Lacrosse has long been referred to as “The Little Brother of War” by Native North-Americans who originated the game, and also by many old-school players and fans. Part of what draws people to lacrosse is the violence and fast-paced, hard-hitting action so inherent in the sport. As a player, your own health and safety (as well as your teammates’ and opponents’) should be valued highly, so make sure to take appropriate steps to avoid injury and stay on the field where you can really help your team. There are things you can do both on and off the field to ensure your safety, so read up and be careful out there!
Stretch Now, or Forever Hold your Peace
Get loose, baby! Stretching before you take part in any lacrosse activity should be mandatory. Getting your blood flowing and muscles loose will better ensure that you don’t cramp up, and that your body is ready to perform at its peak capabilities. Whether you are doing offseason cardio work, or in-season full pads practice, be sure to stretch properly beforehand.
All lacrosse teams have a stretching routine that they do both before and after practice, so be sure to take this seriously and be nice to your body! The stretching should take place after a quick warm-up, to ensure that your muscles are warm and have adequate oxygen and blood flow. Focus especially on the lower body – be sure to work these areas:
• Lower back
When stretching, be sure not to bounce your body or push a particular muscle too hard, as this can quickly lead to injury. Breathe slowly and rhythmically as you stretch, and hold each stretch for 15-20 seconds before switching to another one.
Stretching is vital to preventing muscle cramps and enabling your body to make all the movements the game demands of it. Stretch hard and with purpose, and focus so you can be loose and ready to go come game time.
Know Your Nutrition
Proper nutrition goes a long way towards keeping your body in good working order, both for the short and long term. Knowing what’s in the stuff you eat and drink is vital to being in good health. A few simple steps can take you far when it comes to maintaining your body’s fitness.
While it is okay – and even expected – for a high school or middle school student to be eating a ton of food (crazy fast metabolism), make sure to eat the right foods if you’re going to gorge. Stay away from anything processed, and foods or drinks high in sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Candy and soda should be avoided at all costs. Same goes for fast food, and junk foods like chips and other salty snacks.
Hydration is very important, so next time your body is begging you for some liquid, make sure you give it only one thing – water! Sugary drinks actually dehydrate you, rather than help your body adjust to the lack of fluids. While they may seem healthy, even fruit juices contain lots of sugar and aren’t as healthy as you might think. Drink water whenever possible. It hydrates you better than any other drink, and it increases metabolism.
Maintaining good nutrition and dietary habits is crucial to allowing all parts of your body to work at maximum efficiency. Drink mostly water to stay hydrated, and try to eat fruits in place of junk food if you feel the need to snack in between meals.
Minimizing Injury Risk
Despite the hard hitting nature of the game, there are many things you can do on the field to minimize your chances of getting hurt. Once you’ve stretched and made sure to hydrate properly, turn your attention to things you can do during the game to stay healthy.
Wear Proper Equipment –
All of your equipment must fit you correctly, and you should take every measure to wear all protective equipment available to you, even the non-mandatory equipment. You’d be surprised how many players don’t wear a cup because they are “too uncomfortable,” only to take one in the nether-regions and topple over like a tree that’s been cut down. Here are a few recommendations about protective equipment that may seem apparent, but often are ignored by players:
• Mold your mouth guard: Mouth guards are vital in protecting you against concussions, so mold yours to your teeth to make sure it doesn’t slip around in your mouth and end up out of place if and when you take a big hit.
• Wear rib pads: This is especially important if you handle the ball a lot and end up taking a lot of checks. Defenders know that it hurts when they whack you with the titanium, so cover up your ribs and kidneys with a pair of rib pads.
• Protect your arms: Especially if you play attack, you are going to want some arm guards that protect you against vicious checks from slap-happy defensemen. While it may seem macho to wear the tiny ones that only cover the elbow bones, trust your instinct and get some arm guards big and strong enough to take all those dirty d-man checks without leaving your arms purple and blue.
Talking With the Trainer
Don’t be shy about talking to the trainer if something is hurting you. It’s great to have pride and want to play through an injury, but sometimes you can be more of a hindrance to victory than a helper. There comes a point when you will be doing more harm than good – both to yourself, and to your team. Recognize when this is, and know when to step back and let yourself heal.
Technique Tips --
• Stay on your feet: One of the easiest ways to find yourself in the trainer’s room or doctor’s office nursing an injury is to leave your feet during game action. Defenders lick their chops when they see an offensive player jump up to catch a pass or take a shot. When you leave your feet you lose all balance and your center of gravity, making you unable to brace yourself for a hit or contact. Often when a player leaves his feet, he is also reaching up for a high pass, exposing his midsection. They’re called “hospital passes” for a reason – a teammate might end up in the hospital!
• Keep your head up: Whether you’re dodging, carrying the ball, or going to hit someone, always keep your head up on the field. Running with your head down takes away your ability to see oncoming defenders who may be angling to lay you out.
The most pertinent reason to keep your head up is that you risk very serious injury if you lead with your head down when hitting or making body contact with another player. Neck and spine injuries occur when someone uses the wrong form while hitting. A blow on the top of your head can severely damage your spine and/or nervous system, which can ruin more than your lacrosse career.
Mental Health & Well-Being
Lacrosse can be both physically and mentally taxing. Coaches can get on your case, teammates can irk you with selfish tendencies, and sometimes opponents can get under your skin with trash-talking or dirty play. Knowing how to deal with these kinds of mental difficulties can make you a much better player, as well as mentally stronger in all facets of life.
You have to accept the fact that teammates and coaches might not always see you in the same light as you view yourself. When a coach is critical of your play, look at the situation objectively and try to be constructive about positively changing whatever is being put under the microscope. Approach every interaction with your coach as an opportunity to get better, and you will take away positive things from these encounters.
When dealing with opponents doing their best to take you out of your game by trash talking, leave the talking to the opposition. Let your play speak for itself. Focus your mental energy on playing the game the right way, and with maximum intensity. Don’t allow yourself to get frustrated when you screw up and someone on the other team taunts you. Examine the situation in your head, figure out where or how you went wrong, and decide how you can change that the next time a similar situation presents itself.
Have Fun & Play Smart
Once you step out on the field for a game, keep things in perspective and remember that you are playing to enjoy yourself, compete, and be a part of a team. Have respect for the opponents, and never go out there with the intention of hurting anyone. Your body can only take so much reckless abandon. Stay safe and play the game with intelligence, and you likely won’t find yourself in the doctor’s office or trainer’s room anytime soon.