Lacrosse superstar Rob Pannell participating with young players at a recent US Lacrosse TryLax event in Atlanta.

Video game designers invest sizable portions of their budgets into studying what players want. They take those findings and cater to their audience. How else could a game like FIFA Soccer be on its’ 19th release and still be successful? The premise of the game hasn’t changed, move your player, move the ball, score goals. What has changed is the User Experience (UX). With each new release there’s a new way to level up, customize the uniform, create a dominating player, play on-line with and against friends or complete strangers, etc…The buyers speak and the sellers listen. Video games are customer-centered.

The other thing e-sports has going for it is “repetition without repetition.” Every time you participate, the game is different. New people to play with and against online, new challenges to overcome, new features unlocked — you get the idea. Gamers are getting immersed in the experience. It’s not all about the game. It’s about the environment the game creates.

Is youth lacrosse following suit, or is the experience static?

Are you hearing, “This is the way we’re going to do it. My coach did it this way, his coach did it this way, and the coach of my coach’s coach did it this way. He was an All-Everything, so that’s how we’re going to do it.” 

We’re still playing Pong in the age of Fortnite and Minecraft. Our operating system is antiquated.

The Lacrosse Athlete Development Model (LADM) is a new operating system for working with young athletes. It’s a philosophy for how we can change lacrosse to get as many kids playing as possible, for as long as possible, in the best environment possible. We’ve listened to the kids, studied the research on who they are, what they want, and how they want it delivered.  We’ve taken this information and have weaved it into every aspect of how kids experience lacrosse, specifically the environment we create.

If we’re going to win the fight against e-sports, and consequently childhood obesity and overall lack of physical fitness, we need to change. It’s not good enough to sit back and reminisce about the good ole’ days, or lament about how kids are different. We need to take action. As one of our Coach Development Program (CDP) trainers so eloquently says “Adjust we must.” 

Coaches think nothing of changing strategy or tactics when something isn’t working in a game.  With youth sport participation dropping overall and youth lacrosse growth not matching the loss, it’s time to adjust. 

So, how do we adjust?

  1. Create a carnival on the field. Do whatever it takes to create a FUN and Kid-Centered environment. Give them some control of games you play in practice. Make time for Free Play, where they can experiment and try to develop new skills.
  2. Incorporate Small-Sided games into practice, using a variety of stations to keep waiting to a minimum.  These can be 3v3, 3v2, 4v3, whatever.  Get the kids moving and participating.  Video games don’t have lines, and seldom do 10 kids have to wait for one-player to do something before they get a turn. Coach them while they’re moving or right after a rep, but please don’t stop the whole team because one player needs a refresher on getting low to scoop a ground ball.
  3. Plan your practices. We’ve said it in previous posts, but kids are not mini-adults. Design for development, meeting each athlete’s needs based on who they are and where they are on their journey.

US Lacrosse is here to help you. Our e-learning system (I do see the irony here) has dozens of opportunities for you to get some great ideas for changing your operating system. We have the Mobile Coach app with hundreds of games that provide repetition without repetition. There are pre-made practice plans developed specifically for each age segment and their corresponding needs. Every year our CDP team conducts Coach Training events.

When we take advantage of everything we now know about kids and change the environment our athletes participate in, we will see more kids leaving smiling, sweating, and smarter. 

When that happens, maybe we’ll have defeated Fortnite.

T.J. Buchanan is the technical director for athlete development at US Lacrosse.

Lacrosse Athlete Development Model

Providing every athlete the opportunity to enter, enjoy and excel by learning and playing lacrosse in a way that’s best for each stage of growth and development.

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