Experience is the best teacher, especially for kids trying to get to that next level in lacrosse. For the youth in the Jr. Swarm, participating in its third Jr. NLL tournament from Aug. 24-26, their skills will get that accelerated boost.
Will Tudoroff, who’s 10-year-old son Max is participating in the program for the first time, attests to the improvements he’s seen Max attain in such a short time.
“He’s primarily a defender in field lacrosse, and he’s a good, aggressive defender, and he can stick check,” Tudoroff said. “That’s the kind of stuff he’s worked on, but his ball handling skills were really limiting him, and they’ve picked up already. I can’t wait to see him play field lacrosse in the spring because of what he’s learned already in this program.”
The Jr. NLL tournament gives kids across the continent the chance to participate in a three-day exhibition with support and instruction from NLL teams, coaches, and players. Entering its sixth iteration, nine of the current 11 NLL teams are joined by a Jr. program out of Edmonton for the friendly exhibition in Toronto. Teams follow modified playing rules with shot clocks, pro refs, and NLL equipment.
For the Georgia kids who take part in the Jr. Swarm, there are a plethora of perks, in addition to getting to see how their lacrosse talents match up with kids from across the country. The kids receive a season ticket, customized Jr. Swarm gear, and the opportunity to play during halftime at one of the Swarm’s games.
It was by seeing the 2017 Jr. Swarm players take the floor during halftime of one Swarm game that the Tudoroffs became interested in the program. A transplant from Canada, Will expressed excitement when Max said he wanted to give box lacrosse a try after seeing those kids on the floor at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena.
“I’m all for it cause I grew up with box lacrosse, and I knew it would be really good,” Tudoroff said. “If he’s going to play field lacrosse for the rest of his life, this will get him the kind of skills that will make him standout and really help him. If you can’t catch the ball and pass the ball in traffic, you can’t play box lacrosse. In field, that’s going to change your game.”
Those improvements in the youth participants is just one of the attractive qualities in joining up with the Jr. Swarm. The Jr. NLL Tournament cuts across three age groups: Pee Wee (11-12), Bantam (13-14), and Midget (15-16). Regardless of the age group, Jr. Swarm numbers have steadily grown since the inaugural season in 2016.
“Our numbers are definitely up, which means that we’ll have a larger group of actual Georgia kids going up there, and that’s always exciting because it gives them a better feel. I think that it helps them more than it helps other kids because they haven’t really been exposed to it before,” Jr. Swarm head coach Drew Petkoff said.
A former defenseman for the Swarm and a seven-year NLL veteran, Petkoff has been the head coach of the Jr. Swarm program since its inception in 2016, and has experienced firsthand the growth of the program and the ever-increasing skill level the kids display.
It’s not just Petkoff and Will seeing changes in the Jr. Swarm youth.
“The kids got a lot better, and I had a lot of parents commenting that they’ve seen a lot of improvement in a short period of time,” Petkoff said after the fifth practice session at the SGAA Dual Deck Arena. “For me, hearing that from the parents, them noticing from their kids, that’s a huge boost.”
With the number of Georgia participants swelling every year, it translates into more Atlanta-area lacrosse players learning box lacrosse from Canadian and Indigenous kids who have been playing the sport their entire lives.
With the consistency and ever-increasing skill level from returning players and with coaching from Swarm players and coaches in Toronto, the Jr. Swarm is looking to make a serious run in the sixth Jr. NLL tournament in August.
Everyone loves winning; it’s fun, but Petkoff is focused on the kids’ improving their lacrosse skills and more, hoping that what he and the parents have seen become a solid foundation for their futures in lacrosse.
“I am really happy, especially with the teamwork I’m seeing,” Petkoff said. “I think the guys are gelling a lot quicker than they have in the past. I give them probably 20 minutes or half an hour each practice to work on stick work, talk to each other, pass the ball around, and more and more, I’m seeing them work with each other and develop these relationships that are a huge part of the program.”
For more information, visit GeorgiaSwarm.com/JrSwarm
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