I was cold last weekend. It was a nice change of pace. A nice return to what I’ve always grown up understanding February to be: icy and miserable. I was elated to have my cheeks stung by cold air, and to find my two feet crunching along snowy sidewalks in Oslo, Norway for the Scandinavian Cup.
I hadn’t been up to the region previously, and not for lack of want. I’ve developed friendships with Swedish and Danish players over the years, and I’ve been secretly admiring the Norwegian programs from the sidelines for a while now.
I (Secretly) Heart Norway
An excellent dark horse barnstorming by the Norwegian National Team in 2016 at the European Championships, a brilliant run to the championship game of the Ken Galluccio Cup this past September (2017), and two appearances by the GSI Grizzlies in two separate box lacrosse tournaments in Prague – all have made me a big fan of how Norwegian lacrosse is developing at the grassroots level. It’s also a huge nod to how well they’ve made the effort to be good neighbors in the interest of growing lacrosse in Scandinavia.
This event was the icing on top, and for all the right reasons.
I could go on and on about why exactly I liked this event, but my rationale on liking this tournament are very similar to why I enjoyed the New Year’s Cup in Budapest or the High Peaks tournament in Lake Placid.
I won’t droll on and on about something I could very easily droll on and on about, instead I’d like to share with you my biggest three takeaways from this event.
The Proper Place to Educate, Train, and Evaluate Officials
This might have been my favorite piece. One of the key focuses in the international development of lacrosse simply must be the development of officials. If we continue to add hundreds maybe thousands of players globally each year and can only muster a dozen new officials, then our growth will undoubtedly be hindered.
On the Friday afternoon before the Saturday/Sunday slate of games, there was an officially sanctioned ELF Level 2 training for referees and umpires*. I took a bus from the airport more or less directly to the ValHall sport facility where I was fortunate enough to sit in on ten referees going through a level two educational class with world-class referee/friends/humans Barbara Zelaney and Ryan Wallace. Between the pair they’ve seen the majority of the world and have worn stripes in just about every country they’ve visited.
I have officiated before, and I have enjoyed it, but I do not have any certifications outside of the United States. I know what a slash looks like and how to count to seven, but when it comes down to the intricacies of the wild and whacky world of FIL rules, there are rules I do not know. Sitting in on this class was helpful to me, and I would support an increase in these educational classes throughout Europe and to the rest of the world’s developing programs as well.
Knowledge is power, and the application of that power is everything. Men’s and women’s officials got as many games as their legs could handle, and after each game compliments and criticisms were given in a mixed bag in order to further the development of our game’s most important/least appreciated pieces.
*- referees officiate for men, umpires officiate women. Why? Can’t help you there, but now you know.
Full Games for the Full Experience
There wasn’t a rag-tag pickup team in attendance to this tournament. I played as a pickup, sure. Ryan Wallace and I jumped on with our good buddies from Denmark to play for the Copenhagen Lacrosse Club. A few of our youngest players were also encouraged to help out another team that was hurting for numbers.
Free lacrosse for them, help in the form of extra legs for the teams, a more competitive opponent for the opposition. Everyone wins.
Aside from these few examples, these were full-on clubs – an excellent demonstration of the growth in the region. Teams weren’t concerned with learning each other’s names, they were able to focus on advanced playmaking, situational play, and getting better as cohesive units.
The home club of Oslo took home the gold after defeating Team Nordia in the final. Nordia was comprised of Swedish players looking to make the national team, and Oslo was very much populated with Norwegian players who will be in Israel for the World Championships. While this certainly could not be called a contest between the two national teams, it was certainly the highest intensity of the games – an indicator and example of just how hard these national team players are working.
On the women’s side, the script was flipped.
The Swedish women’s club of Farsta took home the hardware with a, 10-5, victory over the host team from Oslo. Once again we saw national team players working hard to get better. There is not women’s championship to be played for in 2018, but European Championships are only 18 months out and Euro/World Championships aren’t the only reason to improve. I think just from a participation standpoint, we’re going to start seeing Nordic teams nipping at the heels of established powerhouses in the years to come.
The Copenhagen Lacrosse Club took home 3rd versus the HIOA Kings and in the spirit of flipping scripts, the HIOA Queens took home the 3rd place trophy in a win over Copenhagen’s women’s team. I’ve been a huge fan of the Fighting Pastries and what they’ve been able to accomplish. I met them in Goooodoollooooo for the European Championships back in 2016, and it was amazing to finally get a run in with them.
