The Damascus resident had never played lacrosse, had only seen a handful of games before and admits he didn’t know what was happening. But with a lack of available coaches in the area, he and two other fathers decided to immerse themselves in the sport so they could take up the coaching reigns. There wasn’t another option.
“I was the true, stereotypical dad that was forced into learning on the spot,” Pino said. “There are very few girls lacrosse coaches. So I made it a mission. I can’t help if I don’t know about lacrosse.”
Lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. From 2011 to 2012, the participation rate grew 5.5 percent, according to a study by USA Lacrosse, and in the last five years, participation among females has increased by 67 percent. With the rapid increase in numbers, a lack of quality coaching, especially at the recreational levels, has stunted the growth in the quality of the game.
Top coaches in the area are naturally attracted to high school and club coaching positions, which allows them to work with the best talent.
Sherwood High School and Rebels club coach Kelly Hughes, a Sherwood graduate who played in college at Iona, said it’s natural for players who competed in college to gravitate towards higher levels of competition when returning to the coaching ranks.
Parents taking over coaching duties “is really common,” Hughes said. “There are a lot of dads, which is great because they love sports, but they’re not getting the same understanding of how the game and the rules work together. ... You’re not getting the same stuff [on the field], but it’s the same lessons and the same game. But I don’t mind it because at least they’re playing.”
Recent Damascus High School graduate Colby Muller, who is signed with Old Dominion University, said just getting out and playing is the most important thing.
When she was younger, Muller played for Pino and her father, Frank, and enjoyed having male coaches.
“From a defensive and physical perspective, that’s how guys play the game and I can see how that helped more,” she said.
This summer, Colby Muller coached a team of rising eighth graders and got a different perspective of the game.
“When my dad would coach me, he’d tell me things that the coaches can see, but as a player I wouldn’t really see what he was seeing,” said Muller, who is also helping coach at a clinic Pino is hosting this week. “But from a coach’s view, there’s a whole different perspective. It’s amazing because you can teach them these things. It’s easy to solve and I can work on the field, too, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Muller represents the next phase of coaching in Montgomery County.
Hughes and Pino agree that for lacrosse to take the next step, girls returning from college need to take up more of a role in the coaching ranks.
That’s easier said than done. Hughes said she knows plenty of viable former players in the area. But with jobs that aren’t conducive to coaching travel teams and more involved programs, it can be difficult to find time. But coaching at the recreational level is more doable, with fewer practices and games being played in the area.
Coaches like Pino, who didn’t have to learn about lacrosse until they were forced to, are still playing a strong role.
He said he spent countless hours watching other top coaches, using “osmosis” to pick up on whatever information he could. He took certification classes through USA Lacrosse. When Pino hosts clinics or practices — he currently coaches the Damascus Stingers U15 team, which won the Metro Girls Lacrosse championship this spring — he encourages parents to come out and learn about the sport.
Still, he hopes it is feasible in the future for former girls lacrosse players to be afforded a greater role in the coaching community.
“To get kids who went to college to come back and coach, they’re struggling [after college] and are working more hours and are not earning as much,” Pino said. “We have to make it worthwhile.”