Up the Score
Girls’ lacrosse nets new momentum across the U.S.
Over the past few years, lacrosse has become one of the fastest-growing team sports in America and the women’s high school game has seen more than 25 percent growth in sanctioned play from 2013-18, according to US Lacrosse.
“We have a great interest in focusing on the high school group and also providing outreach to non-traditional areas. We’re trying to diversify the sport in many ways – including geographically and socio-economically – and when a state sanctions lacrosse, it helps fuel growth,” says Caitlin Kelley, US Lacrosse’s director of women’s lacrosse.
Kelley cites the allowance of mesh, free movement (meaning fewer whistles and less stoppage of play) and options for small-sided play as having a positive impact on the game.
“There’s buzz and interest resulting from these changes. Women’s lacrosse is challenging for many people, so simplifying the game, aligning rules, enhancing the experience and making the game more accessible to beginners is important,” she says. Additionally, “Increasing media visibility is an imperative, and US Lacrosse and other organizations need to push ESPN and other media outlets to show more women’s NCAA games.”
At All Lacrosse in Montclair, NJ, owner Howard Schweibel says women’s lacrosse accounts for about 30 percent of his business and he expects all sectors of the sport to grow.
“Twenty-five years ago, lacrosse was mainly played in Syracuse, Long Island and Baltimore, but now the game has infiltrated – but not saturated – most places, so there’s lots of growth potential,” he explains. He credits changes in women’s sticks (going from rigid to mesh) with making it easier for girls to catch and throw and believes it’s inevitable that helmets will become a requirement for girls “because soon insurance companies will enforce it.”
Regarding the helmet issue, many coaches are against helmets in women’s lacrosse because they fear that helmets will cause the sport to become too physical, more closely resembling the rougher boys’ and men’s games. However, with growing concerns about concussions, the tide is turning away from the purist perspective and toward mandated helmet use.
However, says Kelley, “the concussion rate is low in women’s lacrosse and there’s a question of whether helmets will make the game safer or if they’ll just encourage more contact. The optics of the issue are important.”
When it comes to selling to girls, Schweibel is adamant about the importance of knowing the female lacrosse player. “Try to be educated about what people want, whether they’re male or female,” he says. For example, he has noticed that young girls ages six to 10 tend to order product based on color or feel rather than technology, whereas boys are drawn to tech.
Lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport at California Pro Sports and Kim Karsh says women account for more than 30 percent of the overall lacrosse business — he expects that figure to rise another five percent next year thanks to more middle school programs. On the down side, he is frustrated that manufacturers don’t provide goods year-round.
“With lacrosse, there is still an East Coast outlook. In California, we play year-round, whereas on the East Coast lacrosse is seasonal,” he says. “If manufacturers had more product in stock year-round, they’d sell it year-round. Sometimes the smaller manufacturers react better to this because they’re more nimble.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Lacrosse has been the fastest-growing team sport in the nation in terms of percentage growth at the high school level for the past two decades. From 2013 to 2018, the number of schools sponsoring girls’ lacrosse rose 26 percent. (Source: US Lacrosse)
The Pac-12 recently started sponsoring women’s lacrosse, joining two other Power 5 leagues – the ACC and the Big Ten. On the post-collegiate scene, there are nearly 100 organized women’s club teams around the country.