New Rules for U9 and Under
NOTE: Updated on 3/7/2016 to reflect actual offsides rule.
CYLA decided this year to modify (shorten) then fields and modify (shorten) the goals for U9 and down. They also will play 6 on 6 (plus the goalie) with two attackmen, two midfielders, and two defensemen. Not sure how I feel about the face-off rule (no face-offs after goals – just give it to the other team at midfield), but the other rule changes are going to make playing – and coaching – a whole lot more enjoyable for our youngest age groups.
Outside of the lack of face-offs, these rules look a whole lot like box lacrosse. The smaller fields will keep the players from running seemingly miles just to get the ball from one end of the field to the other and playing 4 on 4 on one end of the field is going to really open things up for the players. Transition is certainly a huge piece of lacrosse, but getting the opportunity to work skills in the half-field set is going to pay huge dividends.
So, as a coach, how do we approach this new frontier? In my opinion, we treat it just like we teach box! It simplifies what we need to teach the players in terms of strategy and allows us to work on individual skills.
For little guys especially, I like to break coaching down into big segments and then do my best to focus each practice on each of the segments. That keeps the fundamentals a big focus and hopefully makes it easier for coaches to plan a practice and quantify game goals.
I would break it down something like this:
Players at this age need to focus on sticks more than anything. For many, it’s obviously their first venture into the sport and being able to catch and throw will keep them interested. Catching in particular becomes of serious importance. I would suggest putting drills for stick skills at the top of your list and leaving them there for the entire season. A couple quick coaching points on catching for youngsters:
- BE CONNECTED – You and your partner’s shoulders should be facing each other. This makes it easier for you to . . .
- GIVE A TARGET – tell your partner where to throw the ball! Put your stick in front of your face so that you can . . .
- CATCH IT SOFT – pretend it’s an egg. Don’t break the egg. Catch it easy without a cradle.
The ball is going to be on the ground a lot at this age group – and that’s okay! Let’s stay focused on helping our players with a couple of key fundamentals on getting the ball off the ground and moving it.
- GET LOW! A coach I used to play for would say to pick it up “Like a dog.” That means getting your face down over the ball and scraping your knuckles on the ground. Once they get low, we want to make sure that the players are working on . . .
- SCOOPING THROUGH – For newer players, scooping the ball is a challenge. Pretend like we are shoveling the driveway! If they can’t pick it up, we should encourage the players to . . .
- KEEP IT MOVING YOUR DIRECTION – If you can’t scoop it, kick it out to space. It’s much easier to pick up a moving ball then a stationary one, especially once the pack of rabid 8-year-olds starts taking whacks at the ball.
For some players, this may be their first foray into team sports of any kind. You will be surprised how many don’t understand the simple concept of covering their man (or of even HAVING a man). At this age, we are going to focus almost exclusively on individual concepts unless you have a very superior group of kids who can start to work on team defense.
- FIRE – After playing offense, the midfielders need to sprint back to the hub to make sure the other team doesn’t get any easy goals. FIRE is a huge part of the coaching vocabulary at all ages and there’s no better time to get them thinking this way then early. After FIRE, it’s time to . . .
- PICK UP A MAN – Help the players understand the concept of marking up! After they touch the hub, they need to now be in charge of one player on the other team to not let them score. We always want to be in between our man and the goal. Now that we are in good individual position, we need to . . .
- PLAY BASKETBALL DEFENSE – In basketball, they don’t have long poles and sticks to whack you with. They have to play defense by staying in front of their man and not letting them get to the goal. Same concept here. Players should work on SHUFFLING to stay in front, not throwing any checks, and using their hands to keep the opponent at bay.
Hmmmm. After reflection, this section will need some updating given the actual rules.
In my opinion, substituting is going to be much easier to teach with these new rules. If we think of it like box, all players will play both offense and defense on each shift. Here are a couple of ways to think about getting our players on and off the field.
- STAND IN A LINE – It’s not time to teach about being on set lines. All players will play equally, so put them in a line on the sideline and make sure they stay in that line. No cutting! Subbing will happen every time the ball is coming out of our defensive side, so everyone will play equally (should hopefully make some of those "my kid doesn't play enough" conversations non-starters). The pattern will be . . .
- PLAY OFFENSE, PLAY DEFENSE, SUB OUT – When we come off the bench, we are going to play offense first. Whatever happens on O, whether we score, turn it over, or have it saved, everybody needs to go FIRE to get back in the hole to play defense. Again, no matter the result after defense, when we get the ball back, the defensive players are subbing off and we get a new group of six on the field.
Passing and catching isn’t easy for young guys, so working on set plays isn’t going to be a good use of time for players of this age. However, we can get them doing some very simple things to make it “look” like team offense without having to trust our little Pokemon players to memorize a complicated playbook.
- GET THE BALL TO THE CORNER (OR ‘X’) – It’s important when we don’t have a bona fide fast break that we are doing a good job of getting ball below or behind the goal. There are much better angles from down there and the opportunity to flow behind the goal is one of the unique and beautiful things about the game of lacrosse. Get it there by throwing it or carrying it. Once the ball is low, we have to work on . . .
- BUILDING A SHAPE – What is your offensive shape going to be? Likely you won’t have too much action at ‘x’, but the players need to have a basic understanding of how to be in a formation. We don’t want to play bunch ball! Good shapes include:
o Box – Box around the goal in four corners
o Diamond – One up top, one behind, one on each wing
o If you want to get crazy, you can do some Y shapes as well
- PASS, THEN CUT – We want to encourage players to always be moving when they don’t have the ball. One way to make this natural is to make them move the second they get rid of it.
Hopefully this outline gives a good idea of how to structure your youngsters practice plans! Winning and losing isn’t the goal here. More than anything, we want to focus on having fun while teaching fundamentals and hopefully getting all the players to sign up again next year!