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June 02, 2011

Stifler's List; Or, How Lacrosse Became My Latest Obsession

Lacrosse-hit "Soft hands", I told my son. "Remember what the guy in the video said? Soft hands." 

I know how that sounds. But this is lacrosse we're talking about, a sport that manages to be both extremely silly and extremely badass at the same time. I've never played lacrosse, have only watched it a handful of times, and yet there I was, coaching Lucas on the proper way to catch a lacrosse ball with a lacrosse...hang on while I Google the proper name for it, ah, yes..."stick". The thing is like a butterfly net with a shrunken head, and when you catch the ball and run with it you have to twist the stick in your hands to keep the ball from falling out. This is called "cradling balls". (If you want to learn how to properly cradle balls, watch this. Yes, it's safe for work. Also, heh heh heh, cradling balls. Like I said, it's kind of a silly sport.)

Father-son obsessions, the Beast With Two Heads. This one was born about a year ago. We were driving back from something; our route took us past a local high school. "Dad! Look at that! What is that game? It looks awesome." I slowed down. A lacrosse practice, kids running to and fro, whipping balls into the net, smacking each other with those sticks (yes, I know how that sounds). Fast-paced and brutal - that's how my son likes his team sports. He gets that from his old man. The wheels started turning. Assuming that youth lacrosse doesn't interfere with youth rugby..."That's lacrosse. It's kind of like hockey meets basketball meets tennis. Looks pretty fun, no?" "And you can hit people with those stick-things?" "I think so, yes." "Cool! I want to play. Can I play?" "I think it's for older kids. But yes, when you're older, you can play." Thus the seed was planted; shortly after that, I bought a Mini-Lacrosse set (smaller, plastic sticks and a spongy ball, for the undersized player). 

Of course, at first it was a failure: there's a reason that six-year-olds don't play lacrosse. They have the hand-eye reflexes of a tree sloth. And I wasn't much better. We tried tossing the ball in the backyard a few times, and the end result was a trip back to the local sporting goods store to buy more Mini-Lacrosse balls. Lucas quickly became frustrated with the whole thing, and so the Mini-Lacrosse set went into hibernation in the garage. 

Then a few weeks ago, I was up early on a Saturday, watching a college lacrosse game on ESPNU. It was pretty badass; the kids were really fast, moved like NBA ballers, checked like NHL players, and were smacking the shit out of each other with those sticks. And there was quite a bit of scoring going on. Lucas strolled into the living room and was mesmerized. I suggested that we bust out the Mini-Lacrosse set. We used his backyard soccer goal, and played a very rudimentary game of 1-on-1. I have no idea if 1-on-1 lacrosse is an actual thing that real lacrosse players do, but the kid had a good time bashing me on the forearms...and damned if he didn't figure out how to fire a shot into the net. We moved on to playing catch, which is a lot harder than it looks. And that became the first of what's become a bit of a daily routine.

I'm sure I have no idea what I'm doing; coaching rugby's my thing, and the two games couldn't be any more different. But to my surprise - and delight - something I've suspected for a while is proving to be true. The kid's a natural athlete. He's figuring out how to catch the ball on his own, and is developing much more control over his throws (assuming that's what they're called). And yesterday, while I watched him eye that ball into the net, something occurred to me. We'd walked him through everything else: soccer, rugby, making his bed, doing his homework, tying his shoes. The growing up process involves ownership - stepping out of what others like, expect, and do, and diving into one's own interests. A realization, one that makes me smile: this silly, cool sport could be his, and his alone. 


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