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11 Lessons I Learned at LaxCon

11 Lessons I Learned at LaxCon

After attending his very first LaxCon, Mark recaps the 11 most important lessons that he learned at the 2015 US Lacrosse National Convention in Baltimore, Maryland!

Even though I’ve been playing lacrosse for what is about to be 15 years, I had never made my way to the US Lacrosse National Convention. This year, things were different as I made a tour of the coast from New York to Baltimore and I was ready, or so I thought, for one of the biggest lacrosse events of the year.

Some things really surprised me at LaxCon, some good, some bad. Here’s my list of the Top 11 Lessons I learned from attending LaxCon 2015.

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#1 – Friendly Fire

Everyone is in competition, but only a few brands aren’t looking anywhere but forward. On Wednesday I dove deep into this topic, but I’d just like to point out that I heard more bad things about brand competition than any good things about their own products.

Joe Williams Throne of String Greg Kinnealy East Coast Dyes LaxCon
Why can’t we be friends?

The young lacrosse generation needs to be impressed. If it’s not cool, it’s not going to sell. From eye catching advertising or by having a popular lacrosse personality endorsing your goods, products and services just won’t gain any traction without the cool factor.

Old school is dying out and the blue collar work ethic isn’t being rewarded like it used to. To the kids, it’s not about longevity right now, it’s about what you can do for them to look good, perhaps because they believe that translates to playing good. Whether it does or it doesn’t isn’t the issue, but you better start thinking on how to get that coveted cool factor or you’re dead in the water.

#2 – Know Your Audience

If you didn’t know already, there are some lax dads out there who love to make money on this sport. It’s no secret that lacrosse is the Wild West and we are on the brink of a giant boom. Brands that are in it now are ready for the takeoff and most of them are counting on this continued growth to make it work.

So many products and services are being introduced by businessmen that have known about lacrosse essentially as long as their kids have been playing it. This is a dangerous line to walk if you like returns on your investments. Call a head a “basket” or a “racket” and see what that does for your reputation.

I would never discourage someone from creating a new brand, but I want those non-lacrosse playing capitalists to know that they either need to learn the sport inside and out, or get out of the way and let a true lacrosse junkie be the face and voice of your brand. If you don’t know more than 10-15 pro lacrosse players, each league in competition, what teams typically make it to the Final Four and the terms being used by lax players in and off of the field, you might be making yourself look lazy to the educated consumer and just plain out of the loop to the typical lacrosse kid.

Know your demographic and everything that they expect from the industry. If you don’t, you may be seen as disrespecting a very touchy community that will turn their backs on you in the snap of a finger.

#3 – Busch League Fire Alarms

scumbag firealarm
Banished from LaxCon I say!

Fire alarms are whack. The fan fair was scheduled to end at 5pm on Saturday and guess what happened right around 5 o’clock! That’s right, the fire alarm was pulled and everyone was evacuated from the convention center.

This disrupted my filming of a collaboration Stick Trick Saturday episode and really threw vendors for a loop. Cash boxes, merchandise and displays were expected to be left unattended as the convention would be cleared out by the center’s staff.

Fire alarms can cause havoc!

#4 – LaxCon Is Pretty Vanilla

At LaxCon 2015, diversity was almost nonexistent. If an outsider walked into LaxCon, would they ever know that lacrosse is played by anyone other than wealthy white people?

Sure it was only $5 for a jersey wearing fan to come to Saturday’s event, but other than a couple Native American based companies in the vendor area and one African-American athlete, I could count on my fingers and toes the number of people I saw at LaxCon that didn’t look like upper middle class white people and that’s a lingering problem. It was amazing to see Felix from Uganda have his way paid to get to the event and I am in full support of this action but it can’t stop there. Peter Lasagna addresses the remaining lack of diversity in lacrosse in this month’s IL column, and it’s still a valid issue.

I also can’t help to think of all of the inner-city kids that deserved to be there too and organizations like the Sankofa Alliance and ASPAC that had no presence at the event. It’s no shocker that a ton of rich white people play lacrosse, and I hope that continues, but I know that there are hundreds of thousands of non-white lacrosse players and they were laregely nowhere to be found in Baltimore this weekend.

Honestly, I’m making an observation here that I don’t have much of a solution for. I just felt the need to point this out because an outsider would not get a clear picture of the diversity of our amazing community by coming to LaxCon. I also do not believe this is US Lacrosse’s fault at all. It is just something that happened. Diversity was in full form at the World Games, so we shouldn’t allow our US Lacrosse event to be a living stereotype.

