At the end of October, 3d Lacrosse announced that former Brine CEO Sean Fox was joining the company as Executive Vice President of Operations. Now a few months into the job, I had a chance to connect with Sean both by email and by phone to talk about his new role with 3d, box lacrosse, the growth of the game, and his vast experience in the lacrosse industry and business world.
What drew you back into the lacrosse industry and why did you choose to join 3d Lacrosse?
I’ve never really felt like I left the game or the industry since I first began playing in High School. Legendary Hall of Fame Hobart Coach (and Mentor) Dave Urick always reinforced the idea that we should give something back to the game, so I have served as player, true fan, supportive father, coach, and executive, among other roles. I feel like 3d Lacrosse also aims to give something back to the game and it’s a primary reason I joined the company.
I also joined the company because I was really impressed with the Box/Field Hybrid teaching methodology. My son was a 3d Lacrosse player and I watched with great admiration as his coaches helped him grow as a player and as a person. I was amazed by the emphasis on training and the sheer pace of the drills and games. 3d Lacrosse CEO Jamie Munro approached me originally (as a friend) to see if I could help him identify a candidate for the position. Within minutes of reading the job description I decided that the job was meant for me, and I couldn’t be happier that Jamie and Greg Waldbaum, our President & COO, agreed.
At least three times weekly I talk with other people who are so thrilled to be working in this industry – and I speak even more frequently with people who wish they were working in it. They all have great careers…maybe in finance or maybe they own their own small business or they work for a huge corporation. Everyone wants to trade places with me. I worked in banking early in my career. I was developing nicely, learning a lot but I didn’t have a lot of passion for it. Everybody likes to catch up on the news each morning. In this job, I’m lucky enough to get paid to read the Sports section first and then check the lacrosse blogs and twitter feeds. How great is that?
What excites you most about working in the lacrosse industry again? Why?
I have to say that it’s given me the chance to reconnect with amazingly motivated people who make lacrosse a lifelong passion, like Dom Starsia, Marc Van Arsdale, Jamie Munro and Kevin Corrigan. I also have the opportunity to meet and work with the next generation of great players and coaches in the sport. 3d Lacrosse has been able to build a truly passionate, single-minded platform, developing players and growing the game at all phases from youth and high school to club and college.
My enthusiasm must be contagious because, without knowing it, my 10-year-old son Trevor launched his own online custom stringing business, complete with a robust network of Instagram and Twitter followers. Players send him heads and stringing kits and he takes care of the details, experimenting with three new methods for low, medium and high pockets. He also dyes sticks and waxes string. It’s given us a totally new platform for discussing business and he has a real entrepreneurial spirit. It’s also made our kitchen a mess because he’s not so great about cleaning up all the wax.
Overall, it’s just a great time to be involved with lacrosse. It’s growing so quickly and it’s important to help it grow in the right way; to impart some wisdom and depth to the game in an organized manner. Based on my mandate to give something back to the game, I’m here to help organize things. Again, thanks to Coach Urick, I feel a deep sense of obligation but it in a truly joyful (and somewhat selfish!) way.
What are a few things you’re hoping to accomplish at 3d Lacrosse in your first year on the job?
I hope to bring some solid business operations and Best Practice methodology to a truly fast-growing enterprise.
It’s my job to make sure that our 3d Lacrosse customers enjoy the same premium-level, quality experience in every market where we operate. It’s critically important to us that we meet and exceed our players’ and families’ expectations in every way possible.
You talked a little bit about box lacrosse as a reason why you chose to join 3d. What makes box lacrosse so important to the modern lacrosse player?
Box is a fundamental aspect of the 3d methodology and we employ it in every market that we go to. It increases repetitions, and we really believe it’s about touches, tempo, and keeping the pace really high. There’s a small portion of time that’s important for a coach with a chalkboard, especially at the high school and higher levels, but for the younger kids it’s more about just getting reps. In box the ball never goes out of bounds, providing many more opportunities to get those reps in.
