Lee Powers is the president of the Delmarva chapter of US Lacrosse. Over the past two years, he has helped pilot a lacrosse program at Tyler’s Camp. We took a few minutes to talk about what it means to be a good coach, the kinds of things kids can gain from playing the sport, as well as the future of US Lacrosse’s involvement at Tyler’s Camp. Facilitators questions can be read in bold while Mr. Powers’ responses are set below.
Tell me a little bit about your role at US Lacrosse
I’m the chapter president for Delaware. US Lacrosse has volunteer boards in different regions. Some of them have statewide boundaries; some states have multiple groups.
I succeeded Bob Shillinglaw retired from University of Delaware and was a coach there for 39 years. Our charge is to grow the game in our region. I do that through helping connect people, providing grants, providing direct service like we did last year.
What do you have going on that’s really exciting?
We’re in year number two in supporting Ferris [School for Boys] Lacrosse program. It’s the first lacrosse program in a correctional facility.
We were really proud of doing all of the lacrosse programming last year at Tyler’s Camp. We are looking forward to expanding that this year.
We are supporting a summer learning in the city of Wilmington through the rec centers. Parks and Rec is running it, and we provided equipment, grants, and we helped plan it.
So we’re also supporting a team, from Hilltop Lutheran Neighborhood Center which is playing the Delaware Youth Lacrosse Association this spring.
How did you get involved with US Lacrosse?
I was awarded [US Lacrosse’s] “Person of the Year” in 2011 because I had started a program at Hilltop and so, along with that award came “Now, you have to serve on the board.” Basically, my area of interest and focus is bringing lacrosse to populations who don’t really have access to it and what we really saw is that we’re saturated in markets, traditional markets, the school path.
When the foundation started in 1982, there were only four high schools that had club programs. So, for the most part, most high schools have lacrosse. So because what I did was go into nontraditional settings and start programs, I started taking over more and more functions within the board and then finally just requested to take over the whole program.
Where does your interest in lacrosse come from?
Just growing up, I can remember being in fourth grade and seeing the guys coming off the field in the spring, covered in mud with steam coming off of them, and that was just what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be. They looked like stormtroopers. It just happened to be the school I went to, those were the big men on campus. I’ve always had a passion for it and I had really great coaches that encouraged me even though I wasn’t a super strong player. I always had a strong role to serve. I like to say that I haven’t missed a season since ‘88, which was my first season.
I have traveled internationally–I’ve taken teams to Japan, Germany, Australia, hosted international tournaments. I’ve been trying to define the next big thing. I coach at Wilmington Friends–this is probably year 12 for me on staff there–and I’m getting into emerging populations in lacrosse. I happen to have been working up in Conshohocken and saw a story headed by a guy named John Christmas who is a four-time All-American at [University of] Virginia, was having a clinic for kids in Philadelphia and needed some help. And I thought, “Wow, I can go meet John Christmas and I can be on the field with this guy I would pay money to watch play.” Before I knew it, I was running the practice. I really learned a lot from him and a guy named Eric Greg who played at Gettysburg. I worked for them for an organization called LEAPS Lacrosse. It was there that I learned how a guy from the suburbs that went to private school figure out how to start a program for people who have never seen a lacrosse stick before.
What kinds of insights did you gain in your transition from being a player to being a coach?
The thing about lacrosse is that everybody is a quarterback. Everybody gets the ball. Everybody makes decisions. I think the transition is not as difficult as it might be for other sports because everybody has to know everything.
I feel like I’m a much for successful coach than a player and I’m not necessarily the coach that does all the x’s and o’s or plans all the practices, though I can do all those things–I’m the one that’s in touch with the psyche of the team, how are things going, who needs a pat on the back, who’s having a tough time; I’m the one who strings all the sticks, gets all the gear together. I found my role through my team. I was really fortunate to have a coach in college who encouraged me to coach and let me do that.
Lacrosse is a Native American sport, invented by the Iroquois and the purpose of the game was to bring communities together and to heal communities and to bring enjoyment to the Creator. I think a lot of that still exists. It makes me happy. I like playing, I like throwing around the ball and sharing that with other people. I want other people to be able to experience the joy that I have.
Lacrosse also gets a bad rap sometimes, and some that is certainly deserved, but a lot of it isn’t. One thing that people find is that lacrosse-people look after lacrosse-people, we take care of each other. No one really cares what you look like or where you come from; if you want to play or you got a stick in your hand, you’ll always have buddies. My goal is to take kids who would never have sought out the sport, give them the confidence to say, “Hey, this is something I can do,” so that when they go on to their schools, wherever they are, that they say “Hey, these people are going to welcome me, they’re going to like me, and this is something I can do.”
When you work with kids who are new to the sport, what kinds of things are they gaining that they wouldn’t otherwise gain if they weren’t playing lacrosse?
I have two different kinds of kids–the kind that have never played a team sport before: they don’t know how to interact at practice, they don’t know to stop and start on the whistle, they don’t know the flow of practice. I don’t care what sport they’re going to play–they need to learn those skills. My goal is to give them literacy so that they can participate no matter what sport they play.
Then, I have other kids who know sports really well. When you tell kids that basketball was invented by a lacrosse coach, their head spin around, and that the sports are the same and that we do the same drills, it can reinforce and complement some of the other sports that they like and be a fun thing to do in a different season. The kids are surprise by that.
The cool thing about lacrosse is that there are First-Team All-Americans that are 6’6” and that are 5’6”. There are spots for all different body shapes and types and interests on the field. A lot of sports don’t accommodate that. But because there are so many different styles of play, a lot of kids can find their niche.
But really, I just want kids to be happy, to feel good about themselves. And I don’t want them to be excluded. I’m just not okay with a kid not being able to play because they can’t afford the equipment. Those are totally solvable problems. Not that I have the money, but I can certainly network to get the money or network to get the equipment that kids need. So I’m just not okay with kids not having access to the sport because of that.
How did you first get in touch with Tyler’s Camp?
Through STRIVE: How You Lead Matters. I had just started going to some of their open-information sessions and brought my network of people in. My biggest problem is finding access to the kids and saw a group that has access. I had the equipment, the network, the training, and the volunteers that could pull off something of that size, which is how we got involved.
What has US Lacrosse’s involvement been like at Tyler’s Camp?
Last year, I did the programming for the chapter. It was our local organization and I used a lot of the training that I received through US Lacrosse, through their Lacrosse Athlete Development Model. Basically, teaching basic sports skills. So I modeled what we did off of their programming.
This year, since Tyler’s Camp started, we have become much more engaged with the national governing body–they have gotten to know us, they have seen the incredible things we have been able to do at Tyler’s Camp, at Hilltop…and with Ferris, so I’ve asked them for a lot more help. So this year, US Lacrosse is going to do the training for the counselors and for the coaches, and they are also going to provide low- or no-cost equipment (sticks, balls, etc.). That’s a big ask, but they have stepped up. They see this as something that we were successful in doing last year and want to be part of the growth.
One of the things that I’m doing from a chapter level, from our local money, because our local chapter is a separate 501(c)(3) that actually predates the national governing body, so what we have done is we have budgeted for all of the goals that we would need, so that’s kind of the skin that we have in the game, and one of the things we’re going to do is store the equipment that has been donated and used from the manufacturers so that it is reusable for years to come.