Written by Lacrosse enthusiast and CPWLF board advisor- Lew Hamilton
So, among the things that happen with regularity here at WLF are evening pickup games of Speed Lacrosse. Sometimes in a green grassy field and others on a white sandy beach but always set up and played with enthusiasm. It was one of these games in Delray Beach recently where I unexpectedly witnessed some incredible things that changed the way I think about youth lacrosse.
My 7 year old daughter has consistently expressed her distaste for the idea of playing lacrosse calling it, among other things, “unladylike.” This from a girl who would shoot a can of whipped cream in her mouth past the point of overflow and then laugh hysterically. But shun the sport she does and despite her other excellent pursuits like ballet and art, and it can’t help but sting a little. The other night though, she took my stick out of my hands so she could have a catch with the other girls on the side of our pickup game. Then she watched one of the girls jump in and play with the boys. She watched her younger brother running end to end with boys and girls of all ages playing together. No pads. No hitting. Just fast moving fun. And she started smiling. The next night, immediately following her ballet class, she wanted to go back and play again. She’s hooked.
The dramatic change in attitude really got me thinking. There is no denying the allure of a couple of fourth graders to play with when you’re just starting second grade. But she seems ready now to play with whoever will have a catch with her. What changed?
Well, the answer of course is Speed Lacrosse; something completely new to her but at the same time entirely familiar. Speed Lacrosse is a modified version of the sport, played 3 vs. 3, and accentuates stick skills, positional play and hustle. It is played on a smaller field without pads. The goals are smaller and there is no goalie. Players drop back on defense and generally one guards the goal but without a crease. A few other rules exist but games are generally self-reffed even in tournaments and sportsmanship is always, always on point. When played like this, no matter how competitive things get, there is always room for boys and girls to play together. THAT is a game-changer.
So, let’s think more about it. Let’s think outside the traditional box that has contained youth lacrosse all this time. How much could the sport of lacrosse benefit from implementing Speed Lacrosse programs for kids under 7 or 8 years old? For one, it eliminates the need and expense for a ton of equipment. Scores of kids never touch a lacrosse field because parents can’t afford or often don’t want to risk the a couple hundred dollars on gear their kid might not want after one season of play or, in many cases, grows out of just as quickly. Speed Lacrosse only requires a stick from the participant. I would recommend eye protection as well – especially on the beach – but still so much less of an initial commitment. If a kid enjoys a season or two of Speed before he or she gets to standard team play, I can’t help but think how many more parents would then be comfortable laying out the money for equipment they know is going to be used and enjoyed. The modified game also requires a lot less space. Programs would have more options for locations and often pay less in field fees resulting in lower enrollment costs for the players; something that, again, opens up the door for many new prospective players. And while off-field benefits are great, the real test is how Speed Lacrosse can help players develop on the field. Have you ever watched a u7 game? Ignoring the fact that most kids can’t pass, catch or shoot with much skill yet, the first thing you will see is the complete lack of positional play. It is as if the ball were a couple shakes of fish food and all the players were guppies. Everyone is within a few yards of the ball almost all the time. Speed Lacrosse doesn’t ask players to learn a traditional field lacrosse position yet. Kids can spend the necessary time learning the basics within the fun and at the pace of a game without burdening them with more advanced details. And again when they get to the skill level and age to step into traditional field lacrosse, they will be infinitely better equipped to contribute. They will be more ready to absorb the requirements and subtleties of positional play. They will learn things faster and develop as stronger players.
I’m sold. I’m in. Whatever the expression is, I’m all about that Speed Lacrosse. And it’s because of a little sunset fun with a seven year old who until that night wanted nothing to do with the sport. Now, while we get ready for the World Lacrosse Beach Festival in Siesta Key in a few weeks, I have two kids who can’t wait to be there. That is an out-of-the-box change I can support.