Four years ago, the leadership of Austin Youth Lacrosse (AYL) decided it was time to make a commitment to full-time management.

Having basically operated as a parent and volunteer run organization, they hired their first full-time director. Jordan Ruggeri, who was serving as assistant director for one of the area’s largest lacrosse organizations, made the jump from Westlake Lacrosse.

Upon arriving at AYL, Ruggeri also made a commitment, incorporating the Lacrosse Athlete Development Model espoused by US Lacrosse. He had seen the benefits of LADM for players at Westlake, and knew it could make the same difference in his new organization.

Small-sided games with an initial focus on skill development and free play became the cornerstone of AYL’s program.

“We wanted to open the door wider, welcoming as many kids as possible,” Ruggeri said.

The initial resistance from parents and traditionalists quickly yielded to support as participating kids provided their strong endorsement. LADM’s progressive approach to learning and competition was making a difference.

At AYL, it starts with 4v4 no-goalie games for players in grades 1-2, which morphs into 7v7 with goalies for grades 3-4. Grades 5 and above use the traditional line-up, although 8v8 is an alternate option.

Fewer kids on smaller fields using modified rules keeps the games moving and all the players involved.  There are more opportunities for all the players to play with the ball in their stick. And with less players on the field, each kid gets more repetitions in catching, throwing, shooting, carrying the ball, and picking up ground balls.

“It’s all about having more touches,” Ruggeri said. “Players are absorbing so much more now. They are playing a lot more lacrosse. And everyone plays every position. There’s no long poles.”

Since adopting the LADM model and small-sided play, Austin Youth Lacrosse has nearly doubled in size, with about 175 boys between grades 1-8 last spring.

The LADM philosophy is baked into all AYL practices, which include segments of both free-play and fast-paced drills. Ruggeri conducts clinics with the parent coaches to make sure they all understand the small-sided concept.

“Moving to the LADM has made life much easier for the coaches because they are all managing smaller teams now,” Ruggeri said. “The younger teams only have seven to eight players each, which means coaches get to know all their players better.”

Austin Youth Lacrosse is one of 20 community-based programs that participates in the Central Texas Youth Lacrosse Association. The full CTYLA has now adopted small-sided play for its younger divisions. 

“Small-sided games have created a better environment for the younger kids,” said CTYLA director Jessica Rest. “It’s been very well received.”

In addition to his role as with the AYL, Ruggeri also serves as Austin High School’s head coach. Since each of the CTYLA’s community programs is defined by its local high school boundaries, he realizes that the younger AYL kids benefitting today from LADM principles may be the new and improved player joining his high school team in the near future.

“Some of the youth kids I see have stick skills better than some members of my high school team,” he said.

To help feed the pipeline, Ruggeri also conducts PE clinics at each of the seven elementary schools that feed Austin High School. He coordinates with the physical education instructors to schedule the lacrosse instruction for all the age levels. From there, newcomers are encouraged to take the next step by joining one of the AYL’s beginner’s clinics.

“The PE teachers are our biggest resource because they allow us to expose the game to a lot of kids in the community,” Ruggeri said.

As Austin Youth Lacrosse continues to grow, Ruggeri says the strongest challenge is putting systems into place to provide the needed structure and support. Finding more coaches and providing them with the proper LADM training is among the priorities, but Ruggeri views it as a good problem to be facing. 

“I know I can’t do it all by myself,” he said. “It’s about having scalability. But we’re a growing program, and that’s a good thing for lacrosse.”
 

Lacrosse Athlete Development Model

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