High School Training Youth

Youth Lacrosse: Should We Let Kids Hit?

Lacrosse hit head to head kids illegal bodycheck penalty
Ok, it's not that different today.

One of the biggest issues in American Youth Lacrosse right now is body contact.  When I was a kid growing up, hitting pretty much started right away, and the 2 on 1 ground ball concept of “man-ball” was taught from a very early time.  I can remember playing my first summer of organized lacrosse back in 4th grade (my brother was in 2nd grade!) and we were out there hitting each other quite a bit.  If you go out to a youth practice or game today, it’s a very different scene.

Lacrosse hit head to head kids illegal bodycheck penalty

Ok, it's not that different today.

US Lacrosse recently released a position paper on Youth Participation in the States, and one of the many topics they covered was body checking and hitting for young male players.  US Lacrosse’s stance on the issue is pretty clear: they want to limit hitting as much as possible, and their reasoning is almost completely grounded in increasing safety for youth participants.  US Lacrosse’s paper covers a number of other subjects as well, including hydration, burn-out, de-emphasizing “all-stars” and winning, emphasizing skill building and fun, but the topic of eliminating much of the contact in the youth game is definitely one of the most thought provoking.  So we’ll stick to that!  But reading over the whole paper yourself isn’t a bad idea!

The following portion of the position paper was what I found most intriguing:

US Lacrosse position paper on youth participation

VERY interesting...

Basically, US Lacrosse seems to believe, via this paper, that young kids are not prepared to give or receive hits for a couple of reasons: they aren’t trained for it, their bodies are still growing and changing, there is a large potential gap between players’ developmental stages, and younger kids simply don’t have the peripheral vision skills to anticipate hits.

I can buy all of that.  Most kids today don’t get great instruction on how to give and receive a hit.  That much is definitely true.  Kids are definitely still growing and changing, and certain kids definitely develop faster than others.  Again, no argument there.  And I can totally buy that younger kids don’t have the same peripheral skills.  Just watch a youth player try to find an open teammate and you’ll see what I mean.  It can be taught, but it’s far from natural.  So if I agree with all this, how could I possibly disagree with US Lacrosse on limiting contact?  It’s a fair question…

US Lacrosse has drawn the conclusion that older kids have better peripheral vision and that they are more developed.  The combination of these two studied theories results in the conclusion that contact should be delayed until kids are older.  Or does it?

Peripheral vision may have increased with older kids, but I don’t know that having the kids develop, and THEN hit is the best idea.  If you have two 11 year olds running into each other over a ground ball for the first time, they might fall down, and they might even cry.  But I have a hard time believing these guys are going to seriously injure each other.  It’s probable that they will both be a little timid but they can learn together, and see what it takes.  The kids are low to the ground, relatively weak and relatively light.  So while the younger kids may be much less developed, they are also capable of inflicting much less damage through force.

Now think about two 15 year olds running at each other over a loose ball and being able to hit for the first time.  You’ve got two developed athletes who have never hit in this sport before, and have probably never received much training in the skill set, simply because it wasn’t even legal.  They are bigger, stronger and faster than their 11 year old counterparts, and capable of delivering a much more significant force of impact.  Sure, they might mentally prepare themselves for the hit, in that they will know it’s coming, but unless they’ve been taught how to take one, it’s unlikely that they’ll be perfect their first time.

If hitting were allowed at the youth levels there would definitely be injuries to the little kids.  Let’s face it, they’re little kids and they get hurt all the time.  But isn’t that part of growing up?  I could be wrong here, that’s why I’m asking.  I’m not advocating for 8 year olds to be taking each other out.  I think take out checks can definitely be illegal until kids are 12 or 13, or even older, but beyond that I say let the kids play and hit each other a bit.  I definitely took my fair share of big hits as a kid but it made me realize contact was a part of the game from an early stage.  I learned how to take and give a hit so by the time I was 14 or 15, and playing in HS, I actually knew what I was doing to a certain extent.

Imagine if I hadn’t been allowed to hit until then though.  Under these new guidelines you could be a freshman on varsity who has NEVER hit before, playing against seniors who are FULLY developed and have been hitting for years… to me THAT seems truly dangerous.

