Is box lacrosse the key to success? Bill Tierney thinks so


I happened upon a podcast this afternoon at TIER Lacrosse, the blog by University of Denver assistant coach Trevor Tierney. What caught my attention was Trevor’s guest — his father, Denver head coach Bill Tierney — and their topics of conversation: Recruiting and player development.

BillTierney, University of Denver
Bill Tierney is one of the most decorated and respected coaches in U.S. lacrosse history. (Photo courtesy 24/7 Lacrosse.)

Two things stood out: Both Tierneys agree the recruiting process is broken, and both are strong advocates of box lacrosse. Part of the reason those things stood out are that I’ve had two long conversations of late with Justin Eaton of West Coast Lacrosse, whom I think would agree with the Tierneys on both counts. To that end, Eaton and Chris Panos are starting a new club program in the Conejo Valley called Team West Coast to hopefully tackle both of those issues. More on that later.

But first, more on the Tierneys. Trevor offered his thoughts on the process last week, and he and Bill expanded on it in the podcast: Too many travel teams or tournaments promising kids they’ll be seen by college coaches. Too many college coaches taking “commitments” from kids who have barely played a varsity game in high school yet. Their conversation — and frustration — is fascinating for any player (or parent) interested in understanding the recruiting process.

The second thing that stood out? Box lacrosse. Bill Tierney talked at length about the competing priorities of tournament play vs. skill development for kids trying to move up the competitive ladder, and he highlighted the benefits of box lacrosse:

“They want to play games,” Tierney said of young players. “The sad part about our sport is that you can play games all you want, but if you can’t throw and catch, those games aren’t going to be very good, and you’re not going to play at a high level. The special young people who work on their own or are willing to listen to skill development and work at it, they’re going to be the ones who eventually flourish.”

I don’t think anyone would argue. Where it got interesting was in his next thought:

“In the college game now, there are 350 young men from Canada playing in the United States in college lacrosse, and the reason for that is they play a game, box lacrosse, that’s better suited for skill development, and then they learn the field game when they get here, and they surpass everybody in a lot of cases. The most important thing with their skill development is not playing field lacrosse on a 110-yard field when you’re 5-foot-2 and you got a six-foot stick. There’s a heck of a lot to be learned in our game.”

Team West Coast
Justin Eaton, Chris Panos and guest coach Chris Cooper of Denison University address U-17 players after tryouts.

And that brings me back to Team West Coast and Eaton and Panos, a highly decorated box lacrosse player. Their program is based on a hybrid approach that features both box and field lacrosse. Team West Coast plans to enter U-13, U-15 and U-17 teams (and maybe U-11 and U-19, if there’s interest) in both box and field tournaments from Southern California to Denver to Calgary to Baltimore. The club is holding tryouts now and will start practicing in January, before taking the spring season off to allow players to play for their school or local club teams, then reconvening in May to prepare for the summer tournament season.

It’s an interesting idea, and it remains to be seen how quickly West Coast Lacrosse can develop competitive teams of well-rounded players. But it’s encouraging to see an approach that doesn’t involve throwing together a so-called all-star team and showing up at tournaments with little or no practice.