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Growing the game: Caines coaches Jr. Swarm

Aime Caines spends his springs coaching East Ridge’s boys lacrosse squad on the field.

He migrates indoors during the summer.

Caines, who is also an assistant coach for the Minnesota Swarm, and Minnesota Swarm forward Corbyn Tao coach the Jr. Swarm in box lacrosse, an indoor sport, throughout the summer.

There are quite a few differences between box lacrosse and its field counterpart. Box lacrosse is played on a much smaller area -- often in hockey rinks, the goals are smaller, there are less players on the field and the goalies are given much more padding. The box lacrosse game is widely considered to be a faster sport.

The Jr. Swarm are in their second year of existence. Alec Schimke, the Swarm’s director of media and lacrosse relations, said the Swarm had been considering adding affiliated youth teams in the past, but the thought came to fruition last year when the National Lacrosse League, the top-level professional box lacrosse league which Minnesota plays in, created the Jr. NLL tournament where all of the NLL team’s junior affiliates would come together to compete.

And Schimke said Caines was the “perfect” choice to take control of the program.

Caines’ role in the program is likely the largest, and his commitment is unrivaled. Schimke said Caines’ professional experience and experience coaching youth players made him the “perfect” person to coach the Jr. Swarm.

“He knows how to work with younger kids, but he brings the expertise of a professional athlete,” Schimke said. “He’s extremely dedicated and very knowledgable about the game. He’s a great coach and just a great person overall. He’s really gotten kids really enthused about playing box lacrosse … He’s a huge piece to the program.”

Last year the Jr. Swarm sported a Bantam team. This year the program grew to the point where a Midget team was added. The hope in the near future is to add a Peewee squad, meaning the Jr. Swarm will have teams at all three of the major youth age groups.

Caines said the kids experiencing the box game for the first time through the Jr. Swarm have fallen in love with the sport.

“The kids that play hockey and play that aggressive style lacrosse love it,” Caines said. “Even the kids that are more skilled, they find a niche in box lacrosse.”

Caines said the box lacrosse experience helps kids develop skills that translate well to the field game, particularly with their stick handling. He’s seen major strides in some of his East Ridge players after they’d gained box experience.

“Playing in that tight of space, you get a lot more reps, you touch the ball more,” Caines said. “It’s all just that much faster. A lot of time you have the ball and the reps.”

Those reps are coming against talent from all over North America.

The Jr. Swarm compete in three box lacrosse tournaments at various sites in the U.S. and Canada throughout the summer. Caines said playing against top-level talent helps the players’ games develop at a rapid rate.

“It just advances you that much quicker because you are playing the best teams in North America,” Caines said. “You can tell the skills they have, they’ve gotten better and the kids who have a year under their belt, you can tell they stand out because they have that experience and they know where to go on the floor and their sticks are better.”

Schimke said the presence of the junior affiliates has created more awareness for box lacrosse in general, particularly in the surrounding area.

And for the Jr. Swarm players, the affiliation has led to the development of relationships with the very athletes they watch and admire. Along with Tao, many other Swarm players have helped out with the Jr. Swarm squads on various occasions.

“If you look around at other sports, even other pro teams in the area, I don’t know of any that are literally coached on a weekly basis by pro players,” Schimke said. “It’s a pretty cool relationship they get to build with the guys and they’re learning from the best.”

The Jr. Swarm represents just one of Caines efforts to expand the reach of box lacrosse. He said he hopes one day to see box lacrosse become a high school league-sanctioned sport -- something the increased participation at the youth level may eventually held lead toward..

“We’ve been talking about that for years,” Caines said. “That’s probably a long way away, but I think it would be amazing.”