#5 – Wake Up, Baltimore

The host city must embrace the event, or the event should never return. Baltimore is the lacrosse capital of the world, yet it felt like the city either didn’t know or didn’t care that LaxCon was in town. Less than a handful of restaurants had signs welcoming LaxCon goers and even less offered some sort of specials.

Performers and vendors from outside of the lacrosse world were nowhere to be seen and that’s the recipe for a really boring environment. Turn the area around Pratt Street into a living, breathing world of its own. Let the street musicians perform on the property and let them know when to be there. Other than a Jimmy Johns and an Ale House, the area was nearly dead and a hike to greener pastures was required for a good dinner or a little entertainment.

Shoot, invite the circus and have them perform out front! People want to be wowed for coming to the event, not left with the impression of being glad to finally hit one LaxCon and that was good enough. The event is much more than an industry trade show and coaching/reffing seminar so treat it like such.

The event organizers must alert the city of the impending cash flow and work to increase their revenue from the weekend by creating a better fan experience outside of the convention center walls. The event is back in Baltimore next year, so I’m hopeful we see more in this regard.

#6 – Impressed By The Draft

chesapeake bayhawks 2015 mll draft
Bayhawks on the clock.

The MLL Draft was better than I expected. Everyone likes to take shots at the size and operations of the MLL, but I do believe their staff is in it for the right reasons and doing the best with what they have.

This year the event featured a DJ that kept the room from going stale between picks and the first couple rounds moved at a solid pace. One day I hope that it makes it to an arena that gets packed out with thousands of passionate fans just like the big 4 sports and that the actual picks would be there, but I get it because no college kid is going to pay his way to the draft*, especially in the beginning of the semester.

ohio machine 2015 mll draft harrison and baum
A couple of Ohio Machines mingling with the fans!

All in all, the MLL Draft was worth attending and those that did show up likely found themselves in the background, or starring (yeah you, Rabil!) in the Washburn and Quint live MLL Draft show. Who doesn’t love to be on TV?! Plus, getting to run elbows with the biggest names in lacrosse past, present, and future is never a bad thing!

*NCAA rules do not allow for an athlete to have his/her trip, stay or accommodations to be funded by anyone other than themselves or immediate family. If the MLL or he teams paid for the player to be there their would lose their eligibility for the NCAA as an amateur athlete.

#7 – I Want To Be Back Already

Lacrosse is growing along with LaxCon and I’ll definitely be back next year. For everyone that rubbed me the wrong way or got under my skin, there were at least two others putting a big smile on my face.

From the innovators working on creating a better game to the kids that won’t put their sticks down because they were inspired by my stick tricks, people young and old are continuing to fall in love with this beautiful game and that wildfire will never be put out. When I get asked for a picture or a dad tells me his little knucklehead won’t stop doing stick tricks, I can’t help but get cold chills because that’s the reason most of us are here. Not for the notoriety, but to put sticks in new hands and to help them find their connection to the game that will create passionate lacrosse people for a lifetime.

LaxCon Mark Donahue
Okay, maybe Matt Lauer wasn’t at LaxCon

If you have ever watched a video, learned a dodge or tried to copy a stick that inspired you, don’t feel awkward telling that person you think what they do is awesome. People want to hear that the game is growing through them and it means the world to each one of us to hear that we at least helped one person get better, try harder or ultimately helped them to fall in love with lacrosse. It doesn’t have to be an intelligent thought or over the top speech, just tell them you love what they do and you’d love to see more.

That’s how this industry gets pushed to new heights and guys stay motivated to keep chasing the dream.

#8 – Out With The Old, In With The New

New brands are emerging in the lacrosse sphere left and right and I couldn’t be happier. An over saturated market can be horrible for a consumer and some products in the lacrosse sphere definitely are approaching that line.

That said, many new brands introduced themselves at LaxCon and I don’t see many of them going anywhere. A solid amount of the young brands at LaxCon brought their A game and made some of their veteran competition look like amateur hour.

For example, PlayerX Apparel made their way to the market in 2014 and didn’t miss their opportunity to make a big splash at their first LaxCon. I reviewed their first line and explained why they are completely different and after meeting Alan and Brian, I stand by my word. These guys give a world of praise to their competitors and set out to create designs and to use materials that are absolutely different from everyone else.

Note: PlayerX is not a parter of LaxAllStars.com at this time and my opinion is solely formed on talking with the brand leading up to LaxCon and at the event.

