ULTIMATE FRISBEE? FREEZE TAG? SHARKS AND MINNOWS? DODGE BALL? RELAYS? WHAT DO THESE GAMES HAVE TO DO WITH THE GAME OF LACROSSE?
For young athletes, simple games can be very useful in the development of both athleticism and physical literacy. Lacrosse is a sport with which there are numerous technical and tactical situations where athletes have to read and react, anticipate, chase, evade, dodge, accelerate and decelerate. In fact most of these actions occur with unpredictable circumstances, performed while changing direction, and/or require a player to “break down” to maintain balance and stability. Practice and training with these conditions are extremely ideal for youth lacrosse athlete development.
To perform these tasks successfully depends upon the “athleticism” of each individual, which of course is heavily dependent upon the acquisition and mastery of fundamental motor skills. However, coaches should understand that it is not enough just to be able to hop, skip, leap, jump, run, catch, throw, etc. Fundamental motor skills need to be “blended” into the more complex lacrosse sport skills, and refined in challenging environments that enable the young athlete to become more capable of solving the various movement problems they will encounter during practice and competition.
Free play opportunities and simple games at the elementary grade levels (K-6) provide the best proving ground for youth to explore and experiment with a trial-and-error approach at attempting new movement experiences. Over time this experimentation yields greater competence and the confidence needed when learning or refining a sport like lacrosse. Many play-like activities and games utilize fundamental movement patterns that easily transfer to lacrosse. In addition, these simple games enhance the perceptual and spatial awareness that young lacrosse athletes often lack because of their game inexperience. Below is a table that displays just a few of the various athletic attributes that can be acquired and refined from some of these games.
The overhand throwing motion used in dodge ball is one movement pattern that can be applied to shooting on goal, as it is a skill that requires learning both speed and accuracy. Although the throwing and shooting motions of the upper body are not exact, the movements of the lower body are very similar because to transfer power and to generate higher ball speeds, the young athlete must learn to “step into” the shot. Chasing, evading, and movement to open space are other concepts that can be readily applied to the many offensive and defensive principles of lacrosse. Specific technical skills like dodges, slides, rides, and scooping ground balls are all dependent upon the ability to anticipate, read, and react. This requires quick decision-making and simple games offer multiple opportunities for youth to practice making those decisions without high pressure conditions, but in a fun non-competitive environment.
Remember, this is a form of general training that develops the competence and confidence that will eventually carry over to lacrosse specifically. Coaches can create multiple variations of existing games or introduce new games that are developmentally appropriate, keeping in mind that enhancing athleticism among young athletes is a process and requires patience. Games don’t have to be used at every practice, but it is a fun and appealing teaching tool and approach that can keep young athletes engaged and on the path toward complete lacrosse athlete development.