When young athletes are intrigued by the prospect of a new sport, one of the first curiosities that comes to mind is how difficult it is. Every kid wants to pick the path of least resistance to reach the top, so it’s only natural to inquire about how hard lacrosse is. Admittedly, I remember a younger version of myself asking this very same question.
Lacrosse is not a hard sport to learn. It takes time to get familiar with how to play with a lacrosse stick, but you can easily build these stick skills by practicing on your own. Many players transition over from other sports and do extremely well once they’ve fully developed their stick skills.
The learning phase of any sport is always tough to push through, but it gets easier once you have a firm handle on the basics. Having gone through this beginner stage myself, I will uphold full transparency in sharing what I’ve found to be the easiest things, as well as the hardest things, about learning lacrosse.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a thorough understanding of the difficulty level of this sport so that you could make an informed decision on whether or not lacrosse is for you.
The Easy Things About Learning Lacrosse
Many athletes are intimidated about the prospect of learning lacrosse simply because they’re unaccustomed to the idea of contacting the ball with a piece of equipment instead of their hands. There are several prominent aspects of lacrosse that make this learning process far easier than you would initially think.
Practicing On Your Own Time is Effortless
For one, you can conveniently pick up on the fundamental stick skills required for lacrosse on your own time.
In the early days of lacrosse, this was a lot more difficult because there weren’t any helpful resources online to teach beginners the basic skills. Now that the Internet has been around for awhile, there are numerous lacrosse tutorial videos that lay out the fundamental movements step-by-step so you can readily follow along.
For example, throwing and catching are necessary components of lacrosse that every player must learn. Once you have browsed through a few YouTube videos online to learn the basics of how to do this, you can go to a nearby school or local park and practice the basic mechanics of these movements by playing wall ball.
Wall ball is the single most effective way to master your stick skills because it forces you to hone in on throwing accuracy and catching consistency with both hands. In sports like football or baseball, you need a partner to throw the ball around, or else you’re purely out of luck.
With lacrosse, you have the option of passing the ball with a friend or heading over to a sturdy wall to practice independently.
Mind you, this method doesn’t only apply to throwing and catching. With lacrosse goals popping up more often in recreational parks, you can also train other fundamental skills like cradling, dodging, and shooting by finding a lacrosse cage available for public use.
One method you can actually improve upon all three of these skills simultaneously is by practicing dummy dodges that transition into shots on the run. This practice method simulates live game scenarios, particularly for offensively oriented players.
I can say with confidence that learning lacrosse on your own speeds up the lacrosse learning curve because it’s something that I did myself. After joining my local house lacrosse league, I practiced virtually every day on my own by playing wall ball or shooting around on my school’s lacrosse goal.
I threw a lot of errant passes and missed a lot of shots during those early days, but my game developed at a rapid pace. You’d think that I would be discouraged by these frequent mistakes, when in actuality, I couldn’t get enough of practicing on my own. This brings me to my next point.
You’ll Get Addicted to Getting Better
Although you’ll make a considerable amount of mistakes in the beginner stage, each little step in the right direction will feel like a great victory. That feeling of victory will fuel your motivation and help you to push the boundaries.
For example, cradling is one of the most basic fundamental movements in lacrosse. For those of you that don’t know, cradling is the means by which players retain possession of the ball in lacrosse. Players curl the stick back and forth to take advantage of centripetal force, which prevents the ball from falling out of the stick.
This maneuver is essentially just a curling of the wrists and arms. To experienced lacrosse players, this is the easiest thing in the world. To newcomers, it can be a tough movement to grasp.
Even mastering a simple movement like this is more than enough to spark the interest of lacrosse novices. I remember the first time that I mastered cradling, I was hooked. With my interest piqued, I had a strong desire to branch out and learn more. Every trivial progression that I made kept pushing me forward.
Admittedly, this still applies somewhat today. There’s always something to work on in lacrosse. It’s one of those sports that only takes a couple weeks to get fully acquainted with, but a lifetime to master. Continually improving my game, even by the slightest amount, has helped me to maintain my passion for the sport many years after I first picked up a lacrosse stick.
Welcoming Network of Players That are Willing to Help
In addition, the lacrosse community is one of the most helpful networks in sports. Every member of the lacrosse world has the shared sentiment of wanting to see the sport grow and prosper. For this reason, they’re willing to do anything they can to assist new players with learning how to play the game.
So if you’re looking to play organized lacrosse, sign up with a friend who already knows the ropes. Much like a workout training partner, they can act as your mentor as you begin your lacrosse journey. It’s markedly easier to progressively master the fundamentals when you have a friend to accompany you.
Not only that, there are many former lacrosse players that give back to the game of lacrosse by holding instructional camps and clinics. Participating in any instructional sessions made available to you will accelerate your development tremendously. These camp coordinators have been in your shoes before, so they know exactly what problems you’re facing and how to critique those problems so you can become a more effective lacrosse player.
Even professional lacrosse players have been known to hold camps and clinics dedicated exclusively to helping youth players develop their game. Matt Rambo, the 2019 Premiere League Lacrosse MVP, is shown teaching youth lacrosse players in the image below.
When you’re training independently, it can be difficult to identify the underlying problems with your technique. With an experienced coach there to help guide you in the right direction, it’ll prevent you from building bad habits right from the start.
The Hard Things About Learning Lacrosse
Unfortunately, not everything about learning lacrosse is easy. There are a couple elements that are somewhat difficult to learn that I struggled with myself.
Playing With a Stick Instead of Your Hands Feels Unnatural at First
The biggest learning barrier to lacrosse is overcoming the strange feeling of playing with a lacrosse stick rather than playing directly with your hands.
With most other popular sports, like basketball and football for instance, players utilize their hands to make direct contact with the ball. Every pass and throw is done with the hands alone, without the involvement of any other equipment.
Lacrosse is a whole different story. Players are forced to do practically everything with their lacrosse stick. In fact, many players and coaches go as far to say that the lacrosse stick should feel like a natural extension of the body.
Attaining this instinctive comfortability with the lacrosse stick seems like an impossible task at first. If you’ve never picked up a lacrosse stick before, it’s only natural to feel clumsy while carrying it around. During the first couple weeks of playing lacrosse, it will feel odd performing basic tasks like scooping the ball up off the ground and cradling on the run. Over time, however, this feeling of unease will begin to fade.
Just be prepared to make some mistakes during the beginner phase. Learning how to wield a lacrosse stick will take weeks of dedicated effort to get down pat. Once this training period is over, however, you’ll be more than glad that you pushed through the strife.
It Takes Some Time to Familiarize Yourself with the Rules
Furthermore, learning all the different rules of lacrosse is a slow, gradual process. Few beginning lacrosse players, if any, will actually sit down and read through every single rule concerning how the game of lacrosse is played. Let’s be honest, it’s simply too boring of a task to do.
As a result, new players must learn the rules on the fly, either by paying close attention to games or asking specific questions of their coaches and teammates.
It’s important to note that the rules of lacrosse may come faster to certain players more so than others. Due to the crossover between lacrosse and different popular sports, the rules may overlap, which affords some players a base familiarity with particular lacrosse rules.
For example, the rules regarding substitution in lacrosse are resemblant of those in hockey, where players come on and off the field at their own discretion without any formal game interruption. New lacrosse athletes that cross over from hockey are intimately familiar with this type of substitution procedure. In contrast, lacrosse players that cross over from basketball may need some extra time to learn how this works.
You can find more information about how elements of other sports are present in lacrosse by clicking over to What Sport is Lacrosse Most Similar To? (My Top 4 Picks).
Moreover, new players have a habit of neglecting the stringent rules regarding the legality of a lacrosse stick. There are several important guidelines that govern whether or not a lacrosse stick is legal or illegal. With all of these stipulations, new players may be violating one of these rules unknowingly and ultimately cost their team a penalty simply because they didn’t know any better.
For instance, there are rules concerning how deep a pocket can be, where the shooting strings should be placed, and where it’s illegal to tape the stick. Since these rules are so detail oriented, it can be difficult to learn all the necessary facts regarding what makes a lacrosse stick illegal in the first place.
If you have encountered this difficulty yourself, click over to my article What Makes a Lacrosse Stick Illegal: An Illustrated Guide where I lay out exactly what you need to know to avoid drawing an unnecessary penalty during games.
Although learning all of the petty rules of the game may feel a bit intimidating, don’t fret. As you accrue additional game experience, you’ll slowly pick up on these subtle elements until you’ve witnessed practically every rule violation in the book.
Developing Your Lacrosse IQ Takes Experience and Dedication
Lastly, knowing where and when to make the right play in lacrosse may seem easy on paper, but it’s hard to implement in the midst of live gameplay.
During your first lacrosse game, the pace of play will feel extremely fast. With the ball constantly on the move, it’s a challenge trying to keep pace with the game both physically and mentally.
In an established offensive set, there are six offensive players squaring off against six defensive players (excluding the goalie). Mentally mapping out where the other eleven players are on the field without the knowledge of basic lacrosse strategy for assistance is tough.
This is why so many beginners struggle at first. They don’t know exactly where they fit into the system.
For example, novice offensive players run into problems knowing where to position themselves on the field, identifying the opportune times to dodge, and differentiating between a high percentage shot versus a low percentage shot. All of these lapses in judgment leads to hesitancy on the field. Hesitancy affords the defense the opportunity to pounce, resulting in turnovers.
Defensive players also experience similar issues. They encounter challenges knowing when to provide defensive support, learning how to check ball carriers legally, and being cognizant of what to do when the opposing offense loses possession. Again, this lack of knowledge manifests itself on the field as hesitancy. Moments of indecision on the lacrosse field never work out well for players.
How Long Does It Take to Get Past the Challenges of the Beginner Stage?
With all the ups and downs of the learning phase, new players often ask for an approximate estimate at how long it takes to move past the beginner stage.
This is the equivalent of one to two lacrosse seasons. So if you’re discouraged that you’re still struggling with the basics within the first couple weeks of picking up a stick, I wouldn’t worry. As far as the average lacrosse player is concerned, you’re right on schedule to developing into a competent lacrosse player.
Obviously, this timeline varies depending on how much work you dedicate to the sport. If you take the initiative to practice independently, you will pick up on the fundamentals noticeably faster than other players that refuse to put in the time.
As a beginner, I would avoid comparing yourself to other players’ skill sets. Concentrate on what you can control and steadily improve each day to reach your performance aspirations. Before you know it, you’ll be right up there with the top guys on your team.
Tips on How to Minimize the Hardships of Learning Lacrosse
Although new lacrosse athletes recognize that every great lacrosse player was a beginner at some point, it doesn’t make the inherent growing pains that accompany the learning phase any less frustrating. To move past this stage as quickly possible, read through the following tips and apply them to your game.
Become a Student of the Game
By far, the most effective way to progress as a lacrosse player is to become a student of the game. Some of you out there are probably wondering, “What does that even mean?”
Becoming a student of lacrosse essentially means that you do everything within your power to study lacrosse strategy. This newfound knowledge could then carry over to the field. After wrapping up a game, the majority of players immediately head home and forget about lacrosse until the next matchup. To truly separate yourself from the competition, you need to be thinking of lacrosse on and off the field.
There are several viable ways to go about accomplishing this. One easy way to do this is to keep up with collegiate and professional level lacrosse. Watching how the best of the best play lacrosse will provide you a model example of how you should structure your game.
This unique perspective will ultimately increase your lacrosse IQ, allowing you to take bits and pieces from several of your favorite players to construct your own original play style.
If you don’t have the time to watch full games, you can also catch the highlights on YouTube. At the moment I’m writing this, the Premiere Lacrosse League (PLL) is in full swing. I’ve been doing my best to watch every game that I can, but sometimes life can get in the way. Fortunately, they upload all the game highlights directly onto YouTube so that I don’t have to miss a beat.
