The Wonderful Chaos of a Youth Practice

After an hour and a half of mayhem, I can finally take a breath and sit for a second. I find myself thinking that trying to teach lacrosse to a group of hyper 1st to 3rd graders might be one of the most exhausting things I’ve ever done.

An old gymnasium turned into a small fieldhouse with turf laid down is a luxury to have available in snowy, cold, and wet Buffalo, New York during the winter months. January to March is a great time for young players new to lacrosse to work on their skills once a week before their spring seasons start. I happily volunteered to help out at the Buffalo Lacrosse Academy training sessions for their youth to high school players, but I think I forgot what it’s like to corral a few dozen 7-9 year olds waving lacrosse sticks around like swords.

As I walk into the gym turned lacrosse training center, the little laxers are already trying trick shots, throwing balls as hard as they can at each other, or just sitting on the turf waiting for the session to start. I blow my whistle and the organized chaos begins.

I can remember being the same age at my first formal lacrosse camp in 4th grade and being so excited to learn more about lacrosse and shoot on a real net. I also remember being there with all my buddies from school and messing around in between drills.

Getting into line drills to start, some of them are already zipping passes and catching everything, while others are having the ball fly right by their stick or hit them in the feet. Me and the other coaches help them along showing them how they need to get their hands out and cushion the ball when they catch. The balls are still flying everywhere.

Practicing face, split, and roll dodges some of them get it right away, while others lose the ball or spin the wrong way. It’s great to see them get better at the dodges each week and then pull it off in the scrimmage at the end of the session.

The smallest one there has the best split dodge of the whole group and can pass and catch better than most. I don’t think I’ve heard him say a single word through 3 sessions, but everytime I see him with the ball in his stick there is a huge smile on his face.

The ones that do talk won’t stop talking and ask a thousand questions a minute. Can we shoot now? Do I have to go left handed? Why is it called a face dodge? He hit me!

If I didn’t have a whistle I would be screaming my head off trying to get their attention as they start running off on their own or are whacking their buddies with their stick.

Watching them play 3 v 3 is the most chaotic lacrosse I’ve ever seen as the biggest player tries to power cradle through all 3 opposing players and knocks one over as the ball flies out of his stick. There is a big pileup with all 6 of them fighting for the ground ball. It seems like everything the other coaches and I taught them the hour before went right out the window.

The goalie who barely comes up to my waist is fearless as he stands in net and soaks a shot right off the foot and then chases after the rebound. It seems like I’m blowing the whistle every 5 seconds as there’s a push in the back, someone throws the ball out of bounds, there’s a slash to the helmet, we stop the play to go over clearing through for a dodger, and we make sure everybody subs in. One team cheers and celebrates when the finally score.

As the clock hits 1:30, I blow the whistle to end their spirited session as we put our sticks up, give a “Buffalo!” chant, and the kids run off to their parents.

Other coaches arrive for the high school players session coming up next and tell me I look like just did some sprints because my face is so flustered. I take seat on the turf to finally take a break as I just shake my head an laugh at how those little guys might not be able to catch and throw too well now, but a few of them could one day be the next super stars of lacrosse.

It takes a lot of energy to help them learn this game and make sure they’re having a good time throughout the session, but I’m having just as much fun as they are.

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