When one thinks of America’s greatest pastimes, lacrosse is seldom top of mind. In truth, however, lacrosse is the oldest North American team sport, with roots dating back to Native American competitions. Despite its rich history, lacrosse has not enjoyed the same enthusiasm as its counterparts such as soccer, baseball and football. Rachel Milim, recently named president of the Byram Hills Youth Lacrosse (BHYL) board, also the Girls Grade 3/4 coach, is seeking to change that and is forecasting a surge in the program’s popularity.
Milim is embracing her new leadership position and optimistic for the season ahead. She says, “The board has recently turned over to a new generation of families who are enthusiastic about getting our children, their friends and the overall community involved. We are approaching this year with a flexible philosophy that focuses on having fun and enables children to play multiple sports, which I believe will encourage participation.” According to Milim, fall clinics have already been packed, indicating that BHYL’s trend of steadily increasing registration will continue. Rob Manowitz, co-director of the Boys BHYL program and Boys Grade 6 Coach, adds, “Lacrosse is amongst the fastest growing sports in the country. Some refer to it as the best combination of soccer, hockey, and basketball.”
For Milim, athletics is not only a pastime, but a passion that has played center stage in her life since childhood. She played multiple sports throughout childhood and was captain of her lacrosse and basketball teams in high school. She also captained her lacrosse team at Cornell University and was an All-American on a final four team. These experiences parlayed into her current role as the director of Brant Lake Sports Academy, a 3.5 week summer camp for sports-loving girls. Milim clearly understands first-hand the positive impact that playing multiple sports can have in shaping a child’s future. She, along with the entire board, is committed to sharing their love of the game with the community.
Manowitz explains how lacrosse skills are gradually introduced to the children. “Our great parent-volunteers and paid coaches teach our kids age-appropriate competitive lacrosse skills. At the earliest ages, we focus on basic catching-throwing and cradling. As the kids age, the game migrates to a team-unit approach where we focus on offensive ball movement, off-ball positioning and team-oriented defense.”
While teaching the basic techniques of the sport is a major focus of practices and games, the overarching BHYL philosophy is centered upon having fun. Jon Schneider, co-director of the Boys BHYL program and Boys Grade 5 Coach says, “Most importantly, as a parent run organization, we emphasize the life lessons that youth sports provide; winning and losing, teamwork, community and confidence. Respect for one another, our opponents, coaches and referees are also emphasized. Our main hope is for the kids to have fun, be competitive, be challenged and grow mentally.” Milim concurs, “Our number one priority is for the kids to have fun. The skills will develop without them even knowing it. If the kids are having fun, the skills will organically follow.”
It appears that the coaches’ philosophies are successfully infiltrating the league’s culture. Ava Gitler, a 3rd grader says, “It’s fun to be challenged on the field and to work with my teammates to get better each game. I love running behind the crease to find players open and trying to score. Besides lacrosse, I play travel soccer and tennis. Sports are my life!”
Luke Weiss, a 4th grader, has been playing lacrosse since kindergarten and radiates the same positive attitude, “I like playing lacrosse because it’s fun to play a game with my friends that we all love. One of the best things I have learned is teamwork. We play as a team and support each other and I like that. It’s also fun when the high school kids come and teach us skills. I hope to play at Byram Hills High School one day.”
Whether your child plays lacrosse or not, BHYL strongly advocates exposing children to as many sports as possible at a young age. Milim says, “Kids need constant change or they will burn out quickly. It’s also important that they develop different muscles.” Schneider agrees, “While our program has gained ground, we try to coordinate scheduling with other town-based sports to minimize conflicts and reduce the need for youth athletes to choose a sport to focus on at too early of an age. There is a lot of research that concludes our children are physically and mentally better-off playing a combination of sports throughout the year.” The bottom-line is that children benefit from being active and learning good sportsmanship. “Beyond the physical benefits, team sports build social skills through the unparalleled camaraderie that develops, increases confidence and develops time management skills. And, let’s face it, for older kids, it keeps them out of trouble!” laughs Milim.
BHYL registration for the spring 2018 season is currently open. Please visit byramhillsyouthlacrosse.org!