Grow the Game®

Bratislava Bats box lacrosse clinic Brian Witmer Slovakian
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One Slovakian Box Lacrosse Clinic Helped Grow The Game

One of the roles associated with my new tenure with the 2018 FIL Men’s World Championship is to travel. The goal: represent the games and the good folks of Israel Lacrosse who are working tirelessly to bring to you the biggest and best World Games anyone has ever seen, and will ever see.

This past weekend marked my first excursion out of Israel. While the majority of my trips will be event and tournament-based, this first trek was in more of an instructive and game-growing capacity. The weekend was a collaboration of the European Lacrosse Federation, Israel Lacrosse, the Slovakian Lacrosse Federation, and last but very certainly not least, my gracious hosts the Bratislava Bats.

Here’s to the Bats! To Slovakian Lacrosse!

The Bats are really the only club playing box lacrosse in Slovakia, but there is a total of six programs in the Slovakian field league. The Bats’ remedy to this situation is simple… Host an introductory camp that aims to offer instruction and insight toward the skills and strategy involved in learning to play box lacrosse.

This brilliantly simple concept serves an alternative to the “trial by fire” method that so many of us have become acquainted with the box game through. I showed up with the right helmet and a set of rib pads to my first box lacrosse game ever in the Senior B Can-Am league. So, in the minds of everyone in the locker room, I surely knew what I was doing, right? Not quite.

Bratislava Bats box lacrosse clinic Brian Witmer Slovakian

When the Bats’ Tomas Rydlo reached out, he wanted my help to lead the instruction for this camp. I was honestly a little flattered. The Bats had beaten my Clydesiders in the 2016 Ales Hrebesky Memorial, and this year, the Clyde went 2-0 against the Bats in both the AHM and the Menschner Cup. Honestly, I was a little curious when the invite came across my fictional desk.

A couple of the Bats and I played together in the first-ever Menschner Cup in 2016 on a hilarious hodgepodge of eight or so different nationalities and we’ve been friends since.

I’ve coached individual players through their first box experiences, and I’ve coached clinics, camps and teams in field lacrosse. Until last weekend, I’d never led a box-specific camp. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what exactly should be taught and talked about until the morning before camp started.

Laying a Solid Foundation

Sitting at Rydlo’s kitchen table on a cold (the Israeli weather is already spoiling my Upstate tolerance) morning, I listed all the mistakes I made as a field player transitioning into the box. I compounded the list with “things I wish someone had told me” and these two schools of thought instantly produced a practice plan.

I can tell you that shot selection, pick and roll theory (offensive and defensive), and differences in dodging were the most important things learned this weekend.

Maybe one or two skills, a couple concepts, took root in the ranks of the new recruits. Maybe the six, or so, Bats even picked up a tip from their ole buddy, Brian. However, the importance of the weekend isn’t measured in goals scored or prevented.

Bratislava Bats box lacrosse clinic Brian Witmer Slovakian

The real winner here was more than just the growth of the box lacrosse game in the region. It was more than the future of lacrosse as it pertains the players present. In my mind, the biggest winners will be the next generation of recruits that this instruction gets passed down to. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, it is not my goal to create the best player alive.

Long-term, Not Short-term

Through coaching and educating existing players and brand new recruits, I’m more of the opinion that my job is to create an infectious love for the game. My role, and the endless work that so many good people are doing around the globe, is to build a generation of players who want to become coaches, officials, and supporters of lacrosse.

You can’t play at the peak of your ability forever. I’m 27 years young, and I’ve accepted that this lacrosse lifestyle CAN’T be just playing anymore. It HAS to be more that that. I have to coach. I have to ref. I have to offer to teach a Chinese woman I run into on a beach in Hong Kong to play catch (sans verbal communication) because she’s pointing at my stick. I have to drive hours and hours just to WATCH.

Bratislava Bats box lacrosse clinic Brian Witmer Slovakian

If you’re not cultivating the next generation SOMEHOW, you can’t toss a #growthegame tag on a post just because it feels good.

