Dec 2 2013

Building a Lacrosse Community

This is guest post by JP O’Brien, Managing Director at Integrated People Solutions, a Mentor at Techstars, and, of course, a lacrosse coach.


About 5 years ago, I was recruited to join the Boulder Valley Lacrosse board, probably because I grew up playing lacrosse at a high level, was coaching my son’s team, and knew a couple of the board members. When I joined, it felt a little like a secret society – I don’t think anyone knew that a board even existed. When

I was elected to run the organization as president, we all agreed to make swift changes to open up the communication, create transparency, and build a customer-centric culture.  We’re not close to perfect, but we are on the right path.

Over a coffee, a friend and I were discussing the Boulder Thesis and the subtleties of the concept of a long-term view perspective.  I was looking for a way to articulate the importance of looking out and thinking about how to build communities for 10 or 20 years down the road. Each year, the parents and coaches of a lacrosse team get so focused on the current season, game, or practice

right in front of them, we as a group forget to look up and make sure we are headed in the right direction for our 20-year vision.  These are the key components of the Boulder Thesis and how I see them applied to the Boulder Valley Lacrosse organization.

Startup communities put great importance on this concept of the long-term viewpoint – check. But who are the entrepreneurial leaders in our lacrosse community?  The thought came to me this summer when meeting with Andrew Davies, our Executive Director.  We were planning for our fall season and he lamented that finding good coaches was still our biggest challenge. That our growth as a community, the sustainability, will be based on our ability to continue to attract great coaches every year.  I went back to the Boulder Thesis and realized that instead of trying to create, or worse control, the development of coaches every year, perhaps the coaches are the entrepreneurial leaders of the lacrosse community.

Leaders – But does that make sense? Can a coach really have a long-term view and lead, or will it always just be about their team, son, or daughter? If you use me as an example, I started as a ‘dad-coach’, but now help lead our community of over 1200 families.  I play men’s lacrosse with Boulder guys, I coach 11 year-old boys, and my daughter plays with a team of 12 and 13 year old girls.  I have become a leader in this Boulder Lacrosse Community, in part because I am a super-user and participant in the community.

Feeders – Next, we need to make sure we have all of the service providers. There are training organizations, most very good, that offer lacrosse training, camps, and club teams (Denver Elite and 3d Lacrosse are the two largest). We have local retail stores (Breakaway Sports and Player’s Bench). We have colleges (CU and DU) and high schools (Fairview, Boulder, Dawson). We engage with each of these organizations and need them to be key participants (service providers) to our community.

Inclusive – We have always had a pretty inclusive policy, but we need to be more public about it and market the opportunities of how to get involved. And with our new Boulder Thesis concept, we can communicate better to new feeders as to how to become the fabric of the community, and not try to be the sole leader.

Engage the Community – Engagement is an area we need to continue to work on.  A few weeks ago, I held a coaches meeting with about 30 of our top local coaches and shared with them the concept and philosophy behind the Boulder Thesis. I asked them to be a part of this new concept and lead the community.  One of the coaches I had not yet met, spoke up to elaborate on the concept. It happened to be Jim Booth (COO of Orbotix), someone that understands the Boulder Thesis well from the traditional concept. Jim and I later had lunch and debated the motivation of a coach – will there be enough intrinsic motivation to invest in the long term community, if it is not specifically associated with a career?

This story has just begun. There are more debates to be had and more ideas to test.  In the meantime, we are recruiting more coaches to be leaders and build the 20-year vision for Boulder Valley Lacrosse.  If you live near Boulder, call me about getting involved or if you have additional ideas!


JP O’Brien is the managing director at Integrated People Solutions, a retained executive search and strategic talent revolution company. JP is known for his business and strategy acumen and his keen ability to build meaningful and influential relationships with some of the industry’s most sought after executives. JP is also a mentor at Techstars Boulder, leads the Boulder Valley Lacrosse Association, and teaches entrepreneurship at the Colorado School of Mines.

JP has held a mixture of CEO, CIO, and CTO roles, building strong teams and executing in rapidly growing and ever-changing markets.  JP’s prior roles include: Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of SageFire, Inc., a leading provider of cloud-based, enterprise management software for multi-unit businesses including eBay, H&R Block, and Home Depot; Founding Member and acting CIO of Headwaters MB, a middle-market private equity and M&A investment banking firm; and Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Learning Productions, LLC, an education outsourcing and technologies business that was acquired by SkillSoft. JP began he career at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) where he was the lead architect on global, multi-million dollar system implementations including Sprint, JP Morgan and GE Capital.

JP can be reached at [email protected].

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