Over the past decade, lacrosse has taken the athletics world by storm. According to US Lacrosse, there are approximately 825,000 players across the nation, making it one of the fastest growing sports out. What was once considered a niche sport has now exploded, especially amongst young people. As noted by the National Federation of State High School Associations, the current number of high school players clocks in around 193,235, or 23% of the total population of players. And with such growing popularity, it begs the question: Why?
It’s not often that a sport rises up to become a household activity across the land, but with lacrosse, that growth has made sense. First, lacrosse holds less of a weight to becoming a superstar versus the likes of football or basketball, making it a more inclusive sport. This means that the individual contributions of the players to the team mean much more than other sports. Second, despite it being a contact sport, a lot of parents few it as much safer than football or wrestling. And third, the chances of landing a scholarship are probably some of the best out for a team sport, with approximately 13.2% of men and 13.5% of women competing at the collegiate level from high school. For most athletes, this is the peak of accomplishment, which with lacrosse, is well within reason.
Yes, lacrosse is absolutely crushing it right now, taking a big chunk out of the $7 billion youth sports industry. And if you’re looking to participate, then there’s no better time than now to learn how to play.
The Game 101
For most folks, lacrosse is a relatively easy game to pick up. The rules are fairly simple, with ten players on the field for a team (four defenders, three offensive, three midfielders, and a goalie). Structurally, it’s similar to soccer, with the exception of how the midfield works, where attackers and defenders are confined to their own side of the field. Additionally, players are allowed to check one another from the front, as long as the player has full possession (note: women’s lacrosse prohibits full contact). And finally, players aren’t able to slash or strike with their stick but are allowed to go after the ball aggressively.
In terms of the equipment that you’ll need, the breakdown is pretty obvious. There are pads, a helmet, shaft/head (the components of the stick), as well as cleats and gloves. For the most part, this is a pretty standard list of what’s used, with different pieces varying dependent upon the position and gender. Check in and see what’s used in your local league to see what you might need.
The flow of the game is incredibly fast-paced, with transitions moving quick. An average game can roughly 20 goals scored, according to LaxPower, which goes to show how rapid a game can change. More, one of the most exciting elements of the sport is how intricate the skilled positions can be. Every role has to make a solid amount of contribution every game, with some working overtime depending on the matchup. However, that’s why deciding what position you want to play is crucial.
Playing goalie in lacrosse is perhaps one of the toughest positions in sports. They’re required to be quick on their feet and agile as much as they are to hold strong against attacks and close contact. Oh, and they have probably the most amount of equipment on them, including a different style of stick and pads to guard against shots being fired at them, as well as hacking close to goal. The size of a goalie can vary, with some having a shorter, stockier build, while others are broad and lanky. Overall, the biggest thing to consider though is how quick and agile you are in close quarters, as you’re the last line of defense between the opposition and the goal.
Defenders are tough players that generally have to play a blend of being aggressive while staying in front of the ball. This requires a fair amount of footwork in transitional play, as well as knowing how to guard your specific area. More, their sticks are longer, allowing them to attack the ball with more range. The build of this position is usually people who are taller and can stretch the field a little bit, but that rule isn’t set in stone. Keep this position in mind if you’re looking to get down to playing a gritty role.
Playing midfield can be one of the most trying positions on the field, but also is one of the most rewarding. Given that they’re the only players allowed to breach all sides of the field, they run some of the most out of anyone on the field. This requires having an excellent sprint speed that you can keep up with all game, as you’re the engine for how transitions occur. Additionally, as these players go on both offense and defense, you can’t be afraid to take a hit as much or go for the goal, as you’re exposed to every element of the game. Finally, midfielders play with shorter sticks like attackers, giving them a shorter range but one that’s more versatile based on their skillset.
Finally, attack players are somewhat of the point guards of the team, with a quick, agile build. These folks aren’t afraid to take a hit and know how to move the ball around the box with skill and speed. The name of the game here is working to get the ball around and into the goal, either by passing around the box or driving straight in. It’s a position that while a lot of younger players want to call their own, can hold a lot of pressure. After all, you’re responsible for making sure your team scores and gets the win, which is a pretty stressful task given the speed of the game.
