The Scoop Winter 2016 - Page 27

Just like the game of lacrosse itself, the athletic playing surfaces have dramatically changed in recent years. Originally, grass fields served as the lone playing surface option for athletes everywhere. Field lights were a rarity and competition would be limited to the daylight hours. But in the last 50 years, there has been an influx of athletic field innovation. This revolution brought the Astroturf in the 1960s which eventually gave way to the artificial turf that we see more frequently today. Fast forward to 2016, and artificial turf playing surfaces paired with field lights are constantly popping up, changing the experience for athletes and fans everywhere.

The boom of the turf field industry, paired with large, stadium lighting have opened countless doors for athletic leagues everyone, from the professional leagues to the most casual of youth leagues. The implementation of turf fields has made a direct impact on sports. Specifically, to the game of lacrosse, turf fields have brought a faster pace of play. This is a byproduct of easier to scoop groundballs and a surface which allows young athletes the ability to run and cut quicker than they normally would on a grass field.

With turf, there are no more puddles and no more mud, and the days of rained-out competition is almost a thing of the past. Especially in New England—with a weather pattern often with a mind of its own—the turf fields provide athletic leagues and programs with some form of consistency, making things a lot easier for everyone involved.

While it’s easy to sit here and say turf fields would make everyone’s life a lot easier, the fact of the matter is that not every league, program, team or athlete has the access to a turf field. Maybe one day every town in Massachusetts will be able to have a turf field for their young MBYLL athletes, but for now, many towns are carrying on without turf fields available to use.

Preparation

Even though games do not typically start until April, long New England winters are the first opponent of any MBYLL program, especially those without the benefit of turf. However, many programs across Massachusetts have come to one conclusion, the New England weather is truly unpredictable, but preparing for any situation is essential to the success of a program.

Jenn Martins, Wilmington Youth Lacrosse’s Vice-President acknowledged the weather as one of the top challenges that the program faces. In order to counter-act the challenge of getting valuable field time before early season competition, Martins and the other Wilmington Youth Lacrosse board members realize the players need alternative field options. “Our program builds out a comprehensive indoor strategy beginning in late January and lasting right until the season starts. We emphasize conditioning, stick skills, and ball movement for these early training and practice schedules. It’s not uncommon for coaches to utilize playground space to help show younger players spacing and positions," said Martins.

In the Northbridge Youth Lacrosse program, which doesn’t have turf fields accessible to them, they take a similar tactic to allow players practice opportunities early on in the season, renting out field space at a local indoor facility. Stacie Murray, president of the Northbridge Youth Lacrosse program, acknowledges how important early season practices are and the benefits that can go along with renting out an alternative practice venue when the remnants of winter leave an impact on local fields. “Given the circumstances, we make the best of the situation,” said Murray. “Early in the season, coaches really like to focus on the fundamentals and stick skills; the time we get to rent out at our indoor facility is very helpful, especially for our younger players who are new to the game,” added Murray.

In Ipswich, the youth lacrosse program uses field space at nearby Governors Academy during their spring break in order for players to get some outdoor experience. Peter Ginolfi, president of the Ipswich Youth Lacrosse program, realizes the importance of getting outside to a properly marked field for some practice time: “Practicing inside is great for stick skills, but getting out to the field for the first time is so helpful so we can begin to teach things like rides and clears; something that is tough to do inside.”

Although conditions are not ideal for many programs such as those in Wilmington, Northbridge, and Ipswich, people like Martins, Murray, and Ginolfi, along with their coaches and other board of directors, do all they can to make sure their players get plenty of practice experience regardless of the field situation.

IMPACTING THE GAME

Available field space early on in the year is an obstacle faced by even the most well equipped programs. While program directors scout for alternative practice venues, coaches do all they can to prepare players for any field conditions that may arise during the course of the season.

Outside of the players and coaches, the playing surface itself can directly impact how the game is played, especially with some of the youngest players. For instance, a grass field may be more difficult for players to pick up groundballs, resulting in longer

The Scoop / Winter '16 27