When crossing into the unfamiliar territory of a new sport, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask what types of athletic skills are required. After all, every sport is different, so it should come as no surprise that the athletic skill set associated with each sport varies tremendously as well.
Lacrosse does require athleticism. In order for players to execute basic skills such as passing, catching, shooting, dodging, and defending, players must be well versed in a multitude of athletic areas, including agility, anaerobic power, balance, flexibility, kinesthetic awareness, speed, and strength.
Below, we’ll discuss exactly how the basic fundamental skills of lacrosse relate to the various facets of athleticism listed above. Read until the end of the article to see if lacrosse is a viable sport for you, even if you don’t think of yourself as a naturally gifted athlete.
In order to comprehensively answer the question of whether or not lacrosse requires athleticism, it is first necessary to establish a working definition of what athleticism is. Otherwise, it will be extremely difficult to form a cohesive argument for one side or the other.
The problem with the concept of athleticism is that it is a rather generic, all-encompassing term. As sports have emerged in popularity, fans have thrown around the words athleticism and athlete more frequently, to the point where the meaning of these words have lost value and even become slightly misconstrued.
After personally taking the time to research a working definition of athleticism, the best definition that I came across was from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). In their position statement, they state:
As we analyze the relationship between lacrosse and athleticism in the subsequent sections, we’ll refer back to this definition to avoid any potential ambiguity or confusion.
Ways that Lacrosse Demands Athleticism
From the definition of athleticism provided by the NSCA, we can break down athleticism into seven different facets, each of which are listed below. We’ll go over each of these facets individually and investigate the ways that lacrosse incorporates these specific elements into its gameplay.
One of the leading athletic areas that’s thoroughly emphasized in lacrosse is agility, or the ability to move with quickness and efficiency.
If you’ve ever witnessed a lacrosse game before, this is likely one of the very first athletic skills that came to mind. Players are constantly on the move, regardless of whether they have the ball or not.
The whole premise of lacrosse is to shoot the ball into the back of the opposing team’s goal. To do so, ball carriers have to navigate their way around defenders by way of calculated, deceptive footwork. Ball carriers that are clumsy with their feet often encounter difficulty putting themselves or their teammates in scoring position simply because they’re under constant defensive pressure.
Those that have superior agility typically thrive on the offensive side of the ball. One of the best in the business at doing just that is Sergio Salcido, a professional lacrosse midfielder that’s about as quick as they come. He makes defenders trip and fall by the quickness of his footwork alone. If you don’t believe me, check out the video below!
Agility is not solely limited to offensive players, however. Effective footwork is equally, if not more, vital to lacrosse defenders. Lacrosse defenders prevent opposing ball carriers from scoring by matching feet and staying in front of them as best they can. It’s resemblant of basketball in the way that they shuffle their feet laterally and react quickly to the movements of their opponents.
Without solid footwork, you’ll be hard pressed to accomplish much on the defensive end, since offensive players are far too talented at identifying favorable matchups and taking advantage of bungling defenders.
Aside from agility, anaerobic power is another athletic facet that lacrosse requires from its players. As a quick reference, anaerobic power refers to explosive movements performed with maximal effort.
There’s no shortage of explosive movement in lacrosse. In fact, many of the fundamental movements of lacrosse are meant to be explosive, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
One premier example of an explosive movement on the offensive side of the ball is the act of shooting. Contrary to popular opinion, shooting is not a movement strictly limited to the arms. It is a full body movement, incorporating everything from the arms, to the back, and even the legs. All of these muscles must work in unison to generate sufficient power behind the ball and sneak it past the goalie.
This explosive power is also required of defenders in their use of hard stick checks and body checks. Again, these movements must be performed with speed and a great deal of strength in order to drive opponents off of their intended path. If these defensive maneuvers are done halfheartedly, opposing players will be able to circumvent this pressure and reach their desired spots on the field.
This is yet another key area of athleticism that’s demanded of lacrosse players. Lacrosse is a physical sport, with players frequently trying to outmuscle each other for superior body positioning on the field. As a result, the balance of lacrosse players is constantly being tested.
Take dodging for example. Dodgers have to deal with physical contact practically every time they make a move to the goal, as defenders thwack them with metal sticks and attempt to push them off their path. This physical contact not only leaves its fair share of bruises, it also results in enough force to throw players off balance. If the player who is dodging is not that poise to begin with, they may find themselves on the turf more often than they’d like.
This is also true of on-ball defenders. As dodgers try to juke out defenders and manipulate them into shifting a particular way, on-ball defenders must retain their balance to keep themselves in proper position.
You’ve probably heard the old football adage that “the low man wins.” Not only is this adage true in football, it also holds up in lacrosse as well. Those that lower their center of gravity and optimize their balance control will win the field position battle. Whether it be a scrap for a loose ball or a clash for a high percentage shooting area, balance comes into play a lot more than you would initially believe.
The next facet of athleticism that’s needed for lacrosse is flexibility. Although flexibility is not as crucial to lacrosse as other sports, such as gymnastics or wrestling, maintaining a proper range of motion is critical for injury prevention and maximizing physical power.
To give a specific instance of where flexibility applies to lacrosse, let’s revisit the topic of lacrosse shooting mechanics.
As aforementioned, the act of shooting is a fully body movement, from top to bottom. Proper lacrosse shooting technique involves a complete extension of the arms away from body, along with a maximum rotation of the upper torso away from the goal. Generally, the more that a player is able to extend with their arms and rotate their torso, the more power they’re able to put behind their shot. It sounds easy enough, but maintaining such a vast range of motion is easier said than done.
