Editor’s Note: The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous and would like to add that the article is based on their own experiences and the experiences of those sources that they have spoken with on the topic of the growth of the game at the international level. Their opinion is their own.
A few years ago, I came across a Connor Wilson quote that read as follows:
“Real growth is MESSY, and it requires people on the ground. It has always been like this, likely always will be, and the only way to ensure success is to put in the time and effort, and avoid spinning our wheels in place, or trying to perfect an imperfect process.”
Connor Wilson, Lacrosse All Stars publisher
I had not fully grasped that concept until I spent nearly 3 months down in beautiful Colombia growing the game and teaching lacrosse all over the country.
Don’t get me wrong, there are better men than me that have relocated permanently down there to sustain the growth. But the purpose of this article to create awareness of the opportunities there are to grow the game in Colombia, among other places — as well as give helpful tips in what you might encounter.
In 2012, Miles Makdisi set out on mission to cultivate the game of lacrosse in Colombia through clinics, shipments of donated gear, and lots of time and hard work. In 2014 Colombia appeared in their first-ever World Games competition. In 2018, the program made an appearance on the world stage again under the leadership of Joe Juter. The women’s side has also been able to send teams to international competitions.
In 2017, I had the honor to travel through the nation and extend my helping hand in three different cities. It was an experience I will never forget. Colombians are some of the most friendly people I have ever encountered. In my short time in South America, we were able to get a lot organized but are still A LONG ways away in terms of seeing anything self-sustainable.
Heading South To Grow The Game
Before embarking on my journey, I spent close to a month collecting donated gear to bring down. This would be easy living on Long Island or in any hotbed area; we have access to disposable equipment that is just laying around peoples’ basements and garages. This is a must for any lacrosse traveler. Gear is gold to the countries that are developing due to shipping costs and exchange rates.
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Most of the players are still getting introduced to the game. They don’t care if it’s an S, or an R or rusty bucket from the Gait days. These young laxers are excited that you made the effort to bring anything at all. Flights are cheap — don’t let anyone fool you. If you book at the right time of the year and fly into Medellin, you can get a round trip ticket from NYC for around $350, give or take. Lodging is around $10 per night and food cost is around $3-5 per day. That being said a lot of lacrosse players’ families offered me to stay with them (I think I only spent 3 nights in a hostel). I got by with around $1,000 for the entire trip.
I started my venture in Bogota, which is the largest city in Colombia with tons of things to do and see. Luckily, through the interwebs, I was connected to a man named Joe Prieto. Joe was kind enough to pick me up at the airport and find me a place to stay. He runs an after school youth program called “Manos Amigas Colombia.” Manos Amigos works with kids, giving them an alternative way to spend their days playing lacrosse. I spent my first few days working with Joe and the program. If you go to Colombia, you must spend some time with Joe. While in Bogota, I would say for 80% of the kids in the Amigas program, it’s their first time holding or even seeing a lacrosse stick.
Bogota has a few teams. But with teams ranging in all different ages, genders, and levels, it can be difficult to get everyone organized. Some players have developed into great players; however, most struggle with basics and understating basic rules. At first I grew frustrated, thinking that I was here to help coach the national team. Meanwhile, we could barely run a shooting drill. It took me a few weeks to realize that American-style coaching is not what they needed. Every city in Colombia has a drastically different style. My next stop was Pereira.
Pereira is a very small but modern city. They have both men and women playing, and almost everyone in Pereira is in college. This makes for a fun bunch with tons of enthusiasm, but the commitment level hasn’t met its fullest potential. Some days it felt like we had close to 40 players. Others, we were lucky to get 14. One thing that held true for every city is that these young men and women just love competition, and it doesn’t always have to be 10-v-10. Sometimes all the drills and “clinics” will actually push some newer players away. This is all brand new to them, and they want it to be fun. None of these kids are competing for NCAA Scholarships. They just want to pick up a stick and a ball and attempt to put it in the net. The frustration I felt before subsided when I saw the laughter and smiles, as well as the overwhelming amount of gratitude some of the players showed. These guys didn’t have much, but their families always offered me a place to rest my head and food on my plate.
My last stop on the tour was Medellin. I fell in love with Medellin as a city. Out of all the places that I traveled while in Colombia, I felt like I saw the most growth here. The largest contribution to that was a clearer understanding of what kind of lacrosse experience they needed. Medellin holds the PAN-AM championships annually and due to this, it has made some beautiful facilities. We were able to book out a roller hockey rink to hold the country’s first-ever “box tournament”— well, modified box, but it was still solid. Four teams played round-robin for hours, 5-v-5 with goalies. Joe Juter believes this “spirit of Olympic lacrosse” style will be the best way to grow the game moving forward. “We need more local/homegrown tournaments,” Joe said. “Same sticks, no offsides. Just play lacrosse.” Witnessing it firsthand, I could not agree more.
International competitions are great! But at what point can these tournaments become counterproductive to the advancement of the game in these growing nations? It is A LOT of time, money and energy to make the World Games happen. And the exchange rate doesn’t exactly favor the Colombians, nor many others. I really want whoever is still reading this to ponder that, whether you be a coach, player or a World Games official. Picture what that looks like— the coordination and expenses it takes for a country like Colombia to make it to Israel.
“Visas and flights really do a number on our guys,” said Jutor.
The total cost for team Colombia to attend the World Game in 2018 was nearly $75,000. Any local tournament in South America or Latin America would be well under $10,000.
“Imagine, what we could do with that money!” said Juter.
I understand the craze that is going on with countries that are developing lacrosse in their respected nations. It is natural for 18-to-30-year-old men and women to want to wear their national team jersey at a world competition.
However, I think that real growth takes time. Several European nations have set up leagues and tournaments where American and Canadian teams will fly over to participate. Look at what the Ales Hrebesky Memorial, located in Prague, has done for Czech Republic lacrosse — as well as the surrounding nations. Growth needs to occur from the inside out, not the other way around.
What are your thoughts on how the growth of lacrosse should be handled at the international level, specifically in countries where lacrosse is a new sport? Share in the comments.