For many reasons, box lacrosse participation numbers are growing in the United States, with more boys’ and girls’ youth and high school players than ever before. It’s a trend that has not escaped the attention of many high-profile coaches who whole-heartedly support this version of the game.
No less an authority than Bill Tierney, seven-time NCAA champion coach at Princeton and Denver, has often said, “Box is a better game than field. It just is.”
Tierney is far from the only advocate. Citing the quick pace and continuous flow of the game as major reasons for their enthusiasm, others also encourage young players to add box lacrosse to their resume.
“There are so many skills in the box game that can carry over to the field game to help young players develop,” said Regy Thorpe, head coach of the U.S. National Indoor Team and a frequent box lacrosse presenter at LaxCon.
“One of the things I like about box, which I think all young kids should play, is that the ball never goes out of bounds,” newly-retired Syracuse head coach John Desko, a 2020 National Lacrosse Hall of Fame inductee, has said previously.
The coaches who consistently espouse the value of playing box lacrosse are generally in agreement about its benefits to youth and high school players. They tend to gravitate around three primary areas.
1. Player Development
This is a broad category that includes everything from stick skills to game intelligence. Coaches cite the smaller goals (typically 4x4) and larger goalie pads as key components in forcing players to develop pinpoint accuracy with their shots. Additionally, since everyone uses short sticks and plays both ends of the field, players must become adept at scooping ground balls, dodging defenders, and passing and catching in traffic.
“Players learn a lot about shooting angles and timing in box lacrosse,” said Tony Resch, former coach of the U.S. Indoor Team and a 2021 inductee to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. “And it’s not just about scooping groundballs, but getting groundballs in tight spaces because there’s not a lot of room.”
Since box also employs a shorter shot clock, players must make quick decisions with the ball and instantly recognize game situations. There’s constant transition from offense to defense and defense to offense, forcing players to develop the skills to play both ends of the field.
“The transition opportunities and unsettled situations help kids learn how to contribute in a different way,” Resch said. “Decision making is incredibly important in transition. It grows their knowledge of the game.”
2. Pace of the Game
With a short shot clock and no out-of-bounds, the ball is constantly in play. The action does not stop nearly as often as it does in the field game. That faster pace, combined with fewer players per side, means that all players touch the ball more frequently. A coach doesn’t have to be in the Hall of Fame to know that the more times a player has the ball in his stick, the better. Repetition is one of the keys to skill development.
“Because there are walls, the ball is always in play. That leads to a lot more touches and a lot more reps,” Resch said. “It’s a faster game. Players are constantly moving and always in the action.”
3. The Balance Between Physical and Creative
Since box is played in a smaller space than field lacrosse, the players are constantly operating in tight quarters. Obviously, that translates into more contact between players. Offensively, players must learn the art of protecting their stick with body positioning, understanding spacing, and learn how to fire shots around nearby defenders.
“There’s a lot of creativity involved on offense,” Resch said. “Players learn the art of faking and moving the goalie with their hands and eyes to create space.”
On the defensive end, players can’t rely on the leverage provided by a six-foot pole. Footwork and proper positioning become critical when learning how to effectively play defense with a short stick.
“The physicality of the game takes some adjusting, but it’s all based on age-appropriate contact,” Resch said. “Learning to deal with contact improves a player’s balance and anticipation.”
“It’s a great workout and a great physical activity,” said Denver’s associate head coach Matt Brown, who has worked alongside Tierney since 2010. “Kids are exhausted.”
Ultimately, all the components add up to the most important factor – fun.
“Not only is box going to develop your game, but it’s a ton of fun,” Brown said. “I’ve coached youth box for a long time, and I haven’t seen a kid come off the floor without a smile on his face.”