What’s right with youth lacrosse?
It’s a question that is asked rarely, and answered with an even lower frequency. Since I’ve written articles about what’s wrong with youth lacrosse and what’s wrong with international youth lacrosse (while also offering solutions), it’s high time I cover a lot of the good that exists in today’s game.
There is plenty of excellent action happening in the world of US, and even international, youth lacrosse. So let’s get right to it and knock out a couple of paragraphs on what’s good… right now:
More Kids Play Lacrosse Than Ever Before – Growth in lacrosse is very real. At the youth levels, the expansion of our sport has been rapid, especially in recent years, and this fact is not limited to hot beds or to the US in general. Youth programs continue to pop up in places like Maine, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Minnesota. States like Massachusetts, which were part of the “new guard” only 10-15 years ago can now be considered hot beds. Florida and California produce more talent every single year, and more young kids are taking to the game down South, where the sport continues to grow quickly.
In places like Germany and Israel youth lacrosse is also taking off. New youth programs are popping up in new cities and current players are sharing the game with the next generation. There are over 100 kids playing lacrosse in Jamaica right now and that area will continue to grow. Countries like Thailand and Norway are beginning to realize how important youth development is for their national programs, and that is also precipitating further growth.
The game is also re-emerging with Native American nations where it had languished, and this is true across North America. Native groups are either re-learning or putting a larger emphasis on their traditional games (each nation often has a different stick and ball game), and many are also picking up the Iroquois version of the game. This can be seen out West, in the South, and even up North, where the Iroquois game is the most popular version of our sport.
In terms of sheer numbers, youth lacrosse is in a great position right now, and the trajectory seems upward.
Youth Specific Helmets & Padding – One of the impacts that the large numbers above have created is the production of youth specific helmets and padding. When I started playing lacrosse back in 1990, I wore a hockey helmet. Then I moved up to an old Brine bucket helmet that a local high school was throwing away. A helmet specifically designed for youth lacrosse wasn’t widely available, and every kid I knew rocked a small adult helmet, or a larger adult helmet, and they wore a bandana to make it fit.
Quite honestly, this practice was pretty unsafe. Helmets rolled around on your shoulders, and often sat askew on a child’s smaller head. But nowadays, there are helmets designed specifically with a youth player in mind, and it doesn’t stop there! When I started out, I also wore adult gloves, and because my hands were swimming in these giant mittens, it definitely made the game harder to learn. Imagine your 12 year old putting on John Grant Jr’s 14″ gloves and trying to play with them. It would be funny, but probably not that impressive. That was basically every youth lacrosse out on the field only 20 years ago. Gear built for kids has been a great benefit from growth, and it allows kids to play the game better at a younger age.
Lots of Clubs = Competition To Be Better For The Consumers – While I often lament over the woes created by travel lacrosse, it’s not all bad. The days of starting up a club or program in one region and having a monopoly on the local talent is done and dead. If there is one club in a region, before long, there will be at least one other club in that region. Once a region has enough traction, larger lacrosse clubs and companies will enter the fray. Just look at what 3D, Adrenaline and the LI Express have done! These programs see an area of opportunity, they will often set up a local office, and then get to work, trying to outstrip the purely local clubs or other national programs.
While the above set up can create confusion, water down talent, and kill off smaller programs, it also means that no one is safe, and that no one can be content. The bottom line is that if you don’t communicate to parents and players, have a good plan in place, and offer a competitive but differentiated product, your program is going to be in trouble. Youth lacrosse is no longer just about getting the kids out to play. It is now all out competition for who can work with the kids the best. Some of this stuff is BS, but a lot of it directly relates to how good any program truly is. The competition aspect is good for keeping clubs more honest.
Some Truly Excellent Coaching – My big issue with modern coaching is that there is not enough to keep pace with current demands. It is NOT about the quality of the average coach. For the most part, I think lacrosse coaches do a great job and put in a lot of work to learn and improve. Former college players, volunteers, and parent-coaches all do a lot to keep this game excellent, and they deserve to be recognized for it.
Kevin Flynn, of Frontier Lacrosse out in Montana, does so much more than just coach lacrosse. I’ve seen him in action and it’s amazing to watch. His passion, knowledge and coaching style all benefit the kids he works with. And he’s not alone! When I was out in Missoula for a clinic there was one other local guy who really stood out as a killer coach. I don’t know his name, or where he played, but he connected with kids in an amazing way. And this is true all over the country. There are “no name” guys everywhere who do amazing things. While it’s great to see all these pro players running camps and teams, they are a small percentage of the total coaching population. Parents, and former player volunteers, still make the lacrosse world go ’round. And they do a great job with it for the most part.
Opportunity To Play Year Round – Playing lacrosse all year was not really an option when I was growing up. I took my stick out of the closet on March 1st, and put it back once fall rolled around. Sure, we had Summer league and there were camps, as well as a little box in the Winter, but the year round gig didn’t really exist in most places only two decades ago.
Now, the debate still rages about whether playing one sport or many sports will benefit you more, but the fact that we are having this debate at all is a good thing in my book. Playing year round might be bad for some kids, but it also might be good for others, and now this opportunity is a reality. If you want to play lacrosse 10-12 months a year, you can, and to the likely shock of some younger readers, this was not always the case.
The biggest positive from all of this is that if you WANT to play lacrosse outside of the Spring, you can. Opportunity is good, choice is good, and more lacrosse can be fun. If it is the latter, the year round option seems like a definite positive. Add improvement on to the table and it’s approaching all good territory.
More YOUNG High Level Players – Lacrosse has always seen its share of talent. Go back 100 years and there were guys who would still be considered magicians with their stick today. But the numbers of magicians have definitely increased, and in a major way.
I literally couldn’t throw a good behind the back pass until I got to college, and even then I wasn’t great at it. I see kids today who can throw BTBs with ease, and sometimes with either hand. How did these 13 year olds get to be better lacrosse players than I was at the age of 20? They are even better than the best kids I played with back in the day, and it’s not even a close comparison. So how the heck did this happen?
It’s simple, and it has everything to do with what I’ve written above. Kids play more, they get great coaching, and they can choose their own path and level of involvement. With more players, more programs, and more coaches, the upward trajectory of talent at young ages has been noticeable, and has taken place around the world.
What’s Right With Youth Lacrosse? Lots of things! While there are problems (and solutions), there is actually a lot of good going on in our game right now. The negative posts are often easier, and more interesting, but sometimes it’s worthwhile to recognize all the good in our world.
Is there another huge positive for youth lacrosse right now that I’m missing? If so, hit us up in the comments section below and share your thoughts! We want to hear what YOU think!