Why Lacrosse Should Risk It Like REI
REI announced this week that it would not open its stores on Black Friday. Its website says, ”REI believes that being outside makes our lives better. On Black Friday, we are closing all our stores and going outside. For 76 years, our passion has been to bring you great gear to get you out too.”
How audacious of them to offer up one of the largest retail days of the year as the sacrificial lamb to promote their values, but the message is loud and clear — “We care more about what we stand for than how much money we could make on Black Friday. And we’re going to get your attention by acting on this belief.”
By being incredibly bold and believing in their values, they made an unmistakable statement about their priorities.
Last weekend, US Lacrosse did something a little risky and pretty status quo-challenging as we begin to reimagine youth lacrosse. We asked people to set aside their preconceived ideas about what lacrosse should look like for young kids, gathering a group of four-to-nine year old boys in Central Pennsylvania.
We ran the kids through competition structured around smaller fields and fewer players. The littlest kids played 3v3 with no protective equipment. We simplified the elements of game play for that age level and used the competitions to build the skills they will need to succeed on a full field in several years when their bodies and minds are ready for the size, complexity and skills needed for the “regular” game of lacrosse.
When a three-time all-American with two national championships to his name, former Salisbury star Josh Bergey, says, “I’ve been around lacrosse for a long time, and that was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever seen with little kids,” you know you might be onto something. When every kid who was surveyed after the games said they had fun and they got to play more, you know you might really be onto something.
In the next few months, US Lacrosse will unveil, for the lacrosse community, tools and guidelines including the small-sided competition structures that will equip forward-thinking, kid-oriented, risk-takers to disrupt the status quo, give the game back to the kids, and think differently about the lacrosse experience from beginning to end.
Sure there will be detractors, there will be skeptics, just as I’m sure there were when some brave soul at REI pitched the Black Friday scheme. But we’re banking on the fact that there are more folks out there who know there might be a better way, and that there are far more kids we can be reaching through our sport.
Maybe our Black Friday moment is standing up and saying, “Yep, we’re going to be okay with doing 7v7 with our kids so they have more fun, get more touches on the ball and develop more skills, because we believe that when they are 16 and 17 years old they will destroy the competition in full-field play. We’re okay if parents leave our program because they want their child to have the opportunity as a 9-year-old to be all-stars, play year-round, wear a snazzy uniform and run up and down a 110-yard field playing by NCAA rules. We’re OK with not doing it like everyone else.”
Let’s risk it like REI with our athlete development model. Coming in 2016.
Erin Smith is director of education and training for US Lacrosse