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I Can’t Turn Left!

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Many youth players act like Ben Stiller’s character Derek Zoolander when they first start out because they absolutely cannot go left. They are afraid that they will drop the ball, miss a catch, or take a bad shot with their off-hand. This fear eventually turns into a phobia, and they do not even bother rolling left when it is the best option available to them. Once a player starts habitually going to their strong-hand over and over again, they become “the best one-handed player in the league.” However, the best one-handed player is almost always beaten by an average two-handed player.

The prevention of lefti-phobia is simple. When a player first starts lacrosse, every drill is repeated righty and lefty. The new player is concerned with learning how to do something, and if we start these players out learning how to cradle, pass, and shoot right-handed and left-handed, they will not develop the off-hand phobia.

If you always go right, you run in circles

If you always go right, you run in circles

The big problem is most youth lacrosse programs in developing areas struggle with teaching kids to go left and right. The prevailing mindset is, if the kid can go righty then he can go lefty when he gets older. This is true for some kids, but not for all. I still officiate high school games where the majority of the players will not roll to their off-hand. Go up to the northeast and watch a youth lacrosse game. Most of those young players are confident with the lacrosse stick in either hand. Rarely do you hear, “he’s all right!”

So how do we turn a kid from a single-handed player into an ambidextrous one? The answer is forsaking their strong-hand for a prolonged period of time.

When I hit the tenth grade my playing abilities plateaued. I was a strong, capable defenseman when I went righty. Yet, I could never throw a good lefty pass on the run. I was unwilling, but not unable to go lefty so I decided to purge myself of my lefty fear and work on my off-hand.

Because I was so unconfident with my left hand, I needed to use it exclusively until my ability and confidence level rose. For two months I practiced exclusively with my off-hand in wall ball drills. I picked my stick up with my left hand, I ran with my stick in my left hand. I even ate using my left hand. By the time those two months were over, I was better with my left hand than with my right!

This situation is analogous to medicine, where prevention is often much less painful than the treatment. Not being able to go to your off-hand in lacrosse is a disease. The cure is practicing with your weak-hand until it becomes as good or better than your strong-hand.

Lastly, we are entering the Fall Ball Season. While we do not have set practices, it is important for coaches to encourage or require their players to use their off-hands. If your team is winning by a wide margin, tell all your players to go left for the rest of the half. If both coaches agree, they can tell all their players go go left for the last six minutes of each half. That way every player gets experience going righty and lefty while on the field, and the game still remains an equal contest.

Featured Image Credit – www.imdb.com


Concussions in Youth Sports

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According to the CDC “Heads Up” Activity Report, published in 2008:

  • Concussions are the most commonly reported injury in children and teenagers participating in youth sports.
  • There are more than 38 million boys and girls, ages 5-18, playing in organized sports nationwide.
  • 65% of reported sport-related concussions came from the 5-18 age group.*
    • Note – many of “these injuries may be considered mild, they can result in health consequences such as impaired thinking, memory problems, and emotional or behavioral changes.”

In the Introducing Concussions post, we learned that children may be at a higher risk of concussions than adults because their brains are still developing. How then do we address this issue safely in our youth leagues? We create more awareness about the seriousness of concussions, and increased knowledge about their prevalance.

Engaging in any youth sport requires a knowledge of the risks. The American Journal of Sports Medicine conducted an eleven-year study on the rates of concussions in high school sports. They found that per 100,000 player games or practices, the number of concussions per sport are as follows:

You probably noticed that boys and girls’ lacrosse are the third and fourth sports with the highest incidence of concussed players at the high school level. In my opinion, there are two reasons for this. One, boys’ lacrosse helmets while designed for impact, are more focused on front hits to the head than sideways or rear hits. You can check this with the padding in any generic lacrosse helmet. The sides are considerably thinner than the rest of the helmet. Second, girls’ wear eye-protection, not helmets. Plus, there are possibilities of collisions and falls to the ground in girl’s lacrosse.

Now if you are a parent your first thought after reading this post may be to pull your child off the playing field and encase them in a room filled with bubble wrap. Please, avoid that temptation and remember that the above list is per 100,000 players. That means while thirty boys may get a concussion, there are 99,970 boys that do not get one. While focusing on that makes me breathe easier, we still have to check on the thirty that are concussed.

So how can we be responsible league administrators, coaches, and parents when a player sustains a concussion? Gear up folks, it is reading and quiz time.

The CDC provides the following educational materials to coaches, players, and parents. I highly recommend reading each of these downloads before stepping onto the field this Fall Season.

Lastly, I want as many coaches as possible to take the CDC Concussions in Youth Sports Online Training for Coaches. This is a short, free online training tool for youth coaches. You will learn about:

  1. Concussion Basics
  2. Recognizing Concussions
  3. Responding to Concussions
  4. Getting Back in the Game
  5. Concussion Prevention

While we cannot completely prevent concussions in youth sports, we can understand the seriousness of them and respond appropriately. Remember, when in doubt – sit them out.

Featured Image credit – www.post-gazette.com




Introducing Concussions

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This past 2011 season, US Lacrosse stepped up concussion awareness by making educational material and tightening up rules on hits to the head. Across all youth sports, we have come a long way from the days of sending a kid back into the game after “getting their bell rung.” Since Atlanta Youth Lacrosse operates under US Lacrosse youth rules it is important that we offer our members the information that US Lacrosse provides on concussions.

This week each post will focus on concussions in lacrosse, and actions that leagues across the country can use if a player shows concussive symptoms. I will clarify that these are not directions by me about how to handle concussions. I am relaying this information from far smarter people than me.

The following video from US Lacrosse in this post covers the following:

  • What is a concussion?
  • Is every concussion alike?
  • What symptoms occur when concussed?
  • What should you do if you have a concussion?
  • How can I recognize symptoms?
  • How are concussed players evaluated medically?

Atlanta Youth Lacrosse definitely subscribes to the video’s mantra of: if in doubt – sit them out. Stay tuned to the blog this week for further analyses of concussions. Plus, if we have any M.D. readers out there who would like to lend their expertise, feel free to comment below.