I can appreciate that US Lacrosse is concerned with the safety of the youth contingent, and I believe their current system of limited hitting works quite well, at least for the most part.  However, if the trend of paring back hitting continues much further we run the risk of putting 14 and 15 year old players in harm’s way, and in a potentially much more catastrophic setting.

US Lacrosse proposes increased coaching as a solution, but why are coaches going to teach their kids how to hit and be hit if it is illegal?  Most will just push it down the line to the next coach, and all of a sudden you’ll have a team full of 8th graders that aren’t used to contact.  Sure, some programs will teach it well, but they will be few and far between.  People tend to focus on what’s on tap for the next year.  Coaches are NOT going to teach 5th graders how to hit so they’ll be prepared for 3 years down the road.  It just doesn’t make any sense and is an unrealistic expectation.

The solution is to gradually increase the amount of hitting that is allowed from U-9 through U-15.  Under 9 lacrosse features only poke checks and body position.  Under 11 lacrosse allows for bumping and two handed checks.  Under 13 allows for hitting but no take out checks.  Under 15 allows take out checks.  Called closer to a HS game standard.  And then the kids hit high school.  They’ll be prepared for what is coming, will have gradually worked their way up and been coached on technique (because it’s legal!) and will be full blown lacrosse players ready to play a physical sport safely and intensely.

I’m concerned about kids just as much as the next guy.  But at a certain point we have to realize that men’s lacrosse is a physical sport, with lots of contact, and that there are going to be injuries.  Limiting contact at the early ages seems like a good idea, but I fear that the result will mostly be a lot of ignorant freshman, and that the risk on injury there could be even higher.  Pushing a problem down the line never solves anything.  Dealing with a problem in increments however often yields success.

About the author

Connor Wilson

Connor is the Publisher of LacrosseAllStars.com. He lives in Brooklyn with his better half, continues to play and coach both box and field lacrosse in NYC as much as possible, and covers the great game that is lacrosse full-time. He spends his spare time stringing sticks and watching Futurama.

31 Comments

  • Connor — Concussions are not to be fooled with!  Anything that can be done to limit their occurance is a good thing.  I’m sure that things will balance out and will be tweaked in regards to this position paper. BUT, it’s a good start.   One other problem that you fail to see is that kids grow at different rates and some kids are BIG in relation to their peers. They can also do some damage when allowed to hit. By the time kids hit HS they have balanced out size -wise.

  • This is a joke, puberty hasn’t changed over time.  Kids go through it at different times and the small ones better learn how to take a hit, because the reality of having to get smothered by someone twice your size never changes.  Concussions are serious and the consequences of an illegal hit should be serious, but to take hitting out of a hitting game is ridiculous and unsafe long term.  This breeds unsafety, as kids get older and are actually capable of laying a huge blow on someone that hasn’t had to take one can have dangerous consequence.  Great post as it is laying what is happening in our sport but we can’t make this move.  Lacrosse is and always has been physical, and if you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen.  These kids have to have realistic expectations on what this sport really is, vicious.  This is the kind of stuff that directly relates to our society that is softer than kleenex.  “Well he is bigger and stronger than me, so he shouldn’t be able to hit me”, “he has more money than me so he should pay for my retirement”, yes a bit of a stretch but the REALITY is people are always going to be bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, and more capable at just about anything then you, so get used to dealing with it now, the faster these kids learn that the better off they will be on and off the field.  

  • Ive played lacrosse my whole life and during my youth seasons everyone got hit, no one complained, and no one got concussions. Its a rare occasion and if they take it away from lacrosse then they might as well take it away from football.

  • If you read the youth rules developed as a result of the position paper and written with rules from youth leagues all over America as a guide you would realize two very important things.  First, US Lacrosse has only eliminated Intentional Body Checking from U9 and U11 play.  It is still allowed in U13 and U15.  Second, if you look at the rules from most youth leagues in the country you would see they have already made the decision to limit body checking at the younger ages. 

    A key misconception in the sport of lacrosse is that US Lacrosse is some foreign body making decisions outside of the main stream of the game.  This is simply not true.  The new youth rules are based on the rules being used by huge leagues like CONNY, MassBay, Nassau PAL, NorCal, CO youth Lax and others.  Yes, our Sport Science and Safety Committee (also made up of experts from around the country) did the research to make sure there was sound reasoning behind what these groups were doing they did not write the rules.   Nor did USL staff.  There was input from all corners of the lacrosse world and the rules were written by representatives from Officiating, Youth Lacrosse Administrators, and Youth Lacrosse Coaches.

