INTOLacrosse Exeter Final

Bath take on hosts Exeter in latest INTOLacrosse Fresher tournament Final (pic, Emma Fish)

The English Lacrosse Association sets bold target of 50,000 participants by 2017 as they look to push on from their successful four year ‘Whole Sport Plan’ of action. 

Since the start of 2009’s original ‘Plan’, English Lacrosse has turned its little known sport into the nationwide phenomenon that it is today. Working alongside many different bodies such as UK Lacrosse and UK Sport they have fought tooth and nail to fulfill the initial statement of intent – to gain nationwide coverage of the blood thirsty and intense sport of Lacrosse.

Although many will argue they still don’t know enough about the sport, the statistics show otherwise. From 2009-present participation throughout the UK has skyrocketed from 8,000 ELA (English Lacrosse Association) members to 17,000 – a rise of over 20% per year. Added to this there has been a stark rise in the number of Universities starting Lacrosse clubs, with now more than fifty across the country, up from the original eight either in BUCS or other leagues. In comparison, Lacrosse’s main rival, Hockey, dropped by 13% in participation levels in 2010 alone [Active people survey] showing a major shift in balance between the two.

National University Lacrosse Tournament

Ladies' National Lacrosse Tournament 2012 (pic, English Lacrosse)

University Success

It is this boom in University participation though which has really got the ball rolling with Lacrosse, with many seeing it as an alternative to the more traditional sports like Football, Rugby and of course Hockey. This increase didn’t just happen, however, with English Lacrosse setting up their INTOLacrosse coaching scheme in schools and Universities, where teams get a weekly visit from a qualified Lacrosse coach to teach stick skills and other basics of the game.

Sam Patterson, Communications Executive for English Lacrosse and one time England international player, told CrazygoalieLAX just why it has been so successful since its introduction. He said, “I think at University its a sport which at first is intriguing but once you start playing becomes an obsession.”

This intrigue from students which was not happening a few years ago is something every developing sport must dream of, but Patterson thinks he knows the answer to why Lacrosse is suddenly in receipt of it. He added, “A lot of mainstream american teen shows have grabbed hold of the rise in popularity of the sport and some of that has been aired over here. This has partly been advantageous to our INTOLacrosseprogram as more people know about the sport and it has the “cool” factor over other sports played at university level.”

Durham v Sheffield BUCS

Durham take on Sheffield in last season's BUCS semi-final (pic, English Lacrosse)

One of the first times some of the UK gained an insight into Lacrosse would have been in the popular US blockbuster, American Pie, with the character ‘Oz’ playing a ‘Jock’ Lacrosse player. It is this sort of coverage, however, which has led to misconceptions of the sport as being similar to American Football, which hasn’t exactly become overly popular in this country itself. These misconceptions along with the ‘private schoolgirl image’ and many others are those which English Lacrosse are trying to wipe away in its campaigns and coaching sessions.

High Expectations

Will Finlayson, the South-South West INTOLacrosse Officer, spoke of Lacrosse’s modern day image. “It’s not the same lacrosse that was always talked about in Enid Blytonand Malary Towers. Lacrosse is now ‘THE’ sport to play.  At university it gives you the opportunity to try something new, and start on a level playing field, as almost everyone is new to the sport.”

INTOLacrosse fresher fest

Bournemouth defend lead against fellow newcomers Falmouth at INTOLacrosse Fresher tournament (pic, E.Fish)

In fact, such is the confidence of the English Lacrosse team, they now have very high expectations for the sport in the next few years. “Over the course of our Active Universities funding (2011-2014) we will be producing six-thousand new lacrosse players. Our biggest challenge is to make sure that these are retained and move into the club system, and that the clubs are set up to cater for these new members.”

To make sure of this transition the ELA runs an LDO (Local Development Officer) program where they employ American Lacrosse College graduates to go into local schools, colleges and universities to coach them about the sport, whilst encouraging them into the areas club system.

Communications Officer, Patterson, added to Finlayson’s targets, stating, “One of our key targets is to grow participation in our game to more than fifty-thousand in the next five years.”

