I’ve already covered the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. I wrote an RTD piece devoted to high school lacrosse players competing in fall sports.
But I’ve never addressed college seniors as they returned to their respective campuses for maybe the last time… until now.
Maybe we all assume that seniors don’t need much advice, that they’ve pretty much got things figured out by now – or that if they haven’t, it’s probably not ever going to happen. We probably assume that a percentage of seniors playing college ball are now captains, or at least team leaders, so they don’t need any speeches or lectures.
Let’s make sure we take nothing for granted.
Maybe the first, most-worst mistake you could possibly make would be to begin any passionate speech with your teammates by saying anything like “Look, this is my senior year…” or “We seniors have been waiting four years for our
turn, and now we…” That’s probably the best way to turn your younger teammates off. They don’t want to hear about you and your classmates.
Instead, talk about the team
. Mention the opportunities the coming year presents. Don’t limit the focus to you and the other seniors; instead, include the whole team. Tell the freshmen you need them; implore the sophs to become leaders and use their experience now instead of waiting another year or two. Wrap your arms around some juniors, and be sure to bring them along for the ride. That
will mean so much more.
Yes, think and play as if you’ve got your back to the wall; in many ways, you do. Whatever goals you and your fellow seniors might have for your final season together, make sure you’re on the same page with your coaches, and be the kinds of seniors and leaders your teammates will want to emulate.
Remember when those older seniors intimidated you when you were a freshman, when they yelled and screamed, embarrassed and scared you? Did that help your game, or the team’s performance? Probably not.
Well, don’t make the mistake of doing the same thing to this year’s rookies. Be a better senior, leader, and teammate. Your coaches and teammates will appreciate it.
Make sure your goals are realistic. Freshmen tend to have naďve, freshman goals; yours should be based on reality, and experience. If a national championship isn’t really a reasonable goal, maybe making the NCAA tournament is. Maybe post-season play is an appropriate goal; maybe a .500 season would be quite an accomplishment. Talk with your coaches and classmates and decide just how high you want to set the bar.
Then be sure to walk the walk. We all know how cheap talk is.
Don’t you dare threaten the underclassmen about not going out on a Friday night and then feel like you’ve somehow earned the right to do whatever you please. Lead by example.
If you’re fortunate enough to be a captain, make your goal to be the best captain in program history. Talk to your coaches about past leaders, and what they did to leave the legacy they did. Communicate – with your coaches, your classmates, and your entire team.
If you’re not a captain, then be the captains’ most reliable and supportive senior. There’s no time for grudges or hard feelings. Make your loyalty and support visible and palpable. There’s still a lot your younger teammates can learn from a senior who’s not an official team captain.
Help with road trips; help with recruits. Help with academic and dorm issues that your younger teammates will encounter. Help in the locker room and cleaning up tailgates. Give sincere, helpful advice.
On the field, be an even better teammate. Encourage your squadmates. Explain drills, team offenses or defenses to newbies. Put your arm around them after they get chewed out by a coach. Pick them up when they’re overwhelmed.
Remember when a teammate did that for you? Now it’s time to pay it forward.
Or maybe no one ever did that for you – don’t you wish someone had? Well, here’s your chance.
Maybe you’re a big-time, all-league returning starter. Impress your younger teammates with your humility and work ethic. Or maybe you’re a fourth-year guy who just hasn’t managed to crack the line-up after three years. Show your rooks how well you manage that.
I shouldn’t need to remind you, but remember that some stud freshman or transfer – or even a returning sophomore who added 10 lbs and 20 mph on his shot – might threaten your own playing time. Show your coaches and teammates how you’re up to the challenge, and how you’re going to accept however that threat plays out.
Be a senior everyone wants to see next year at Alumni Weekend.
Be a senior that the parents of the underclassmen talk about. “Who’s that #9? He seems like such a nice young man.” Or, “Gee, it must be tough for Billy to be a senior sitting on the bench, but we love the way he cheers for his teammates all game long, win or lose.”
Or a senior the freshman talk about to their parents: “Jimmy’s not an official captain, but he’s definitely one of our key leaders.” Or, “Harry helped me with my schedule, Harry invited a bunch of us freshmen over to his apartment for game night, or Harry found me a ride home for Thanksgiving.”
Be Harry. Be Jimmy. Be Billy.
Don’t be the bully. Don’t badmouth the new kid who’s threatening your spot on the travel squad. Don’t yell at the rookies to go on a ball hunt. Instead, show ‘em how it’s done.
Three and a half years ago, my son Brian wrote a piece for www.laxallstars.com, imploring readers to give it their best shot “while you still can”
. His closing thoughts certainly come to mind when preaching to college seniors:
“…this is just a humble request for you to bust your hump for the guys around you. By no means was I ever a standout in any of my playing days, but the greatest memories I have are of a battered and beaten body that is so oxygen-deprived it doesn’t even have the energy to puke. Muscles so tired I couldn’t lift my face to smile with my parents for a photograph. I remember that unspoken but priceless conversation with the guy lying next to me after an ungodly amount of conditioning.
And the reverse is just as vivid. It’s pretty haunting, actually. I remember days I didn’t care. Days I wanted to quit and my negativity manifested into lazy feet and even lazier attitude. I can remember every single time I was selfish and immature. I quit on myself. I can never go back and tell myself to suck it up and go hard. In practices, in games. Priorities so backward I really don’t know who the hell I was. If I spent a tenth of the time I was drinking, drunk, or hung over in college on hitting the weight room, the wall, or the pavement… it will forever haunt me the player I could have been.
Your time is precious, and your time is beautiful, because it is your time, and nobody else can have it.
What you decide to do with your time is up to you. You can throw 100% of yourself into it, and be proud of the outcome no matter the scoreboard, or you can put in less, and rationalize your future self later on down the road.
This isn’t to guilt you into running another quick mile (go on… I’ll wait), nor is it to demand you put four hours a day into preparation for the coming season. It’s just a friendly request from the ghosts of 100,000 careers, come and gone, that you leave absolutely no doubt in your mind at the end of the day when you ask your body, “Could we have tried harder?”
How ‘bout it, senior lacrosse player from the College University Class of ’20 – are you ready?
There is no “next year.” Good luck, and make us all proud.
Drive carefully, everyone!
- Dan Witmer
Dan Witmer is the author of two books. The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland. ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore.