One of the oldest indigenous North American sports is experiencing a renaissance. Lacrosse traces its roots back to Native American tribes on the East Coast and in Canada to at least the early 1700s, although some evidence dates it back to 1100. The traditional hotbeds for the sport, which combines the racket skills of tennis, the physicality of hockey and the endurance of soccer, have long been New York and Maryland. In the last 10 years, though, that has been changing.
“Denver is a hotbed now, there are a ton of good players coming out of Southern California, and the Northwest is getting good, too,” says Brian Silcott, the chief operating officer of LB3 Lacrosse Club (lb3lacrosse.com), a company that organizes lacrosse camps, clinics and leagues. “If you look at the top team rosters now, there are athletes from all over the country.”
The prototypical lacrosse star tends to be about 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, like a big soccer player or a strong safety from football. But, while the ultimate goal of lacrosse is similar to other sports (get the ball into your opponent’s goal), what separates it is the combination of precision stick work with full-tilt cardio. “Lacrosse has more time when you are running at full speed than soccer, and there is a lot more contact and physical play within the upper body,” says Silcott, who played professionally for the Boston Cannons and went on to coach the San Francisco Dragons. “You spend a lot of time pushing against other people with your upper body and pushing guys away when you are on defense.”
While lacrosse’s physical demands are as great or greater than any other team sport, the collisions are not as common or vicious as in football or even ice hockey. However, the contact between athletes tends to be unique to the sport. “Technically, you are only allowed to hit someone on the stick or the padded gloves,” Silcott says. “But the reality is, there are lots of times when you get whacked with the stick and it is not a foul. It is just part of the game.”
Whether you plan to get out on a lacrosse field or just throw the ball among friends, easily as fun as tossing a football or chucking a Frisbee, here are two basic skills to get you started.
The power generated by a lacrosse stick is impressive. A good high school player can hurl the ball 90 mph, while a pro can send it closer to 110 mph. The fundamental motion of throwing is using the stick as a lever and the top hand as a fulcrum, Silcott explains. Assuming you are right-handed, grasp the stick about one-third of the way up the shaft with your dominant hand and hold the very bottom of the shaft with your left hand. Point the butt end of the stick at your target while you cock your right arm back in almost the same motion you would use to throw a baseball. Pull down on your left hand as you unwind your right arm for the throw. Follow through so the stick comes across your body and your right hand ends up near your left hip.
“We teach kids to put their top hand all the way up by the head of the stick, but advanced players like to stay in the exact same position to catch as they do to throw, so they’re prepared to immediately throw the ball without changing their hands,” Silcott says. Present the head of the stick in front of you to give the thrower a target. As you receive the ball, you want to give a little with your top hand so you are finishing the catch just a bit behind your shoulder. That will make sure the ball doesn’t rattle around and bounce out of your pocket while putting you in a position to throw the ball again.