Flex6 and the Last Frontier: Fairbanks Capitalizing on Small-Sided Gameplay

PHOTO COURTESY OF FAIRBANKS YOUTH SOCCER ASSOCIATION


This article appears in the Pacific Northwest edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join USA Lacrosse today to start your subscription.

Colt Chase is a single father of four in Fairbanks, the second-largest city in Alaska and a destination for those chasing the northern lights or the midnight sun.

The executive director of the Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association (FYSA), Chase has helped the community-based organization thrive. Geographically isolated from other major cities, Fairbanks relies on its residents to give everything a neighborhood feel. That extends to youth sports.

“A lot of what we do is planned solely around the local community or in-house programs,” Chase said.

Soccer was thriving around town. Under Chase’s guidance, the FYSA organizes youth and adult indoor soccer leagues. There’s a 52-acre grass field facility right in the middle of town, and the FYSA can rent the space for “practically nothing” because it absorbs all the maintenance expenses, Chase said.

Despite soccer’s popularity in the area, Chase didn’t want to stick to the status quo. He wanted to offer Fairbanks youth more opportunities to broaden their athletic horizons.

“Lacrosse was always the primary example as a non-soccer sport that didn’t exist in the community that would probably be welcomed and not compete with any existing programs,” he said.

So, Chase put the wheels in motion. He met virtually with Gabe Lipchik, the director of Anchorage Lacrosse, to discuss the logistics of getting a new program off the ground. He also spoke with Lyn Porterfield, Pacific Northwest regional director for USA Lacrosse, about his options.

But before anything became official, Chase wanted to explore the sport himself — so he went to the local sporting goods store. He bought five sticks, one for himself and one for each of his four children, and experienced lacrosse for the first time. “I was kind of embarrassed and shocked,” Chase said. “I didn’t think I’d be good, but I didn’t think I’d be that bad. I had to forget everything I knew about catching a fast-moving ball.”

To that end, Chase and the 200-plus participants in the FYSA’s fledgling lacrosse program are learning about the sport together. Because of coaching development, resources and other educational tools, Chase said he preferred to be affiliated with USA Lacrosse, even if there aren’t any current intentions to compete outside of town.

Chase took USA Lacrosse’s Flex6 Lacrosse® and adapted it to fit FYSA’s needs. Flex6 is a fun and fast-paced model of lacrosse with competition maxed at 6v6. As few as 3v3 can play on teams that are mixed gender. It’s the perfect entry point for a community still getting a handle on the game.

Chase said the response was undeniable. Over 90 percent of the participants had never picked up a lacrosse stick before last summer. By the time the FYSA ended its first “season” of lacrosse in September, the organization had offered several free 45-minute sessions on Saturdays, two weeks of half-day camps and a six-week mini season utilizing a modified Flex6 Lacrosse format.







It was informal, Chase said. A spirited group of several dozen people volunteered to run the events. There were no goalies, except for the oldest group. But there was clearly interest based on the retention rate of participants.

“Almost everyone who came out for the free Saturdays came out for the camp and/or the mini-season,” Chase said.

Lipchik and Anchorage Lacrosse donated some gear to help. Another local group donated hockey bags full of equipment. USA Lacrosse provided an equipment grant, too.

The interest was anything but passive for the athletes, who ranged from 7 years old to high school age. “The local store sold out twice of the sticks they ordered,” Chase said.

That means more lacrosse is in store for the people of Fairbanks. Chase and the FYSA are already putting together plans for a second season. Expansion is likely. Chase is targeting four weeks of camps with seasons in both the summer and fall.

Chase said there were obvious improvements — in both the youth and himself. Even if “catching was the hardest skill,” sessions began to look better and better as the summer went on.

Perhaps it’s fitting Fairbanks visitors find themselves affixed on the aurora borealis up above. The sky’s the limit for the FYSA and lacrosse.

REGIONAL SPOTLIGHT

IDAHO

The Mountain West Youth Lacrosse Association has its kickoff jamboree April 16 in Kimberly. The first Idaho high school boys’ cross-state tournament (Snake River Shootout) takes place April 30 in Filer. The Treasure Valley Youth Lacrosse League’s annual end-of-season celebration (Day of Lacrosse) will be May 21-22 in Boise.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

The Oakland Lacrosse Club continues their partnership with the Oakland Unified School District and the Oakland Athletic League to build a high school girls’ lacrosse league.  Currently in year two, they’ve added teams from Oakland High, Skyline and Castlemont to join Oakland Tech, with plans to field four more teams for a total of eight by 2023.  With help from a USA Lacrosse Communities grant, their goal to offer the sport to more than 200 high school girls is becoming a reality.

OREGON

Two USA Lacrosse-sanctioned tournaments are coming to Oregon in July. The Rose City Lax Showdown is July 16-17 at Delta Park in Portland for girls’ teams, while the Robin Hood Skirmish includes both girls’ and boys’ teams July 20-23 in Sherwood.

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