The sport of lacrosse achieved a long-overdue milestone on September 10 when the US Lacrosse Board of Directors approved national youth rules and age breaks for both boys and girls youth lacrosse (see www.uslacrosse.org/youthrules2012). The vote concluded a nine-month process that included input from dozens of youth league administrators from around the country, as well as a national survey of thousands of youth coaches, officials and parents. The most important guidance, however, came from members of the US Lacrosse Sports Science & Safety Committee, particularly those committee members who specialize in pediatrics and sports psychology. For decades lacrosse has grown organically in zip codes throughout the country thanks to the passion and leadership of selfless contributors who either played the sport or were enamored by it. But lacrosse has reached a stage of development that requires far greater consistency in how the sport is coached, officiated and played.
A growing number of youth leagues representing tens of thousands of young players have already committed to adopt these rules, and many others have indicated they will adopt them in the months to come. But, there will likely be leagues and tournaments that do not embrace these rules simply because they represent a change, however subtle, from the rules they have developed independently over time. Perhaps the most controversial component of these new youth rules is the limitation of aggressive play at younger age levels... particularly stick checking in the girls’ game and body checking in the boys’ game.
Unprecedented in our rule making process was the intimate involvement of doctors, sports medicine specialists and researchers, who provided significant guidance relative to the physical and cognitive development stages of children. For example, how much sense does it make to allow full speed collision in boys’ lacrosse at an age in which a child’s peripheral vision is not fully developed? US Lacrosse youth rules now emphasize a progression of skill development as children age. This may seem like an obvious and essential consideration, but it had never been a part of the independent development of youth rules. And, quite frankly, as a relatively young organization, US Lacrosse was not best positioned until recently to introduce and lead such an initiative.
Historically, youth rules have simply been adaptations of adult rules…adaptations that were most often determined by the personal preference of those running youth leagues and tournaments. They were never based on the physical, cognitive and psychological development stages of children…or necessarily focused primarily on player safety. But the value of uniform youth rules to the consistency of player development, the education of coaches and officials, and the overall integrity of the sport cannot be understated. Player safety, enjoyment and retention should always be the primary considerations of all youth lacrosse programs. Is that the case with the teams on which your child plays? US Lacrosse will soon publish a guide to these new youth rules, as well as best practices for teams, leagues and tournaments. Be on the lookout for it, and compare your child’s experience with the rules and recommendations published by US Lacrosse. If you see inconsistencies, I would urge you to be a good consumer of your child’s lacrosse experience and ask why. The most powerful influence on the culture of lacrosse is we parents who, in exchange for the money and time we commit, should expect the very best experience for our kids.