Editor’s Note: welcome to Part 1 of Brian Witmer’s European Lacrosse Vacation! Brian is spending the next couple of weeks in Europe, and his first stop was in Poland. Next up is Prague, and then he heads to England.
Could he end up somewhere else? It’s certainly possible. Follow our lacrosse loving free spirit on his trip around Europe. It will inspire YOU to travel and play lacrosse, I’d almost guarantee it.
Brian Witmer’s European Lacrosse Vacation
The first leg of my little European lacrosse vacation-slash-tour for this year started off in Warsaw, Poland. For the past week I’ve been staying in a flat in the heart of Warsaw with members of the Warsaw Grom lacrosse club. In what I’ve come to understand as standard in European hospitality, I’ve been treated with kindness that went beyond any expectation. It’s been surreal.
Actually getting to Warsaw? Totally different story.
I left Salt Lake on Tuesday morning. I don’t really know how clocks/the world worked after that, and honestly the next thing that my brain let me cognitively rationalize was getting off a plane in Dublin where my second layover was. I was a little hurried. I had only an hour to get off the plane, clear EU customs, and find my gate and board the plane bound for Warsaw… or so I thought.
While my confirmation said one thing, Aer Lingus said something else. Without the common courtesy of dropping yours truly any form of communication, my flight from Dublin to Warsaw had been moved from Wednesday morning to Friday morning. Which, isn’t exactly ideal.
Spelling out this story in text doesn’t do a great job of conveying the instant stress one feels when they’re essentially being sentenced to a two-day stint in an airport/country that they don’t necessarily want to be in. Nothing against Ireland whatsoever, and I do sincerely hope to one day travel to your wonderful country, but at this particular moment in time I wanted nothing more than to be on a plane and gone.
Frantic story short, my travel agent and I got creative and we ditched Aer Lingus and caught a flight with Ryan Air, a budget carrier in Europe. I let the Warsaw guys know that I was going to be late, and I’d be landing at a different Warsaw airport, and that was that.
I honestly don’t remember taking off. Stress makes Brian sleepy. We landed at an airport in the middle of a forest clearing. There were only two gates, and we were quite literally in the middle of nowhere. It was about as Polish as it gets. Two of the guys were there to greet me and away we went, into the heart of Warsaw’s downtown.
I was fortunate enough to stay with Joakim, the current coach for Grom. His flat is right in the middle of downtown and was ideal for my curious nature to wander about during the day. The first night we went right to the team pub, “Hansel and Gretel” for a much desired feast as well as a couple cold Polish beers to help me properly acclimate.
The team goes to this pub after all their home games and uses the back room for its board meetings. They have that functional relationship with a local business that I feel is just lacking for some unknown reason in the States. In addition to sponsorship and space, the pub proudly displays trophies won by the team and I believe they receive a discounted rate on food/beverage.
On the walk home from the bar, I pulled my first, but realistically not the last for the trip, ignorant American move, in my dealings with the ATM. I knew their currency isn’t very strong, so I assumed the number to buy things would be high, as it is in the Czech Republic. Wrong. I withdrew 1500zt, when I honestly only needed 300 or so. I now had enough to buy a car. Smooth move, bud. I still have way too much Polish money in my wallet, and that’s after a concerted effort to spend as much of it as I could at bars and restaurants.
Originally I had hoped to catch one of the league games, and the insatiable junky appetite in me had hoped to play in such a game, but as schedules work out, there were no games this weekend. The league is comprised of six full membership league teams, and also has five or six associate teams that are more in the developmental stage.
The city of Warsaw is beautiful, and it’s pre-world war style architecture in a place where very little survived the atrocities of man really did a great service in displaying the pride of the Polish people. The way the guys on the team spoke about their city and about their culture was really something of unity and something a certain fifty states would be wise to emulate.
In lieu of a game, some of the Grom guys and I had agreed a few weeks ago that we could still set up a two day clinic where I would serve as an invited guest instructor in hopes of improving the Grom level of play in some way.
It wasn’t my idea by any means, but each day, the clinics were slated for five hours. Which is a lot of lacrosse, I don’t care who you are. Having learned that I would be coaching a marathon two days in a row, my strategies as to how to go about keeping the boys engaged while also instructing for such a time became quite the endeavor.
We started small, almost at a level that some might have felt insulted by, but I made it pretty clear that we had nothing but time, and to have the very most basic fundamentals broken down might seem unnecessary, but small tweaks can be all the difference for new players and the most seasoned veteran alike.
I was quite impressed with the level of play that Warsaw brings to the table. I said it a few times throughout the weekend, I think it would be a very good game between the team I coached in Italy, the Taurus out of Torino, and the Grom from Warsaw. I don’t know how feasible that travel is for either club, with 110% coming out of pocket for both clubs, but in my mind I can see it coming right down to the last minute of play.
The level of physicality, both on defense as well as offense, really spoke to the spirit of the Polish man. While it isn’t exactly the school of thought I was raised on, the style of “run towards the goal until someone stops you, and then keep running towards the goal” really bred a physically sound style of play. Stick protection was therefore emphasized, and the better defenders thus realized that position defense was the only way to go and that throwing checks wouldn’t really work to their benefit.
After the clinic on Sunday, a real treat awaited me. For the beautiful price of 88zt (~12USD) I had a seat on the PolskiBus from Warsaw to Prague, where I’ll catch the Ales Hrebesky Memorial tournament in Radotin. The bus offered free wifi, and the seats were about as comfortable as any coach bus seats ever could be expected to be, but it was still a bus, and it was a bus ride that took ten hours from point A to point B.
Funny little thing happened while I was waiting. I had my confirmation email open, as to show the driver in exchange for admittance onto the bus, when my finger somehow found the “delete” or “archive” button on my phone’s email. There went my confirmation. I panicked, and ran around like a chicken with my head cut off for a few minutes. I wasn’t able to access my email, because I’m in Europe and therefore don’t have a data package. That’s roaming, homie. Don’t do that.
I eventually pulled my head out and remembered that the bus did in fact have free wifi, so I stood as close as possible to the bus (leaning against it, ever so smoothly) and connected and was able to retrieve my reservation from the trash folder. Idiot. Oh well, at least I’m still going to Prague! Or Radotin, to be more precise.
So now I’m in Radotin. The European Lacrosse Invitational is in it’s second year, and is again taking place during the week preceding the Ales Hrebesky Memorial, so I’ve had the pleasure of watching a couple of national teams get some extra practice games before the real show gets going on Wednesday. I await the arrival of the Glasgow Clydesiders, the greatest gaggle of geese you ever did want to share a floor with.
So here I’ll be for the next ten or so days. Walking around in a kilt. Enjoying a cold Kozel and running the floor with some absolutely amazing human beings in the single most unique lacrosse tournament in the world.
A huge thank you to my hosts in Warsaw. I’ve been around this planet doing what I love and it brings me a full heart to be able to share what I know with others. As I conveyed in my closing words to the Warsaw guys, I did not come to make better players. I came to teach what I know so that I might create better coaches.
I feel a deep responsibility to pass along the gift of this game to the next generation so that we all might be so lucky to enjoy this beautiful game. That responsibility is not just my own, it is the responsibility of every player. You were given the game by someone, to not pass the game along to others would be selfish. Imagine a world where every player brings in five more? Ten new players?
The world is ours for the saving.