The word sustainability gets thrown around a lot these days. Sustainable farming, sustainable housing, sustainable building, sustainable growth…the list goes on and on. But, my friend John Davie, who is starting his own company for martial arts' gyms was the first person who I ever heard say, "sustainable athletics". What would that even look like?

The way we participate in sports right now at the youth, high school, college and pro level is absolutely unsustainable. What I mean by that is we are always striving for the next win, the next championship. We are hoping for a scholarship or to get drafted in the pros. We are constantly working for the next external goal.

There are a couple of problems with this more traditional and unsustainable approach towards athletics. First off, no matter who you are and no matter how good you may be at your chosen sport, your career will come to an end at some point. Mine ended after a series of concussions forced me out of the game that I loved to play. Everyone's career will end differently and at different times, but at some point, it will be over. And if that whole time, you were only playing for the wins and for the recognition (as I did), you will be left standing there grasping for straws and wondering what to do next with your life.

The second problem is that while there are opportunities out there in sports and in lacrosse, they are few and far between. Here's the thing that everyone has to understand : the reality in lacrosse is that there are very few scholarships and recruitment opportunities for the number of lacrosse players out there. If you just look at the numbers alone, the prospect of getting a scholarship and playing for a NCAA Division I team is daunting. In 2010, US Lacrosse estimated that there were about 150,000 male high school players. If you divide that by four for the different class years, then that means we would have around 37,500 high school seniors playing lacrosse (and this is not even counting all the talented Canadian players who are now in this equation). There are only about 60 Division I teams which means there are only around 700 spots on those teams. Plus, DI teams only have 12.6 scholarships for their entire team! So, all this means that only 2% of high school players will play on a DI team now and even less will be offered a partial scholarship. The amount of players who get a full ride at college is absolutely minuscule, so you are better off praying to win the lottery!

This is why with all the camps, clinics and teams that we run through our DU program, we try to be as honest as possible with the players and families that we work with. We are trying to run our programs with  the most integrity and provide the most true value that is possible in this industry, and there are other coaches and programs doing this as well. Here are a few examples of how we try to follow through on this promise :

1. At all the tournaments that we run at DU, we hire and recruit scouting coaches that are appropriate for the level of player that is attending. We still get several Division I coaches to come out, but sometimes parents get upset if there are not a ton of Division I coaches at a tournament. Many times I have to be honest and tell them simply, "your son is not a Division I player, but your son could be very happy at one of the Division III schools or MCLA schools that are here recruiting players." I am being totally truthful with them. Sometimes this upsets people, but other times they are happy to get the reality check. As the teams and players that we get at our tournaments every year improves, so too does the level of the college recruiter.

2. It's also why our main goals for our Denver Elite teams is to help the players work hard and improve, have a good time and help guide them through the recruiting and college decision process. We want our DE players to learn how to become better players and better people off the field, whether that means going to a Division I team, playing in the MCLA or not even playing college at all. We do not make the outlandish promise that we are going to get them recruited by a Division I school and get them a scholarship. We simply want them to have a great learning experience for them that they enjoy being a part of.

3. At all of our camps and clinics, we try to help young athletes become better lacrosse players and send them home with a few life lessons to help them be better young men. We try to make promises that we can actually follow through on with players and families. We want our services to make a difference in the young athletes lives that we work with, not make money off the hopes and dreams of uninformed families.

I know this is the equivalent of a Cadillac commercial telling you, "This fancy car will not make you happier, more attractive, more respected nor better than your neighbor, but it will get you from point A to point B." Exciting…if I were not my own boss, I would be getting fired right now! But, I'm not looking to build an empire or make millions of dollars. I'm simply looking to work within my lacrosse community, provide opportunities for lacrosse players to play and get good coaching, and hopefully have an impact on a few young athletes.

Now, I don't mean to crush anyone's hopes and dreams. If you are a young lacrosse player and your dream is to play Division I lacrosse somewhere, then by all means, work as hard as you can and believe in yourself to make it happen. But, at the same time, know how difficult and competitive it is. You better be willing to work harder than anyone else around you to make that dream a reality. Also, you better work hard at other things in life, like your academics and other interests, so if it does not work out or when it all comes to an end, you will have other things to lean back on.

This brings me back to my point of sustainability.
As we are working hard to attain external goals, what are we learning in the process? This is what my whole goal of TIER is through this blog and other resources. This is what Joe Ehrmann speaks of when he talks about "transformational coaching" in his book "Inside Out Coaching". This is what martial arts studios are talking about when they speak of teaching skills that their students can bring into their everyday life.

If you want to work hard to win the next game, then great…do it! If you want to work hard to get a scholarship and play Division I and professional lacrosse…then by all means, go for it! I can tell you that's what I did, and I was never the greatest athlete in the world, so you can do it too! It's a lot of fun to play in college and in the MLL, no question. If you want to work hard and try to win a big game or championship, then that is awesome…get it done! But, while you work and strive for those goals, what else are you learning about yourself as a person? What skills are you learning that you can bring off the field? What type of person are you being when no one is clapping and applauding you? What other goals do you have for yourself and for your world off the playing field?

These are the types of questions we have to keep asking ourselves to make athletics sustainable.
This is my current goal with the work I am doing and I am confident it will unfold organically. ("Sustainable" and "organically"? I have been living in Colorado too long…ha!). If we invest our time, money and energy into sports with these goals in mind, then it is priceless! If we keep going down the same road that we have been in sports, then failure is inevitable or at the very least, the success will all come to an end one day. Creating a sustainable environment in athletics is how we can help provide lasting success for our youth.

Play for life.