United Lacrosse owner Steve Carcaterra brings a wealth of first hand experience and knowledge to his organization. In high school, Carcaterra was a two time leading scorer while at Yorktown, and a two time Empire State Games Participant. His college experience includes first team JUCO All American Honors while at Herkimer, and three years as a starter at Towson University. Through Carcaterra’s efforts, United Lacrosse’s offerings have grown to include travel teams in multiple locations in both New Jersey and New York, team tournaments, recruiting showcases and more.
Carcaterra recently took the time to answer some questions for Capital District Lax.
You are from Yorktown, went to Towson, and now live in New Jersey. How did UAlbany become home to so many of United Lacrosse’s events?
SC: I have known Scott Marr (Head Coach at the University at Albany) for over 30 years. We are both from Yorktown and Scott served as a mentor and coach to me as a young player growing up. After graduating from Towson I moved to the Garden State. I started United Lacrosse in New Jersey in late 2009. Scott and I continued our friendship over the years and had many conversations as to what’s important in regards to a young player’s development, specifically the role of travel teams in that development. We agreed on just about everything and merging United Lacrosse with his existing Top Dog club at the time was a natural fit. He was blessed with a great Top Dog coaching staff so it was very easy for me to decide that the Capital Region would be a great place to bring a level of instruction that was second to none. Of course we also want our players to have fun and play the game the right way. Scotty and his Albany teams do that and passing along that philosophy to not only our Albany teams but also our Jersey teams was important to me. I have learned a lot since the merger on a lot of different levels.
Tell us a little about the events that you will be holding in Albany.
SC: As we had success with the teams, the natural progression was to talk about bringing quality tournaments and showcases to the University at Albany. From my first tour of the facilities I was blown away to say the least. People forget that the Giants used to train here so not only do we have access to great turf fields but the numerous natural grass fields are the best in the country if you ask me. Location wise Albany is simply perfect. Our events grew organically and we now have two summer tournaments the Summer Clash in June, and the Baggataway Classic in July, followed by what many people consider the premier fall weekend in New York with our Capital Clash Showcase and Team Tournament weekend. We also have a great 3 day showcase camp in July that we are very proud of. The Capital Challenge not only showcases players in front of college coaches, but like our fall showcase is fully staffed by college coaches so players actually learn a ton throughout the three day experience. That is very important to this organization. We feel all players no matter their level need to play the game the right way, the little things matter!
We recently did a Q&A with Merrick Thomson and he mentioned the box lacrosse camp that you are collaborating on in July. How will a box lacrosse camp complement United Lacrosse’s other Albany based events?
SC: Ok this has me really excited! When it comes to lacrosse, current University at Albany Assistant Coach Merrick Thomson has done it all. Whether on the field or in the box his resume speaks for itself. As great of a player he is, I think he is an even better coach. His time at the Hill Academy has proven that. Watch what he brings to Scotty and Liam Gleason’s Albany staff this year. This guy is the real deal – no question. United Lacrosse has access to portable box lacrosse rinks. If you watched the world championships they are the same rinks that were set up in the Carrier Dome for the championships this past summer. We bring the rinks to you basically! Very easy to install and they are amazing! We had our first Box-Out camp in New Jersey this past summer and the players absolutely loved it. Everyone agrees that box lacrosse can only help you as a field player. The examples are endless. The growth of box lacrosse in the U.S. is really starting to take hold. The only issue is that most of the leagues, tournaments, etc that we have here is a lack of the highest level of instruction. The enthusiasm is there which is great, but the coaching for the most part is not. This is where Merrick comes in. It’s amazing to watch him and his staff teach and explain the different aspects of the game. Our overnight camp at University at Albany this coming July will be like something you have never seen before. Numerous box rinks set up on outdoor fields and a coaching staff that Merrick directs that are some of the very best in the current box game. The camp will have youth, high school and post grad divisions so my advice to any player that has the time and energy is to look into this camp at University at Albany this summer. The response so far has been incredible!
The stakeholders for a showcase event include players, parents, and college coaches. What can these stakeholders expect from participation in/attendance at a United Lacrosse showcase event?