This may seem like a vastly optimistic number, with these figures meaning over 30,000 new members will have to join by 2017 for English Lacrosse to meet their target, however, if their US counterparts are anything to go by, then you could argue they are underestimating it.

US Lacrosse comparisons

Since the early 1990’s Lacrosse in the USA has gone from relative obscurity, with just over 40,000 participants, to almost a mainstream sport with huge sponsors such as Adidas, Nike and New Balance (aka Warrior – who are Liverpool FC’s shirt manufacturers from next season) all wanting a piece of the cake. The latest SGMA measure actually put the number of participants in Lacrosse to well over 1,500,000, with an 81% rise in numbers since 2001 alone.

Bournemouth V Swansea

Bournemouth's new team faces up against experienced Swansea (pic, Jamie Hellier)

The growth of US Lacrosse at the beginning can be easily compared to that in the United Kingdom right now says Patterson, where early hotbeds for the sport like Maryland and Long Island are now being caught up by less traditional places like California and Texas. “There are similarities in that lacrosse in the US, like over here has its hotbeds. Manchester and London (where the sport is more advanced) has a lot of opportunities to grow into different areas of the UK, because sports like football, rugby and cricket have a largely saturated participation in most areas.”

Evidence for this can be seen from the latest INTOLacrosse fresher tournament, with the first ever Cornish Lacrosse team in Falmouth University taking part in Exeter.

World Championships boom

Although the rise in popularity in Lacrosse is largely put down to the work of the ELA team – and rightly so – the legacy left behind by the 2010 Lacrosse World Championships, held in Manchester, has played its part. The event was actually jeopardised at first with the rejection of funding from UK Sport, only for committed funding from North West Development Agency, Manchester City Council and Foundation for Sports and the Arts to mean it went ahead. The creation of a Legacy program with the support of Sport England’s Community Investment Grant meant Development Officer jobs in Manchester and the north west also became available.

Team England Photoshoot

Team prepare for latest photoshoot (pic, Sam Paterson)

Patterson, an ex-England International, recognises the tournament’s role in Lacrosse growth and spoke of how its exposure rubbed off on all spectators and the local community during the Championships. “The Games were a great advertisement for our sport in the UK. Personally playing for England in a world games in you own country was a dream come true. We ran side events to the tournament such as the community games and the festival which exposed a lot of school kids to the sport and they got the chance to meet some of the athletes playing at the championships.”

Such was the success of the event, the ELA are now planning a bid to host the 2017 Women’s World Cup, as well as looking into hosting the European Championships once again, of which England are defending champions.

Funding Issues

The problem for any developing sport is consistently that of funding. UK Lacrosse is no different, but is at least recognised by some sporting bodies around the country. As of now schools and universities alike are investing around £2million per annum on developing the sport, which is backed up by a £2.2million grant from Sport England over a four year period. The ELA recently received an extra £300,000 in lottery funding from Sport England after some intense lobbying from staff, while another £5000 came from a Pro-Active London Minor Grant.

Olympic Torch

Matt Powers, Kim Debling ( INTO Programme manager) and Andy Balsden at Olympic Torch Tour (pic, English Lacrosse)

In comparison, Hockey, the sport which according to Patterson, Lacrosse is trying to emulate, received a massive £14.9million over the next four years from UK Sport investment, whereas Cycling received £26.3million and another developing sport, Handball, came in with £2.8million. Lacrosse has to settle for less due to its none inclusion in the Olympic Games, despite it appearing twice in past Games, but this hasn’t stopped many dreaming of better things to come. South, South-West Development Officer, Finlayson, believes it is only a matter of time before the whole of the UK knows about Lacrosse. “Hopefully with the continued growth we will see more national exposure through the media, and maybe even see key games such as Flags Finals, the British National Championships and Home Internationals televised.”

Pipe dream

As of now this is just a pipe dream for Finlayson and the rest of the English Lacrosse team. However, with the inevitable comparisons to Lacrosse growth in the US and Team England’s success at European and World level, it does not seem too unrealistic to think that the sport originally conceived by the Native American’s as a war game, could become a major player in our mainstream sporting culture.


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