one result from this NCAA survey should get you up and out of your chair. Of the student-athletes answering the statement, “The college athletics recruiting process was a positive experience for me” with an “agree” or “strongly agree,” the lowest percentages (62 percent) were from field hockey and women’s lacrosse players.

That’s right. If you look at five players at an indoor tournament, a camp, a varsity game — any playing opportunity — only three of them are likely having an overall positive experience.

And here’s the thing: today’s recruitment matrix is a lot more complicated than it was five years ago when, presumably, many of the respondents were still in high school. You have both USA Field Hockey and the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association running events, the senior indoor and outdoor women’s national teams are getting a lot out of teenage players, and the tournament opportunities for the higher-level players are unheard of compared to the days when all you had was the Amstelveen Easter Tournament for the U-16s.

In the early days of Terry Walsh as USA Field Hockey technical director, the recruitment and training matrices were opened up and made more robust, allowing for more players to get the opportunity for high-level training and tournament play. And the same has gone on for the past decade, allowing players to show themselves not only at the international level, but in domestic competitions.

Remember when a 50-goal season was rare in the annals of scholastic field hockey? There have been four 80-goal seasons in the last five years alone.

This should point to a golden age of field hockey both at the NCAA and at the FIH levels. And it may still be so; the United States women’s national team is embarking on its first World League final this month, and the U.S. indoor national team won its way into the Indoor World Cup for the first time last month.

There is one other data point which should also give you pause. Survey respondents were also given the statement, “The accuracy of my role on the team was conveyed during recruitment.” The percentage of field hockey players answering “agree” or “strongly agree” was just 51 percent, the lowest of any sport, men’s or women’s.

Wow. This should be a wake-up call for the American field hockey community. I’m not saying that there is a bubbling anger that could lead to a global worker’s revolution here.

But it’s not just a wild guess to suppose that a major reason for the discontentment come down to this:

  1. Recruitment builds a roster, not just your starting 11. Injuries, especially to teenage athletes not used to the everyday grind and overuse of muscles, are part of the process. I remember once going to an NCAA Division III school for its first week of practice. It started with about 64 at the start of the week. By Friday, the number remaining was about a dozen. Fortunately, these were just the first-year players; the coach hadn’t burnt out the entire roster in four days.
  2. Foreign recruitment. As good as a player may be in the U.S. high performance system, if a coach can go to one of the many “meat markets” in Europe and get a quality player, the coach is likely to use the foreign player in more situations than the domestic player.
  3. Limited scholarships. Field hockey is, for some unknown reason, still limited to 12 scholarships — little more than just the starting lineup. This has led to a lot of costshifting as well as players leaving before the end of their four-year term not because of playing time, but because the scholarship offer is not enough to allow the player to finish university.

This has put a tremendous burden on the collegiate coach. But the coaches also need to bear in mind what the data is telling them. Whatever is being done these days isn’t working and has to change.



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