the next Denver. Brian Holman just hopes it doesn’t become the next youth lacrosse dystopia.

Brian Holman, the architect of the University of Utah’s jubilant jump from club to NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse, relayed recent experiences he had recruiting at an all-star team tryout in Baltimore and then watching his niece’s 10-year-old son play. He once was native to this scene, but since moving away from the hotbed, his perspective has changed.

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Utah men's lacrosse coach Brian Holman speaks at a June 16 press conference announcing the Utes' plans to go Division I starting in 2019.

Utah's Holman Vows to 'Be Different' in Building D-I Program, Supporting Youth Game


Marcus Holman thinks Utah could be the next Denver. Brian Holman just hopes it doesn’t become the next youth lacrosse dystopia.

Brian Holman, the architect of the University of Utah’s jubilant jump from club to NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse, relayed recent experiences he had recruiting at an all-star team tryout in Baltimore and then watching his niece’s 10-year-old son play. He once was native to this scene, but since moving away from the hotbed, his perspective has changed.

“I’m just looking at it differently right now,” Holman said. “These kids trudge on and off the field. There was no passion. The parents are miserable. The kids have no freedom of expression. They’re over-coached.”

Holman bemoaned how early recruiting drove the sport into a state of excess, fueling the growth of a cottage industry that turned youth players into commodities. When he left Baltimore in 2008 to become an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina, he could see the tide turning. He had coached his sons, Matthew and Marcus, and their friends in the local rec league and continued with the Baltimore Breakers club program.

“We went to two tournaments a summer and won them both. Then, for my kids, we’d put the stick down,” Holman said. “There’s inordinate unseen pressure in the lacrosse community that if I’m not playing for this team in the fall, Johnny won’t be on that team in the spring. Well, why is he playing in the fall anyway?”

Single-sport specialization, an unbalanced emphasis on playing games rather than teaching core skills and pay-to-play dynamics emerged as the college coaches began targeting prospects earlier in their development. Holman saw it firsthand, and hopes the NCAA’s recent adoption of legislation banning recruiting contact with prospective student-athletes before Sept. 1 of their junior year of high school will help stem the tide.

“That will help the dust settle some,” said Holman, whose two sons and daughter, Sydney, all played for North Carolina. “But it won’t be the end-all, be-all.”


"Lacrosse is at a crossroads. We should be the light that guides the way." — Utah head coach Brian Holman


Holman moved to Utah last summer not only to elevate lacrosse at the state’s flagship university — which on June 16 announced it would become the first Pac-12 conference school to add the sport to its varsity lineup — but also to boost its burgeoning base of youth participants. He joined the board of Intermountain Lacrosse, one of the country’s largest youth leagues with more than 4,500 boys and girls competing from kindergarten through eighth grade.

In Utah, Holman found, the youth lacrosse landscape was as pristine as the Wasatch Mountains he could see from his new office — unsullied by greed, open to collaboration and ripe for a revolution.

There are nearly 10,000 lacrosse players in Utah, according to US Lacrosse participation data. On Feb. 15, Intermountain Lacrosse merged with the Greater Utah Lacrosse League, creating a statewide umbrella for the sport. The Utah Lacrosse Association, a local chapter of US Lacrosse, helped facilitate the merger.  On May 4, the Utah High School Activities Association adopted boys’ and girls’ lacrosse as state-sanctioned sports.

“One of the uniform discussions from the Intermountain Lacrosse merger, a huge part of the partnership with the Utes and a key driver to the high school discussions is we need to do what’s best for the kids and what’s best for the game of lacrosse,” said Bob Caldwell, president of Intermountain Lacrosse. “When we started taking money out of it and doing what’s best for the kids, it’s amazing how quickly it all came together.”

Holman’s foray into the Utah lacrosse community is similar to what University of Denver coach Bill Tierney did when he left Princeton in 2009 to take over what at the time was the westernmost program in Division I men’s lacrosse. (Utah now bears that distinction.) Tierney’s son, Trevor, and assistant coach Matt Brown started the Denver Elite and local box lacrosse programs, respectively, while the coaches fostered relationships with Denver City Lax and the Colorado chapter of US Lacrosse.

“It’s a big job. It’s not one to be taken on if you don’t have energy,” Tierney said. “Brian obviously has done an amazing job already leading this effort and having the young people around him he does that want to make this thing work. You have to do it in the community.”








Holman’s coaching staff includes his son, Marcus, and fellow Major League Lacrosse all-stars Will Manny and Adam Ghitelman. They frequently run camps and clinics on Utah’s campus. Holman said they each bring different perspectives that helped forge the vision for Utah lacrosse. They have the results of a personality test to prove it.

“You can’t have too many Will Mannys on the sidelines. He’s type A, an aggressive doer and worker,” Holman said. “Marcus is the maverick. He’s in the middle, takes more pleasure when the people around him succeed. And Adam is a trailblazer. He sees things free and open.”

“We feel with our knowledge and our passion and our experiences in the game, we want to create something different,” he added. “Let’s be different. Let’s play six defensemen who are all 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and can run like deer so Matt Rambo sees defensemen pushing him to the end line every time.”

Holman likes where US Lacrosse is headed with the Lacrosse Athlete Development Model, which provides a framework to introduce new players to the sport. It includes small-sided practices and games, smaller field dimensions and a gradual introduction of body contact and equipment.

“Let’s be different with our youth,” he said. “Let’s teach fundamentals. Let’s not put pads on them until fourth or fifth grade. Let’s get more touches. Let’s be different. Let’s simplify things. It’s not a complicated game. It still comes back to the same things. You’ve got to be able to throw a ball 10 or 15 yards without it flying into the ground, taking all the whip out of your sticks. You’ve got to be multidimensional and able to get a dang ground ball and ultimately you’ve got to be a great teammate in lacrosse. All we’re teaching these kids is selfish individual habits.”




PHOTO BY KEVIN P. TUCKER

Holman spent eight seasons at North Carolina, where he coached goalies, before leaving last summer to take over Utah's club program and usher it into the NCAA Division I ranks.


Holman’s streams of consciousness continued down such paths for most of an hour-plus interview. Seldom did he discuss the future of the Utes, who will make their Division I debut in 2019, without discussing the future of the sport in Utah and beyond.

“What you have is a series of likeminded folks who saw the big-picture opportunity,” Caldwell said. “Coach Holman’s boundless enthusiasm and incredible depth of knowledge has been particularly helpful.”

Holman said he likes to create things. He started his own mortgage business in 1986 and sold it in 1997. He launched a lacrosse camp at North Carolina that now draws more than 2,000 kids annually. And ultimately, he hopes Utah will be an agent of change in the sport.

“Lacrosse is at a crossroads,” said Holman, thinking again of the listless kids he saw playing on Baltimore fields earlier this month. “We should be the light that guides the way.”