This story appears in the May/June edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum.
Matthew Dalon is more familiar with barriers than most.
A coastal resilience master plan program manager for Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation who has more than 15 years of experience in waterfront asset management, Dalon spends a lot of time thinking about how best to protect the Commonwealth’s coastline and its barrier islands from sea level rise and erosion.
Yet it didn’t take long for Dalon to realize the benefit of USA Lacrosse’s Flex6 Lacrosse® program when it came to building the sport in Goochland County. Inspired by the Lacrosse Athlete Development Model, Flex6 Lacrosse — a fun, fast-paced non-contact version of the sport — is designed to meet the unique needs of communities across the country that want to provide accessible programs for people of any age and skill level.
It’s done that and more in Goochland, a small rural community outside of Richmond.
“Without the Flex6 program, I know we wouldn’t have had enough kids that would have had the full gear to make teams and to play around us, so the program would have died,” Dalon said. “Flex6 really eliminated the barriers to entry, because all you need is a stick to play. It’s a great low-cost entry into the sport.”
Last year, the lacrosse program established by the Goochland County parks and rec department played for two and a half weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the season to a halt. After the program leader moved away from Goochland for work, Dalon found out that the county did not plan to continue offering lacrosse.
Inspired by his former coach and South Jersey lacrosse legend Val Curran, Dalon took up the call and founded the Goochland Lacrosse Club. He received a USA Lacrosse First Stick Program grant and used USA Lacrosse’s league management system to set up the club’s website and organize its registration, which was free for those in need. Goochland Lacrosse started practices in mid-March, following the USA Lacrosse return-to-play guidelines.
Fifty players ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade were split into three age groups. At the first practice, Dalon had the players toss around Gator balls (typically used for dodgeball) to work on spacing and movement. Since then, he told them they could use any stick (as long as it’s a lacrosse stick) and they’ve transitioned to Pinky and SwaxLax balls. Players who were tentative at first grow more confident through Flex6 Lacrosse
“Did everyone have fun?” Dalon will ask at the end of each practice at Leakes Mill Park, the answer always a resounding, “Yes!”
“Flex6 is putting the fun in fundamentals,” Dalon said. “It’s fun and fast to play and faster to learn. I’d highly recommend it for youth programs that are just starting out like we are or younger programs — anywhere from K through 4. There’s more to gain from Flex6 at that age than necessarily a traditional game.”
Flex6 Lacrosse also helped the Fairfax Police Youth Club navigate this spring. One of the smaller organizations in the Northern Virginia Youth Lacrosse League, the FPYC usually only has one team per age group. Entering 2021, program leader Jon Stehle knew it was unlikely there would be enough players to field full teams. Flex6 Lacrosse offered the flexibility to form pods and let siblings practice together.
The benefits go beyond logistics, though. A parent who is now one of the club’s volunteer coaches told Stehle earlier this spring, “I wish more sports would take this approach.”
“It’s reaffirmed why I love the sport so much,” said Stehle, who is serving his second term on Fairfax’s City Council. “It’s a fun experience. It’s like going out in your backyard and playing. That’s what not only the players, but the parents and the community were hungry for.”
A current favorite at FPYC practices is the Hungry Hungry Hippos ground ball drill. Flex6 Lacrosse enables players to guide the discussion and engage with what they’re interested in. The smaller co-ed group setting also provides individual players more attention and forges a greater connectivity.
“These players are all going to go to a high school, a middle school or an elementary school together, and they’re going to see each other in the hallways as lacrosse players, as teammates,” Stehle said. “That is what I care about most as a community leader. That’s why the program exists.”