Height is a necessity in certain sports, whereas in other sports it’s merely an accessory. It’s hard to judge exactly whether height is a must in lacrosse from observation alone, which is why some athletes wonder if short people have a fair chance at becoming talented lacrosse players.
There are three prominent reasons why short people can play lacrosse:
- Lacrosse is all about speed and stamina, not brute physicality.
- A superior lacrosse IQ trumps physical attributes.
- First-rate stick skills can carry you very far in lacrosse.
Short lacrosse players are not barred from attaining any of these physical attributes. There are numerous examples of collegiate and professional lacrosse players that have taken their short stature and made it a strength in their game, which is something we’ll take a look at later in the article. Read on further to discover the explicit advantages and disadvantages of being short in lacrosse.
Why Short Players Can Find Success in Lacrosse
Considering popular sports like basketball or volleyball where height reigns supreme, it can be easy to jump to the conclusion that lacrosse fits into this category as well. Fortunately for all the short people out there, this is not the case.
The height of the average lacrosse player is not so absurd. Actually, it’s very near to the height of the average person. The average college lacrosse player is 5′ 11.64″ tall and the average professional lacrosse player is 6′ 0.34″ tall.
To see exactly how I got these numbers (along with the standard weight of a typical lacrosse player), click over to my articles Average Height & Weight of College Lacrosse Player and Average Height & Weight of Professional Lacrosse Player.
Keep in mind that collegiate and professional lacrosse are the highest competitive levels the sport has to offer. Most lacrosse players only ever participate at the youth or high school level. If the height distinction is marginal at the most competitive levels of lacrosse, you can bet that height is even less of a factor at the youth and high school level.
This is no mere coincidence. There are several reasons why short players have just as much of an opportunity to thrive in lacrosse as tall players.
Reason #1: Lacrosse Is All About Speed and Stamina, Not Brute Physicality
What is unique about lacrosse is that although it’s a contact sport, it takes a backseat to speed and stamina in terms of overall importance.
The sport of lacrosse is built upon the idea of players quickly running around the vast expanse of the field and sustaining that speed throughout the entirety of the game. This is largely the reason why lacrosse has earned itself the nickname The Fastest Sport on Two Feet. It didn’t get this nickname for no reason.
Since the essence of lacrosse lies with speed and stamina, it’s only right that the players with the best speed and endurance dominate the game. All field positions require a certain degree of speed and stamina in order for success to be reached.
For example, midfielders have to run back and forth between the offense and defense every few minutes. Once they arrive at their desired side of the field, they cannot afford to rest either. If they’re on offense, they need to make an effort to move around and create scoring opportunities. If they’re on defense, they have to follow their man wherever they go.
Arguably, the position of attack places the heaviest emphasis on pure speed. Since they’re primarily entrusted with the playmaking responsibilities of the offense, they have to dodge past defenders to get to open spaces on the field. Successful dodging requires an exorbitant amount of speed.
Defensemen are assigned the job of keeping up with these shifty attackmen. Their size and strength won’t do them any good if they lack the speed and stamina to stay in front of these elusive scoring threats.
Even the goalkeeping position is all about speed. Not in the sense of linear speed on the field, but in terms of reaction speed. If goalkeepers are even a fraction of a second late to a shot, it can mean the difference between a save and a goal.
If you’re unfamiliar with what each field position does in lacrosse, click over to my article The 4 Major Lacrosse Positions: A Beginner’s Guide. It’s a solid resource if you need some help picking out which lacrosse position suits you best.
Superior speed and stamina are skills that short lacrosse players can earn. I’m not saying it’s easy to attain these skills, because it isn’t. What I’m saying is that it’s definitely possible for short individuals to reach success in lacrosse by first earning this skill set.
Reason #2: A Superior Lacrosse IQ Trumps Physical Attributes
Ask any renowned player the following question, “What is more important in lacrosse, the mental side or the physical side?” Every world-class lacrosse player will say the same thing… the mental aspect trumps all.
This is because there is a such a considerable amount of depth to lacrosse strategy. With such a diversity of ways to make plays, lacrosse players are gifted with numerous opportunities to tip the balance of the game in their favor. It’s all about doing the little things in lacrosse.
