Most of us have said this while watching a lacrosse game or practice when a player gets hit with an errant pass or shot. We make light of the incident but the pain and discomfort to the player can be significant, maybe to the point of discouraging players from continuing to play the great game of lacrosse.
US Lacrosse has recognized this and recently recommended the use of soft balls for U6 and U8 level players. I love this idea. Hard rubber lacrosse balls hurt when they hit you — and yes, they do leave a mark. As a former goalie (heavy emphasis on former), I had plenty of those “badges of courage” during the season. Show me a goalie without a bruise, and I’ll show a goalie who hasn’t been to practice in a few weeks. But I was in high school and college then. If I were 7 or 8 years old I don’t know how psyched I’d be to keep playing lacrosse.
Take the Pain Out of the [Lacrosse] Game
Taking some of the pain out the lacrosse experience of the 8 and under crowd sounds like a winner of an idea. This can’t help but improve retention and make the game more fun for everybody. It’s not only goalies either. I had a teammate who played defense who we all referred to as “The Ball Magnet.” It had nothing to do with his personality. I’m pretty sure he’d go for this too.
So what kind of softer ball should these young guys be using? “Pinkys,” racquet balls, and tennis balls are softer than regulation lacrosse balls. But they are very light and bounce out of youngsters sticks easily. We are trying to make the game easier for the wee ones to pick up, not harder.
My choice for a softer ball, big surprise, is the Swax Lax lacrosse training ball. This simple but ingenious training aid allows players to develop their skills with confidence while reducing their fear of getting hit with a hard rubber ball. It is remarkable how much more confident and relaxed our young players are when they are using Swax Lax balls. Another advantage is they are low bounce. Players can spend more time doing drills and less time chasing balls across the field (or gym).As an older coach, I consider myself pretty conservative. I’m usually not too fond of change. My car is 15 years old and I still use an iPhone 4 for crying out loud. But, I think this change to soft balls for U6 and U8 levels is a great move by US Lacrosse. Maybe it won’t leave a mark.