SPYA Lacrosse is designed to foster a love of the game, sportsmanship, fitness, and a solid skill base. Players are taught the fundamental skills required to develop into a complete player. At SPYA our primary commitment is providing a fun, physically active experience that will encourage a lifelong love for exercise and the sport of lacrosse. SPYA, established in 1969, has a very strong track record for delivering well organized youth athletic programs and has grown to be one of the largest youth lacrosse rec programs in the Charlotte region. This league is appropriate for the beginner as well as the experienced player.
Brittany Philip, a champion of the Lacrosse Athlete Development Model (LADM), grew up in upstate New York as a four-year lacrosse standout at Corning-Painted Post East High School.
When her school’s girls’ basketball coach approached her, asking her to play, her response was simple.
“No, I’m a lacrosse player,” she said.
Philip went on to become an IWLCA All-American at Queens (N.C) and finished her college career at the top of the charts as the 2012 Conference Carolinas Player of the Year, tallying 66 draw controls, 64 points, 37 ground balls and 13 caused turnovers en route to setting a school record for goals in a single season.
However, looking back today, she wished her response to that basketball coach was different.
As the current girls’ lacrosse commissioner of the South Park Youth Association, as well as the director of the Queen City Rising Stars youth program for second through fifth graders, both based in Charlotte, N.C., Philip quickly understood the importance of multi-sport participation. She realized it might not have been the right decision to specialize in lacrosse in sixth grade just because that’s “what everyone else was doing.”
“I had a great experience growing up, don’t get me wrong, but I think that I might’ve specialized a little too early, to be honest,” Philip said. “I didn’t necessarily see that until I saw the girls that I was coaching and how that can be a detriment because, usually, girls that pick up the skills quicker are girls who have played other sports.”
Multi-sport participation is just one of the several mantras Philip passes along to fellow program coaches and lacrosse leaders in the area as a US Lacrosse coaching education trainer.
Since TJ Buchanan, Dara Robbins and Natalie Wills, all members of the US Lacrosse education and training team, visited Philip’s programs last fall, South Park and Queen City are holding more station-based practices that incorporate more touches, small-sided play and physical literacy games like tag. Philip ensures each of her coaches leaves time in each practice for physical literacy. While parents might ask why their children are simply playing tag and don’t have sticks in their hands, she reassures them why it’s vital for player development.
“That truly is just teaching girls to be athletic,” Philip said. “They’re 6. We’re teaching them muscle memory. We’re teaching them how to run fast and change direction, and use both hands and use both legs, building up that muscle for them.”
According to Philip, the number of youth lacrosse players in Charlotte has grown so rapidly that she envisions South Park becoming a league of its own. The association currently has three teams of third through fifth graders because she is following US Lacrosse guidelines for small-sided play with smaller teams. If teams in the area want to play South Park, she asks her opponents to also play with the new US Lacrosse rules.
“It just takes one or two people to say, ‘Yes, this makes sense. It’s better for the girls and this is what we’re doing,’” Philip said. “[I’ve been] sending information to other program leaders and saying, ‘This is a really good thing, so try it out.”
At the end of the day, it’s about making an impact on the young girls with an experience they might not have gotten otherwise, like Philip, who wished she had a program like this growing up – one that didn’t pressure anyone to play year-round lacrosse, one that reassures parents that it’s OK if their daughter wants to play soccer, too, and one that reminds players to just have fun.
“Our favorite players are the girls that walk in crying on the first day because they’re terrified – and then they don’t want to leave,” Philip said. “We want to be the program where one girl comes on the field and has no idea what she’s doing – and she might not have any idea what she’s doing in two weeks – but she still wants to come back. That’s really been a huge difference maker in the program that we run.”
After Philip graduated college, she thought she only wanted to coach the kids on the fast track – the high school players who participate in exclusive elite programs with the hopes of being recruited. But ever since Rob Russell, the commissioner of the South Park boys’ lacrosse program, approached her about starting the South Park girls’ lacrosse program, she never looked back.
“I thought, ‘Oh gosh, it was younger girls. I don’t know how I’m going to do this. I don’t have experience with this,’” Philip said. “But from the first day I walked on the field with these girls... I just really fell in love with how much of an impact you can have and how much it brings you back to what’s important about playing lacrosse.”
With the help of the ample tools and resources US Lacrosse has provided through LADM and its Coach Development Program, Philip is seeing the positive benefits unfold in front of her eyes.
“The girls see it, and the parents see it, that they’re growing in character and in their lacrosse skills,” she said. “It’s more than just teaching them how to cradle and throw a ball.”
“I truly believe that if you grow the girls who are in front of you, the game is going to grow organically,” Philip added. “Grow the girl. Grow the game. That’s what’s going to push the sport further.”
Providing every athlete the opportunity to enter, enjoy and excel by learning and playing lacrosse in a way that’s best for each stage of growth and development.