Editor’s note: Please welcome Bobby Kwan to LaxAllStars! Bobby recently visited China where he spent some time getting familiar with the Team China Lacrosse program. We hope you enjoy his report.
The Team China Lacrosse program had a very busy summer of 2016. Teams competed in the U19 FIL World Championships in British Columbia as well as the annual Hong Kong Lacrosse Open in May. Team China had a strong showing in its first U19 appearance, departing with an impressive 5-2 record.
Now Team China looks to begin the training process for their next major lacrosse events in 2017, which includes the Women’s World Cup.
While vacationing in China earlier this summer, I spent a rainy Sunday playing lacrosse with the Shanghai Men’s Summer League at the Shanghai University of International Business and Economics. There I met Team China coach Mike Elefante and other Team China personnel, and after we were done playing I seized the opportunity to ask them a number of questions I had on my mind.
Let’s take a deeper look at how Team China started, the current state of the program, and its future direction.
Getting To Know Team China
How long has lacrosse been played in China?
Lacrosse in China began in 1992 when players from the US national team visited the Beijing Sports University. It was primarily only played in Beijing until it grew to Shanghai in 2008, where the number of Shanghai colleges and universities fielding teams continues to increase.
In recent years, there has been an overwhelming amount of growth due to organized programs operating in Beijing, as well as Nanjing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and even remote, mountainous cities like Xinjiang. Though the latter cities are not yet firmly established. Participation in adult lacrosse in China has risen as a result of Chinese natives playing in university leagues as well as expatriates and more advanced players joining the Shanghai lacrosse leagues.
Obstacles to the growth of lacrosse in China include the overall lack of public knowledge of the sport and leeriness from Chinese athletes in regards to the contact nature of lacrosse. The speed and pace of the sport tends to intimidate newer players.
What was the development path for lacrosse like running up to the 2014 FIL World Championships (Field Lacrosse)?
The path to the 2014 World Championships began in 2010 but international-level preparations prior to 2010 consisted primarily of university-level play, lack of readily-available equipment, and operation of unorganized take-what-you-get social/club lacrosse. Right before 2010, administrative lacrosse figures in China asked themselves “is 2014 the year we make our World Championships debut?” and from then on, the administration ramped up their organization and diligence for practice, preparation, and equipment fundraising.
In 2012, China lacrosse began organizing committees of people based in China, the United States, and Canada for fundraising, equipment sponsorship, and organization of logistics for training and sending the Chinese lacrosse players to the US for the World Championships in Denver. The team consisted of Chinese players were all based in Shanghai, but they hailed from provinces all over China, and they collectively represented their entire country at the international level. In total, $75,000 USD was raised via Indiegogo to get the players to the United States for the FIL World Championships in Denver and accommodate their experience.
All the work needed to prepare and get the team to Denver came from coaches and volunteers who were not paid a single penny for their time. For university players at their own schools, there were weekday practices that consisted of 2-3 sessions between Monday and Friday, with weekend practices operated by 3 dedicated coaches who conducted Western-style lacrosse practices (think: stretches, line drills, 1v1’s, 6-on-6, etc).
What is the overall sports culture in China? How does lacrosse fit in?
Overall, the influence of sports in Chinese culture is changing for the better. Chinese culture used to dictate that a kid who wanted to play sports would go to a sports school that focused more on athletics and less so on academics; school systems were either wholly sports-focused or education-focused. As a result of this dichotomy, parents would not want their kid to play certain sports unless the parents felt that their kid could excel to the top of their school.
Chinese culture now dictates that there is value seen in sports played at a young age; team camaraderie, sportsmanship, and learning how to lose graciously. However, development has been comparatively slow for academic students playing recreational sports. Currently, there is no collective impression of lacrosse in China but many will agree that it is a good sport to differentiate students who went to America from other native Chinese students – particularly in regards to competition for admissions into top American universities.
What can the rest of the world expect when it comes to the future of lacrosse in China?
In recent years, there have been an increasing amount of reports that new lacrosse players in other international countries absolutely love the sport when they pick it up, and China is no exception to that claim. Despite the increasing spread of lacrosse in China, there is still very little public knowledge of the sport. As a result of that, there is a great deal of difficulty in promoting lacrosse at a higher level because there are no government-sponsored programs for non-Olympic sports.
China lacrosse has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1992 and it certainly has a bright and promising future ahead with the 2017 Women’s World Cup and the 2018 World Championships in Manchester, England.
Stay tuned for the next article on Team China where we’ll dive deeper into the dynamics of lacrosse in the “Land of Dragons.”