Editor’s Note: Welcome author Matthias Lehna from Germany to LaxAllStars.com. He is going to keep us updated on the state of German lacrosse and their effort to revamp how they grow the game. Matthias is a member of the German field and box national team, a creator for DLAXN and a spokesman for the German Lacrosse Association. It’s time to let him start, because he has a lot to say.
Lacrosse in Germany has had a tough time creating uniform growth across the country. In some areas the game is booming, in others it clings to life. While structural changes within leadership can cause a lull in progress, there are also glimpses of a positive outlook for the immediate future.
A project by four guys from Frankfurt is representative of a modern approach to age-old problems.
Let’s Just Do It
After a night in Frankfurst of drinking Äppelwoi, a cider of-sorts popular in the Hesse region of Germany, a problem appeared crystal clear to a duo of lacrosse players – something major was missing in the community.
Germany was missing an online platform for lacrosse. An outlet to offer all lacrosse enthusiasts entertainment, news and quality stories.
“We should start an online magazine,” Gustav Weber thought two years ago. “Let’s just do it.”
Weber and Marius Greb founded DLAXN, Deutsche Lacrosse News, a website for everything related to lacrosse in Germany. The team has grown since its foundation that night two years ago and now consists of four enthusiastic lacrosse players from SC 1880 Frankfurt.
But great ideas are always met with roadblocks.
This project is characterized by a spectacle that has been repeated over the last decade: good ideas are put into practice by dedicated lacrosse players and ultimately have to prove their sustainability. In lacrosse, which is once again considered exotic among marginal sports in Germany, all work for the sport is merely driven by the enthusiasm of individuals. Among the approximate 3,500 active lacrosse players in Germany, the leap to a more professional association structure is still great. There is a great lack of funds and resources.
Jackie Klaus can confirm this. The American transplant has been living in Germany for years, competing with the women’s national team and winning a German championship with the storied HLC-Munich. Six years ago, she was one of the editors of the now-defunct European Lacrosse Magazine.
In the end, the effort for the magazine did not pay off anymore.” Klaus reflected. “The community is very small, the effort to create it was no longer in proportion to the reach.”
European Lacrosse Magazine was a classic by players, for players project. The quarterly print edition was last publicized for the 2013 German championship in Cologne. That was the end of it. Fans have clung to the issues that do remain, while it’s likely that several issues are probably still stored in the cellars of former Munich lacrosse players.
We can’t just have a good idea. DLAXN has to prove itself through a mountain of challenges to create any change.
Ready to “Grow the Game” Again
Simon Krause, the president of the German Lacrosse Association, DLaxV, is aware of the standstill. The doctor of chemistry has himself been part of the German lacrosse community for over ten years and knew beforehand what commitment to this sport in Germany means: the sacrifice of a large part of his free time.
Add to that the financial commitment in the value of a small car – or something close – spent playing and growing the game over the years.
The money spent still wasn’t viewed a loss for Krause,
“I met my wife through this sport and expensive foreign tournaments were my annual vacation at the same time.”
Nevertheless, he realizes that this lifestyle does not match the sustainable growth of the German lacrosse community. For many Germans, the pattern can perpetuate an expensive hobby instead of backing up the international lacrosse mindset to “Grow the Game.” After all, with the Olympic Games in Los Angeles luring at the end of the decade, the pressure is on World Lacrosse to see the sport reinstated by the Olympic Committee. Men’s field lacrosse was featured in the 1904 and 1908 Olympics, but have since been removed for over a century. While lacrosse has remained popular on the East Coast of the United States and in Canada, where’s it’s the national summer sport, the Native American rooted game has remained limited in its growth outside of North America.
This has now changed. With the recent addition of Panama, there are now 66 recognized national associations in World Lacrosse. In the last twenty years there has been a 240 percent growth across the globe. Yet, the growth has seemed to reach its limits in Germany about ten years ago.
The entry hurdles for beginners in this sport remain high.
In addition to the strong competition from an established club culture for children and young people in Germany, there isn’t a system of support from clubs and governing bodies. Administrative work and club building is largely carried out by active players and the sport is surviving on the efforts of those who should be focused on playing. The governing body in Germany will soon be celebrating its 25th anniversary and yet the average age of the association’s board of directors is in its early 30’s. Basically, the association consists of a mass of young academics who are just getting established in their professional life.
They are all united by their passion for an exotic Anglo-American popularized throwing sport, but far from the only people this should all depend on.
Prospects + Internationally Exemplary Referee Training
Despite all the structural deficits there are rays of hope.
The German national team programs have caused a stir with results at international tournaments in recent years. First and foremost, the U19 men with the runner-up finish European Championship in Prague last summer. The U19 group outscored their opponents 61-11 in the event until falling, 9-8, to England in the final.
There are also pioneer athletes making noise like Per Olters (Frankfurt / Vermont), Wynton Bastian (Hamburg / Providence) or Penelope Pennoyer (Frankfurt / Manhattan) who made the leap to the big college lacrosse programs in the States. While Olters was the first German to go to a NCAA Division I school for lacrosse, U19 star Bastian refined his craft in California before committing to Providence. On her way to New York City as a member of Manhattan’s 2021 class, Penelope Pennoyer is the first German woman to commit to a DI university.
While homegrown talent is making the journey overseas, referees are experiencing some of the greatest success in country. The boards and committees of World Lacrosse have German representation at all levels and internationally there is envious look at the proven German referee training system.
On the men’s and women’s sides, the talent and professional nature of German officiating is setting a high standards for referees in Europe. As long as this community continues to produce people in stripes like Gustav Weber with his unstoppable enthusiasm, lacrosse in Germany will not be in bad shape. Gustav is only in his mid-twenties, only a few years away from becoming a pillar of German lacrosse.