The Global Game
Lacrosse was first played in the hills, valleys, and fields of North America many centuries ago. It is an ancient game that has since changed greatly and been brought to distant shores.
In 2023, there are 86 nations officially a part of World Lacrosse and several more surely soon to take that step for both the men’s and women’s games. Especially in the last 20 years, lacrosse has truly become a global game.
When we get to talk about how exciting the Japan vs Haudenosaunee game is going to be or how incredible it is to see Jamaica make it to the Quarterfinals against Canada we are seeing real growth happen in front of our eyes.
At the international level, the growth has been a combined effort of hundreds of ambassadors making trips to start programs in countries without the sport. From the grassroots level, these countries worked to build club and school programs that foster a love for the game. Once a strong base is formed the next goal becomes to compete in the World Championships where the lacrosse countries come together to see where they stack up.
When you look at the difference in the opening ceremonies from 1978 compared to 2023, the growth is incredible. In Stockport, England, only four teams (England, USA, Canada, and Australia) played in the games. Now in 2023 in San Diego, there are 30 teams competing who all earned their spots through qualifying rounds. There could be 86 teams competing if every nation under the World Lacrosse body was allowed to compete.
See the difference from 1978:
To a week ago:
Nations from every corner of the world are represented now.
However, the three countries that you are always likely to see on the championship podium remain the United States, Canada, and Haudenosaunee. The amount of highly skilled players from these three powerhouses are still just too much for any other country to match. But there are others like Japan who have a chance today in the Quarterfinals to change that.
It feels like we’re getting closer to more nations emerging as a threat to the Big 3 of the game. When teams like Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Israel, Italy, and Japan are going undefeated in their respective Pools and get a chance to make a playoff push it’s a very encouraging sign for growth. Although other than Japan the rosters of those teams are made up of mostly players who grew up and played lacrosse in the United States or Canada.
I see Japan as the next great lacrosse nation with their group of homegrown players and deep passion for the sport across the country. It takes a long time to build up the youth programs and coaching to be able to compete against the North American teams and Japan is right on the door step to making it happen.
We also have big love for Jamaica who we’ve loved to see wearing Powell uniforms and playing with so much heart. Reaching the Quarterfinals puts them in a position to be right up there with the Big 3 very soon. More players from the island will surely be suiting up for the team in the next four years.
Another unique part about the World Championships is that this stage creates unlikely stars every four years. Players that might not have been superstars in college or the pros will often rise to the occasion to help their squad make a special run or capture a championship.
In the USA vs Canada rivalry, there are players like Stan Cockerton for Canada in 1978, Mark Millon for the USA in 1998, Doug Shanahan for the USA in 2002, Geoff Snider for Canada in 2006, Mike Leveille for the USA in 2010, Dillon Ward for Canada in 2014, and Mike Ehrhardt for the USA in 2018.
Players like Geoff Snider who dominated faceoffs in the 2006 championship game, changed the whole landscape of lacrosse with the Canadian victory. The thought process for selecting a world team changed significantly and the importance of faceoffs increased. His playing career skyrocketed after that performance.
Outside of the USA and Canada, there are so many incredible stories of players and the sacrifices they made to be able to play in the World Championships. Gordon Purdie for Australia always comes to mind for me as someone who took a chance to play college and pro lacrosse in the United States and then helped elevate the level of play for his country. Now we have leaders all over the world making it possible for countries like Uganda to be a competitor on the world stage.
We have seen the emergence of players like Stone Evans on Jamaica who is a 17 year old with a year of high school remaining, but is leading his team in points. Evans will be a fixture for Jamaica in the World Championships for years to come.
Every time the World Championships come around there’s a new opportunity for a new crop of fans to be made around the world.
The first World Championships I can remember watching was the finals in 2010. In 2014, pretty much every game of the tournament was available to watch on ESPN3 so I can remember being glued to my computer all week watching the big games between the USA, Canada, and Haudenosaunee as well as games like Japan vs Australia or Belgium vs Germany. The levels of play were pretty different, but seeing the countries involved was important.
Every single game of the 2023 World Championships is available to watch on ESPN+ with a few on ESPN2 and that is so huge for people around the world to cheer on their country. Hopefully it creates new lacrosse fans who stumble on the games.
The most important part of the World Championships is always the exchanging of lacrosse knowledge, the gift giving, and the start of friendships. Even back in 1978, the Canadian team gifted Stetson hats to all of their opponents, which quickly endeared them to the other countries and the home England fans. In 2023, teams exchange gifts after the games and come together to take a picture to commemorate the game and their two countries meeting to place this wonderful game.
The exchange of knowledge and game tactics for players and coaches to bring back to their respective countries is what will really drive more growth. When the top 10 countries are all at a similar level of skill, lacrosse will be in a really good place.
So as the World Championships end this weekend, I like to reflect and smile knowing that there are young kids with lacrosse sticks in their hands in Syracuse, Uganda, Jamaica, Latvia, Korea, Peru, and dozens of places all over the world. Lacrosse now spans the globe and with more hard work and passion perhaps the World Championships will hold the same importance as the World Cup.