Watching film is a terrific way of increasing your lacrosse IQ, but it’s definitely not the only way. Listening to lacrosse podcasts is also a powerful tool to improve your knowledge of the game. As opposed to listening to music on the ride to school or work, mix things up by throwing on a lacrosse podcast. You may gain some valuable insight on various lacrosse tips and tricks that may prove useful on the field.
Throw at Least 200 Reps on the Wall Every Single Day
The next way to accelerate your player development is to establish a strict daily wall ball routine.
As aforementioned, the lacrosse stick is the central pillar of the sport of lacrosse. Unfortunately, players that lack the skills necessary to play with this piece of equipment will not go far in the sport. To contribute on both offense and defense, you must have the capacity to perform basic movements with the lacrosse stick, like catching or throwing. Otherwise, you’ll be a liability on the field.
To attain this level of proficiency, a high volume of repetitions is needed. The more practice you get with your lacrosse stick, the better off you’ll be. The best way to gather the most amount of repetitions under your belt is to play wall ball.
For beginners, it’s recommended that you get in at least 200 repetitions on a daily basis to steadily improve your stick skills. To some of you, this may seem like a lot, but if you maintain a high intensity during your wall ball workout, this should only take fifteen to twenty minutes at most.
By following a strict routine, you’re better equipped to sustain some semblance of accountability. Too many times, players go out to play wall ball, lazily lob the ball at the wall a few times with their dominant hand, and call it a day. These players fail to realize that showing up to play wall ball is only half the battle. Throwing the ball forcefully at the wall with both hands for fifteen to twenty minutes is the other half of the battle.
The hardest part is getting started. At first, you’ll be prone to dropping balls and throwing errant passes. But after that first day, it’ll slowly get better. You may not notice the improvements yourself, but they do come eventually.
So throw some headphones on, find a sturdy wall, and get some reps in while listening to your favorite playlist. These small daily efforts may not seem like much, but they will do wonders for your player progression in the long run.
Carry Your Lacrosse Stick Around Everywhere You Go
This last tip may seem a bit unconventional, but it’s highly effective. Cramming in time with your lacrosse stick throughout the day around the house or on your walk to practice makes a considerable difference in developing your stick skills.
Holding a lacrosse stick in your hands should feel like second nature by the time that you step into a game. The spatial ability concerned with maneuvering a lacrosse stick around in a controlled manner should be embedded into your subconscious. The only way to do this is to carry around a lacrosse stick for hundreds, if not thousands of hours.
Bringing your lacrosse stick with you will help to reinforce a natural sense of ease that will enhance your mind to muscle connection. This way, you won’t be nearly as clumsy with your lacrosse stick. Your lacrosse stick maneuvers will look and feel a lot more fluid.
Aside from these benefits in mentally connecting with your lacrosse stick, this practice also improves upon certain fundamental skills. For example, making a habit of cradling while walking around will greatly increase your ball retainment skills and stick protection.
In order to move as a ball carrier, cradling is a must. Otherwise, the ball is just going to end up on the ground, ripe for the taking. Implementing this tip will save you from the humiliation of committing these unforced turnovers.
When I was first introduced to the sport, I cradled my lacrosse stick around all over the house, much to my parents’ dismay. I even brought my lacrosse stick along on family vacations because I couldn’t stand the idea of leaving my lacrosse stick behind.
Of course, you don’t have to go to these extreme lengths, but every little effort counts. Even doing something as simple as cradling a ball on the walk from the locker rooms to the practice fields adds up over time.
The Bottom Line
Lacrosse is not hard to learn. Like any new activity, there’s an initial adjustment period where you will inevitably encounter challenges. Some of you may falter when faced with these trials, while others of you may triumph.
Ultimately, how well the learning phase is heavily dependent on your own dedication to the sport. Those of you that have the passion and drive toward lacrosse will end up doing just fine come game time.