Building For Future Requires Solid Foundation
I apologize for the drawn out delivery of this multi-part story but there has been a learning curve for me in writing this piece. I have gotten to know some of the citizens of lacrosse with ideas and stories of their own that they have bestowed on me.
This report may have a different feel now than what I started out writing about but rest assured the focus is still building box lacrosse in Canada right now.
I have had discussions with like minds and have been given suggestions. It’s good knowing there are some activists out there who want to make a difference and are setting the example more of us could follow.
To build anything worthwhile it first needs a solid foundation. The focus on Canadian lacrosse going forward should be creating this foundation for the game so the box lacrosse can flourish again in the future.
The scarcity of newer younger players in the game is due to the lack of information offered and attention given to attract them to join. Other choices are being made to be active in sport and in most cases, Canadian kids are not finding lacrosse. Worse than that, we are seeing rookies leaving lacrosse after one season.
Many feel poor online recruitment tactics in most minor associations have aided a sizeable decline in new and returning participants over the past 3 to 5 years. This is one area where box lacrosse in Canada is losing the war. Online registration really lacks the human element of a passionate lacrosse person extending their thoughts on a wonderful youth sport. Registration outlets are one area that can be used to promote the game.
Who is lacrosse losing to? The No. 1 enemy of summer lacrosse is ball hockey.
Ball hockey has become Canada’s national summer sport at least if you count the number of participants. I talked with Chad Asseltine from Ball Hockey International a few months back (BHI was also the operator of CLAX in its last two years of existence). Asseltine laid a fact on me I couldn’t have made up in my wildest dreams. That fact is that BALL HOCKEY surpassed ICE HOCKEY for registered players in Canada this past spring. Chew on that for a second!
There can be multiple reasons for this and we have covered already. To recount, some of the features ball hockey offers is easy access through house leagues, lower registration costs or much less travel. All these elements would make early youth lacrosse more attractive to the parents who have to be behind their child’s venture into a sport.
Soccer at the age 9-10 grouping has at least five associations with eight teams in the U-11 house leagues on southern Vancouver Island. Both my kids played Bays United soccer for two years each. We never had to leave our association or neighbourhood to play entry level soccer.
Quick math dictates there are at least 40 house league teams on the lower Island alone. This does not include rep soccer teams for the same age group. I would argue that these soccer associations are on to something painfully obvious.
Scoring was once one of the most enjoyable features that lacrosse had over soccer, hockey and baseball just a few decades ago. As the years have gone by lacrosse rules and coaching have erased much of the scoring from the game. I’ve attended Pee Wee and Bantam games where I’ve seen shutouts and less than eight goals between both sides as a rule, not the norm. Ball hockey, on the other hand, has lots of scoring.
A year ago I watched a portion of a Pee Wee ball hockey game before a Junior “A” lacrosse playoff contest. The score was approaching 10 for both sides before I cut out to prepare for our game. The high scoring struck me as odd but then again the young goalies were playing in NHL sized nets and their heads barely passed the four-foot crossbar. Ball hockey doesn’t decide games by the girth of the men in net but instead on the merits and energy of the players on the floor.
Doug Luey of the CLA has mentioned in past conversation his two major concerns with our game is the Offense – Defense systematic play and the size of goalies and their equipment. Both subjects have taken the high pace of lacrosse and marginalized it to a chess game while the CLA has stood on the sidelines.
Coaches at every level of lacrosse seem hyper focused on the Offense/Defense system and having larger players become goalies to fill the net. Luey said that the OLA registered twice as many goalie equipment exemption letters in 2016 as previous years. The exemption letter means teams are putting goalies in net who can’t wear the required size of equipment for their age group. These tenders get a pass to wear a larger age group category size of already overzealously sized equipment while giving their team a leg up on competition by stretching a rule.
Winning and losing has matured into who has the biggest goalie with the toughest defense instead of who is the most athletic and skilled box lacrosse team. The metamorphosis of pushing the envelope on rules has dumbed down the game and proof is in the numbers of registration.
Box lacrosse allowed the rules to take the sport out of the sport. The essence of what Box Lacrosse was in competition until around 1990 is in this recently surfaced video from 1965.
This old video is a better advertisement for the Canadian game than anything I can find online currently.
Identifying and implementing rule changes so that the sport is more appealing to the masses seems obvious.
The next step after that foundation repair is to launch the mechanism for attracting new players to our sport.
Various groups in Ontario and B.C. have used lacrosse in privately organized youth multi-sports groups which is one excellent way to expose a youngster in hopes of further interest. This isn’t part of a central focus though.
I’ve had discussion with Brad Self, who is partners with Shawn Evans in Nationwide Lacrosse, an outfit for hire that does school visits and clinics in the school system of Ontario. Brad pointed out that they do their own canvassing of schools to propose gym class instruction. In most schools, lacrosse would be viewed as a sport outside of the regular teaching and sport curriculum and would need to hire teachers from outside the regular staff.
Nationwide has also been hired by various minor lacrosse organizations to do school visits in their catchment as a means to recruit fresh faces into their minor programs. This seems like a win-win and a model that could serve Canadian box lacrosse well into the future. I say this because even at a cost, Nationwide is in the business of lacrosse to grow lacrosse.
Let’s also keep in mind no one is getting rich here. This is still a labour of love and done by professionals, literally. I certainly am not privy to a better idea. This makes a lot of sense and saves associations from taking a year or two to mobilize their own plan. Increased registration comes at a slight cost.
Some smaller organizations like the Delta Minor Lacrosse association in Vancouver do a great job of being organized with the elementary schools within their reach. Delta has had a gym program for years that is executed by members and coaches from their association. Talking to President Darcy Phillips, I was told that these school visits are organized to be a two-visit program with fall visit and a spring visit to help with box registration. Each school will get two visits per class, per year, where gym class is lacrosse.
The registration in Delta has stayed level and is bucking the Vancouver mainland trend of 15% attrition. It’s great to see Delta proactively trying to sustain its organization and it’s a model every association could get behind.
The time is now for considerations around registration for the coming season.
One more installment of this article will be to visit what is working and viewing the mindset of accepting change to get out of our own way. The hard facts are the sport is broken and needs to be fixed. No one can deny the feedback we have been given.