Gold Stick is a “No-Brainer”

By Paul Ohanian

Gold Stick Program

Jim Cowsert

Certified coaches, documented safety procedures, a commitment to sportsmanship and consistent communication to constituents.

These are all hallmarks of the US Lacrosse Gold Stick Program and among the best practices that applicant organizations are implementing to provide the most positive playing experience for youth.

With 20 organizations currently working towards Gold Stick status, US Lacrosse is ready to broaden the pool by welcoming new applicants into the pipeline.

“It’s a no-brainer because it’s the right thing to do,” said Rick Suris, president of Smithtown (N.Y.) Youth Lacrosse, which includes over 500 boys players across 27 teams.

Smithtown began its Gold Stick journey in 2014 by submitting an initial application. That was followed by the completion of a self-assessment that measured the league’s compliance across seven Gold Stick standards. Utilizing the feedback provided by US Lacrosse’s industry experts, Smithtown has worked towards making the necessary adjustments to meet the guidelines.

“Gold Stick helps to make everybody aware of the right thing to do,” Suris said. “We’re proud of the fact that all of our coaches are now certified by US Lacrosse.”

Comprised of 13 individual programs and over 60 boys and girls teams, the Milwaukee Area Youth Lacrosse Association (MAYLA) knew that they already had in place many of the protocols outlined by Gold Stick. Meeting the standard, in many instances, was just a matter of documentation.

“We already recognized that we needed to have these processes,” said Mary DiGiacomo, former MAYLA president who now serves as the organization’s Gold Stick coordinator. “It’s good to have everything in writing.”

Similarly, many other programs may already be meeting some of the Gold Stick standards, even before they start the formal process. For example, leagues with documented Emergency Action Plans (EAP) and Concussion Management Plans (CMP) have already satisfied two-thirds of the Gold Stick safety standard.

A divide-and-conquer approach can be an effective strategy to help organizations move closer to reaching all the standards.

“On first glance, Gold Stick may seem like an overwhelming commitment, but there are so many resources out there that can help,” DiGiacomo said. “Organizations don’t have to re-invent the wheel on all their policies. Just take one piece at a time and prioritize.”

That’s exactly the approach that the Hunterdon (N.J.) Mohawks Lacrosse Club took when they began their quest for Gold Stick status. Realizing that it wasn’t going to be able to meet all the benchmarks in its first year, Hunterdon focused initially on implementing the policies that directly involve safety protocols.

“There’s no excuse not to have an emergency management policy,” said Maria Grant, president of the organization. After beginning with the EMP, Hunterdon proceeded to tackle some of the other policies – grievance procedures, inclusion statement, playing time – that encompass Gold Stick. Grant is a strong advocate for having these policies documented.

“Having a written playing time policy is very easy,” she said. “And nobody should run a program without a sportsmanship policy.”

Identifying a few individuals within each organization who can spearhead the documentation process is helpful.

“We knew we were already doing a whole lot of the outlined policies,” Grant said. “We just needed to find a couple of people who had the time to put all of our policies on paper.”

MAYLA utilized a coordinator to organize its effort.

“Within our structure, we were able to assign one person to serve as the coordinator who then got others involved,” DiGiacomo said. “You have to focus on finding others who also believe in the value of these standards.”

DiGiacomo encourages new applicant programs not be daunted by the process. There is light at the other end of the Gold Stick tunnel.

“It really does seem like you are taking baby steps to accomplish some of these requirements, but you have to be patient,” she said. “Once you have a chance to step back, you will see the improvements in your league.”

“Parents have noticed the difference in our league,” said Smithtown’s Suris. “Gold Stick has been very well received.”

As with any process, organizations pursing Gold Stick status are also finding that some of the standards are easier to fulfill than others. For example, requiring the use of US Lacrosse certified officials for all games can be challenging, due in part to assigning protocols as well as the shortage of officials in some parts of the country.

But that isn’t stopping Smithtown from its commitment.

“Our next challenge is the officiating standard,” Suris said. “That’s the direction we are going as a league.”

US Lacrosse Gold Stick Standards

Rules: Organizations must adhere to all current US Lacrosse youth rules and age guidelines.

2. Administration: Organization should have current, written governance policies.

3. Safety and Risk Management: Maintain written policies and plans for safety and risk management.

4. Sportsmanship and Conduct: Demonstrate a commitment to player safety and sportsmanship.

5. Certified Coaches: All coaches are screened, trained and at least Level 1 US Lacrosse certified.

6. Certified Officials: All officials assigned to games are US Lacrosse certified.

7. Membership: All players, coaches and administrators are current US Lacrosse members.

Review the seven Gold Stick standards in greater detail and take the first step in the journey by submitting your league’s information. One of the US Lacrosse regional reps will then contact you to provide further details. Click the button below to learn more.

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