One of the first things Alan ever said to me is that he loves the Adrenaline look and he acknowledged that they are killing it in the industry. He was also able to clearly identify their key demographic and break down their style and marketing techniques. By doing so he could create a new option for lacrosse apparel that avoids stepping on the big dogs’ toes and gives new options to a lacrosse market that may or may not feel connected with the look of other brands.

PlayerX didn’t invent the wheel nor did they duplicate their competitors’. Instead, they assessed the field and made a strategic jump to offer a new feel for lacrosse apparel. Some like it, some don’t, and that’s the whole point. There can’t be a product for everybody, lacrosse is just too unique. Instead, learn from the rookies at PlayerX and tip your hat to the brands like Adrenaline that have been killing it for years, then turn around and do it yourself in your own way. They didn’t set out to take money from bigger brands, they set out to create a unique product for a demographic that wants something different and that’s the moral of this story. Be different.

#9 – My Poor Skin

Well Connor was prepared for this one, but no one ever told me! Convention centers get super dry and will teach you the importance of chapstick and lotion.

Take it from me first hand, your lips will crack and your skin will dry out the longer you’re in there with all of the dehumidifiers running, so always bring a stick or two of lip balm and a solid pump bottle of some Jergen’s. If not, you’re going to have a bad time!

#10 – Books And Their Covers

Social media personalities are typically not what you expect in real life and that is awesome! Some guys I follow on Instagram and really respect their work were present at LaxCon and only a couple of them were truly like I expected.

Redbeard Lax and Mark Donahue
His beard really is red!

Instagram has created an online social circle of lacrosse obsessed creative types and LaxCon seems to be the one time a year the great minds, and fingers, of the time can come together. Guys like Chris Burke, Paul Jones, Travis Sandin and so many more were all present and I’ll be honest when saying each one of them were not what I expected in person and they probably felt the same way about me.

Most of the IG lacrosse guys were taller or shorter than I imagined and each one was shaped a lot differently too. That alone vouches for the diversity of the lacrosse community because most of them don’t look like what you would call a lacrosse player, but heading into the event I was already familiar with most of them and their stringing abilities along with their insights and opinions on the game of lacrosse.

To me, each guy had a certain level of credibility heading into LaxCon and a solid majority of them might have been blown off by me if I was just hearing of them at LaxCon for the first time. It honestly made me ashamed of myself for judging books by their covers.

I do not look like a typical lacrosse player; I don’t have Rabil strength, Harrison footwork, Stanwick hair and so on, yet, I have my stick in my hands for hours every day and I explore every corner of the lacrosse world for ways to learn, get better and have more fun with the lax lifestyle. I know the same goes for most of the Instagram lacrosse community and I couldn’t be more grateful for these guys reminding me that lacrosse is a game for everyone and really get to know everyone you can at LaxCon because they are apart of your lacrosse family and just because you have a weird cousin doesn’t make him any less family.

Everyone in the room has one of the greatest connections I’ve ever been a part of, don’t ever work to divide the community, work to grow it!

#11 – We Want Box!

Baltimore Bombers vs UnCommon Fit LaserSharks Box Lacrosse Exhibition Baltimore Maryland
Those faces beg for more box!

Americans are hungry for box lacrosse and currently US Lacrosse is ignoring it. The UnCommon Fit LaserSharks were hosted by the Baltimore Bombers box lacrosse club for an exhibition in Brooklyn, MD, which is about 15 min from the convention center and not in a great area of town.

The opening face off jumped off around 9pm on what is known to most as the bar night of LaxCon. With all of those factors working against the exhibition, the stands were literally packed out for the scrimmage. Fans were excited to see an American grown game of box lacrosse and it came down to the wire with Zack Dorn, Mr. 116, getting robbed in the final seconds to keep from going to overtime.

It was a fantastic ending to a truly fun exhibition that was absolutely fan friendly and enjoyable. Both team benches were placed right in front of the fans and the young bucks didn’t need the earmuffs to sit so close. It was surprising to me to see so many fans from around the country stoked to watch the game that had nothing to do with the convention its self.

US Lacrosse had no information present about the squad that will wearing the Stars and Stripes in the 2015 WILC, nor did they have anything to do with the box exhibition. Box growth in the US will not be stopped so it’s about time for everyone, I mean everyone, to embrace it. There were no box vendors at LaxCon and even less talk of this great sport. Next year I hope they get behind the scrimmage and use it as an exhibition to introduce the game of box to American crowds and to test out how well they receive it.

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What do you think of my observations of LaxCon 2015? Am I going crazy or did I nail it on the head? Let us know your opinions in the comments below!

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