Coach Callie O'Neill gives instructions to kindergarten Violet Pierce. (Katie Morrison)

Giving back to the lacrosse community in Marblehead

MARBLEHEAD -- For four days each summer, Annie Madden and her team of high school and college athletes get the opportunity to give back to the lacrosse community and teach the sport they love to a group of dozens of local girls.

Madden, the head coach of the Marblehead high school squad, has been running the Lax 42 summer camp for 10 years. During that time, she’s seen past campers graduate to become her high school and college coaches. Like Carolyn Arthur, who will enter her senior year at Marblehead High. Arthur, a defenseman on the Magicians varsity squad, attended the camp when she was younger, and is now on the other side teaching.

“I think it’s awesome because when I was younger, I looked up to all those girls,” Arthur said of the camp’s coaches. “Lacrosse is such a huge part of this town and a lot of people play it. So being able to teach (the kids) and help develop the program even further is really valuable and I love doing it.

“It’s also awesome because once the girls teaching it aren’t just current high schoolers, there’s people who have graduated already who come back to do the camp,” Arthur added. “People still come back even after they’re done playing lacrosse which is awesome.”

For the attendees, girls from kindergarten to eighth grade, the camp is all about having fun, making friends, and most of all, getting the chance to try out lacrosse. The four-day clinic gives girls the chance to dip their toes in the water and get a feel for the game, without the commitment of something like a club lacrosse team.

“I think that’s the best way for any sport to really pick up is to allow for the kids to try out any sport and to take their skills from soccer, basketball, hockey...and put them on a lacrosse field,” Madden said. “This is what we’re trying to do for the kids that may not play club sports or on a club lacrosse team, and this is giving them the opportunity to have fun with the high school and college girls and to be a part of something really special.”

The atmosphere at the Village School fields in Marblehead Tuesday morning was not one of a straight-laced, intense clinic. Far from it, actually. Madden and the coaches encourage “spirit days,” like Tuesday’s “rainbow surprise day” and Wednesday’s “red, white and blue day.” Tuesday’s spirit day featured lots of neon colors, tutus, and even colored wigs.

“We do all the spirit days which encourages the girls to come and be more outgoing, it’s really fun,” Arthur said.

But when it comes to the actual lacrosse being played, the camp is designed according to the guidelines of U.S. Lacrosse’s Lacrosse Athlete Development Model. The Magicians high school team is part of the athlete development champion program (the only high school girls team to be a champions team) that provides a curriculum and guidelines for developing young lacrosse players. The guidelines outline age-appropriate drills to help athletes of all ages develop the skills to play at their level. Girls of all skill levels are welcome at the camp, even if you haven’t held a stick before.

“Every kid comes to camp and their skills are not determining whether or not they’re going to get on the field,” Madden said. “The goal, since we did our clinic in the spring, is to allow as many opportunities for kids to take part in each drill, each station and each game to keep it fun and quick and fast-paced for them. There’s no stress, it’s more come and enjoy your time with us and come dressed up as crazy as you can imagine.”

That also means keeping the drills and games upbeat and fast-paced, as well as minimizing frustration.

“If you’re five years old, we’ll teach you to appropriately use a stick and to scoop the ball and toss it back. It’s not standing in a shuttle and dropping the ball and getting frustrated when they can’t do it,” Madden said. “That’s a really important aspect.”

Seeing her players give back to the local community and to the sport is something special for Madden.

“I think for me, it was a gift given to me by my college coach, always giving back to the sport and allowing for the younger generation, the younger kids to come in and try out this game that we all love,” Madden said. “I think that’s the most special part. Obviously I’m the head coach at the high school, however I teach in the elementary school, so being able to watch these girls grow up and then turn into mentors and come back and give back to the sport and really show these young girls what it means to be a part of our team and the culture we’ve built is, to me, one of the most spectacular things.”

Teaching and coaching at the camp is valuable for her players, and one that ends up being a learning experience for everyone involved.

“It’s a learning experience as well because if you’re able to teach someone else how to play the game, you’re understanding the field space, what it takes to be at that next level, things like that, so that really is an important aspect of it as well.”

Madden and her team hope that the camp helps kids develop some skills so they won’t be as intimidated when it comes to trying out for lacrosse in the future.

“We want to see that growth of game continue,” Madden said. “We want to see that kids aren’t quitting when they get to age 14, or they aren’t too scared to come out for lacrosse because they don’t have the skills.”

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