We have three major barriers to parents being willing to give lacrosse a chance. In emerging lacrosse markets, first and foremost, it is many viewing the sport of lacrosse as some weird activity that does not qualify as real sport in comparison to the more traditional sports (soccer, basketball, football, baseball). Second and third barriers are combined in that they are related: the cost of equipment (especially for boys) for young children who may lose interest in the sport at some point and losing young children to other traditional sports at young ages due to far less investment in gear being necessary. Buying a set of chin guards for a child to play soccer, for example, is far less of a financial commitment than $270 in gear plus US Lacrosse membership and league registration fees.
In order to address these barriers to entry, the Brevard Lacrosse Alliance, the club I have presided over for 10 years, has adopted a 6U coed soft lacrosse division. The club made the initial investment in beginner boys sticks, protective goggles that are worn in the girls game, and soft lacrosse balls that are weighted to be similar to standard lacrosse balls to facilitate easier weighted ball handling without the sting of a standard ball should one get hit with one. The sticks have standard heads and are cut down to 30 inches. Thus, all the parents are on the hook for is US Lacrosse and league registration fees and a protective mouthpiece. The kids play on a modified 55 x 30 yard field with 4 x 4 goals with targets.
In our first experiment with this in this year’s spring season, we have 12 boys and girls registered all aged 4 and 5 years. The kids are having a blast learning the game and the parents are really enjoying it as well. What’s more, getting the parents out on the field to see what lacrosse looks like with the more experienced older divisions playing on adjacent fields give them a glimpse of how their little ones will be playing the game one day if they stick with it. Most are impressed with the speed, athleticism, and aesthetics of the game.
For those moving up to the 8U division next season when the kids are split by gender and full gear will be required, having had the 6U soft lacrosse experience will (at least we hope) make the investment in gear a bit more palatable with the sport no longer being so foreign to the parents and their children already enjoying it.
From my beginnings as a coach and eventually a youth lacrosse club president, I have always maintained that the sport of lacrosse sells itself as long as we can get parents and kids exposure to it. Having a 6U coed soft lacrosse division enables getting parents and kids in front of the sport at very young ages, setting the foundation for bottom up growth, the very best model to grow any youth sport.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM andDr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.