Dom Starsia's Letter to a Freshman


Editor’s note: This article was originally published Aug. 8, 2017, and has been updated.

After 10 years coaching college lacrosse and with two kids (Lil’ Dom and Luigi) in tow, my 34-year-old son was about to start law school at the University of Texas in September 2017. His bold career choice reminds me that it seems like just yesterday when he began his undergraduate career at Lynchburg College.

I would like to share with all the young men and women about to start their college careers a letter I wish I had sent to Joe.

Dear Joe,

You are about to embark on a great adventure. In the grand scheme that is your life, I do not believe there will be a lot of other moments that have as profound an influence on your evolution as going away from home for the first time. It was the American poet EE Cummings who said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are,” and I am confident you will exhibit that quality over these next four years.

My concern, at this moment, is that the world has become less patient and forgiving and that you don’t self-inflict too much pain and anguish especially in the early stages of this journey.

You have been around college lacrosse players your entire life. While I appreciate that we all need to experience situations first-hand in order to process them fully, I would hope that you have been listening to me tell generations of young men, “Smart guys don’t learn from their own mistakes, they learn from others.”

I would be happy to provide you the contact information for any number of guys whose names you will recognize and who dug themselves a hole that they almost could not get out of. Don’t make your life harder than it needs to be.

Along these lines, manage yourself with the guiding principle of “all things in moderation.” You may not be looking at the first beer of your life, but learn to say “enough,” even when surrounded by upper-class mayhem. It may require a little leap of faith, but I swear that these same teammates will come to respect you more in the daylight hours. It is the guys who speak with an uncompromising voice of reason who become the leaders on these teams.

Do you want to know the absolute key to success in the classroom and on the lacrosse field? Go to class and follow the “Poskay Rule.” Get up for breakfast every morning. If your commitment is to get up and eat something before 9 a.m. EVERY morning, I can almost guarantee that you will be fine in school and perform close to your potential as a college athlete. That’s what you want, right?

If you are up in the morning, you will likely be presented with an opportunity to talk with some classmates who are not lacrosse players. Make that a daily goal. I am sure you are going to have wonderful teammates, but don’t limit your personal interactions to the guys you will be with for 4-5 hours a day, even if you did not want to. These other encounters will require you to consider events and situations outside the world of athletics.

Arrive on campus in shape and ready to compete. You will get one chance to make a first impression. What do you want the coaches to think of you? Strive to be first in the early conditioning. Don’t be last.

Tell the truth, always. Don’t compromise here. Lying always requires more lying, and it is a slippery slope. Whether you are talking to a teacher, an academic advisor, your coach, your friends or looking in the mirror, take responsibility for your life and actions. If something goes astray, square up and face the music. It will always give you the best chance to move on.

Finally, stop calling your mother! I do not mean, literally, to stop calling your mother but, I absolutely do mean that your parents don’t have to hear about every time you stub your toe, every time the coach leaves you out of a drill or puts you on the second extra man.

I also mean that your parents do not have to hear about mistakes that your teammates may have made, on or off the field. Part of being on a real team is keeping things within that team. It is hard enough to make things work smoothly with a group of 45 college-age young men (and women) without the additional hurtfulness that accompanies gossip and social media. This one is about growing up and being out on your own, about being part of a group that is on a special mission and about cherishing the privacy of that commitment.

Joe, if that seems like a lot, believe me, I’m jealous. I wish it was me. 


Dom Starsia, a National Lacrosse Hall of Famer, is one of the winningest coaches in NCAA history and one of six head coaches for the inaugural season 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.

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