Choosing Your Position
Now that we’ve gone over a brief overview of the types of positions available, it’s time to start looking at how you fit into the picture. One of the first cursors we can look at is your build, as well as if you’ve played another sport before. For example, if you found yourself mostly playing something like a linebacker in football, then the taller, more muscular build will probably lend you to playing defender. Additionally, if you’ve done a sport like cross country, then your biggest skillset will be with a position like mid-field.
The advantages of how you’ll play out on the field will largely be determined by where you feel comfortable, as well as what excites you to play, so see if you can talk with other players or try out their equipment before you invest. While this can be an excellent sport to play, it does take a little bit of financial commitment regarding gearing up, which can be a deterrent to some. However, that’s exactly why we’re going to walk you through how to suit up without breaking the bank.
When looking for lacrosse equipment, there can be a lot of variations between sizes, brands, and even comfort level. Quite simply, this is one of those intricate sports where if you ask anyone what their preference is, you’ll get a different answer from each person. Yet, your equipment is going to be an extension of your play, and as such, should be something you make an effort finding what works for you.
In terms of brands, for sticks, popular choices like STX and Maverik are good go-to’s. Additionally, a lot of people absolutely love Warrior for their padding and helmet needs, as well as favorite brands like Under Armour and Nike for accessories or cleats. Every brand is going to offer a little something different based on the materials and technology used, which it’s best to go through a few and see what you like. There’s no wrong answer in terms of who to use, however, how it’s used is a different story.
Your pads will vary by position, but the overarching rule is that they should fit firm and snug, with not being too constricting. This is one piece of equipment that I’d say is pretty sound to buy used, just make sure that there are no glaring errors (I.E, the straps don’t work, bent/snapped plates, etc.), as well as that it’s true to size. If you’re still not sure about size, not to worry, as the folks at Lacrosse Unlimited have put together this handy sizing chart to give you a more accurate picture.
Your stick is going to be the bedrock to your game, so it’s important you make it tricked out to your liking. For example, some players like having their head and pocket be stretched a certain way, as well as have their own opinions on the materials used for the shaft (carbon fiber vs. aluminum). As we stated above, sticks vary by position (attack/mid, defenders, and goalies). In terms of buying used, this is a pretty sound piece to acquire, just make sure there aren’t any massive dings or cracks.
As the most important piece of safety equipment you can buy, this is crucial to get right. First and foremost, always make sure that you try on the helmet you’re buying and that it fits snug. See the sizing chart listed above for your specific range. Additionally, in terms of buying used, always make sure that all of the padding is in place, there are no cracks, dents, or broken bolts. Your head’s protection is imperative, so invest in ensuring your helmet is sound.
Gloves vary in size depending on your hand but come pretty standard for the most part. These can be purchased new or used, with the overall goal being that it’s comfortable to cradle and not loose/moving around.
If you’ve ever played a sport before, then buying things like cleats and whatnot should come pretty standard. As you explore your position, you’ll notice certain players have extras such as neck protection for goalies or special padding. This will be something you learn more about as you get into the sport.
Where You Should Play
As lacrosse has grown to be a mammoth of a sport, so have the different avenues on where to play. While before not even the majority of high schools had a team, the game has transformed to having youth clubs and leagues that are competitive with the likes of AAU basketball. Yes, the game is getting incredibly competitive, with even a World Series of Youth Lacrosse coming about.
In looking at where to play, I’d highly suggest going for the middle/high school level first. This will be an excellent point of entry, as it’s much more accepting to newer players, and the coaches are generally former or college players that know the game well. Additionally, your school or coaches will more likely than not have some extra equipment around that will allow you to try out different positions. Who knows? Maybe they’ll be able to help you decide on where to play right from the first day.
After you’ve progressed a bit and want to take lacrosse seriously at a collegiate or professional level, then looking into youth leagues will be a great time to shine. This is where coaches from the upper leagues look for players, so if you’ve got to skills, this can be the perfect place to expand your opportunity.
