John Grant Jr. of the Colorado Mammoth spends his summers playing in the MLL, currently with the Chesapeake Bayhawks. His teammate, rookie goaltender Dillon Ward, divides time between the MLL’s Hamilton Nationals (now the Florida Launch) and the KW Kodiaks of the MSL. Mark Matthews of the Edmonton Rush likewise divides his summers between the MLL’s New York Lizards and the WLA’s Langley Thunder.
Many pro lacrosse players compete in the sport year round, involving themselves in other leagues to fill in the down time when the NLL isn’t playing. Although baseball does this to a lesser extent, sending younger players to the winter developmental leagues for extra work, this is not the norm in professional sports.
In spite of the physical demands of lacrosse, the unique all-year play model seems to work and does so in some unique and beneficial ways.
The most obvious positive effect is conditioning. By actively playing the game from January to August, athletes are better able to stay in game shape and are far less likely to arrive at NLL training camp out of shape and with rusty skills that need to be tuned back up.
The other benefit, most particularly for the players who spend their summers outdoors playing in the MLL, is that their skill set is challenged by participating in a substantially different version of the sport. Dealing with a bigger field, different positional assignments, lone pole defenders, etc. means staying familiar with a different game pace and different strategies. All this adds up to an improved lacrosse IQ and that translates into better players.
Even for those players who stick to box lacrosse and spend their summers in the CLA ranks, getting to play with different players and different coaches again means expanding a player’s knowledge of the game, increasing their lacrosse IQ and making them a more versatile, more valuable assets when they return to their NLL squad.
And then there’s the financial angle. The reality of professional lacrosse is that the wages for playing in any pro lacrosse league are not enough for most people to make ends meet. If playing in multiple leagues helps to pay the bills, it makes the players more financially stable, less prone to abandon the sport for a better paying full-time job and less stressed about getting the bills paid.
Finally, there’s the matter of lacrosse’s overall profile. The more names like John Grant Jr. or Mark Matthews pop up on the sports pages (even the back pages), the more likely the sport will be to stay in the public consciousness due to the increased celebrity of its stars. That brings more people to the sport, either as participants or fans and that leads to growth at all levels.
The complexity of the situation continues to be the overlap of indoor and outdoor leagues and this is something the NLL and the MLL need to sort out at some point. Since having athletes compete in both leagues is a mutually beneficial situation, producing fitter, smarter players, fighting over those resources during the schedule overlaps in late spring is foolish.
When all is said and done, having players competing in more than one league is a no-brainer. The positive effects of adding those extra levels of experience to the players are simply too great to pass up.