First, some historical context and data points, below are five excellent articles that offer in-depth look at the trends mentioned above, and together make a compelling case for box lacrosse and its influence on the college field game.
Thinking Inside the Box, College Coaches Find Parity in Pairs by Joel Censer, 2/8/11
Tierney Embraces Canadian Influence by Justin Feil, 5/19/11
Crossover Skills: The Canadian-American Dynamic by Joel Censer, 11/14/11
Oh Canada by Casey Vock and Zach Babo, 12/11/2012
Digits: From Cockerton to Greer and Everything In Between and After by Paul Tutka, 10/11/13
So what’s happening at the club level? Jamie Munro, former University of Denver head coach and Founder/CEO of 3d Lacrosse, was an early adopter of box game at the college level (see the first Censer article above,) and he was also an early innovator in adopting box training for his 3d club teams as well as offering Box/Field hybrid training and Box Immersion camps. 3d’s success at various national tournaments over the past few years has definitely caught people’s attention. When we canvass National Scholastic Club Lacrosse Association (NSCLA, a good sample group of elite club programs) members’ websites, we see more than a third of the clubs offer dedicated box training and/or box leagues for their players this winter. This was not the case a year ago. It is pretty clear that some of the leading club programs around the country are buying into the benefits of box lacrosse for developing youth and high school players.
The efficacy of box training occurs at several levels:
- Smaller space forces movement by players and increases touches per player
- Faster pace game that requires quicker player reaction and decision making, especially under pressure
- Players have to play offense and defense, and learn the one-on-one fundamentals
- Players learn picking/rolling/slipping and the two-man game concepts
- Players develop ground ball skills
- Players have to pass and shoot accurately, and mostly with overhand motion from collarbone position
- Players learn to be more accurate shooters with smaller goal and bigger goalie, and they also learn fakes and finishing near the goal
In essence, box is a very efficient and effective way to teach and train players for “open skills” sports like lacrosse. An open skills sport is dynamic and unpredictable, which requires players to adapt and change their movements and decisions continuously as game conditions change. Most team sports (football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse) are open skills sports. A closed skills sport requires a participant to execute pre-determined movements or routines. Gymnastics and diving are considered closed skills sports. Bart Sullivan, who played for Jamie Munro at DU and worked as Director of Training at 3d Lacrosse, is a big proponent of using “small sided” games (of which box lacrosse is a variation) to teach young players lacrosse fundamentals. He shares his philosophy here at his site, Sullivan Lacrosse. He also provided additional information from other sports like soccer and basketball to make the case for why different types of small-sided games are better for youth athletes. He uses 3x lacrosse (3 v 3 pickup game shooting on a 3 by 3 goal) as part of his program. Other variations of “small-sided” concepts such as Chumash and Trashcan Lacrosse are also gaining popularity, especially in the context of teaching younger or inexperienced players the key concepts (finding space or open man, etc.) as well as the rhythm of the game.
What is happening locally in Chicago? Many club/community programs have indoor winter leagues, and these leagues play modified field games on smaller fields. The typical game will have 4-6 players (not counting goalie) on each side - 1 to 3 attacks/poles and middies, and they play with regulation 6 by 6 goals. While it is great to play lacrosse inside during the winter, these modified field games can only replicate some aspects (e.g. confined space) of a box game. Some programs do offer box leagues, but most of these leagues need improvements in terms of how they are executed. Some of the deficiencies in these box leagues include:
- Not enough time spent upfront on explaining the differences between box and field, team offense and defense concepts, and other high level, context-setting information (for players AND parents)
- Insufficient time spent on explaining, demonstrating, and practicing skills important for the box game, such as passing and shooting from collarbone position, properly setting picks and rolling off picks, pass down pick down or away, executing V cuts, etc.
- No goalies, or not properly outfitted and/or trained goalies
- Not explaining proper way to cross-check or discouraging flagrant fouls
Setting up box games/leagues does require investments in indoor space, goals, and goalie gears (they are not cheap). For teams that are resource constrained or don’t want to make the investment, what are the options?
One lower cost option is to play modified box in spaces such as a basketball court with tennis or soft lacrosse balls. Loyola Academy’s Coach Snyder has for years ran his “Six Nations” Winter Box League for his players to play with tennis balls on box goals (but regular field goalie gear) inside gyms and other indoor spaces. Here’s an example of Notre Dame’s modified box game.
For less experienced or younger players, Trashcan Lacrosse is also an option. Part of NXT Sport, Trashcan is a clinic that teaches young players the dynamics of the two man game. Colin Ambler, who played for Chris Bates at Drexel (also mentioned in Joel Censer’s article), and was an assistant coach under Bates at Princeton, runs Trashcan Lacrosse in the Chicagoland area. His clinics are well-organized, fast pace, and fun for the kids. Teams can obviously play their own version of the trashcan game or any version of small-sided 2v2, 3v3, or 4v4 games with something small for a goal (with or without goalie). The key is to help kids develop their game IQ on spacing, open man, constant movement, touch passes, using fakes, and using their creativity to just “play lacrosse”.