The Fastest Game on Two Feet?
It may be something of a Cinderella amongst all the headline-dominating, sponsorship-grabbing sports, but lacrosse is growing in popularity thanks to increased funding and the legacy of its appeal amongst university students.
It’s been dubbed “the fastest game on two feet” and at its best it’s a sport conducted at an adrenalin-fuelled pace that generates excitement in both participant and spectator. There may, though, be a slightly blank look forthcoming should you ask the average person exactly what it is they know about a team sport in which players use a stick to control the ball and to “check” (strike) opposing players causing them to drop it.
Lacrosse has boomed in recent years with impressive growth in universities feeding through to the creation of more clubs and community programmes. Those involved in delivering and developing the sport are confident the trend will continue.
Pivotal to that confidence was a Sport England announcement at the end of last year awarding £2.8 million of National Lottery and government funding to further develop lacrosse in a four-year period to 2021.
Angela Tupper of South East Lacrosse clearly shares that optimism, citing both an increase in the number of teams that is matched by success on both regional and international levels. “The South East continues to see growth in the number of teams entering the league. There were 18 in the 2012/13 season and that number had risen to 23 last year. This has either come from new clubs starting up or existing ones with an increase in members resulting in them entering more teams,” says Angela.
“Last season we implemented a three-tiered league structure to accommodate demand. We also regularly run a development cup over four or five dates
a season that caters for social teams and acts as a pre-cursor to the main leagues.”
“The hard work is paying off,” she adds. “At the World Cup this summer, the South East was well represented in the England team which took bronze in a nail-biting game against Australia.”
Joe Burnett is the Chairman of Maidstone Lacrosse Club and, like many of today’s players, took up the sport while at university 12 years ago. “I’d never seen it until then but thought it looked amazing and was instantly interested in having a go,” he says.
“Maidstone Lacrosse started in 2008 and the driving force behind it was a few of us wanted to play and didn’t want to travel more than an hour to our nearest club. The majority of our early players had, like me, played at university and wanted to carry on after they’d graduated.”
“We’re still a relatively small club with one men’s team, one women’s and a junior set up, with roughly 50 active members. Like a lot of sports our numbers fluctuate,” adds Joe.
Upping the profile
What’s the best way to get involved in a sport that isn’t immediately available on your doorstep? “There is a National Lacrosse Day every year – this year taking place on 16th September in time for the start of the new season – and there are plenty of ways anyone interested can get into the sport,” explains Angela Tupper.
“There are websites listing regional clubs as well as those for juniors (see Getting Involved). And, as this is such a great family sport, there are also opportunities for parents to get involved by volunteering at a club in which a child plays or, for those wanting to take a more hands-on role, there is training available for people who’d like to become umpires.”
The challenge facing those interested in the sport appears to be lack of opportunities and, while the aforementioned investment will surely help, it’s a concern Joe Burnett shares.
“The biggest barrier is travel. We are the only senior club in Kent which means a lot of our players travel more than an hour to train and compete,” he says. “If you can get yourself to Maidstone though you’ll be given a warm welcome and all the kit and encouragement you need.
“We promote the club as much as possible to universities and adult groups and run an annual tournament allowing us to talk to players from outside the club, but our biggest recruitment tool at the minute is our junior programme. We have more than 25 on the books and hopefully a few will be playing seniors in years to come. There’s no question though, the sport needs more clubs and locations.
“We work really hard to get players. We’ve made the final of the play-offs for promotion to the premiership in the past and, more recently, our women played their first league fixture and our juniors made their tournament debut.”
So, why might someone be inspired to give Lacrosse a go?
“I know I would say this but the people who play lacrosse are great and there is a real family feel to the sport,” says Joe. “It has something for absolutely everyone. It’s fast, physical, skilful, fun and it’s easily the most addictive sport I’ve ever played.
“And if you’ve ever watched lacrosse you’ll know why it gets dubbed the fastest game on two feet.”