Reflecting on the Changes in Women's Lacrosse
News Gary Charles Gait, professional lacrosse player and current head coach of the women's lacrosse team at Syracuse University, weighs in on how the game is changing for young women and girls in sports.
You’ve had such an illustrious career as a player and a coach. What are a couple of highlight moments in your career that you look back on?
Most of my memories come from championship experiences with great championship teams; most start back in Canada with the Minto Cup Championship of 1988 and the same year having the first NCAA Championship. Certainly that was a highlight year. As for coaching, I’ve had the opportunity to mix it up between men’s and women’s and indoor and outdoor. I just love lacrosse. The highlight every year is getting to know the players, meeting new players and becoming lifelong friends with the ones that move on.
Over the last ten years, how has the game of women’s lacrosse evolved? How has female athleticism evolved?
For the game, it’s been two combinations. One is the equipment; the modern stick is much different than the old stick. Modern pockets have allowed the game to evolve. Also the rules of women’s lacrosse have changed to allow for a much faster game that puts the control of the game back into the player’s hands as opposed to games that you play where teams stall for long periods of time. Outside of extra training, a female athlete is the same as a male athlete in any way. They’re often more educated on their skills and they’re being coached at a higher level at a younger age, so that’s helped them become better lacrosse players. I see kids coming out of high school that have the skills of a college player. The evolution has been nice and to see the coaching level increase has been great.
With lacrosse growing and becoming more competitive, what are some of the risks to early sport specialization?
I believe you should specialize to some degree, but I think you should continue to play other sports. Once you hit high school, if you determine what sport your skills best suit and you want to pursue that for college, then it should become a focus. But you should still continue to play other sports. I am a believer in year-round lacrosse if you want to become a college lacrosse player while playing some other sports like soccer or basketball for fun and to stay diverse. You can certainly learn things from any sport that will carry over to your game of lacrosse.
As a coach and as a parent, what is your role in safety awareness and injury prevention?
Well as a coach it’s to teach the players the rules at an early age; to teach them the fundamentals of the game so that they are sound at a young age. That way, when they move on to the high school level they keep the game safe. As a parent, it was pretty similar… to make sure my daughter knew what the rules were and knew how to play safe.
Several of your players are wearing headgear this season even though it is not required. Do you recommend head protection for field players in women’s lacrosse?
It’s their choice. We provide it to them. It’s going to protect from stick and ball hits. I give them the opportunity to wear it so they can feel comfortable.
One of the reasons many argue against headgear in women’s lacrosse is the notion it will make the game more aggressive. Have you noticed any change in game play with your players?
I have not. We play by the rules. We have the same rules whether you play with headgear or not. A yellow card is a yellow card. I haven’t see the aggressiveness of play escalate at all.