Lacrosse may not hold the spotlight on the national sports media front, but it definitely has started to catch fire across the globe.
Currently in the U.S. the only professional outlet for lacrosse is Major League Lacrosse, hosting only men’s teams, in addition to a both Men’s and Women’s National Team. In the States, college and club lacrosse teams garner the most popularity outside of youth sports, but what about globally? About 6 years ago when I began playing high school women’s lacrosse, I was visiting family in Greece and no one had ever even heard of the sport, as is the case in many nations. But in recent years, lacrosse has started to develop in the UK and other major European countries, giving way to the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) and the European Lacrosse Federation. Every four years, the FIL hosts Men’s and Women’s World Cups and the number of teams involved continue to grow.
In order to garner a better sense of lacrosse’s increasing popularity around the world, I got in touch with my former teammate Marlee Galper who just recently finished playing for Israel’s National Women’s Lacrosse Team following her graduation from Emerson College in May 2015. Like Marlee, many college graduates seeking to continue their lacrosse careers look to play on these national teams of nations trying to develop this new sport. “Lacrosse is arguably the fastest growing sport in America, and seems to be addicting to people who play it. It’s different, it’s dynamic, it’s challenging, exciting, and a mix of sports that requires real dedication and skill to actually get good at it. People who love lacrosse are a different breed and want to show this sport to everyone, really more than basketball or soccer or baseball or anything. The culture of it is really welcoming and fun and there is definitely a huge lure to go international with lacrosse because of the lack of opportunity in the US to make a professional career out of the sport, but also to grow the game in general,” commented Galper, whose mission in playing for Israel this summer was to spread the love she has for the game to Israel’s youth.
She also explained the attraction of lacrosse in comparison to other more niche sports, “Specifically in Israel, this sport is more geared towards giving kids an active activity to participate in, that brings a community and teaches core values, also helps to get kids off the streets and come together to play a game that can give them opportunities in the states for a college, and even boarding school, education.”
I also asked Marlee about potential gender influences on the sport’s growth, including women’s initiatives to pursue the sport outside of the US due to lack of post-grad opportunity. “Boys teams are definitely greater. At least in Israel, boys want to be athletic, and play on a team. But girls are not as motivated to pursue athletics here. It’s really interesting, I’m actually not sure why there’s no lure for girls to play sports, but the ones who do are committed to their sport year round. They play handball, basketball, tennis, and some do surfing. Which is awesome, and these girls would be great at lacrosse. But the excitement of trying something new for girls and even some boys here is not enough to get them to play.”
Even despite gender barriers, lacrosse struggles to infiltrate the sports cultures of other countries. Although it is growing, the meaning of sport internationally is far different than its function in American society, “In the U.S. Sports are ‘everything’. The culture is based around athletics and collegiate athletics are a huge part of that. In Israel, playing sports growing up doesn’t set you up for any opportunities immediately post-high school because all youth draft to the army at 18 years old. So, the motivation to play sports has to persevere through a really intense period of these kids’ lives and then maybe they can go on to play in Israeli leagues and very few actually are on the teams during their service period. So this is a huge difference. Lacrosse is simply not well known enough here to have a huge group of people interested in playing in adult leagues unlike in Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, the UK and many other countries who now have year round leagues. Lacrosse is a job for them.”
By developing youth programs and creating motive for lacrosse to grow all over the world, the sport can bring more than just a game and extracurricular activity to the countries that embrace it. As Marlee so passionately explains, lacrosse has become a platform for these countries to develop a different kind of mindset in their youth and allow for greater opportunities. In regards to the future of lacrosse globally, Marlee ensures, “European lacrosse is growing, especially for women. International lacrosse will only continue to grow, the future is definitely real and exists for the sport, and it will be interesting to see what countries will be the best, do the best, in the game.”