We take a lot of box theory and translate it to the field game. Box forces kids to face some of the challenges you can run away from on the field, but you can’t run way in the box. You have to figure out who to protect your stick, get a pass or shot off, defend against that, run pick and rolls. There are a lot of similarities to basketball and hockey. Learning how to take pressure and handle the ball in-tight and make quick decisions is important to translate to the field and to other sports.
You can see all types of different improvement in players’ games when you put them in the box and then take them back to the field. At the end of the day most goals are scored within 10 yards, and that’s always true in box. In box you have nowhere else to go.
We also don’t teach equal left and right hand. Instead we teach players to change their angles and their viewpoint to favor their strong hand. While it is important to develop your offhand, it’s more of an “any way possible to get it done” mentality. It obviously works for Canadian-style players and others who grew up with box training. The box forces you to say “Hey, I’m strongest in this hand and I’m going to use it to my benefit.”
Our teams had a definite advantage at Oceanside [tournament] because they could handle the ball in-tight. That’s what happens when they’re practicing in the box multiple times a week. We also recently hired Bob Hamley as National Director of Box Lacrosse. After playing in the NLL, Bob was the head coach of the Colorado Mammoth, among other teams.
Together we’ve created a new “3d Lacrosse Experience,” a weekend-long box immersion camp. Events have already taken place in Oregon and NorCal, with more areas on the way.
3d recently hired Casey Vock to lead the new 3d Rising initiative. How will that help to grow the game?
The 3d Rising network is all about evaluating great players and teams. We have an aggressive growth plan to get good reach to grow the game in all markets. 3d Rising will be a resource to provide information and feedback to our constituents – players themselves, their families, their high school coaches, and the college coaches recruiting them. There is so much amazing talent out there, and the more eyeballs and amazing minds noticing and analyzing that talent the better.
Though we’re looking at all the best talent nationally, we plan to make sure to include players who don’t get noticed quite as much because they don’t live in traditional lacrosse markets. The seas are shifting with growth in new markets. We want to expose and introduce people to what’s happening in different parts of the country. And we’re not just following 3d athletes, but rather the best players across the board regardless of what high school program or club team they play for.
What’s your favorite thing about our game?
It has to be the ability to watch players evolve throughout their lacrosse experience. I love to see the joy of young players the first time they get a stick in their hand all the way through the time when they win a championship.
I love to help out in any small way I can and every time I see a player or team evolve, I am witness to the evolution of the game overall.
Where do you see the sport of lacrosse 10 years from now?
This is a very interesting question. I think the sport will continue to grow and sometimes I fear the pace at which it’s expanding. There are only so many professional-level athletes in the game, indoors and outdoors and even fewer opportunities for women beyond college. It’s also amazing to see the international growth of the game.
Of course, we’d like to see lacrosse become an Olympic sport. The Men’s FIL Championships included 38 countries and I think we can expect to see teams from 60+ countries in the next decade. I want to help bring the joy of the game to players everywhere.
Looking back on your experience at Brine, what are some of your greatest memories from your time there?
Among my greatest memories was being able to help grow a well-respected, venerable brand that had lost just a bit of its shine. The company was really facing some challenges in developing its profile in the new consumer and product marketing environment. I was able to provide an objective business perspective on what was, at the time, a family-run business. We transformed it from something that was somewhat unsophisticated to something that was cutting-edge. And it was amazing to celebrate such a trusted industry name and the family who ran it.
Over time, Brine helped lead the industry into thinking about bigger and better things. Brine invented and fabricated the first plastic-molded sticks, an enormous innovation, and the original Offset head, another game-changing invention. I am really proud to have been there to help them take the next step forward.
With your experience leading consumer product businesses, can we expect 3d to enter the equipment category in the future?
From a gear perspective we have really great partners in Gait-deBeer and Hoven Eyewear: Gait-deBeer is working with 3d Lacrosse on elite design and performance analyses while Hoven offers terrific eyewear at great price points with a very cool, sporty vibe.
3d Lacrosse purchased Stylax in 2014, a leader in the custom lacrosse team uniform business. The company has dedicated graphic designers and offers great fabric choices. This results in high-quality custom work that every team is proud to wear. Stylax was an official sponsor of Team Canada during the recent Men’s FIL Championships.