Simplicity and Efficiency
If you couldn’t gather already, I loved the Scandinavian Cup. I think this model, which does exist elsewhere, is perfect for the sustainable and structured growth of lacrosse. New players are welcomed in with open arms, and top tier players get to play against other players of a similar caliber from around the region.
The New Year’s Cup in Budapest serviced teams from Germany, Poland, Czech, Hungary, and even countries as far away as Switzerland, Israel and Italy. The British National Championships cover the entirety of the United Kingdom, and the Hong Kong Open is a wonderful example of a regional competition as well.
These nations have the common goals of competition, development, being fiscally responsible, and most importantly they are having fun. Championships are amazing. I love going to Championship tournaments, but the goals and mindset of championship teams and players is that of someone who is taking a test. You have to pass the test. Hopefully you get a 100 or an A+ on this test. Tests are great – but we cannot take tests without going to class and preparing for these tests.
The Scandinavia Cup and events with a similar structure are industry standard for how programs can get the most accomplished in terms of development of players, teams, and chemistry. If the overall goal is to win trophies and medals, you simply cannot skip class. Improving players and teams will improve the game as a whole, and regional competitions are a sustainable method for growth.
Ryan’s Three Takeaways from Oslo
Authored by Ryan Wallace, globe-trotting Ref/Coach/Lacrossehuman
Like Brian, I was very fortunate to be invited to such a great event, and I was also happy to see so much snow. If you need an excuse to go to Oslo in February, I saw two baby Moose running through the snow on the train to the airport. It was magical. I was too mesmerized to get a picture.
Adding to what Brian said, I got to pull double duty at this event – assisting officials evaluations, reffing a few games myself. The referees there were also mostly players who were motivated to improve, increase their game knowledge, to have another skill set level officially under their belt.
People in Norway are very studious. Lots of people there pursuing Masters and PhD’s. That dedication spills over into wanting to be a good ref, and a smarter player as a result. When players and officials get better, when everyone gets more experience, lots of games, that’s really Growing the Game. More reps + more officials = better lacrosse.
There were a lot of smart players on the field in Oslo. Some of it made it really easy on us trying to train and certify FIL Level 2 refs. National Team players filled most of the teams and there are some really experienced box players in Norway.
Speaking of the box, it’s clear to me that box guys continue to be more comfortable on the field than the other way around, when field players go in the box for the first time.
When you give a box player all that space, they can do pretty much anything they want. They will take some dodges and some quick shots, and get inside sometimes. Catch and shoot under pressure? No problem.
Norwegian Box Teams are just now starting to pop up. They will benefit greatly from all that time spent in 5-on-5 in a few years on the field. Sweden is already playing a ton of box and the Finnish have made seriously impressive jumps in the last few years, Finnishing (get it?) 3rd at the European Box Championships that they hosted last summer in Turku. It should be no surprise that the Turku Titans are the European Field Club Champions.
Populated by quite a few really excellent box national team players, they ran most box plays outside, stacking a strong side with four off-ball attackers. Oslo also went into the two-man game, but they were getting open inside really well, and skipping the ball to the backside for a shot or a re-Dodge.
The last thing I noticed in Oslo, is that many teams don’t really understand the value of possession.
So many times, giving up goals on defense is caused by losing the ball on offense. The huge dome we played in was the absolute biggest field I’ve ever been on. It was monstrous. If you want to make the longest run back to D of your life, over and over, be my guest. As referees, just like players that don’t want to sprint back and forth all game every turnover, possession becomes so critical.
The number one mistake teams make is being careless with the ball, at every level. Stepping on with a new team, full of guys I don’t know almost every weekend, my first job is usually to settle possession. Get a few passes back and forth. Many players try to dodge right into a double team, as soon as they get the ball.
Let’s get set up first, let’s catch our breath. Let’s get five passes, or at least get the ball through X. Then we can do something with the ball.
Remember, this field was gigantic. So much room for activities.
I really appreciate the Norwegian Lacrosse folks for recognizing the huge value this weekend was for everybody involved. It was definitely a “High Quality” event. I hope they do more of them. There are so many top-notch organized and executed tournaments everywhere, but the Scandinavian Cup is one you should really check it out.