The Bats understand this. The European Lacrosse Federation understands this. Lacrosse All Stars understands this.

Want to prove you understand this? Give out all those t-shirts in your parents’ basement. Give a kid a stick.

Teach someone to love the game, not just play the sport.

Eyes go wide when you can really, truly, and honestly make this connection with new recruits. I see the same LIGHTBULB look in the eyes of Slovakian guys blasting through picks, as I see in sixth graders learning to pass and catch at a school in Israel. When it clicks, it feels amazing. We’ve all been there.

This event was simple. So simple that I loved it. Whether it’s Slovakia, Syracuse, or the Arctic Circle, this is how growing lacrosse is supposed to look.

Finding More Inspiration, Outside the Box

Slavin WWII memorial Slovakian Slovakia BratislavaThe Bats took me out to the Christmas Markets in the heart of Bratislava at night. The temperature was pretty frigid past sundown, which was a nice break from the Israeli climate. A festive atmosphere of street vendors and holiday lighting kept me too preoccupied to be cold. Add in a little help from the traditional Slovakian warm honey-liquor and I was far from freezing.

On the way to the train station back to Prague (where my flight was out of), Tomas took me to a World War II monument by the name of Slavin. I’ve visited castles, bridges, museums, and countless beautiful things in my down time in the cities I’ve visited, but there’s nothing more humbling than visiting monuments.

This particular monument stood on top of a hill that intentionally slooks over all of Bratislava. Fitting that none of what lay below these entombed soldiers would exist without the ultimate sacrifice they made years ago. It was quiet, absent of tourists taking pictures. I liked this place.

I digress. I’m thankful to be part of this world. Lacrosse is growing in Slovakia and all over the globe. Yet, however much progress the Slovakian Lacrosse Federation has made, they still need help.

Help Is Needed. Are YOU Ready?

Slovakia is looking for coaches and lacrosse development officers to come to Slovakia and build up the game. Can you help find new players? Want to coach up the teams? They’re looking for people who want to travel, but ultimately people who really want to give back and actually #growthegame!

You don’t NEED to have Slovakian heritage to help (I don’t), but the Federation IS always looking for more North Americans with Slovakian roots. If you’re interested in growing the game in Slovakia, or you’ve got Slovak heritage, just email me and I’ll put you in touch with the boys!

The world is coming to Israel in 2018. These FIL Men’s World Lacrosse Championships will feature 50 nations representing every corner of the world, and that didn’t happen overnight. While there has been tremendous growth in the past few years, this is years and years of hard work coming to fruition.

Bratislava Bats box lacrosse clinic Brian Witmer Slovakian

Get in the trenches with us. Get your hands dirty. Take the lanyard off your car keys and use it for a top string. Run a practice with four girls you can’t verbally communicate with and do it with only one ball and some stolen soccer cones (it’s more fun than you think).

You won’t get paid, you won’t get famous. You’ll get a spare bedroom or a couch. You’ll get lost daily, and whether it’s in Hebrew or Italian or German, you’ll struggle to order a sandwich.

And you’ll never look back.

Change your life and just send it. Growing up playing in America or Canada, you have so much to give and you don’t even know it. Your time, your experience, and your enthusiasm are priceless to these developing programs.

I’m Serious, People…

If you’re reading this and you’re past the point where you can just drop everything and travel, please give a kick in the pants to someone younger who still can.

Got a bum brother who’s looking for a job? Your neighbor’s kid is about to graduate from college? Wayward twenty-something who’s selling dietary supplements on Instagram? Get out of the pyramid scheme, off the couch, and go see the world.

If you want to Grow The Game, get out there and do it. Go to Slovakia. Go to Israel for the World Lacrosse Championships. Go to Australia, or Italy, or Japan, or Spain. All the places you’ve ever dreamed of seeing need lacrosse too, and you can help give it to them. Don’t wait till you’re forty to be a tourist for a week. Do it while you’re young and less-ugly. Be a TRAVELER and AMBASSADOR to share the game you love!