Can you tell us a bit about working at Crocs and Kidrobot? What was your time like there? Any highlights you’d like to share?
Kidrobot is a small, collectible art toy company. I was asked to join the company by a friend who wanted me to help move the operation to Boulder and create some stability in the fast-moving business. People sometimes confuse what the company does with nostalgia but Kidrobot’s founder used to say, “Nostalgia is death.” Instead, he believed that we were offering art in a fun way that encouraged individual expression.
If you visit the website today you’ll see unique art toys with Family Guy, South Park, Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles and create-your-own projects. In the past we also did huge global art programs like designing a limited collection of watches in conjunction with six talented artists and the Swiss watch giant, Swatch. It was an enormous success: we launched in Asia and Europe which moved a tiny little company into a global venture.
Crocs presented an explosive environment and opportunity. It still reigns as one of the footwear industry’s fastest-growing business case studies. When I arrived, Crocs offered their signature clog in a few different styles and some flip flops. I joined Crocs as one of the few executives with solid footwear experience after my seven-plus year stint with Reebok. As the Vice President of North America, I helped transform the company from somewhat of a “one-hit wonder” into a powerful multi-category footwear and lifestyle accessories brand. My role also included bringing some structure, brand management, best-of-class business operations and credible understanding of the industry to the larger group, allowing us to harness and gain control of the somewhat unwieldy explosive growth that was occurring at the time.
I think one of the greatest things about Crocs is that the company basically granted permission for people to wear slippers in public which was definitely trailblazing at its launch. To date, Crocs continues to really let people express themselves with outrageous colors and interesting styles. The clogs, in particular, became standard footwear for health care professionals and especially children (whose parents still love the easy-on-and-off styles). Renowned chef Mario Batali wears orange ones as his signature footwear. He actually partnered with the company which maintains a style that bears his name.
You also founded a basketball apparel company that was acquired by Reebok. Can you describe that experience for us?
I played basketball growing up and through High School and, though I moved enthusiastically into lacrosse, I kept up my interest in basketball. I was working at an ad agency and a colleague and I decided to really grow this passion. His family owned an advertising/marketing agency in San Diego that did a bunch of work for various burgeoning lifestyle and sporting goods brands. So, we decided we should try to develop our own – and the industry’s first-ever – basketball lifestyle brand, which we named Above the Rim.
It’s hard to remember a time when there weren’t basketball lifestyle brands. We took our cue from other industry-niche brands like Billabong surfwear, Oakley sunglasses and Sideout Sport beach volleyball, some of the up-and-coming brands the agency was doing work for. You didn’t have to be anywhere near a beach to want to wear a Billabong tee shirt and catch the seaside vibe.
It used to be that to show your enthusiasm for basketball you’d wear a jersey from your favorite college or NBA team. Instead, we created attitude-oriented tee shirts and other performance clothing created “for players, by players” that inspired players and non-players alike to play cool and more importantly, wear cool gear. It was truly authentic for players and fans at that time.
I used my early banking experience to help us develop some financial models for how we could make this work. After that, everything else was hands-on. We were a soup-to-nuts team: we built a warehouse, designed and installed shelving systems, flew around the country to sell the brand and then returned to the warehouse to pick-pack-and-ship the orders. It was like earning an on-the-ground MBA. We decided that to really grow we’d need to align ourselves with a footwear company and Reebok stepped up.
One of the highlights for me was having global superstars like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and other true hoopsters appreciate our authenticity. They were deeply involved in their own or other major labels but they were enthused to (quietly) wear our gear at key celebrity games and events. Fun stuff! Above the Rim was 24/7 fun and an amazing proving ground.
What advice would you have for a college lacrosse player who’s about to embark on his or her own career in business after graduation?
Whether it’s business, health care, education, construction, engineering or any other profession, I’d say follow your passion: make whatever you pursue your primary focus.
Just like you had a dream to play lacrosse at the high school, club or college level, be sure to bring that same commitment to your professional career. And keep lacrosse in your life somehow…give back to the game.