YORKTON - Every international sport governing body dreams of one day being accepted as an Olympic sport.
The Olympics are the pinnacle sporting events when held, and everybody wants to be part of the mix because it builds the profile of a sport, and that means more players and just as importantly more interest in terms of support dollars from government and for advertisers.
World Lacrosse has approved the rules for the new 6v6 lacrosse format that will be used for international play, specifically as a pitch for the 2028 Olympic Games. There are a lot of changes made to the game for this one, including a smaller field, smaller rosters, no longsticks, and a massive decrease in face-offs.
It’s not surprising lacrosse has been looking for a way back into the Olympic fold for years.
Lacrosse was part of the Summer 1904 and 1908, with a Canadian team winning both times. In its first year, two teams from Canada and one team from the United States competed at the games in St. Louis. Only two teams, one from Canada and one from Great Britain competed in 1908 in London.
Since then lacrosse has been at the periphery of the Games, but never quit being invited back into the fold.
Lacrosse was also held as a demonstration event at the 1928, 1932, and 1948 Summer Olympics.
Now, in attempt which seems purely focused on appeasing the International Olympic Committee, the international body for the sport has created essentially a new version of the game – not quite box and not fully field lacrosse either – in hopes it will be included in the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.
Sports can at times create their own identity issues, chopping themselves into so many variations it becomes a challenge even for seasoned fans to know exactly what they are following.
Rugby union plays with 15 aside and has its Olympic-accepted variant of sevens, but there is rugby league with 13 players, its smaller version of nines and now the indoor Rugby X. You need a program just to define the game you are watching.
In Canada we know box lacrosse best, thanks in part to the five National Lacrosse League franchises including the Saskatchewan Rush.
The outdoor game has the U.S. Premier Lacrosse League and is the version played in American colleges, as is the women’s field version which is significantly different from the men’s game.
Not we have 6v6, a game played outdoors with six aside, on a smaller field and four eight-minute quarters. If this sounds a bit like sevens rugby, I’d suggest it was very much a model, with a goal to smaller rosters and shorter play time.
Having watched a couple of games online it reminds of box played outdoors without the physicality and lacks the flavour of field – in particular not having long sticks on defence.
The result is a fast game that feels like a sort of recreational version of lacrosse, and not something the sport needed other than to try to woo the Olympic committee.
The 6v6 game gets a sort of test drive this summer as it is on the sports roster of the World Games to be held in Birmingham, Alabama. The World Games is an event highlighting a bunch of non-Olympic sports giving it the appearance of a try-out camp to catch the eye of the International Olympic Committee.
Canada’s men’s team coaching staff will include John Grant Jr. as an assistant.
Readers may recognize the name as Grant is a former professional lacrosse player who has played in Major League Lacrosse, the National Lacrosse League, and the Ontario Lacrosse Association, and was named men's lacrosse Offensive Coordinator at Johns Hopkins in 2020.
The Canadian roster includes recognizable NLL names such as Challen Rogers of the Toronto Rock, Jeff Teat of the New York Riptide, Dillon Ward of the Colorado Mammoth, Dhane Smith of the Buffalo Bandits and Zach Currier of the Calgary Roughnecks.
So what does a great box and field player think of 6v6?
“Most Canadians already think we have a perfect game, it’s called box (lacrosse),” he said in a recent interview with Yorkton This Week.
But, Grant added he understood the desire to create a version where men and women could both play with a rule set more similar for both, and to “take some of the contact out of it.”
Smaller rosters also help “keep costs down,” which should help promote teams.
And, the resulting game has its merits, suggested Grant.
“After going through it last fall, it’s pretty exciting. It’s a merger of the two, (box and field), but it’s completely different,” he said, adding that is the challenge for coaches and players right now. “You have to figure that out (the differences).”
That starts with the smaller number of players on a field only 70-metres long and 36 metres wide. Play moves from defence to offence very quickly, forcing players to be adaptable and ready to play both ways, said Grant.
The smaller field and number of players hints at box, but Grant said since physicality is limited “it skews more to the field side.”
The game is more about soft picks and soft rolls, said Grant, adding generating offence with less physicality is a challenge, although there is ample scoring in 6v6, in part because of the ability for quick transition.
That is where player selection comes in, as they have to be able to play effectively at both ends of the field, said Grant adding “versatility” is a huge asset for 6v6 players.
“You have to be able to do both,” he said. “. . . Athletes who are two-way players are a premium . . .You want athletes who can play all over the field.”
So what about Birmingham this summer?
“A lot of it is going to be a learning curve,” said Grant, adding everybody will have “to be adaptable.”
And, the games should be exciting too.
“There’ll be lots of running, lots of explosive play,” said Grant. “We’re excited to get down there and get going . . . We’re beyond excited.”
The 11th edition of The World Games will take July 7-17. Originally planned for 2021, it was postponed to 2022 because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.