Lacrosse fans have long embraced “the fastest game on two feet” slogan to help sell the excitement of the sport. But for new players learning the sport, the fastest game on two feet isn’t always so fast.

If you've ever been to a youth lacrosse game, you've seen something similar to the ground ball scrum in the picture above. That doesn’t look very fast. So, how do you make it faster, and hopefully more fun?

US Lacrosse recently worked with the Mid-Penn League for their end of the season tournament in Mechanicsburg, Pa., to help experiment with small-sided games included in the Lacrosse Athlete Development Model. The hope to find better ways to introduce the sport to young players.

The event featured five U9 boys teams (Cumberland Valley, Carlisle, Central Dauphin, Hershey and Mechanicsburg) and five elementary school-aged girls teams (Cumberland Valley, Central Dauphin, Hershey, Mechanicsburg and State College). The league, which included many players in their first year playing lacrosse, played 7v7 games all season on a cross field with regulation goals.

For the end of season event, each team played a traditional 7v7 game, followed by a 4v4 game on a similar sized field with no goalies and smaller goals. The 4v4 game had no off sides and no designated player positions, the kids just played.

The verdict?

Coaches and players saw benefits to both versions of the game, but there are enough benefits to the smaller-sided games that youth programs should consider ways to incorporate them into their programming.

Just ask the kids.

“The 4-on-4 was much better because we had a lot of space to pass and move.”

“I liked the 4-on-4 better because it was really quick.”

“The 4v4 was more fun because I got to touch the ball more, and I got to shoot more.”

In about a dozen interviews with kids after the games, the only complaints we heard from them were about having to sub out more in the 4v4. In the 4v4, teams were encouraged to sub out after every goal to keep everyone involved. Some of the players in the 7v7 rarely left the field.

The coaches were also on board.

“The small-sided is great for teaching the fundamentals,” said Ed Thomas, a first-year coach. “It keeps them engaged. It’s fast-paced. They’re moving constantly. There’s no standing around kicking dirt on the sidelines.”

Katie Bergey has been involved with youth lacrosse for nearly 15 years and coaches both boys and girls. She thinks small-sided games are more developmentally appropriate for the younger players.

“You wouldn’t put a first grader in a fifth grade math class,” she said. “The kids got a lot more opportunities to play on the field. There wasn’t as much standing still. They were having an opportunity to play all the positions and they enjoyed it. They were happy, and that’s what our goal is.”

“I think they’re both fun,” said Amy Chirielseison, a girls’ coach who helped organize the event. “I did notice in the 4-on-4 the kids did pass a lot more. There was a lot more cheering. They seemed to have a little bit more fun. The kids that didn’t get the ball as much in the 7-on-7 game ended up getting the ball a lot more in the 4-on-4 game. I think it’s fun for kids to score and there were kids that scored in the 4-on-4 that never scored all season.”

Wyatt Naylor and Eric Wootton contributed to this article.

Lacrosse Athlete Development Model

The Lacrosse Athlete Development Model mantra is "The Right Lacrosse at the Right Time." The model aims to provide 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 d

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