    What was determined by the folks on the ground running youth leagues, coaching/officiating the kids and working to keep lacrosse safe and fun for all kids was that national standards around body checking had to be developed.  What they produced was done with some key things in mind; player safety, player development and overall player experience.  In the end the goal is to Grow The Game but to do so in a responsible manner. 

    Thanks for listening!

    Brian T Silcott
    Men’s Game Director
    US Lacrosse

  • thanks for the read and comment, Peet!

    I think we want to be safe, but also realize it is a tough sport.  It’s a fine line!

  • Thanks for reading Brian!
    You make some great points and I really appreciate you chiming in here!!!

    I didn’t mean to place blame or anything like that on US Lacrosse.  You guys do a GREAT job of helping the sport grow and I thought the paper was really insightful.  Keep up the fantastic work!

  • have they? when I was in HS I was a 6’1″ 155 lb freshman and a 6’1″ 190 senior… big difference there.  If senior me had run into freshman me… watch out freshman me!

  • I have to question Peet’s comment.  I would continue his line of thinking to say “he has more money than me but I am bigger than him so I will just take his money”

  • Guarding against that can be really important, I’d agree!  But if the little guy has quickness and can duck under a bigger player, is it fair to take the bigger player’s advantages away for safety?  Honest question there, would love to hear an answer!

    And do we want to prep our kids to play without worrying about getting hit?  Does that breed good future habits?

    THIS is why this debate is so interesting, and again, thanks so much for chiming in!!!!

  • Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. Having also been a hockey person, the discussion of hitting is not new to me.

    One of the things that people don’t realize (or choose not to realize) is the parental influence on hitting. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard parents yell from the sidelines to “kill”, “crush” or “layout” another player….at U13! In fact, I even heard a parent yell at their kid to “kill the goalie” on one of my teams. When players hear this at home and on the sidelines from the parents, what do you expect they will do? Hit overly aggressively. Every year I see one or two players end up with a broken arm or broken clavicle from an illegal hit. Suprisingly, one year I had a player get his leg broken from an illegal hit (to this day I’m not sure how that was even possible).

    That being said, I have no problem with a good solid hard hit to knock the ball carrier out of position or force him to lose the ball, etc. I tell my kids, “The goal of a body check is to separate the man from the ball, not the man from his consciousness.”

    I do have a problem with parents and coaches who teach, encourage, or don’t discourage “headhunting”.

  • I am a 14 y.o player right now and I play some leagues that allow hitting and some that don’t. But I think hitting is a key part of the game at this age, in a league that does not allow body contact, I would be able to clear the ball from one side of the field to the other with ease, and I’ve seen kids on the other team do so. And since some kids offensive skills are too strong to be stopped by a pokecheck coming from a shortstick, they have to put some body on their man, which is why a limited amount of hitting should be allowed. From a players view hitting can always be useful. But like bob said, the body check is used to separate the man from the ball, not the man from his consciousness.

  • To me it seems as though the aspect of hitting is something that entices kids to play lacrosse. Since it’s one of three contact sports (that I know of), hockey, football, and lax, getting rid of hitting could reduce the amount of kids that want to try out the sport. Also, I agree with the post that kids should have an increasing amount of allowed contact, maybe even with takeout checks in U13. As long as the refs are wary enough to watch out for illegal hits and even give longer penalties, hitting should be allowed.

  • As a 15 year old i can say that the ref’s are definetly calling hits/checks a lot more strictly then they would in older leagues. It’s safer i guess, but it takes some fun out of the game. If they take the hitting out of the game, we might as well be playing girls lax

  • When I played U13 a few years ago I was one of the biggest fastest and strongest kids on the field. In Long Island there were a lot of rules in tournaments against hitting. It wasn’t illegal, but there was no man-ball and I was even called for a few hits from the side. I found in the Long Island tournaments, where one of my greatest assets, strength, was taken away, I scored less goals and had a harder time in transition because I was often called for hitting a kid from the side and laying him out, even if that wasn’t my intention, I was just much larger than most of the other kids. Hitting rules change what is valued in a player, making athleticism much less valuable on these teams. 

