Preparing for High-School Girls' Lacrosse
by Paul Hudak
Head Coach, Hamden High School
The transition between playing a sport in a youth league and playing the same sport in high school can be difficult. But it is especially hard for girls' lacrosse, because the rules at the youth and high-school levels are different. Learning the new rules, however, is only half of the problem. The other half is that the youth rules cause players to develop certain bad habits and delay the development
of important defensive skills.
The main rule change between youth and high school is in checking: in youth lacrosse at the bantam and junior levels, no checking at all is allowed. At the senior level, the stick may be checked only if the head of the stick is lower than shoulder level. In high school, the stick may be checked anywhere, as long as it is not too close to the head, and is done in a controlled manner (for example, one cannot reach around a player to check her stick).
The problem with the senior youth level rule is that it encourages players to simply cradle high, anywhere above the shoulder. But this does nothing to protect the stick in high school, and we often find that players need to learn how to cradle all over again. In order to avoid this re-learning, you can start now by learning how to cradle correctly: Your cradle should be "tight" -- the head of the stick should be about 7 inches from, and be at the same level as, your body's head -- and go from shoulder to shoulder. This basic cradle is extremely difficult to check, and can be revised as the situation dictates when under pressure. Don't get too close to your head, or you will be called for "cradling in your sphere", which will result in a turn-over.
It goes without saying, by the way, that stick skills in general need to be better at the high-school level. In particular, you should be able to use both hands -- including the cradling technique described above -- and be able to catch and throw "wrong-handed" (which is different from "non-dominant").
The other problem with the youth rules is that they don't require many defensive skills. Checking is a skill like any other, and it needs to be learned and practiced. Unfortunately, it can't be learned at the
youth level without playing by high-school rules.
More important, however, is proper 1-on-1 defense -- meaning arm and stick position, body posture, and footwork. Once players learn how to cradle well, it is difficult to check them, and the focus shifts to these other important defensive skills. Fortunately, these skills can be learned and made useful at the youth level, since the restrictions on checking don't give you any other choice.
Sometimes youth games, even at the senior level, are played with a "2-pass rule" or "3-pass rule". This is the worst rule possible, as it teaches extremely bad defensive habits -- not getting back on
defense in time, not worrying about fast breaks, being lazy about body position and footwork, etc. This rule should never be used at the youth level, and in fact is not part of the USLacrosse official rules. Instead, the "3-second possession" rule should be used, where a change of possession occurs if a player holds her stick in a checkable position (by high-school rules) for three seconds or more.
(When a team first switches from using a 3-pass rule to a 3-second rule, it may seem that too many fast breaks are happening. Well, that is exactly the point -- the players need to figure out how to stop the fast break. Although it will be tempting to fall back on the 3-pass rule, it is far better to spend the time to learn proper defense.)
There are other differences between the youth and high school levels, but the ones identified in this short article are the main ones to worry about. By working on these issues now, you will be better
prepared for high school.