“Do you coach both the men’s and women’s team?”
“That’s field hockey, right?”
“Oh, lacrosse, is that the game with horses?”
These were just some of the more amusing questions I received when I started the women’s lacrosse program at Whitman College, a small liberal arts school in the eastern Washington town of Walla Walla. Although the Pacific Northwest is growing our game at an extremely fast pace (mostly all in the west side of Seattle and Portland areas), it was my first experience (as someone who grew up in Maryland, and coached in DC & New Jersey) to not see lacrosse at the high school/youth/club level anywhere in a 150 mile radius. Also, it was a first for me meeting people who had no idea what the sport was! Right off the bat, I knew that I would have to do things that in the past I didn’t seem to worry about, to help grow the game and coach a non-traditional area.
Photo courtesy of Whitman College Sports Communications Office.
The first thing I found out right away; be open and willing to traveling (a lot). Coaches’ panel in Seattle (4 hours away)? Yes.
Youth and high school clinics in Boise, ID (4 hours away)? Of course.
Run a camp in Portland (3.5 hours away)? Yep.
How about working one in Corvallis (5.5 hours away)? Sure, why not.
And so on. It’s so important to reach beyond just your small community to the greater region, not only to help with the growth of the game, but, especially with a new program, to represent your school and the lacrosse team you’re trying to grow.
The second thing I learned was to reach out to different outlets in your community to get the ball rolling about introducing the sport at the youth/high school level.
(*Side note: if lacrosse is being played at the high school level in your area, I would also encourage you to be involved with (or start) a club program. This is a great way to build the game at those levels, and share your knowledge with those groups.*)
However, if there isn’t any sort of lacrosse at those levels, it’s important to get creative. This year I worked closely with the Parks and Recreation department to plan small camps and clinics to introduce the game. They worked with US Lacrosse to get a First Stick grant and the camps/clinics will be rolled out in the summer. Additionally, we use on-campus resources to help grow the sport. Our Student Engagement Center on campus works closely with a local Native American tribe based just south of us in Oregon, the CTUIR (Confederate Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation). They got our team involved and we had a chance to go down and play with the young boys and girls where we played the Creators Game (which was amazing, and I could probably write a whole other blog entry about it).
Finally, it’s important to get people on campus excited about the sport. Market your games well. Be visible at other games repping lacrosse gear. Speak at other sporting events or functions on campus to promote your sport. Invite Administrators on campus to practices or to sit on the bench during home games to see the sport first hand. Whatever it may be, the more the sport is watched, the more people (who are unfamiliar) will love it.
Coaching in a non-traditional area has been (at times) an eye-opening process. However, what I’ve found most important is that it has gotten the team, school, and members of the community super excited about the sport we love. It has been amazing to see the interest of people who are unfamiliar with lacrosse and just want to come into my office and pick up a stick and ask questions about the game. For someone who believed she was very passionate about this sport, this experience has reignited that passion through the roof. As our sport continues to evolve on many levels, whether that is through playing rules or expanding the geography of the game, I am excited to continue to see both girls and boys have the opportunity to play, especially in growing and non-traditional areas.