Nationwide Lacrosse Taking Right Approach to Building Game

Minor, Opinion -

Nationwide Lacrosse Taking Right Approach to Building Game

This year is the 150th anniversary of Canada.

Lacrosse is the oldest sport in the country and the year should be a celebration for both. Last week it was stated to me by a longtime builder in the game, “Why celebrate a game that is broken?”

In Canada we notice Blue Jays memorabilia everywhere. Baseball hats have long been a fashion statement of twenty-something crowd be it Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox adding to cultural identity. The Jays hat has become as synonymous as a Canadian flag for our millennial much like listening to the Tragically Hip of my era or sipping coffee at Tim Hortons for the baby boomers.

Switching gears, when you think about how far hockey has come as a sport in the last 100 years it serves as inspiration for lacrosse. Hockey had reached a peak level of development lacrosse has not come close to realizing.

Another friend from Toronto, who is a lacrosse fan, mentioned a hockey commercial for the 100th anniversary of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The commercial was for the Leafs outdoor game and featured a clip from 1917 and then switched to today’s outdoor classic game in front of 50,000 fans.

The narrator in the commercial asks “Could they ever have imagined in their wildest dreams that hockey would become this?”

My Ontario friend then reveals what we all should know: 100 years ago lacrosse and hockey were not that far apart in terms of development in Canada. Lacrosse was on par with our country’s ice passion.

Hockey is part of our Canadian fabric and the sport is played around the world. The sport has grown to include Olympic Games, World Tournaments for juniors, women and men. USA colleges parallel our Canadian Junior hockey systems here in North America and in Europe there is also a passion for the sport that makes it world class. All of this stemmed from the early beginnings of hockey here in the homeland.

To flourish into the game it has become today, hockey builders had a vision and followed it down a 100-year path. Hockey has gone through phases of stagnation or growth but ultimately carried momentum that has escaped lacrosse. In the mid 80s and again today we look at receding numbers that threaten box lacrosse in Canada because of a lack of registration and growth.

With the NHL moving to the USA and then deeper into the sun belt cities of Carolina, Florida, Tampa, Anaheim, Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, hockey had to grow roots in those cities to support the needs of the sport. Struggles and massive success stories dot the landscape in the USA. The success formula lies in the startup of kids programs and an elapsed time frame to get coaches and association up to speed. The models of marketing a sport for growth and success in hockey are there to mimic. Lacrosse in Canada needs to do the same immediately.

Speaking with various people about this topic, it seems that the general consensus is not enough builders take this game serious enough in Canada to attack the ground level issue of recruitment and development of our youth. It is almost at the point of needing a major corporate backer to fund the size of the job needed to be executed to save our summer sport from being pushed to the sidelines.

The best group I’ve been able to find that is working uphill on the recruitment side is the Nationwide Lacrosse group based out of Peterborough. Brad Self and Shawn Evans are working to bring beginners into the sport, which is just what the sport needs on a grander scale.

What has me enthusiastic about Nationwide’s model is that it is working toward recruitment as the basis for what it does. There is no push for excellence and rep style programming. They are seeking out opportunities to get a stick into someone’s hand who doesn’t know about lacrosse so they can experience a new activity.

When asked about their program, Self weighed in: “Nationwide provides the sticks and balls and we focus our time on teaching the fundamental skills so that each and every kid gets something out of the instruction time. Those who have never played need to realize that it's not that difficult. That's not just going to happen in most communities; we are trying to make it happen.”

To me that is the essence of the job at hand. To help the game along, I would like to bring awareness to what Self and Evans are doing as a model that is working right now.

I pressed Brad on his vision for now and the future. “Nationwide is here to help and is willing to work with minor lacrosse associations and school programs. Partnering with us could help boost their registration numbers. Associations are run by volunteers so we are willing to do the majority of the work needed.”

Working through a group like Nationwide is a quick fix to the organization and the mobilization challenging most associations as they sit today. Because there is a heavy turnover rate in Minor Associations it seems those association’s management are regularly under the gun.

There is an obvious void in registering new box players today. I asked Self why their Nationwide Model wasn’t based in high level instruction and the revenues those programs generate.

“We really just want people to realize we have to do something and we can't just sit around and do nothing and expect the sport to prosper in Canada. Nationwide is here to help and is open to helping local, provincial and national programs grow the game.”

NLL pros Evans and Self can help create a buzz and bring awareness to the clinics wherever they are. That is another bonus to this style of recruitment. I know I haven’t seen a better model or idea that could be duplicated. The clinics come at a reasonable cost to the users but the convenience of this model is something that needs to be available across the country to any association as fast as possible.

Again, I’m here to sound the bell. Stick your head in the sand if you like. This sport has been drifting at sea for a while and with everyone in “take” mode, it won’t survive. I have always dreamed of this sport reaching a higher level in terms of acceptance in North America and I hope before my time passes we will see a serious uptick in participation and attendance at all levels.

I attended Game 5 of the Minto Cup this past summer and as the game was being played in Langley I had to rush from the boat from Victoria to the Langley Events Center to make game time. I rolled up and the parking lot was full like full house at the NLL 2013 Championship game.

Was one of my greatest wishes coming true, a packed arena for the Minto Cup?

Entering the facility I quickly realized other outlets of the Events Center were being used that same night.  I grimaced at the actual crowd of about 1,100 people and found a seat.

The Minto’s deciding fifth game was a tight, hard-fought battle and something the sport could be proud of. The reality is it was just another missed opportunity to get people behind our sport here in Canada.

The message is we have to act locally in our own centers to generate new interest in the game and everyone can have a stake in that.

End of rant.

To contact Nationwide, email or go to the website here.

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