In 2016, US Lacrosse adopted a new youth player segmentation policy to be used by leagues and tournaments with the goals of ensuring player safety, competitive fairness, and a consistent experience for all players. Some of the highlights of the policy included:

  1. Grouping youth players by age and not grade or graduation year because age is the best indicator on how to group children’s physical and cognitive development. 
  2. A recommended best practice of single year teams but an allowance for a maximum 24-month age segmentation for players competing on teams in a league or tournament.
  3. Reaffirming the lacrosse calendar year to September 1 – August 31 of the next year.  Adopting this calendar follows the traditional school calendars found in the majority of schools in our country and provides the opportunity for children to play most often with their classmates. A secondary reason for the use of this calendar is that it aligns with the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) requirements which helps for the identification and selection of players for the US Lacrosse National Teams and the US Lacrosse Development Program.

Setting a standard for leagues and tournaments to adopt will level the playing field and this is one of the most received complaints US Lacrosse hears during the summer lacrosse season. Parents often call with concerns that the tournaments their children attended had opposing teams that had noticeably older opponents. A player who enters the school system late or is held back a grade can gain an unfair and sometimes unsafe advantage over their peers. Think of the player who is held back a grade and now has the potential to be three years older than the youngest player on the field. While there may not be as many significant differences for high school or college athletes, it can be a significant difference for a developing youth athlete.

Playing by age and not grade/graduation year is the easiest way to solve the complaints we receive. It minimizes the significant age gaps that can result in safety issues and/or unfair advantages. It levels the playing field for the overwhelming majority of youth athletes who compete in lacrosse. This is a problem US Lacrosse wants to solve and is something that both young athletes and their families want solved.

Age is the best practical tool we have for determining how to group children. Other systems of determining physical development are not practical to use on a large scale. The broad stages of development that have been universally accepted are early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence. These stages are organized by age and have some age overlap between stages.  Due to the overlap we do see some outliers who are overdeveloped or underdeveloped children. So, it is possible for a player to be larger than their peers due to the fact that they hit a growth spurt faster than other athletes. 

This US Lacrosse Player Segmentation Policy is just one component of ensuring a safe and quality playing experience for all youth players. Playing by age appropriate rules, having certified coaches, and certified officials are equally important factors to ensuring the best lacrosse environment for athletes. A copy of the current age segmentation chart can be found here.

A full copy of the US Lacrosse Age Segmentation Policy based on research and methodology behind our decisions can be found here

Rick Lake is the senior manager for the men's game at US Lacrosse.