On the offensive end for example, there are a considerable amount of ways that lacrosse IQ supersedes physical attributes. One area where this is extraordinarily evident is off-ball movement. Knowing exactly when and where to time off-ball cuts is a skill that the majority of offensive players overlook. You can nab an extra goal or two a game from off-ball movement alone.
Wandering around aimlessly when you don’t have the ball does nothing for your team. High IQ offensive players don’t wait around for an opportunity to fall into their lap, they create their own opportunities. As soon as they see recognize that their defender is ball watching, they make a quick backdoor cut for an easy score. If they see an open area in close proximity to the goal, they sneak away from their defender to put themselves in solid scoring position and call for the ball. Physical prowess is not responsible for making these plays happen, a superior lacrosse IQ is.
This is also true of the defensive end. In order a player to be considered a great defender, they have to be well acquainted with defensive strategy and apply this knowledge on the field. For instance, an overarching theme in lacrosse defenses is providing support when an opposing ball carrier has dodged past the on ball defender. The support that is provided is called a slide, a concept that all coaches harp upon.
You can find more information about defensive slides by clicking over to my article What is a Slide in Lacrosse – Definition & Examples.
To be perform a successful slide, defensemen must use their lacrosse IQ to decide when help is actually needed. This split second decision can be extremely difficult to make, but it can have considerable repercussions. If a defensemen slides unnecessarily, they leave the door open for the offense to quickly move the ball to the open man on the field. However, if they don’t slide at all when help is actually needed, the ball carrier will have an uncontested shot on goal.
Physical attributes have nothing to do with these urgent decisions. This foundational aspect of defense is all mental, something that short lacrosse players can learn if they put in the time.
Reason #3: First-Rate Stick Skills Can Carry You Very Far in Lacrosse
Moreover, there’s no particular height requirement to acquire an exceptional set of stick skills in lacrosse. Mind you, when I say stick skills, I am referring to a player’s ability to fluently catch, pass, shoot, and cradle with their lacrosse stick. It encompasses virtually all the fundamental maneuvers that must feel like second nature to lacrosse players.
Throughout all my years in lacrosse, I have come across so many athletes that had superior size and strength, but could never quite get a handle on lacrosse because they never gained mastery over their stick skills. On the flip side, I have witnessed a great deal of lacrosse players that were clearly lacking in size and strength, but were still light years ahead of everyone else because they had remarkable stick skills.
The lacrosse stick is the only tool that is used to do anything with the ball. You might be the fastest, biggest player on the field, but none of that will matter if the ball ever finds its way into your stick and you haven’t thoroughly mastered your stick skills.
To move with the ball, you need to be able to cradle effectively and protect your stick from defensive stick checks. In order to score, you need to be able to shoot with precision and speed. To put it bluntly, you’ll be a liability on the field if you cannot consistently catch or throw.
Fortunately, anyone can develop an exceptional set of stick skills if they put in the hours, regardless of height. It just takes a high volume of repetitions to get to the point where you can feel comfortable with a lacrosse stick.
Examples of Short, All-Star Caliber Lacrosse Players
There are prominent examples of short lacrosse players that have come to dominate the sport of lacrosse over the years. Let’s take an in depth look at some of these player profiles together.
Joey Sankey – 5′ 5″ Tall
Joey Sankey is a decorated lacrosse attackman that I’ve personally been a huge fan of. He is certainly not the biggest guy on the field, but he knows how to control his body and utilize his superior stick skills to pick his spots on the field.
Sankey was a 3x All-American and a 3x All-ACC award winner during his playing years at North Carolina. After his collegiate lacrosse career was all said and done, he finished as the all-team leading scorer in UNC history (source). Sankey also won the Major League Lacrosse (MLL) Rookie of the Year award after making the transition to the pros.
Click on the clip below to see some of Sankey’s best highlights from his Rookie of the Year season!
John Kluh – 5′ 4″ Tall
Kluh is an elusive midfielder that fueled the engine for the Villanova offense during his collegiate playing years. Standing at 5′ 4″ tall and weighing 140 pounds, he wasn’t the most physically imposing player, but he had lightning speed. That superhuman quickness earned him the right to being captain of the Villanova lacrosse squad for his entire four year stint (source).
