Lacrosse Education in U.S. Helps Global Expansion of Sport

College graduates aren't the only ones teaching the game overseas. Former Princeton men's lacrosse coach Bill Tierney would annually bring his top-ranked Tigers team to Spain, where they trained with the English national team for several days followed by a series of scrimmages and a clinic held by Tierney. The opportunity to receive coaching from such a decorated coach as Tierney, winner of six national championships, does not go unnoticed, as the event draws thousands. For someone like Tyers, who is often coached by former players of his own club team, the opportunity is very important.

"That is always a big thing every year," Tyers said. "To have this legendary American coach bring his team over and train with us is huge."

While England continues to excel on the field in lacrosse, it's just that, the field, that is holding them back. Most fields in England are grass, the premier surface for the nation's number one sport, soccer, so only a few games are played on Astroturf. England's rainy climate only adds to the problem.

"95% of the games are played on grass," Tyers said. "With the wet weather, it's hard to play on them, so we have to give them time to recover."

While lacrosse continues to thrive in England, other countries in Europe, although not as talented, keep developing. Spain started its first lacrosse team, Madrid Club de Lacrosse, in 2003. Over the past seven years, six more teams have been formed in major cities around the country.

"Four years ago we traveled with only 15 players to the World Championships because we didn't have any more players in the whole country," said Jose Vincente, director of Spanish lacrosse. "This year we will send a whole team including several replacements."

Vincente voiced several of the same problems England has. Teams struggle to find fields to play on, due in large part to the high number of soccer teams in the country. Coaching is also a problem, with most teams being self-coached. Games are refereed by players as well. Vincente also pointed out that lacrosse stores are non-existent in Spain, so all equipment must be purchased online, which can become costly due to international shipping rates.

Despite the many obstacles, Vicente is still optimistic about the growth of lacrosse. In five years he hopes to add three more lacrosse teams, bringing the country's total to 10, all while beginning to develop a women's league. Vincente hopes that a good showing in this summer's World Championships in Manchester will bring some media attention to a sport that drastically needs it.

"99.99% of Spanish citizens will continue knowing absolutely nothing about lacrosse," Vincente said. "Without information, growing up is going to be very slow."

Europe isn't the only supporter of lacrosse outside of North America. Australia has long been a country that continues to grow in terms of lacrosse, placing well in the World Championships year in and year out. Shelley Maher, the Australian Lacrosse Association's director of communications and profile, estimates participation in lacrosse has grown 10% over the past 10 years, with approximately 5,000 people registered to the country's player base.

Maher believes Australia's biggest obstacle to continued growth and participation is losing athletes to the major sports such as rugby, netball, tennis, and cricket, which are engrained in Australian culture. Despite this, Maher still has high hopes for the future of Australian lacrosse.

"I would forecast that lacrosse will increase in registered members by 20-25% over the next five years," Maher said. "If we were to have figures of 6,000 to 7,000, we would be extremely pleased."

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2010-05-18



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