Getting Into The Flow
Once you’ve established where you’re going to play, it’s time to start getting into the actual game. While your first go-round might be a little bit nerve-racking, you’ll most likely pick up the speed of play not long after faceoff. Rules like staying out of the crease, or not crossing the midfield line might be a little awkward if you’re used to other sports. However, these are also some of the most beneficial parts of the game as it assigns you to a limited window on the field. Additionally, skills like cradling and throwing are vital to getting down pat, as these will be key elements to being productive with the ball. And finally, be prepared for some physical contact, as this game can get brutal pretty quick.
Protecting Yourself From Injury
Despite its growing popularity in comparison to a sport like football, lacrosse players are just as susceptible to the same level of injury. According to Nationwide Children's, approximately 22% of lacrosse injuries are concussion-related, which is a pretty staggering figure on the safety of the game. Additionally, as noted by NPR, 38% of lacrosse injuries are generally dealing with sprains or strains, which can harbor even the best players from activity for the length of a season. Make no mistake, this is a game you want to protect yourself in, as getting hurt could potentially have lifelong effects.
While it’s impossible to completely avoid injury, there are a few key things you can do to protect yourself. First, make sure you’ve invested in quality equipment that fits well and doesn’t have any major red flags with it. Even if you end up having to shell out a few extra bucks, this will be well worth it in the long run as hospital visits aren’t cheap. Additionally, always practice stretching, as this has helped avoid injury in sports for as long as sports have been around.
Another important note is not to take unnecessary risks during a game or practice. There are plenty of ways to play aggressively without being excessive, which is a nod to good sportsmanship in general. Finally, one of the worst things you can do is try playing injured. If you think something’s wrong, then speak up about it. Don’t let an injury sit and turn into something worse because you felt like it was worth it. If anything, this hurts your team more than it helps.
We’re Talking About Practice
With your feet grounded in knowing the flow of the game and how it operates, now’s your opportunity to become the best you can be. Whether it’s during the season or not, there are there are several workouts you can do at home to help you get your skills up. All you need is a wall, stick, and ball.
One of the first things most would suggest is to throw a ball against the wall. Vary it up between simulating long passes, ground balls, and attacking. As things are going to be flying high and fast during a game, the momentum for this will be accurate in how hard things are coming at you. Additionally, try working out your mobility and stamina with things like box jumps, hillclimbers, jump rope, and even just plain old running.
The activities you do on your own and in the offseason will be your biggest driver to getting better and is something you should take seriously if you’re looking to improve. Some good resources to check out might be what the pros or college players are doing, such as this video by the University of Maryland’s men’s team.
Improving Your Game
As you embark on your lacrosse career, the people you surround yourself with are going to be imperative to your development. Start seeking out mentors that you can work with one-on-one (especially if you’re a late bloomer), which can include former coaches or even local players you can get in touch with. Like with anything in life, practicing daily is going what will separate you from the competition, whether that be on your own, with friends, or even with your team. This sport requires quite a bit of dedication, especially while you’re in your prime.
Finally, always establish goals for yourself and stick to them. Start simple with tasks you can improve on one game to the next, such as scoring an additional amount of goals or getting a certain amount of steals. When starting out, your biggest competition will be against yourself, which is one of the toughest battles most players face. However, as you get better and better, assigning things like making varsity or playing at a collegiate level will be much more clear in your sights. Trust me, as much as we like to think a lot of superstar athletes were born with a natural ability, almost all of them will tell you hard work and grit wins every time.
Lacrosse is perhaps one of the most fun and exciting sports you can take on. The bonds you’ll form along the way will be some that could last a lifetime, and the in-game experience itself is unmatched by any other sport. If this is something you’re really considering taking on, then take a moment to decide where you’re going to play, what position, and how you’re going to get it done. While you might not be the first person to think of this is as something new to try, what will separate you from those who hung up their gloves is the amount of dedication and hard work you’re willing to put into this.
As with anything, the biggest takeaway to leave you with is to just do it for yourself. Honestly, putting your blood, sweat, and tears into a sport is something that’s going to require a certain emotional investment for what’s going on. And while the chances of getting a scholarship or playing at the next level are higher than other sports, the only people who make it there are the ones in it for the love of the game. This may not come in a day, or a week, or even a season, but you’ll know the feeling when it comes. Because once you do, you’ll know there’s no turning back into what this could turn into.
What are some things you’re looking forward to in starting lacrosse? Answer with your insights below.