SC: One of the words you will hear my staff and me repeat quite often is instruction. This goes back to a conversation with my brother Brian when I started United. We were going back and forth what was important for players and families after a lengthy conversation he posed one question: he asked me to use one word as to what United lacrosse is all about. I answered without any hesitation “Instruction”. I actually wrote that word on a yellow sticky with a sharpie marker that day. It sits on my desk to this day. I never waiver from the fact that no matter what anyone else is providing, promising or in a lot of case delivering, United lacrosse is going to be about instruction. Right after that comes experience and opportunities. We want our players to have fun and of course if deserving we want to help them get to the next level whatever that level maybe for them. I am very proud of the number of players not only from our own teams but various clubs and high schools that send their players to our showcases that are moving on to the next level. What can you expect at one of our showcases or tournaments? Well the first thing is at our showcases we only hire college coaches to coach the players. This will ensure the players walk away with a true learning experience. I never want our events to be a “roll a ball out and let ’em sink or swim” atmosphere. Players who have attended our events, and ones that will, can expect that they will interact with college coaches all day(s). They will play in front of them and for them, and hopefully of they do what they need to do impress them. Parents and players can always expect every little detail will count for us. Ask anyone who is a part of what we do. We care and it shows. I’m big on the little things, so we are not perfect, but I can tell you we die trying to put the best events together for our participants. As for college coaches I think if you asked them they would tell you the same. I’m very fortunate to have a lot of these guys as friends and staff members. It’s really humbling especially when you have a college coach telling you that you’re doing things the right way. We provide them with everything they need from an information standpoint as well as productive daily schedule that allows them to not only do what they do best, which of course is coaching the players, but hopefully they find some players that can help their program specifically. When I have a coach tell me that they accomplished both these things I know we had a good day!
Are recruiting events more important to the college coaches watching from the sidelines, or to the players on the field?
SC: That’s a great question! I think the recruiting events are extremely important for both college coaches and the participating players. When I played at Yorktown the only times to shine were during your high school season and if you were lucky the Empire State Games for the most part. It’s a different world now for sure. College Coaches spend their time in the spring on their main focus, which is winning a national championship for their respective school. Summer, fall and now even winter are the times where players will get the most exposure. That’s not to say college coaches don’t attend high school games. Some of the games being played in certain regions during the spring will showcase without question the best players and competition you will see all year. The only thing I fear is that players and families put too much stock into just tournaments and showcases. I had a conversation with a family who told me that they were not going to play on a summer team and that they were only going to attend showcases. I’m not saying that all players have to play travel but they should have some type of consistency when it comes to their development as a lacrosse player – especially if they expect to play at the next level. Again this comes back to that word: instruction. I think with the combination of good high school and/or club coaches a player needs to be able to constantly evolve and improve their game on their own. In addition to the team stuff, I don’t see enough players out there simply wallball’n or shooting on a cage with a bucket of balls. The way I grew up that was considered fun! For some reason this type of stuff is looked at as work. I don’t get it to be honest. I am all for multi-sport athletes, there is no question that if players want to play multiple sports they should go all out and have a blast! Nothing better than a Friday night football game right? But to say you can’t pick up your stick on say a Sunday or two in mid November because you just got done with your fall sport? What’s better than getting up and down a lacrosse field? If not that, having a stick in your hand especially if you plan to play college lacrosse is a must. Once you have that mentality and work ethic, showcases can provide you with a great chance to put yourself out there in front of college coaches and show them what you got!
What do college coaches want to see from a player at a recruiting event – both on the field, and off the field?
SC: You know that’s a question I always ask college coaches. You would be surprised with lot of the answers. I always ask coaches how they get the looks they need with a ton of players at a showcase or tournament. Where do they begin? Most of the coaches tell me they watch the player during warm ups, how they interact with their coaches, parents and teammates. Are the hustling in and out the huddle? Are they excited when their teammate makes a good play? Do their teammates get excited when they make a big play? All of this can tell a coach a lot about a player. I always tell our players that you never know who is watching you. No matter what the setting is. It could be a practice, game or simply your interaction with everyday people in general. Again the little things count. Notice I have not mentioned anything about any specific skill yet? I hope players are reading this! First question most coaches ask me about players is what type of kid they are? They want good people playing for them. From a lacrosse standpoint a lot of coaches like communication. You’re a lacrosse player you have to communicate! You hear a lot of coaches saying they like players to play fast. I think getting the ball out of their stick and making good decisions is key. Lacrosse IQ is huge! Where to be, where not to be. I think hustle plays go a long way. Getting back in the hole if you are a middie, riding your tail off if you are an attackman, dmen racing to the end line trying to get possession after a shot, goalies being able to not only save the ball but clear it consistently. All of these things seem to come up in my conversations with coaches. Of course they are also looking for well rounded, tough athletes. That’s where the multi-sport guys might get noticed even though their lacrosse specific skills might be a bit behind. You can’t coach athleticism and toughness! Last, but not least is heart. I think it takes a special player to excel at the next level. Gotta have the heart of a lion, man!
How do you measure the success of your recruiting showcases?
