State of Box Lacrosse in Canada, Part 1
I’ve been part of ongoing hot stove conversations over the last few years about the state of the box lacrosse game here in Canada.
From East to West, I have watched and listened to the stories of who is doing what. Locally, I invested in my son’s world of entry level lacrosse the past three years while helping out at the Jr. A level those same three seasons.
This poster ad for Canadian Tire has its demographic on target, so why can't lacrosse?
I have written a few stories in the trenches about my experiences and here again I will subject you to more updated facts in hopes that it spurs some positive action to breathe new life into the sport of box lacrosse in Canada. This is a two-part review of observations about lacrosse in Canada in the year 2016. Then a few suggestions for the future will be forthcoming.
During the recent months, I have been bombarded again by signs of the times. I’ve learned about the attrition of registration in Canada this year from the previous year. Box lacrosse as a Canadian amateur sport is on the down slide and no one seems to really grasp the seriousness of the issue. My synopsis is that Canada isn’t identifying with its national summer sport as a country.
Canada does however, seem to be able to maintain strong relationships with lots of the other sports.
Media wise, we are overrun with Blue Jays baseball reporting and CFL football, plus Raptors basketball and MLS soccer news. Of course, NHL hockey has started and Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto are buzzing with hockey news. None of this is new.
In comparison, the NLL draft came and went without much more than a whimper. Pro training camps will open soon and not much will be said leading up to the start of the 2017 season. Lacrosse as a pro sport is lacking the notoriety of these other Canadian professional sports that grab headlines in season every season.
Where can we begin to stem the tide of this ignorance toward our game?
It’s really all about grassroots and youth participants entering and staying with the sport. Here is where lacrosse in Canada has lost its draw from the last decade when the Toronto Rock was one of the sports darlings of Ontario and Canada. Registration for lacrosse as a whole in Canada is guesstimated at around 60,000. I’d say those numbers are grossly inflated and we are closer to 45,000 in actuality. If small numbers are playing lacrosse in Canada then how can they identify with it?
The surging Toronto Rock popularity translated into huge growth across Canada in the box lacrosse sector over a decade ago. New associations sprouted up in remote areas and the sport enjoyed the height of it registration in Canada around the mid part of the 2000s. I credit the Rock with paying for the production of their home games on Sportsnet. These games from Maple Leaf Gardens were viewed countrywide and had a huge impact for other Canadian’s interest in the lacrosse.
When talking about marketing the NLL, I have heard the term “grassroots” so much that I might accidentally order them on my salad every so often. It's a term no one loves to hear or deal with because it means work. “Grassroots” to me says the job isn’t done.
In lacrosse, the job isn't even keeping the status quo. Whatever measure was gained back in those hey days has eroded in real time. Effectively we're back at square one again. That means more years of elbow to elbow efforts to build the love and respect for our sport again. This is the pathway to continue growth cycles deep into the future if we can find the manpower.
The people of box lacrosse must be involved in attracting new players into their own associations in their own communities. They may even need to help show start-up communities close by the same process. It is clear we have to take matters personally into our own hands in our own associations. Online registration has killed the personal touch of recruiting newbies into the fold and it shows.
According to recent stats from Doug Luey of the CLA, box lacrosse registration is down 15% across the board in Canada in 2016. Ontario is down 9% and the rest of Canada would be over 20%. In one year.
I’ve been told that in Zone 9, Ontario and Canada’s largest lacrosse center, registration from 2014 to 2015 in its membership dropped near 800 kids.
Since 2012, it’s estimated we have lost 30% or more of our lacrosse playing population in this country.
I’ve been told other ugly stories about the 30% drop in Manitoba Lacrosse registration over a few years or the same amount in B.C.’s Interior, where the sport had massive growth just a decade ago. There are many, many more.
Lacrosse has to collectively wake up before it's too late. It will take a massive effort to educate and attract new players of all ages to come and try our sport. The push for registration will need to continue for successive years.
Coaching will be the second major focus, to provide leadership so that the recruits can grasp the sport and play in a friendly learning environment. After a couple of enjoyable seasons, the hope will be that they decide to stay in lacrosse and work toward their future of play.
Canada is a land of growth and immigration. It is clear that immigrants are not being exposed to lacrosse and therein lies one of the barriers stunting growth of the game.
I walked into a Starbucks in Tsawassen, BC, recently and saw this Canadian Tire poster for skating programs in Vancouver.
This clearly identifies that hockey programs are recruiting new Canadians to come and join their sport. Targeting an ethnic demographic with their advertisements puts them one step in front of the CLA, and it's where we have to focus in our future efforts.
I also attended a youth squash tournament on the Island a few weekends back. I witnessed a soccer t-shirt on a squash player that advertised “Grassroots Soccer.” The message was clear, and the message was reaching other audiences by virtue of the T-shirt being worn.
Again I was bombarded with the threat that Canada will turn to baseball when I entered Tim Horton’s. There, on the in-house Timmy’s feed, was an ad thanking the Blue Jays for a great season. Tim Horton’s, in my mind, is Timbits hockey, but next it will be baseball.
Canada’s national summer sport is eroding. There are many reasons and there should be thousands more in on the discussion about saving lacrosse. We can’t keep moving in the direction we're traveling because it simply isn’t working with the times. If you have any suggestions, please add them to the comments section below this story.
Next week, I will visit suggestions on how to make Canadian lacrosse more attractive in the future.