This is a major reason why some of the fastest shooters in lacrosse have such superior shoulder mobility and torso mobility. They realize the performance benefits that accompany flexibility, which is why they prioritize this area in their training.
Many younger players are following suit, which has led to a greater overall emphasis of flexibility in the lacrosse community.
Far and away, this is the most pivotal component of athleticism that lacrosse players need. For those of you that don’t know, kinesthetic awareness is a fancy term that describes the ability to maneuver through space and sense how our body moves (source).
To succeed on the lacrosse field, this skill is an absolute must. Why you might ask?
The reason is that every lacrosse player must be competent at catching and throwing in order to give their team the best opportunity to win. Catching and throwing may seem simple at first glance, but it’s actually somewhat complicated. Most people are accustomed to carrying out athletic movements directly with their hands. In lacrosse, players are forced to perform all movements through an intermediary: the lacrosse stick. This calls for a special kind of kinesthetic awareness that takes a considerable amount of time to develop.
This special kind of kinesthetic awareness is often loosely referred to by lacrosse coaches as stick skills. If a lacrosse player lacks a competent set of stick skills, they’ll find it very difficult to earn any playing time. Every player on the field must be able to move the ball quickly and effectively, regardless of their position, to offer their team the best chance to score. Just like most other sports, lacrosse teams cannot afford to have a liability on the field that turns possession over every time they touch the ball.
Another must-have component of athleticism for lacrosse players is speed. Lacrosse has been nicknamed The Fastest Game on Two Feet. The origins for this nickname have a lot to do with the raw element of speed that’s showcased virtually every play in lacrosse.
The way the game is structured, lacrosse players are set up to put their speed on full display. The vast field dimensions, upbeat tempo, and unrestricted mobility of players all accentuate speed.
For this reason, the speediest athletes often have the easiest time transitioning to the game of lacrosse. The other aspects of athleticism are certainly important, but speed can compensate for several athletic areas where a new player may be lacking.
Speed allows a player to be better at dodging past opponents, fending off ball carriers, racing toward ground balls, and a flurry of other lacrosse-specific skills. Players that lack speed are at a marked disadvantage relative to other athletes on the field. Put simply, speed is definitely something that lacrosse athletes need to pay close attention to in order to avoid falling behind, both literally and metaphorically speaking.
Lastly, lacrosse players need to have a baseline level of strength in order to perform up to standard during games. The underlying reason why strength is such a crucial factor can be traced back to the fact that physical contact is legal in lacrosse.
Nearly every play, you will find that lacrosse players collide with one another in some way, shape, or form. Defenders apply their strength to stick checks and body checks in an attempt to dislodge the ball from an opponent’s stick. Ball carriers, on the other hand, apply their strength to bulldoze a path toward the goal and create a high percentage shot on goal.
Without adequate strength, players miss out on a valuable opportunity to diversify their repertoire. The best lacrosse players are neither pure speed or pure strength. Typically, they mix up their game strategy to implement a combination of the two. This way, their play style remains unpredictable and opponents are left guessing as to what’s coming their way next.
So if you’re wondering if you should supplement lacrosse with a lifting regiment, definitely go for it! Enhancing your strength capacities will only benefit your playing production.
Should You Play Lacrosse Even if You Don’t Consider Yourself an Athlete?
With all this talk of the required mandates of athleticism in lacrosse, it can be easy to get discouraged from trying out this sport if you don’t see yourself as a naturally gifted athlete. I’m here to tell you that regardless of whether or not you think of yourself as an athlete, you should still venture outside your comfort zone and participate in at least one season of lacrosse.
This may seem contradictory to all of the information outlined above, but it really isn’t. Even though lacrosse does require athleticism on the part of the player, this athleticism takes time to develop. It is exceedingly rare for any one player to have all of the elements of athleticism discussed above as soon as they pick up a lacrosse stick for the first time.
I will use myself as an example. When I joined the lacrosse team for my inaugural season, I was far from what you would consider the “perfect” athlete. I had a background in basketball and soccer, so I had a decent level of speed and agility, but I was severely lacking in the areas of strength and kinesthetic awareness.
I won’t lie, the going was tough at first. Trying to master the basics of catching and throwing with a lacrosse stick was difficult. Voluntarily matching up against bigger, stronger defenders that had clearance to hit me with a metal stick was not easy either. Over time, however, these former weaknesses of mine began to blossom, until I could say with confidence that I was a well-rounded athlete.
This development is not exclusive to myself. I’ve seen this same phenomenon happen with plenty of my old teammates as well. The moral of the story is that there will be unavoidable growing pains as you learn the basic mechanics of lacrosse, but there’s a high likelihood that you’ll blossom into the athlete that this sport demands as long as you stick with it. Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of failure. In the words of Winston Churchill,
The Bottom Line
In short, the sport of lacrosse does involve a high degree of athleticism in multiple forms, the most prominent of which being agility, anaerobic power, balance, flexibility, kinesthetic awareness, speed, and strength. There are likely other facets of athleticism needed for lacrosse that weren’t specifically mentioned above, but these elements made the most sense with the working definition of athleticism used for the purposes of this article.
Of course, the only true answer to this question lies in personal experience. So pick up a lacrosse stick and give this sport a try! There’s no denying that this sport is a unique way to put your athletic prowess to the test.