Morning dew on the endless fields greets the cars with license plates from near and far nestling their way into the crowded park. The U9s, U11s, U13s, U15s, or U17s rub their eyes as they look around at the gear tents, the dozens of lacrosse nets, and where they will run around for the next few days. Where young lacrosse players treat every game like its the National Championship.
The magic of summer lacrosse is here.
The hundreds of tournaments that dot the United States every summer and the endless club teams with flashy uniforms has changed the summer landscape from what it was 10 or 15 years ago. The politics of elite summer club teams for 15 year olds has no end in sight. That is why I will always prefer the local tournaments for the younger players where there are no college coaches in their chairs all along the sideline grading young men and women like cattle.
Last summer, I got to experience the magic again as I helped coach a team of excited U13 Division players from the east side of Metro Detroit. They walked on to the fields on a hot summer day with smiles on their faces despite the heat and the long two days ahead. These young warriors are at a peculiar age in their development as lacrosse players and as teenagers getting ready to go to high school in a few years time.
Looking back at our defense before the first faceoff, I see our three defenders towering over our opponents attackmen. I laugh as I realise that these boys are the same age, but are in different stages of their growth spurts. Another look at our bench and then at our opponent’s reveals a similar lineup of differing heights and sizes. I can already tell what kind of games will be played today.
On the first faceoff, our tallest middie Kenny scoops the ball up and begins swimming over the smaller players in front of him as he races toward the goal. He stops and winds up from just inside the restraining box and fires a shot right into the goalie’s stick. The other team’s shin pad wearing goalie then proceeds to launch the ball down the field in an attempt to clear the ball. It bounces toward our defensive zone and the opposing attackmen quickly falls to the ground from a bump from our lumbering 12 year old long pole as the ball rolled toward them. Our team’s first flag of the day.
The first pass the other team makes on their man up goes straight into the ground and a mob of players forms around it whacking, scooping, raking, and kicking all at once doing anything they can to get the ball. Parents yelling at their little all stars to hit someone or get the ball battle with the other coach’s yells and my own as we all attempt to tell the kids what to do. Someone kicks the ball sending it out of bounds.
A coach can try and set up a complicated offense and explain how to run a fast break before a game, but in a summer tournament the hyper young players out on the field will run wild in a messy yet wonderful display. I cherish these games more than most games I have played in or watched at the high school or college level. The pure look of disbelief on a kids face after they are called for pushing someone in the back or the joy on the teams’ faces as they storm the field after a Braveheart win are some of the most entertaining and fulfilling moments that can happen in lacrosse.
The kids with the best stick skills or those that are the most athletic will be the ones who score all the goals and make the big plays, but the tiny attackmen who recklessly fights for a ground ball in the corner and manages to scoop it up or the goalie who is afraid to get hit by shots finally making a big save are the ones who really win the day.
The best moment of the tournament was when one of our attackmen got a bloody nose on the sideline right before it was his turn to go on the field. He pinched his nose and tried to stop it as he was on the verge of tears. The tournament trainer came over on her golf cart and helped him clean up. With only a few minutes left in the game I looked over to see if he was alright and he was already putting his helmet back on. I asked him if he was ready to go and he looked at me with the most determined face I had seen on any of the players and answered with a confident and strained “Yes Coach!” He ran in and was able to get a great shot on net that just missed.
These young lacrosse players just discovering their love for the game are what will ensure the continued growth of the sport. They had so much fun out there with their friends and shaking their hands to congratulate them on a great tournament I get asked by our talented faceoff man and the little attackman “what can I work on so that we win the next tournament?”
I hope that every player, parent, coach, referee, and all those that help make sure the tournaments run smoothly have a summer to remember full of memories of just enjoying the games and the experience. As players get older there are still tournaments to go to even after college, but there is something special about those tournaments you play in as a kid.
I am sure 2019 will be a summer for of tournaments to remember for lacrosse players all over the country and the world.