The growth of lacrosse can have its challenges, even in a traditional stronghold like Long Island.

A few years ago, the leadership of the Nassau County Police Activity League’s Youth Lacrosse League (NCPALYLL), which has over 500 youth teams, began noticing a troubling trend. Due to a shortage of volunteers, often times parents were being pulled off the sidelines and pressed into duty as coaches. No vetting of these impromptu coaches was being done.

“Safety is our number one priority and we just didn’t know who was working with our kids,” said Mike Nelson, president of the NCPALYLL.

In an effort to increase accountability and better manage the process, the league decided to mandate that all volunteers must take part in US Lacrosse’s Coach Development Program (CDP). No exceptions. From 10-year veterans to first-timers, the training requirement was put into place for all of the nearly 1,300 youth coaches involved in the program.

The NCPALYLL decided that a multi-year phase-in process was the best strategy. Over the past two years, many of the coaches completed the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) online course as well as the CDP’s online training. This year, they are all going through the three-hour hands-on instructional clinic.

“This is a big undertaking and it’s not without some speed bumps,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to get everybody trained in a short period of time. But there’s no doubt that it will happen.”

Utilizing a combination of classroom instruction with interactive drills and games, the Level 1 instructional clinics are designed to introduce coaches to the responsibilities and philosophies of coaching, and how to provide an athlete-centered environment that emphasizes positive growth and sportsmanship.

Participants acquire the tools to teach rules, fundamental individual skills, and basic team concepts to beginning players of all ages.

To facilitate the training, the NCPALYLL worked with US Lacrosse to schedule 20 CDP Level 1 clinics for men’s and women’s game coaches at various sites across Nassau County, and worked with US Lacrosse’s Long Island Metro Chapter to offset the expenses for the sessions.

The returns have been positive. Despite the added demand on their time, Nelson notes that there has been minimal pushback on the clinics from the league’s volunteers. He relayed a story to demonstrate the point.

“We recently had one of our coaches who was a former Division I All-American take the Level 1 class, and I was worried that it might be a waste of his time. But afterwards, he told me that he was surprised at how much he learned and that he was excited to keep taking more of the classes. That made me feel a lot better about our decision.”

Former Johns Hopkins University player Walt Carswell, now serving as a NCPALYLL coach, had a similar experience.

“The clinic was outstanding. Prior to going in, I figured I would be enlightened to some degree, but definitely not to the level that I experienced,” he said.

Carswell credited the clinic’s trainers with doing a great job of presenting the information and keeping the coaches engaged.

“They were well organized, with explanations that were on point and clear, and provided fantastic analogies to past experiences,” he said. “I would definitely recommend this to all the lacrosse coaches out there. It’s really good stuff."

The CDP training initiative fits nicely with the league’s larger vision. The NCPALYLL is committed to promoting the highest ideals of sportsmanship. These include the concepts of ethical conduct and fair play by all who participate in, officiate, or attend events and activities.

Nelson has already seen marked improvements in behavior.

“Last year was our best year ever because we established expectations on the sidelines,” he said. “The number of (unsportsmanlike) incidents decreased and the overall treatment of the officials was a lot better. We’re very serious about adhering to the code of conduct.”