Renew Focus on Growth to Ensure Future of Box Lacrosse

Opinion -

Renew Focus on Growth to Ensure Future of Box Lacrosse

A few weeks back I described that the game of box lacrosse is on the decline in Canada.

In this report, I am attempting to offer suggestions toward how we can supplement the efforts to grow our sport of lacrosse in Canada so it can maintain a healthy heartbeat. I’ve had multiple discussions with concerned people who are noticing the issues facing down lacrosse in Canada since writing the last piece.

In our last article I told you of a 10%-20% drop in participation in summer box lacrosse in Canada in one year from 2015 to 2016. Doing the math, at this rate, box lacrosse in Canada will be on life support in 4 years’ time. 

I don’t think attrition at that pace is realistic but I do see numbers dipping down under 30,000 participants for box and field players in Canada within 3 years at the current rate. It’s imperative that we start to advertise through all means necessary to attract new soldiers to Canadian Lacrosse. If we don’t get behind a promotional push Canada-wide, the sport will move to an unhealthy status.

Promotion equals grass roots marketing. Who will do it? Who will organize it? What formats will we use?

In USA NLL cities, I have been employed as a player and a General Manager, working the front lines to educate locals about the sport of indoor lacrosse. Getting new fans on board has always proved to be a serious challenge in America. No one grew up with indoor lacrosse in the USA so it was our job to educate and promote the selling points of the game. With new Canadians in this era it is a similar fate.

This brings in the “Grassroots” marketing piece that often knows no boundaries. 

Most NLL players don’t mind doing grassroots clinics and appearances. At core, I think doing these activities is hard for them to accept at times. The grassroots community appearance is among other things; a reminder of just how far there is to go as a sport in lacrosse and for the NLL as a professional league.

On the Canadian scene, I’m not fully interjected into what the CLA does or doesn’t do but I’ve long had the sense Ottawa is disconnected with what is going on in the trenches. It is obvious it hasn't put their best foot forward in recent times. It would be wise to partner with the NLL and get some top players talking about their love and experience in the game through fresh social media bits for multiple fresh eyes to dissect. 

I did a few Youtube searches for CLA videos and there isn’t much current material that speaks to anyone interested in signing up for minor lax.

Referencing a discussion with Doug Luey, who is Box Sector Chairman of the CLA, he feels the National objective of the CLA is to promote World Team play for adults and the U-19 division field lacrosse teams. Luey says he doesn’t feel any driving need from within the CLA to promote box lacrosse or field lacrosse to our Canadian youth. This tells me our governing body is ignoring its own needs of creating new players instead catering to those who are fully developed and playing at the highest levels.

Canadian Provincial Associations of our sport need to look in the mirror now that decay has fully set in.

I may sound dramatic but I feel lacrosse in Canada has lost its way. It has become an elite style of sport catering to an “A” team experience for the “BEST” programs or “Province Team” mandates. We continually decorate kids and adults who are already strong in our sport with the best experience.

Ignoring and short changing “B” level players and house leaguers who don’t get a positive experience has become all too common. These entry level recreational players are obviously walking away from the sport, cutting off the replacements needed to keep the sport relevant and continue the growth cycle. 

How do I know that? I watch what happens in my own backyard for starters. 

There are no house leagues on Vancouver Island anymore. There are two major associations on the lower Island with two smaller ones playing into younger ages groups. Half of our past two years, schedules in Pee Wee “C” and in Bantam “B” were playing two hours away in Nanaimo or further to Parksville or Comox. 

The hours that go into driving kids should be re-organized and focused on recruiting kids and teaching kids so we can stay close by and on the floor creating those “positive experiences."

It is easy to point the finger, I know. But it's way beyond that at this stage of who did what and who’s to blame. It’s now come to a call to arms.

Time and time again I hear this same story from Oshawa to Calgary. Minor lacrosse has really become about agendas and winning instead of every kid getting some comfort at the level they are playing. Without a greater focus on grass roots and casting our nets to bring in new registrants, the next cycle will be weaker than the last. That will continue the attrition we are seeing.

The CLA needs to blueprint how to attack the senses of Canada’s immigrants who know nothing about lacrosse but learn the word hockey soon after they enter the country. That means YouTube plus other social media to spark word of mouth in communities across the country. Our digital platform in Canadian lacrosse is pitiful. No one can even find information about Canadian box lacrosse because we are lagging behind the times.

This story has taken on new aspects that I will need to relay in a future piece. I will emphasize that it is important we all get on board with at least thinking about doing more to help lacrosse flourish in Canad this spring.

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