  • Ok we wear heavily padded gloves, chest/shoulder pads, helmet, elbow pads, cups, and sometimes rib protectors. I’m pretty sure we wear this for other reasons than just slashing, if you want to be completely safe you shouldn’t be playing lacrosse in the first place, not making the game change to conform to a minorities personal preference when it comes to limited physicality in the game. If you want to play lacrosse without contact go to womens lacrosse, seriously. If we are going to limit hitting in youth games for safety we might as well put a speed limit when it comes to running on the field. People need to grow up, this shouldnt even be a discussion in lacrosse. 

  • I agree with some restrictions but lets remember this is lacrosse, created as training for war for the Indians. Keep the hitting it would be a disgrace to the game in general

  • Yes, it is very like the issues that hockey are facing with the fighting, I know there are no all out brawls in lacrosse, but it is a physical game, and that is something that doesn’t need to be changed. I am in agreement with the hitting developing with age, and that the younger players need to be protected more. However when they get to an age to hit they won’t know how to hit legally and safely so we need to educate youngsters on how to hit. I play long pole defense for my High school, and have suffered a concussion, that concussion was a freak accident where 2 players went for the ball in the air and i landed on my head causing the concussion. This was bad but in all the hits that i have given and received by the youth i began playing with who where trained to hit at an early age. I think it’s better to train youth about hitting, so they don’t get hurt the first time they can legally hit.

  • hitting is necessary to learn early i swam most of my life and am gun shy about getting hit it limits my abilities to a great extent, my nephew on the other hand learned contact early and even though at a young age we limited it to 3 steps instead of 5 to lead into a hit they learned out to take a hit, give a hit (because you can hurt yourself FAR more hitting with bad technique then getting hit with bad technique) and how to avoid it to make a play. Parents have to stop rolling their kids in bubble wrap seriously little kids get hurt all the time a bump on the knee or arm wont kill you seriously it makes you a better person if they take contact out of the game the sport will lose its essence and lose the quality of players, its a contact sport if you dont like contact go play soccer, swim, run track, anything but lacrosse seriously

  • If your that worried about concussions wear a helmet everywhere and dont play sports the worst concussion of my life came from running into a wall swimming so seriously dont play if your that gun shy about them people have had concussions for years and not died, everyone is over exaggerating them these days a minor concussion is a headache a MAJOR concussion yeah thats a problem but a u11/13  player is not getting that risk playing lacrosse they have a better chance of being hit by a car on their bicycle when their out in town and getting one, so seriously stop playing it up that far its ridiculous i have had 3 minors and 1 serious i am fine to this day cat scans and all 

  • agreed with this over aggressiveness and aggressiveness are two completely different things coaches sometimes are the worst proprietors of this and refs should pay attention to it 

  • Yep, reading your reply leads me to believe that you have definitely had your share of concussions!   A very thoughtful,  level “headed” reply, I might add.

  • so if this is the case, why not also go after youth football too? Practically the same amount of contact correct? This will end up ruining the interest of the youth in lacrosse. Truly not Growing The Game. LEAVE THE CONTACT 

  • Right on!  Concussions are good for the game!  What’s the big deal?  Hits are fun for us adults to watch. Nothing better than watching kids knocking heads.

  • I support the USL initiative.  It must be remembered lacrosse is a finesse sport emphasizing running, dodging and stick skills. A skilled and physically fit lacrosse player will use those skills to take advantage when an opponent plants to try to throw a heavy check.  The exception is ground balls where you expect some contact in the battle for possession.  The true intent of checking should be no more than to frustrate the play or assist in your team gaining possession of the ball.  Don’t forget the mental aspect of the game.  Checks which frustrate an opponent’s objective mess with his head and take him off his game, overly physical checks are more likely to pump him up.  Finally, too many players think “I have a helmet like football and shoulder pads like football, plus padded gloves and elbows so why can’t I hit hard?”.  Lacrosse helmets and padding, truly, are meant to protect from stick contact, only.  Stay in shape for football by playing lacrosse, but learn the differences between both sports.

  • im 15 5′ 8″ 135 i play high school with seniors i get hit u guys need to quit being pussys if u dont wanna get hit do cross country or be a nerd its part of the game dont like it dont play it

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