I wrote about problems and solutions in youth lacrosse yesterday, and my commentary applied best to the North American region of the world. My key problem areas were Coaching, Peer Pressure, Too Much Gear, and the Scholarship Lie. But what about international youth lacrosse problems? Are there different issues facing the international lacrosse community? If so, what are they?
I got an email from Finn Leggeri asking if I knew about these problems, and it got me thinking. So let’s get started!
Yes, there are different problems (along with some of the same ones) for international youth lacrosse programs.
Like the US and Canada, kids need good coaches. While there are many excellent coaches in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, and Australia, there are still not enough of them. When a sport grows, this is often the case. It’s not a knock on the coaches out there now either. It’s just a fact. Kids need coaches to help them develop.
There are really two places where the coaches typically come from. It is either a) ex-players (or current players) who know the game well, or b) parents who get involved even though they don’t know the game. Creating an atmosphere of giving back to the club can help get more players involved, and sometimes it is as simple as just asking.
Once the current (and former) players start to help out, a great thing to organize is a skills/educational session(s) for parents who want to get involved. Take the time to teach the parents the game, and utilize them as assistant coaches. Eventually, some of them may put in the work to really know the game.
This creates a nice stable of available and interested people to coach the kids, and it allows the club to grow organically. As new players join, teach their parents the game, and get them involved. The club system functions more or less in this way in Perth, Australia, and it’s a beautiful thing to see when done right.
When it comes to gear, international youth lacrosse programs face a very different challenge. In the US, there is almost too much gear out there. You have your choice of helmets, gloves, pads, sticks, and more. Some kids get a new helmet every year. You can buy lacrosse equipment now in most sporting goods stores, and it’s online as well, offering even more choice. If you can’t afford new stuff, craigslist and Play It Again Sports can get you decked out. Maybe a family friend will even give you a full set of equipment their kid has grown out of. The point is, there is a lot of equipment availability out there in the US, especially for a relatively expensive sport.
In Europe and much of the rest of the world, the opposite is true. Lacrosse equipment is at a premium, costs a lot to import, and can be a major barrier to entry. There is no Play It Again Sports option, and most people are paying above full US retail for equipment, even of the beginner’s variety.
In my view, there are a couple of things that can be done to help here, but it will be an uphill battle: 1) Create an organized system within your club for collecting unused lacrosse gear. When members buy new stuff, ask them to donate older gear to the club. This goes along with the idea of creating a “give back” atmosphere within your community. 2) If your local league does not allow for hockey helmets and pads to be used, propose a change. I used a hockey helmet when I was a little kid, and hockey elbow pads and shoulder pads. It works just fine for the first year or two and if you live in a hockey playing country, it can help cut costs. 3) If someone travels to the US, ask them to buy equipment for the club. There sales and deals in the US, so if you travel stateside, stock up on bargain bin product.
A bigger project would be creating a partnership with a youth lacrosse group in the United States. Kids from each program could go visit the other program, and part of the deal could be bringing used lacrosse gear to the international program. I actually believe that some US youth programs would love to do this. Reach out to a number of them, and see if anyone is interested. Who knows what could happen.
A HUGE problem for international youth lacrosse is attracting players to the sport. While the US youth scene is all about playing as much as the next kid, and competing club teams, the international scene is often just about putting together 13-18 kids so they can form a team. It’s an uphill battle!
When I lived in Australia, we would go to local schools and introduce the kids to lacrosse. We saw a LOT of kids on these trips, but very few really had an interest in lacrosse, even though they had fun when they tried playing. The same can be true in Europe or Asia. Typically, kids who want to play sports gravitate towards soccer or hockey or basketball. Lacrosse is often an afterthought, or just some weird foreign sport they want no part of.
So how can you attract kids to lacrosse? The youth of today loves video. They are on their phones or computers or whatever and video is often playing. This is a good place to start. Find an exciting lacrosse video that is 3-4 minutes long. Let kids watch it in schools, or send out a link to the video via email and ask people to spread it around. Being able to see the sport in action piques interest.
Then, host informational lacrosse days at your club. Get two men’s teams to play a game, and host a cookout and question & answer session. Talk about the game, its interesting history, and how it is growing worldwide. Talk about skill and speed and teamwork. Then give people food and let them watch the game. If there is a festive atmosphere, people are likely to come back.
Another good option is to ask your current players to go out to local parks or fields and play catch, or shoot on a portable goal. People will come up and ask what they are doing. Some may want to try it out for themselves. It’s one person at a time, but it’s also effective in generating growth.
Finally, if you can set up a partnership with local schools, and you can get in once a month to do a lacrosse day after school, you might be able to pick up some interested kids. Skills competitions, prizes, and lots of fun can be enough to get a new player or two to try lacrosse.
The last big issue for international youth lacrosse that I’ll cover today is the need for space in which to play! In NYC, space is at a premium and field space is a major roadblock for any youth sports group. In many international urban areas, this is also quite true. So how can international youth lacrosse programs find space to use?
If you’re in a town like Radotin (Czech Republic), you take the space in front of the community center and you turn it into a superb box lacrosse rink over a long period of years. Originally it was dirt (and a little grass) and sketchy boards with no glass. If you go there now, 30 years later, it is a gem of a facility that brings a tear to your eye. So option #1 is: find some land, and get to work!
It’s possible land is not cheap where you live. It’s certainly not here in NYC! One option is to apply to the City for use of their athletic fields. There are often public spaces for rent or use by permit, so begin applying for use of those fields immediately. That’s option #2. You can also find private athletic fields that can be rented. Option #3.
Option #4 takes things in a different direction. Find a local sports club that is NOT lacrosse. Hockey, soccer, field hockey, etc. Try to create a partnership with them where you use their facility, AND offer their members discounts on joining your club. Make sure your season is played during their OFF season. Preach the importance of playing multiple sports. Some people may laugh you out of their office. Be prepared for that. But someone may like the idea, and then the potential becomes unlimited. My lacrosse club in Australia had a partnership with a cricket club. It actually worked out great, so I know it can work.
International Youth Lacrosse Problems – Summary
The problems facing youth lacrosse on the international level are serious. Not enough coaching, a lack of gear, need for facilities, and creating interest can all be tough obstacles to overcome, especially when combined at once. Take it step by step, get organized, and find passionate people to help guide the club towards the future. YOU CAN DO THIS!
If you think I missed a major problem, hit me up in the comments and we’ll talk about it. I’m always interested to hear from the people on the ground on this type of stuff!