Confidence rules the world. It drives development, molds maturity and carves careers. It pushes ideas to reality.
No one knows this like Dan Leventhal.
Leventhal won a National Championship at Tufts in 2014, played in the 2014 World Lacrosse Championships for Israel, and will feature again in Israel’s midfield this summer’s edition of the tournament in July. He was raised in a stable home in Chappaqua, New York, and had the opportunity to find lacrosse while in second grade.
It requires confidence to earn those accomplishments, and his work since graduating from Tufts has, too. Immediately out of college, he moved to Netanya, Israel, to begin a youth lacrosse program from scratch.
After a couple of years, Leventhal went back to the US and joined Teach for America. He found a home at The Highbridge Green School in the Bronx and is in his third year of teaching eighth grade English.
He started a lacrosse program there, too, called Bronx Lacrosse, and introduced the sport to a different set of youngsters new to the game.
Twice he has started youth lacrosse programs from nothing, and twice his work has changed young lives by instilling the most important thing: confidence, and all through the engine of lacrosse.
“Getting a brand-new obstacle thrown at them, it teaches them to respond to this adversity and continue to keep working,” Leventhal explained. “It was valuable for our kids because they were like, if I can learn this new sport and do it pretty well, why can’t I conquer English? Why can’t I do well in math? If this is something that’s brand new to me and I can do well in this sport, I can also do well in other things.”
In 2014, Bar Yahalom was an Israeli teenager without an aim. He didn’t enjoy school and had issues with studying, and while he had tried a handful of sports, none of them quite stuck. One day his brother mentioned lacrosse and offered to introduce him to the local coaches in Netanya. He agreed and tagged along to a practice. That’s where he met Leventhal, who became one of his lacrosse mentors.
Now four years later, the 20-year-old has represented Israel at international competitions in several different countries, including the 2016 U19 Championships in Vancouver in which Leventhal was his coach. Yahalom has moved on to coaching himself, teaching a new crop of kids in the sport he credits for pushing him to graduate high school.
“Before a big test, I come to practice and clean my head,” Yahalom said while watching his players run the same drills he did a few years before. “Then I come home, study, and all the stuff gets straight to my brain. Without lacrosse, I don’t know what I would do right now. Probably be at home asleep.”
Yahalom only knew the bare basics of English when he first started lacrosse. Now, through only lacrosse practices, watching highlights on YouTube and personal practice, Yahalom has picked up enough English that he can easily explain his love for the sport in the tongue. That skill makes his chest stand out a bit further than before, and finally learning English is another piece of evidence that proves he can succeed.
“Before I played lacrosse, I shook when I stood before people and sometimes spoke with a stutter,” Yahalom said. “Now, after I coach, after I go to kids and explain what lacrosse is, I have all the confidence. I know this sport. I represent Israel.”
For one of Yahalom’s closest friends, lacrosse has provided the same.
Ori Bar David found lacrosse in eighth grade when Leventhal and others came to his middle school. He was apprehensive at first, but as soon as he gave it a chance, he was hooked. Leventhal became Bar David’s mentor from his early days in the sport, the U19 Championships as his coach and through to now, forging a strong relationship even between Leventhal and Bar David’s family.
Last summer as just a teenager, Bar David was part of Israel’s gold medal in the 2017 European Box Lacrosse Championships, the country’s first team gold medal in any sport. To make it more special, he shared the moment with Leventhal as a teammate.
Bar David now coaches his own youth team four times a week, using what he learned from Leventhal to give the gift of the game a full circle.
The 17-year-old will again play alongside his close friend this summer at the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships in Bar David’s hometown of Netanya, the place where Leventhal first introduced him to the sport he says is “everything” in his life.
Bar David has noticed a stark change in himself since starting the sport; a spark ignited from within.
“I got confidence because of lacrosse,” Bar David said. “Lacrosse gave me a warm house to speak however I want. That really impacted me in my daily life and with my friends. I can say right now that if I would not have come to play lacrosse, I would be without confidence, and I’m pretty sure my grades would be lower.”
Leventhal is bringing the same positive effects to his work in the Bronx. His school is in the poorest congressional district in the United States, and his students often come from broken homes. Societal expectations are low, which can easily bring low self-confidence and a trip down the wrong path. There are more than 500,000 people over 25 who live in New York’s 16th Congressional District, but only roughly one-fifth of them hold a high school degree.
The students in Leventhal’s Bronx Lacrosse program progressed an average of two grade levels in math and reading in one school year with much better attendance numbers than their peers. His players have admitted to newfound confidence in themselves and belief that they can forge a better future for themselves, either through lacrosse or separate avenues.
Confidence is the center of it all. It starts with Leventhal, who has remained convinced that no matter how many kids might pull away, there will always been many who gravitate to a sport they have previously never seen. It stretches to Bar David, Yahalom, the students in the Bronx and the countless others the grassroots installation of lacrosse has touched, and it’s continued through the next generation doing the same for its underlings.
Leventhal has found his passion and knows Bronx Lacrosse will be his life work. Last fall, Bronx Lacrosse started a girl’s team, which already has about 35 participants. Leventhal plans to massively expand the size and scope of the program in the coming years. He wants to give as many kids the chance to play lacrosse and gain the confidence he has and passed down to Bar David, Yahalom and others.
“Lacrosse is a sport that should be accessible to all,” Leventhal said. “Every kid deserves this opportunity, whether they’re black, brown, Hispanic, it doesn’t matter. Every kid deserves a chance to play this great game, and that’s what we’re doing here.”