I actually had the privilege of watching Kluh play against Notre Dame for a game. Seeing the perfect execution of his split dodge was a sight to see!
Words don’t do his split dodge justice, so you’ll just have to see it to believe it.
Sergio Salcido – 5′ 7″ Tall
Salcido was another talented midfielder that spent his collegiate lacrosse career at Syracuse. He was a USILA First Team All-American, the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, and a Tewaaraton Award Semifinalist his senior year. For those of you that do not know, the Tewaaraton Award is the highest honor in college lacrosse, the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy in college football.
What’s interesting about Salcido is that he walked on to the Syracuse lacrosse team. Those of you that are familiar with collegiate lacrosse know that Syracuse is the powerhouse, holding the most national championships.
Salcido’s success has translated to the pros. You can see how he’s tearing up in the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) by watching the clip below.
Other Notable Short Lacrosse Players
|B.J. Grill||Defenseman||5′ 5″||– USILA Third Team All-American |
– 2x All Big East First Team
– Won MLL Title with Denver Outlaws
|Case Matheis||Attack||5′ 7″||– Four Year Starter at Duke|
– No. 1 Ranked High School Lacrosse Player
|Rob Pannell||Attack||5′ 8″||– 4th Leading Scorer in Men’s Lacrosse D1 History|
– All Time Leading Scorer in Cornell and Ivy League History
– Winner of 2013 Tewaaraton Trophy
|Grant Ament||Attack||5′ 9″||– 3x All American|
– Tewaaraton Award Finalist
– Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2019
|Jordan Wolf||Attack||5′ 9″||– 4x All-American|
– 2014 Tewaaraton Finalist
|Adam Ghitelman||Goalie||5′ 9″||– 1x All-American|
– Member of 2011 National Championship Team
Advantages of Being a Shorter Player in Lacrosse
The majority of lacrosse players overlook the fact that there are a few distinct advantages to being short in lacrosse. If you adjust your play style to fit these criteria, you’ll find yourself well ahead of the competition.
Have a Quicker Change of Direction
Generally, short lacrosse players are gifted with a quicker change of direction. Due to their shorter, lighter frame, it’s not as difficult for them to plant a foot down and accelerate in another direction. Most taller lacrosse players have trouble keeping up with this swift agility.
This is especially favorable in the art of dodging. Dodging past defenders demands speed and deception. The best dodgers in the world manipulate their defenders into thinking they are committing one way, then quickly plant a foot down and accelerate in the opposite direction. Any delay throughout the dodging motion will diminish the chances of success considerably.
It is for this reason that attackmen are typically the shortest, lightest players on the field. Their primary responsibilities on the field revolve around blowing past defenders with their agility, so the extra size holds them back rather than helps them out in many cases.
A quick change of direction helps defensemen as well. Size certainly helps defensemen hold their ground against offensive players trying to bully their way to the goal, but it matters little if they cannot stay in front of their man in the first place. For this reason, short defensemen typically have an advantage in this area since they can immediately adjust their positioning when their matchup decides to change direction.
Can Sneak Through Tiny Cracks in the Defense
This advantage is geared more toward short offensive players, but it’s important nonetheless.
Short lacrosse players are better able to slip through the holes in the defense and find open space for potential scoring opportunities. This is an essential offensive skill because it allows players to make plays that otherwise wouldn’t be possible for a taller, more conspicuous player.
For example, shorter lacrosse players can easily split through double teams by crouching low to the ground and exploding though the crevasse between the two defenders. It’s similar to how point guards split double teams in basketball. Could you imagine a center attempting to do this? The results would be catastrophic.
These same tragic results would happen if a taller, bulkier player tried this on the field. They would likely be stopped in their tracks since they lack the stealth that short lacrosse players possess.
Lower Center of Gravity
In addition, short lacrosse players have a lower center of gravity. It sounds cliché, but the low man does win every time in lacrosse.
Defenders experience the greatest benefit from this lower center of gravity because they’re better equipped to get under ball carriers and body check their hips. Taller defenders have a bad habit of forcing ball carriers away by body checking at the shoulders. Not only is this less effective at maneuvering ball carriers away from the goal, it’s also more likely to draw a penalty. One little upward slip can result in a body check to the neck instead of the shoulders.
