Grow the Game®

New Year's Cup Budapest, Hungary 2018 Photo: Georgina Lénárd
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp

Budapest Chronicles Pt. 2: Perfecting Practice, Mall Run, Coaching Ladies

Editor’s Note: Incase you missed it, read Part 1 of the Budapest Chronicles first to keep up with the wild world adventures of Brian Witmer!

Sneaking In More Lacrosse

I did manage to get one practice with the Budapest guys in before the weekend. Traditionally, they don’t practice much during the winter, but we had some guys brave the elements and come outdoors for a little development on the turf. I say development, because the most valuable information I’m learning I can pass on is not how to play, but how to practice.

I cannot make a great lacrosse player from that ball of clay. I need to empower that ball of clay with the tools necessary to make his or her self into a great player. Mediocre analogy. You know what I was getting at.

The weekend had me serving in a different role. Part of my work in Israel ahead of the World Championships in July has me coaching youth in and around Netanya. One of the programs I’ve been fortunate enough to work with is the Netanya programs, and more specifically the girls’ team.

One of the first school visits I was ever able to go on was to a school I can’t remember the name of, which is all well and good because I couldn’t pronounce it if I did. The kids we were there to teach lacrosse to wanted just about nothing to do with us. The only kids who were interested in lacrosse were already basketball and soccer players, which is one of the most frustrating parts of growing lacrosse. We started to pack our bags full of sticks and started heading for the door.

Israel ladies Budapest HungaryAs the universe would have it, a separate class started walking over for their phys-ed class. We decided to stick around and try to double down and make up for our unsuccessful** first class. The girls loved it, and twelve of the girls ended up joining the Netanya team that same week.

Three of these girls, only after two months of practicing twice a week, were part of the Israeli team that traveled to Budapest to compete in the second weekend of competition against some of the top women’s teams across the region. That’s awesome. This is GROWTH. Real organic free-range grass fed lacrosse being grown unfiltered!

I met the girls at the hotel a day prior to the tournament. They arrived pretty early in the morning, giving head coach/Israeli national team goalie/friend Blaire Nathanson and myself the opportunity to go food shopping for the eleven girls. After a small meal, we decided to have a go with exploring the iconic city. Stunning architecture spanned centuries and crossed cultures with every corner turned.

All the history, all the culture, all that this city has seen. With so much to be done and to be seen, the girls collectively opted with 100% of the team vote… to go shopping in the mall. It was at this point where I was thanking my stars I had spent the past week seeing what I had wanted to see and doing what I wanted to do, so I didn’t object in the least to chaperoning a visit to the mall.

Israel ladies Budapest Hungary

Continuing to Grow

Don’t get me wrong, we walked across a bridge over the famed Danube River, under the shadow of Budapest’s iconic Liberation Monument. We ventured through the indoor market, and we ate Langos and other Hungarian foods.

The tournament was an awesome fit for our girls. Our team was comprised of just one player with NCAA experience, as Blaire held it down in goal. The majority of our team was comprised of girls who have been playing for roughly two years, while the other end of the spectrum was our three Netanya girls who had roughly two months of experience in total.

I was happy with how our team played. Effort certainly was not where we lacked. If we were outmatched, it was because of age and experience. Our fifteen-year-old girls were playing women ten years their senior, and I’m so excited to see what these young women will be able to do on the field when they’ve had that much experience!

I was especially proud of our newbies.

One girl won a contested ground ball, got fouled, and then made the smart pass on the restart. Simple? Maybe, but not in your first full field game of your life. Another girl made the most technically sound and legal stick-check of the tournament causing a turnover. The unsure look on her face of “I’m not sure if I should be doing this… but I did it… was that legal?” was priceless, and I celebrated that check more than a goal.

Applying All That I Can

I also helped out with the Kosynierki Wroclaw (pronounced: incorrectly). Jan Ryzdak had mentioned that one of the girls would be asking if I would coach. I love helping out, and so I said that I’d be happy to.

Believe it or not I grew up playing lacrosse by the male set of rules, and so coaching women is new to me.

When coaching beginners and youth I find it easier, because teaching the mechanics of throwing and catching are virtually the same (if you don’t think so you’re not teaching fundamentals correctly). This was arguably my first attempt at coaching a fundamentally sound and technically advanced team.

Polish Kosynierki Wroclaw in Hungary women's lacrosse

A number of these girls are Polish National Team players, and so at first, I struggled to find anything constructive I could add to their play.

I don’t get much into X’s and O’s in my articles, but coaching women’s lacrosse is identical to coaching box lacrosse, and for a good reason.

The simple concepts of cutting the middle on offense when the ball carrier is diagonal from you and instructing defenders to play defense without ever throwing a check seemed to be the two simplest and most effective corrections.

The Polish ladies went on to finish first in the tournament, with a talented Bern team out of Switzerland finishing up with the silver. I’m just realizing now that the poll standings between men and women for Poland and Switzerland are simply swapped for each weekend. Kinda backs up my statements about rising national programs in part one of the article, doesn’t it?

New Year's Cup Budapest, Hungary 2018 Photo: Georgina Lénárd
Photo: Georgina Lénárd

One to the Next One

I bid the Israeli girls goodbye, as they headed out of the bubble to head into the city before their flights back to Israel. I bid farewell and thanked the Kosynierki women for having me as well, and of course I had to say thank you to Laszlo, Regina, Magyar, Vince and all the Budapest Lacrosse people who worked so hard to organize the tournament.

Brian Witmer Budapest Hungary hockeyRegina was once again kind enough to give me a ride back to Balasz’s neighborhood. We met up and headed back to the train station. As fate would have it, my last night in Budapest would be a Sunday. That meant another night of men’s league hockey. What a perfect way to go out! To top things off, Balasz’s New York Rangers uniform had come in the mail over the week, and I always travel with my Brian Leech jersey (when it’s obvious you’re an American, sometimes it’s best to make it as blatantly apparent as possible).

Looking good (read: better) definitely helped our team chemistry. I couldn’t communicate with my teammates verbally, but we were definitely gelling by the end of the night!

The morning came too quickly, and I had to be on my way. I said goodbye and thank you a million times over to Balasz and Csilla, and then it was time to get back on the road.

My following weekend would have me in the Czech Republic… but this article is too long as it is. I’ll get to work writing about my 14 hours in Brno and the Clydesiders invading Prague.

This event was so very different from the event I last saw in Hungary in 2016. The European Championships displayed the pinnacle of ability of athletes from the 20 European Lacrosse Federation members competing. That was great, and it was beautiful for oh so many reasons.

What I saw this weekend was different. The growth of the European Championships signified that lacrosse was growing in Europe. The raw and unrefined play that was on display at the New Year’s Cup was a look at what that growth actually looks like. Sometimes it’s not exactly ESPN quality, and that’s not to be disparaging in the least. It’s not about critiquing every little mistake a player makes, whether it be their seventh year, second year, or second month playing.

This was growth in progress. Teams got to play a TON of minutes against talent levels from all over the spectrum, and most importantly… it was FUN!

I don’t think I’m conceptualizing what I really felt about this tournament well. It was so simple, it was perfect.

** – there is no such thing as an unsuccessful school visit. Every kid we educate as to what the beautiful game of lacrosse is, is a resounding success. I learned what handball is in gym class when I was in fourth grade or so. These kids are learning lacrosse in the same way, and we’re going to have Israelis who at the very least RECOGNIZE lacrosse for life. Until five years ago, there was virtually zero recognition, save those who had seen American Pie.