First Person: Growing the Game Abroad

By Mallary Weinsz, Sophomore, University of Tampa @TampaWLax

As an athlete, I have always considered giving back to sports one of the most important things I can do. Over the past thirteen years lacrosse has given me countless opportunities and has helped me grow in many ways. To be able to enhance another athlete’s life through the sport of lacrosse is something that I hold close to my heart.

            Photo courtesy of the author

Over the course of two weeks in July 2017 I had the amazing opportunity to grow the game alongside Kids Lacrosse the World, a young nonprofit founded by Elliot Couch. Based out of Denver, Colorado, Kids Lacrosse the World is bringing lacrosse to Malaysia and Kenya. I found the nonprofit’s website in late November 2016 and immediately fell in love with their mission: “to grow the love of lacrosse at an international grassroots level by building long-term sustainable programs as a means of youth development through empowerment and leadership education.

Not knowing much about where I was going, who I was going with, or what the conditions would be like, I packed up my lacrosse stick and headed off to Malaysia. Two days after I arrived on the island of Malaysian Borneo we drove two hours to the small town of Ranau. In Ranau I found myself surrounded by young, enthusiastic kids who shared one common love: lacrosse.

Over the two weeks I was there, we worked at two different schools, SMK Mat Salleh and SMK Ranau. We coached kids in forms one through six (grades 7-12) for one practice a day at each school. The hard work continued for five days, and on the sixth day the two teams put their skills to the test in a friendly scrimmage.

                        Photo courtesy of the author

I am overwhelmed with feelings from this experience as I have never coached in such a situation. I was taken aback by how welcomed I felt in the town and at both schools, by the students as well as the staff. Every day we were greeted with smiles, waves, and often hugs. The students were always thrilled to be at practice, despite the high heat and humidity, and were on time and ready to go as soon as the coaches arrived.

I was truly moved by the students at SMK Mat Salleh and SMK Ranau. It was incredible to see kids be so enthusiastic about a sport that is so new and still very unknown to their culture. Being able to bring girls and boys together and give them an opportunity to grow as leaders and students, and to build relationships through lacrosse left me speechless.

Watching kids who don’t have the nicest sticks, and often wear flip flops, or no shoes at all to practice get so much out of a sport that I have loved all my life is something so special. Watching them learn the game of lacrosse over a week and grow every day reminded me of how great sports are. Sport brought together kids in a nation where gender is often a separating factor and saw them laugh and cheer each other on, gaining confidence and strength.

As these kids played lacrosse on a field lined with motor oil, it was breathtaking to see them be so passionate about something they knew almost nothing about, and it reminded me of the real reasons that I play sports. It is not because of the great facilities, the bright white cleats, the new uniforms hanging in our lockers, or the fancy goals that we complain about being too heavy when we move them. I play lacrosse because of the friendships it has, and will continue to, bring, because it has taught me to be mentally and physically tough, because it teaches me discipline, because it makes me confident, and because of the feeling that I get when my teammates and I do something incredible.

I am eternally grateful for the opportunities that lacrosse has brought me throughout my life, for the students I had the privilege of getting to know over my two weeks abroad, and for Kids Lacrosse the World for allowing me to help grow the game.

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