About five years ago, our then-14-year-old son developed a passion for what some consider to be the oldest sport in North America. Known anciently as “The Creator’s Game,” the origins of lacrosse date back to the 1400s. However, it was not until the 1600s when a Jesuit priest named Jean de Brébeuf watched Native Americans playing lacrosse that it started to become popular.
According to the Federation of International Lacrosse, the Native American lacrosse games were seen as major events, which took place over several days. They were played on huge open areas between villages, and the goals — which might be trees or other natural features — were 500 yards to several miles apart. Any number of players were involved. Some estimates have mentioned between 100 and 100,000 players participating in a game at any one time.
The rules were very simple. The ball was not to be touched by a player’s hand, and there were no boundaries. The ball was tossed into the air to indicate the start of the game and players raced to be the first to catch it.
Lacrosse was considered to be a sport that toughened up young warriors, but was also a game played for recreation and religious reasons. There were even times when games were played between two tribes to settle their arguments or disputes.
Today lacrosse is the nation’s fastest-growing sport, with more than 800,000 players participating on organized teams from youth up through the professional level. The game is played at more than 500 universities and colleges, as well as more than 3,000 high schools nationwide. The largest growth segment, with nearly 450,000 participants, is youth under the age of 15.
Earlier this year I went through lacrosse withdrawal, as our oldest son is currently taking a two-year hiatus from the sport. However, that void was quickly filled when I was asked to coach the third- and fourth-grade boys in our area, which includes our youngest son. Although I was excited about the prospect of jumping back into lacrosse, I was hesitant to accept the invitation since my only experience with the game has been as a spectator.
After being assured my knowledge was sufficient for 9- and 10-year olds, many of whom have never played lacrosse, I said yes.
I spent hours searching online and in books for information on how to teach lacrosse to young players. I reviewed practice plans, downloaded training videos and watched numerous college lacrosse games to prepare myself.
Admittedly, many of our practices more closely resemble the ancient game than the modern, as I throw the ball into the air and the boys race to be first to get it. However, I have found great satisfaction in working with these young players and watching them grow.
We played our first game in early April. It was a very different experience standing on the sideline clipboard in hand as opposed to simply watching. But it was exhilarating to see the boys execute the skills we had been practicing for several weeks. Even more thrilling was seeing them find joy in a game I have come to love.
We lost 10-2, but I think that was a coaching issue. The best is still to come.
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