PHOTO BY MATT RILEY

Dom Starsia: What I Really Miss (It's Not the Championships)


With the 2020 season now officially upon us, it seems just the right time to consider the journey ahead.

There are some obvious things in the coaching profession that took almost no time learning to live without. But you may be surprised to hear that it is not nearly the competition nor “the thrill of victory” that I truly miss.

I have done some public speaking these past few years, and there have been instances where I can hear myself saying, “It really wasn’t about the championships,” that it was about the people and the relationships.

If Mike Pressler was within earshot, he would lean in thoughtfully and whisper, “That’s easy to say when you have won four.”

He is right, and I have become more mindful of my language when talking about such matters.

At the same time, with every fiber of my being, I would suggest to you that what I really miss is the daily routine of being a successful college lacrosse coach. A young coach, about to be a head coach for the first time, came up to me at the IMLCA meetings in December and asked for the one piece of advice I would give to someone just starting out. Caught a little off guard at that moment and now, with the time to think it through, I might still give him this same counsel.

“Be your authentic self.”


Loosen up. Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out when you are approaching a recruit and his family or a staff member. Distinguish yourself. Show some vulnerability. Help people get to know you. Let them know you care.


It may be the bright lights of recognition, winning games and championships that attracts one to coaching, and there is no disguising that winning enriches the relationships.

Lars Tiffany called me just a day or two after Virginia won the national championship last spring and asked, “What now?” I told him that it was already time to get back to your life, to attend to his wife, Tara, and their daughter, Charlotte, and to catch up with the other college coaches who had a little head start trying to whip your butt on the recruiting trail.

We won our first NCAA championship on Memorial Day Monday in 1999. By Tuesday afternoon, I was at Coyne Field in Syracuse watching the New York state high school quarterfinals.

I told Lars that he had something for his mantelpiece that he would always remember fondly, that knitted him and his 2019 players together in an unforgettable tapestry.








Still, we lost the final game of the season more often than we won. Neither result defined my life and, perhaps surprisingly, neither occupies a lot of my time.

I do spend time, however, thinking about the things that filled my daily routines.

I miss having the seniors in my office for lunch on Monday, seeing Colin Briggs and JJ Morrissey (as high school students) on a snippet of tape you know no one else has seen and walking into the locker room at 3 p.m.

I miss trying to find where Garrett Billings was hiding in the weight room, giving guys grief on the practice field and having them give it back to me (respectfully) when they made a play and team study hall on Tuesday afternoons.

I miss the bus trips and practice the day before a game.

I was blessed to have worked at two great schools (Brown and Virginia), and I miss talking with candidates and their families about the merits of both institutions.




PHOTO COURTESY OF DOM STARSIA


At the recent US Lacrosse Convention in Philadelphia, I addressed a group about coaching leadership and the requirements for success — about surrounding yourself with good people and doing the things that foster loyalty.

It led to a discussion about recruiting and how, early in my career, I came to grips with two important principles: I was a better coach when I had good players, and I was going to have to spend so much time recruiting that I needed to learn to enjoy the process.

To find good people and keep them, I lived by the recruiting mantra, “Make it personal. Don’t take it personally.” When I had people in my office, we would talk about them, about my family, their family, current events — things that I was truly interested in talking about.

Yes, I had to get some information to them, but what energized me about this potential relationship? I would talk about and send recruits information about any variety of material. I am sure many of them thought to themselves, “What the heck did he send me today?”

But they liked getting it — politics, music, articles that I had read about any topic that touched me in some way, things completely off the beaten path.

Loosen up. Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out when you are approaching a recruit and his family, or a staff member. Distinguish yourself. Show some vulnerability. Help people get to know you. Let them know you care.

I am sure that every coach has said to his players that “practice is the best part of my day.” It often was for me, and if you feel that way, show it. When that joy is real, it has an infectious impact on all those around you.

I am here to remind you that time moves so swiftly — that while you cannot nearly control all the outcomes, don’t let the process get away. I believe the key to an extended, happy and fulfilled career is to live for this joyous moment. I can still hear myself encouraging the players to “dazzle me with consistency.”

Learn to love and to be your authentic self.

DOM STARSIA, A NATIONAL LACROSSE HALL OF FAMER, IS ONE OF THE WINNINGEST COACHES IN NCAA HISTORY AND A MEMBER OF THE LACROSSE ADVISORY BOARD OF THE PREMIER LACROSSE LEAGUE (@DOMSTARSIAPLL). HE WAS A TWO-TIME ALL-AMERICAN DEFENSEMAN AT BROWN AND PLAYED FOR THE U.S. TEAM IN 1978. His Book, “I Hope You Will Be Very Happy,” is available on Amazon.