SC: During an event I always make sure I ask the players if they are having fun. For me that’s big. I think if you are having fun on any athletic field you are going to perform better. I make sure players know that and hopefully they are loose before they compete. The tone of the atmosphere is really on my staff and me. When we bring a good vibe our events usually outperform peoples’ expectations. I know what we put into our events. I know we have done everything in our control to make it a great experience for the players that are attending and parents that are making the sacrifices to have them attend. My dad was a public school teacher and each summer he had to wait tables at a local diner in order to send my two brothers and me to lacrosse camp, buy us sticks and everything else that comes with being a parent to an athlete. I always make sure I remind myself that there are a bunch of these people making the same sacrifices my dad made. Ultimately the players have to play and they have to impress. For the most part that is on them. It’s a competitive environment for sure, but I think if you want to get to the next level you have to put yourself out there. Whether you played great or have a bad day, you’ve got to show up! The feedback we get from players and parents has been great. Going back to what I said before we want to be more than just a bunch of games being played. We want our players learning. By hiring college coaches I fell that United Lacrosse events are right up there with the very best in the country. Finally the feedback from college coaches usually lets me know how good an event we had. The feeling I get when coaches tell me they got a bunch of great looks is all I need. That tells me the participants who attended have a chance to get to the next level and we delivered to them an opportunity. At the end of the day that’s what we want to deliver: opportunities.
If adopted, how will the IMLCA’s proposal to restrict college coaches from contacting players until the fall of their junior year of high school affect the recruiting landscape? Will lacrosse “late bloomers” have the opportunity for greater exposure than in the current system of early recruiting?
SC: I really hope something changes. The college coaches have stepped up and have done the right thing. Anyone doubting them can now be silenced. They want what’s best for the sport and of course their respective teams. That being said it’s my understanding that the NCAA has to make this actually happen. I think lacrosse would be an easy fix for them, but they are the NCAA and there are other sports to consider. My guess is that they would have to have this across the board with all sports. Not sure that that is really a concern of theirs. I’m not an expert on this matter, but this is what I have been told. I would think that early committing kids in any sport would not be good. There are so many reasons why this process is not good for the sport of lacrosse. In addition to young athletes choosing schools that in two years they might not like, etc. I think we are seeing a trend of some lacrosse players achieving a life-long dream in ninth grade! That’s crazy right? You take a football player for example. You have a high school football player commit to say Alabama. First, I don’t think Nick Saban early commits freshman, but even if he did the football player still has a greater goal to achieve than just playing college football. The end game for a lot of these guys is playing in the NFL right? Well if that’s the case committing to say Alabama is awesome but that’s not the end of the line. The football player is going to continue to work harder and look at D1 football as a stepping stone to the NFL. The lacrosse player on the other hand has a dream of playing say high level D1 lacrosse? Sure the MLL is there, but it’s not where the other big sports are YET. So for the most part a kid commits to UVA in his freshman year and the dream is fulfilled. How hard is that kid going to work for the next three years? It’s human nature. He or she is going to take their foot off the pedal. That’s not to say all early committed players don’t work hard. Just in general that is a very tough sell to a player to wake up the next day and do what they need to do to actually play and excel at the next level. Things may not work out when that player finally arrives on campus. This happens trust me. I think the mid to lower level D1 coaches as well as D2 and D3 coaches who have benefited from other schools early committing should be crossing their fingers that this does not pass! I know a lot of coaches who sit back and wait and are getting some great athletes that 5-6 years ago they would have no chance. I would love to see one of the recruiting websites do a study on how many early commits actually contribute and excel at the next level compared to the players who didn’t commit early. It might be too early in all of this to do, but I think that would open a lot of people’s eyes if the data came back unfavorably. I think if a current ninth or tenth grade player is only playing lacrosse to get committed, they are in it for all of the wrong reasons and ultimately they will be less successful all around if that is the only reason. I have conversations with ninth graders and the pressure that is put on them to get recruited, etc is nuts. That’s why I think our showcases are great because they can go and maybe get a few looks but most importantly they walk away becoming a better player form what they learned for our coaches. Lastly, people have to be careful to what and who they listen to. If every person who said they had offers as ninth and tenth graders really did, we would have college rosters in excess of 100 players! There is a lot of misinformation and people exaggerating the truth to say the least! Parents and players should focus on being coached by the best possible coaches – period. Working hard, and of course excelling in the classroom, and getting rid of the pressure. A lot easier said than done, but I bet if they did they would be a lot happier and probably find the best fit for them. I tell players and families this is the lacrosse world in 2016. You can only control your effort and do everything you can to become the best player and person you can be. Stick to that and college coaches will find you. You just have to believe that.
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