10v10 Youth Lacrosse is a ridiculous concept, and quite frankly, I can’t believe that U11 kids and below don’t have an official smaller version of the game to play.
Almost every other team sport finds a way for young kids to play a modified version of the game, but lacrosse does not. And when it comes to young kids falling in love with the game, and starting the sport in new places, a smaller modified version of lacrosse could do wonders.
Some people reading likely agree that a scaled-down version of 10v10 youth lacrosse would be good, and others are scratching their head asking why this is necessary. Allow me to set the stage…
10v10 Youth Lacrosse Is Ridiculous
U11 players are typically in 2nd through 4th grade, and when you watch these kids play lacrosse, you notice something almost immediately: most of the kids are about as tall as a lacrosse stick. Some are taller, others are smaller, but many stand around 4 feet, and few are much taller than that. When you put these kids on a full size lacrosse field, their lack of size stands out even more.
Kids can’t run the length of the field without getting tired. It might take a young player 75 steps to run 50 yards, whereas it would take a full size player only 25. That’s like running up and down, and then up the field again all at once. Imagine if that is what every trip down the field was like. It would be exhausting!
Or watch the teams pass the ball, and see how hard it is for most U11 players and below to complete any sort of longer pass. A skip pass on offense rarely makes it through to the other side before bouncing. Clearing passes routinely fall short of their mark. Kids see the open man, but throwing the ball 25 yards accurately is often too much too ask.
Of course then there are the goalies… those poor U11 and below goalies. If you are a regular sized goalie, you stand about as tall as the goal. Stick side high means a high shot where your stick is already positioned. For a four foot tall 10 year old, stick side high means a goal (unless the kid can fully extend his arms, jump, AND make a save, but how many 3rd graders can do that?!?!). Playing great angles helps, but sometimes a save is literally impossible to make. Goalie is a tough enough position already… does protecting a full six by six cage make it any more enticing to new players?
Another thing to watch for are kids who NEVER touch the ball. If you watch a full 10v10 U11 game, there are often kids out on the field who almost never, or actually never, touch the ball. They can take a ton of shifts, but if they aren’t super aggressive, or the ball doesn’t come to them naturally, certain kids can effectively hide out on the field, and go a full game without ever really getting involved.
Do I blame full sized lacrosse for all of the above? I sure do. There may be other things at play, but the main driver for bad experiences at the U11 level and below is deeply routed in playing on a field that is simply far too large.
The 7v7 Youth Lacrosse Solution
The best solution that I have seen to the above 10v10 youth lacrosse problems is 7v7 youth lacrosse.
Teams use 2 attack, 2 middies, 2 defenseman, and one goalie. The field is only a third of a field, and the kids play from sideline to sideline. The side restraining box lines of the nornal field act as restraining lines for 7v7, and cones can be used for a midfield line, with a gap in the middle for face offs. Many people still use 6×6 goals, but some programs have started to use 4×4 box goals instead. Seeing as the goalies are about 4 feet tall, it makes a lot of sense.
The benefits to this approach are numerous.
4 on 4 offense and defense is very similar to 6 on 6. It is scaled back, but the ideas of isolating for a dodge, ball movement, the pick and roll, the give and go, etc, ALL WORK. You can run a wheel, set up with 2 guys on the crease, or overload a side. So from an IQ standpoint, 4 on 4 is still fantastic.
From a game play perspective, it’s even better. In 6 on 6 lacrosse, players can hide, or remain loosely involved in the play. If you have 5 good players out there, a sixth guy can kind of just hang out. In 4 on 4 lacrosse, this is much harder. Everyone needs to be involved, on O and on D, and no one can take a play off or just hang out. Kids feel more involved, and that makes the game more fun.
The shorter field also means that really athletic kids who lack good skills will have a harder time simply running through the other team. In 10v10 lacrosse, kids can get very spread out, and this places a premium on kids who can simply run faster than other kids. Since there is so much space out on the field, just running is an easy option. When kids play on a smaller field, the more athletic kids still have an advantage (obviously), but there is less free space, so skills are of premium importance. An athletic player WITH skills will still shine in this version of the game.
Using 4×4 goals would also promote more passing and MUCH better shooting. How?
Well if it’s not as easy to score from the outside (16 square feet of area for a 4×4 VS 36 square feet for a 6×6) by just shooting the ball hard, then teams will need to work the inside more, or get the goalie moving from side to side. This would simply require kids to be more skilled, and pass the ball better. A crease feed is a precise act, and if it’s the best way to score, kids will learn how to do it. Kids want to score after all.
The smaller cage would also mean that kids would need to be more accurate when they shoot. Right now, a lot of U11 field players just throw the ball somewhere near the net as hard as they can. They have no idea where it’s going, and it doesn’t really matter because the net is 1.5 times as tall as they are. How can they miss? Sure, kids miss a lot now, but to me that says we need to promote better shooting even more! And a smaller target would force kids to be better, more accurate shooters. They couldn’t just sling it high and know the goalie can’t reach it. They would have to score real lacrosse goals. Wouldn’t that be cool? I’d love to see a 3rd grader throw a good dip and dunk, or be able to hit corners on command, but few can do it. Maybe it’s because they don’t have to?
Another benefit of the 4×4 is that these goals ALREADY exist for box lacrosse. So there are mini goals, available NOW, and there is suddenly no barrier to entry left here. We use 4×4 goals in the Fall for the Doc’s NYC Lacrosse K-5th graders and it has been a great move to compliment the 7v7 youth lacrosse we play during these off-months.
If you’re still not convinced that small kids need a smaller field and smaller goals, watch the videos below to see how it all works in other sports:
[fvplayer src=”https://youtube.com/watch?v=X9Pc1vf_tlg” splash=”https://i.ytimg.com/vi/X9Pc1vf_tlg/hqdefault.jpg” caption=”Let’s see how the adults like it”]
[fvplayer src=”https://youtube.com/watch?v=cXhxNq59pWg” splash=”https://i.ytimg.com/vi/cXhxNq59pWg/hqdefault.jpg” caption=”From Child’s View, Parents Find Full-Ice Hockey No Fun”]
Both the soccer and hockey nets show just how hard it is for youth goalies on lacrosse. Both games also showed how truly spread out and terrible the game can become. Communication, passing, defending, team concepts and more are all difficult. Players were also worn out from the giant playing surface.
But a smaller playing surface doesn’t just mean a better game for kids. It also potentially means a bigger game for everyone.
Finding 15-20 kids for a start up youth team can be hard in certain areas of the country and world. It can also be tough for high schools, or any new program. Now imagine if you only needed 10 kids to form a team, and that you could use only 1/3 of a field for games and practices. All of a sudden, the barriers of entry for lacrosse begin to break down.
Or imagine you are starting a team in a new country, or city, but only have about 10-12 guys or girls interested. Well now you can start a team, and if you’re older, you just play with regulation sized goals, but all the other stuff is done the same. The FIL could host a “development division” at the World Championships, and new programs could elect to play in a 7v7 format for their first world lacrosse experience. This could open up more countries to FIL events and create a more manageable first time experience for new countries. 8-man football has worked in smaller, or more rural schools, so why can’t 7man lacrosse? As our game continues to expand, this becomes more and more important.
The overall benefits of 7v7 youth lacrosse are striking. 10v10 youth lacrosse will always have a place, and many advanced areas and program may stick with it. But for the good of the game pretty much everywhere else, 7v7 youth lacrosse could be the ticket.