The positive effects of a lower center of gravity are also evident in ground balls. In lacrosse, a ground ball is the term used to describe loose, unpossessed balls on the field that are essentially up for grabs by either team.
You can learn more about the specifics of ground balls by reading through my article What are Ground Balls in Lacrosse?
The closer that you get to a ground ball, the better the chance you have of scooping it up. By default, short lacrosse players are positioned closer to the ground balls. This a tremendous advantage because it not only helps these players to avoid misjudging their trajectory on the ball, their lower center of gravity also aids with boxing out other opponents.
The importance of ground balls is not something to be scoffed at in lacrosse. Short players can play an integral role in this aspect of the game and ultimately earn their team some extra possessions.
Disadvantages of Being a Shorter Player in Lacrosse
I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that there’s only advantages to being short in lacrosse. There are disadvantages that you must be aware of as well.
Harder to Stand Your Ground Against Opponents
Typically, a shorter stature is accompanied by a lighter weight. For this reason, it’s generally more challenging for short lacrosse players to hold their ground against opponents with momentum.
For example, it can be troublesome for defenders to go against heavier attackmen that tend to bully their way to the goal. Even though lacrosse is largely a finesse sport, there’s still ample opportunity for players to take advantage of their size and strength. A short defenseman may have no problem staying in front of opposing ball carriers because of their superior speed, but they may encounter difficulty forcing them away.
This issue is not only limited to defensemen. It can also hold true for short offensive players as well. Speed can definitely get you to open areas on the field, but there will be times where there will be no holes in the defense whatsoever. Instead of waiting for a crack in the defense to open up, you’ll just have to create your own path by way of brute force alone.
This is a department where short offensive players struggle immensely. Put simply, there are pros and cons to every sort of play style in lacrosse.
Reduced Field Perspective
Furthermore, short players don’t have the luxury of an expansive field perspective as tall players do.
Field awareness is a huge portion of lacrosse. Obviously, the more field you can see, the better your field awareness. Unfortunately, short players cannot see over other players like tall players can. As a result, short players may find difficulty in making the appropriate play because they aren’t as aware of their surroundings.
For example, it’s much more convenient for offensive catalysts to find open teammates and defensive vulnerabilities when they can see over the on ball defender. Those couple of extra inches allows them to see the play unfold in front of them.
On the defensive end, tall defensemen, and even tall goalkeepers, can properly monitor the whereabouts of all the opposing offensive players because of their uncontested view. They can use this field awareness to put themselves in an ideal defensive position, place their stick in passing lanes, and communicate to their fellow teammates where they should go.
Shorter Reach for Defensive Stick Checks
This last disadvantage pertains mostly to short defensive players. Short lacrosse defenders don’t have as extensive of a reach as taller players do. Consequently, they cannot pressure opposing ball carriers from a comfortable distance away. Instead, they have to lunge forward to land their stick checks, thrusting them out of a safe defensive position.
For those of you that don’t know, this is why lacrosse defensemen are equipped with lengthier sticks in the first place. The additional reach offers players an upper hand on the defensive end because they don’t have to sacrifice positioning to execute a successful stick check.
This is part of the reason why close defensemen have the tallest height on average relative to all other lacrosse positions. As a dodger myself, I know that I’ve always have trouble dealing with that extra reach.
You can find more information about the purpose of long sticks in lacrosse by reading through my article Who Uses a Long Stick in Lacrosse? (And Why?)
Why Height Shouldn’t Hold You Back from Playing Lacrosse
The bottom line is that your height should not be the deciding factor of whether or not you join lacrosse. Lacrosse is one of the very few sports where height matters very little. It’s not like basketball or volleyball where taller players have an obvious advantage over shorter players.
With this sport, there is a diversity of unique play styles that are available to players. There are short, shifty dodgers that are constantly on the move. There are bulky, heavyset time and room shooters that remain rooted to one spot. There are average sized defensemen with average speed that dominate games purely by the timing and precision of their stick checks.
You get the point. All you have to do is figure out what sort of play style suits you and your body structure the best.
So if you’re hesitant about participating in lacrosse because you’re short, don’t be. If you truly feel like you’ve unearthed a passion for lacrosse, you should at least try it out for a season. The only way you’ll know is if you go out and do it.