By Justin Grant
It’s easy to find lacrosse programs on Long Island. But Lil Kids Lax is carving out a niche, teaching the island’s youngest athletes the fundamentals of the game. Designed for youngsters between the ages of 3 and 7, Lil Kids Lax teaches athletes character, team spirit, coordination and confidence, all within an engaging environment.
The program opened its doors in October 2014 at Nickerson Beach with approximately 25 young athletes-to-be.
“This program helps youngsters learn to listen to directions, develop fine motor skills and coordination,” said Director Tom Kessler, 35, of Hicksville. With five locations in Massapequa, Freeport, Oceanside, Manhasset and East Meadow, the program coaches teach life fundamentals and skills of the game, he added.
Lil Kids Lax players practice scooping a ball at Nickerson Beach.
“The program emphasizes teamwork, promotes respect for others, kindness and helps youngsters learn how to overcome obstacles and celebrate achievement,” said Kessler.
Lil Kids Lax was born out of what Kessler saw as a need to bring an affordable lacrosse program to the sport’s youngest players. After he carefully reviewed lacrosse programs on Long Island several years ago, he noticed that there wasn’t a lacrosse program for the 3 to 7 year old age group. Travel programs were the driving force in the area, but they cost a substantial amount to join, he added. He felt poised to bring an innovative program to its feet.
At Lil Kids Lax, high-quality coaches push the young athletes into becoming real-time lacrosse players. While there is a lot to learn, the emphasis is on having a great time. The program differs from others in that each 45-minute session is packed with activities and interaction with coaches to keep the students focused. And the class sizes are small with up to 36 athletes per class.
“I think we do a good job in keeping the kids entertained and moving from one skill to the next or from one activity to the next,” said Kessler. “We keep their attention. We keep them engaged.”
A typical 40-minute class consists of dynamic movements and listening skills. The first 10-minutes of the program is the warm-up, which is then followed by the kids heading into a circle and introducing themselves in a social and engaging environment.
“These kids do jumping-jacks, push-ups and squat-thrusts during the warm-up,” Kessler explained. “These kids learn how to cradle moving and cradle with the ball. Then, they play a game involving the skill that they just learned.”
Coaches and players stretch their legs during warm-up in Twin Rinks at Eisenhower Park.
Coaches also try to incorporate components of early childhood learning development into the game, providing a well-rounded experience for the athletes. Former lacrosse player and one-time Syracuse University coach Tim Byrnes is a coach for the 3-to-7 age group.
“There is definitely community support for the program,” said Byrnes, 37, of Massapequa. “Lacrosse is a hot sport; a lot of people on Long Island have either heard or played this sport at some level, but have never seen it with the age group we work with.”
“We started with a good foundation and we are building on that foundation,” Byrnes added. “I think we are off to a great start.”
Kessler said the company wants to expand across Long Island and works hard to make people aware of the program and its benefits to youngsters.
“In additional to traditional print advertising, we publicize our name and keep in touch with our students and their families via Facebook and email,” he said. “Our lacrosse program has been involved in fall festivals, Spooky Fests and other events, and I think the most effective thing we do is build relationships with nursery schools, meeting with directors to tell them about our program.”
Kessler and his staff give demos in schools, which help them reach their target market. Overall, he is satisfied with the program’s success, but is looking ahead to the future of the program, noting that he hopes to expand the program to 10 to 12 locations (from the current five) in the spring.
“Our outlook is expansion. We would like to see programs in each location in Nassau and Suffolk Counties,” Kessler said. “In order for us to expand this program, we need to hire more full-time coaches. We are working on expanding the business model as well. A lot of what we are focused on now is the demographic of 3-7 year-olds because there is really no program like this.”
For more information on this program, go to lilkidslax.wix.com/home or call 516-725-5509.