With just one player over the age of 22, to say Taiwan Lacrosse is a young and developing team is an understatement.
By Dustin Maylath-Bryant
Taiwan Lacrosse Team Takes On The World
Taiwan Lacrosse was established in 2014 and made its international debut in 2016, but this team faces a problem that others take for granted: the language barrier. Not a single coach speaks Mandarin Chinese, and not a single player speaks English.
Travis Gillespie grew up in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, with a lacrosse stick in his hand. He played on Team Canada in the late 1990s, and in 2015 took over as head coach of Taiwan. The conversations among Gillespie and his players go as far as, “Hi, how are you?” at breakfast and one word loudly repeated with hand gestures, such as, “POKE, POKE, POKE!” during games.
Although Gillespie has played an enormous role in the development on Taiwan Lacrosse, none of this would be possible without the help of one man, Tim Kwan, who translates everything between the team and coaches.
Kwan, a highly-skilled player himself, did not take up lacrosse until university in Hong Kong. After three years of playing at college, Kwan joined the Hong Kong National Team and competed for two years. Following his graduation, Taiwan had just recently started lacrosse, and it was looking for someone who could develop it from the bottom and be there full time for the kids.
“So, I thought, ‘why not?’ I’ll go and see what it’s about,” Kwan said. “It started off as just a one-year thing, but then I saw all the potential. I just stayed and then kept doing it.”
For as much as Gillespie has done to build this program, he has made it extremely evident that none of this would be possible without Kwan.
“He is the cornerstone and do-all-everything out there,” Gillespie said. “He deserves more credit. Seriously, it’s unbelievable how much he has done for this game out there. He should be in the World Lacrosse Hall of Fame.”
Kwan’s job is not easy. He has to breakdown every word the other coaches say to him, then figure out the translation in Mandarin so all the Taiwan lacrosse players can understand, and that’s just the beginning of his difficulties. Most lacrosse terms do not have a direct translation from English to Mandarin. For example, there are no words in Mandarin for “pick and roll” or “dodge the alley,” so Kwan has to first translate the word from English to Cantonese, then Cantonese to Mandarin, all in the heat of the game.
“This guy is so knowledgeable and sees the game better than most people,” Gillespie said. “Sometimes I say something, and he already addressed it. I’ll say something, and it will be three minutes and will take him one second to translate because he has already addressed it.”
What the staff and players have done is remarkable. They have collectively come up with their own lacrosse language in Mandarin. Through creating a lot of key words and hand signals that help them communicate, they’re able to help ease the language gap.
Being so new and constantly developing, the Taiwan Lacrosse staff has goals much greater than simply winning and losing games. Both Gillespie and Kwan have expressed they want the players they are coaching today to be the coaches for the next generation of Taiwanese athletes.
The goal for Gillespie is to make himself useless. He is more focused on growing the game internally than the wins and losses right now. He believes that without local coaches, you can’t do that. But by getting the local coaches up a little bit, they can start to be more involved and teach basic skills.
“Ideally in 2020 for U19, we will have Taiwanese coaches, Taiwanese players top to bottom,” Gillespie explained. “If I am a local player, that’s something I want to look up to and say, ‘Hey, this guy already came through the ranks, and I want to be like that.’ You feel sometimes like it’s not working, but the end game is the focus. We’re not worried about losing today or yesterday. We’re worried about the process and continuing in the right direction.”
Within this difficult journey has been some heartwarming moments for Gillespie. One of his first favorite moments was when after a team dinner, all the players carried him out on their shoulders cheering for him. Gillespie was clueless as to why but would later find out it was because they had won their first game earlier that day and were still filled with excitement.
“We had a win against Mexico in seven overtimes in a U19 game,” Gillespie said of another great memory. “Unbelievable game, the best I’ve ever been a part of. Not skill wise, but equal passion equal, everything. Then you score a winning goal. Unbelievable. “
Taiwan Lacrosse will look to continue growing as an organization in the upcoming years. With plans underway to develop local coaches and spread the game across the island, Taiwan is one of the up-and-coming programs in the lacrosse community. After finding a few wins in its first appearance, Taiwan has a lot of positives to take away from the 2018 World Championships, in English and Mandarin.