SBJ/Aug. 10-16, 2015/In Depth

Lacrosse uses personal touch to continue its steep growth curve

Lacrosse has often been coined by those around it as the “fastest-growing sport” in America. Both Major League Lacrosse and the National Lacrosse League are taking steps to keep that trend going.

MLL Commissioner David Gross said the most important thing his league does to help is having players and coaches interact with both youth and youth coaches in the sport. That can range from formal clinics to hanging out after games to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

“Our players and coaches have gone out into the community and hosted a series of these coaches clinics,” Gross said. “It’s really helped build up the ability of [youth] coaches to organize and run a practice the right way.”

MLL’s biggest clinic is the All-Star Game Clinic that is offered the day before the game every year. The clinic is free, and many of the MLL players and coaches in the game participate in it. Another initiative has been driven by Ohio Machine head coach Bear Davis, who has led free clinics for lacrosse coaches.

Because it has been a league for only 15 years, MLL sees developing fans as especially vital. “We gotta make people fans of MLL, so what better way of making them a fan than making them a player?” Gross said.

MLL also partners with U.S. Lacrosse, the leading organization of youth lacrosse. The main part of the alliance involves dealing with injuries and the two organizations recently announced a partnership on concussion awareness.

U.S. Lacrosse also has an initiative called the First Stick Program, a grant that gives free or discounted equipment to kids who otherwise would have trouble affording it.

The NLL promotes youth participation through a series of junior leagues that are affiliated with the professional
The National Lacrosse League promotes participation through junior leagues that are affiliated with the professional teams.
Photo by: NLL
teams. The junior programs have three age groups: midget, peewee and bantam. The NLL will have its 3rd annual Junior NLL Tournament for many of these teams in Toronto from Aug. 29-31.

NLL play, in contrast to MLL, is “box-lacrosse,” meaning it is played indoors on a smaller field than typical outdoor lacrosse. While about 95 percent of NLL players are Canadian, the junior leagues are more balanced between the United States and Canada.

The NLL also has a heavy presence on social media sites, including Snapchat and Instagram. But Jeff Baker, media relations and social media coordinator, said nothing can top the experience of going to the games.

“Kids will go to games and get a big league experience,” Baker said, “and seeing 15,000 fans cheering loudly will get kids into it.”

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