This is what loving a sport looks like
By Alex Flanagan
My favorite camp of the summer was the one my 9-year-old son Declan did on a spit of grass on the side of the street in our neighborhood. It was free and put on by a group of high school boys who love the game of lacrosse so much that they dedicated a week of their free time introducing and teaching it to 9-12 year-olds.
“We’ve played lacrosse our whole lives and remember how awesome it was to play at such a young age,” said Isaiah Dawson, one of the camp counselors who now, in his senior year at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California, is ranked by Inside Lacrosse as the number one high school senior player in the country. “We wanted to give that experience back to the younger kids. I remember playing in 4th and 5th grade, and how much of a blast I had doing camps and there were a lot of times it was really expensive to go to them. So we kind of have the best of both worlds to be able to do it ourselves and give it to them for free.”
The idea was born when 14-year-old freshman Tyler Buchner was looking for meaningful charity work to do to fulfill his school’s requirements. Doing random acts of charity, an hour picking up trash or putting away books at the library, he didn’t feel like he was making a difference. “I got bored and wasn’t’ really passionate about it,” says Tyler, “so I figured, what if I could do something I enjoy, something I have a passion for and thought lacrosse would be the perfect way to do it.” Tyler sent out a text message to a few of his teammates who also loved the idea and jumped on board. With the help of his mom’s contact list they had a roster of campers signed up to attend almost immediately.
For 17-year-old Dawson, who is committed to play lacrosse at Harvard next year, it was an opportunity to pay it forward. He first fell in love with the sport in 7th grade when he met his favorite player at the time, Shamel Bratton. Bratton gave him the wristband Dawson still wears today that says, “no one fights alone.” Five years later it’s Dawson who the younger kids are admiring and emulating. “It’s a responsibility I think I’m ready for,” Says Dawson.
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There is something special about how younger kids listen, learn and respond to teenagers they look up to. My own son was hesitant about attending on the first day. (A whole other story, which you can read HERE), but the bigger boys wasted no time cramming one of their old helmets on his head, fitting him with gloves, arm pads and lending him a stick. Before he could blink he was learning how to shoot, cradle and catch. He ended up eagerly anticipating playing Sharks and Minnows, capture the flag, and dodge ball each day.
“They were a lot looser with us, for better or for worse,” says Dawson. “Even if we didn’t get to finish a drill it was all worthwhile. We all gained something from it.”
It was a great reminder of what can happen when adults get out of the way. … You can’t teach a kid passion, but every now and again you can show them what it looks like.
Alex Flanagan co-founded I love to watch you play in 2015. She was flying home from an NFL work assignment when a learning specialist, who was sitting next to her, shared 5 reasons she shouldn’t feel guilty missing her son’s game. She shared their conversation on her own website alexflanagan.com and the response was so overwhelming it inspired her to create ILTWYP to help parents like herself navigate youth sports.