By Glen Tobin
Being part of the Masa Israel Lacrosse internship has really opened my mind to building a sports program from the bottom up. Lacrosse is very popular in Ashkelon and Netanya, but the goal of the Israel Lacrosse is to continue to grow. One of the newest cities to open its doors to lacrosse is Kiryat Gat. The city is small but full of energetic youth and athletic complexes. The sports community as a whole believes in the benefits of keeping kids active in a safe, team-building atmosphere. When lacrosse was presented to the mayor and his cabinet, they were extremely positive and welcoming. Since the very start, there has been a lot of public support for the sport and the organization as a whole.
Setting up demonstrations at four of the city’s high schools, has presented extremely positive results in furthering the growth and positivity the sport brings. We practice in a variety of settings, which are all extremely open to the public (one soccer stadium, one synthetic field, and one park across from a busy street and mall). When people see this foreign activity they gravitate to it. Conversations always start, “what is this?” Recently there has been a shift in who explains what the sport is. First it was us, the coaches, who would explain how to play, but now the kids jump right in and speak of the fast, physical, fun nature of the sport. One can see the passion and excitement in their eyes as they hand off their stick to another kid or adult. This is especially evident when we have practice and a new player shows up. Everyone is a new player because of the short time we have been in Kiryat Gat, but those that know how to cradle, catch and throw will instantly offer advice and help the new player along. As a coach, and someone very passionate about the sport, it is extremely rewarding to see.
Aside from the rewarding nature of coaching the next generation of lacrosse players, this Masa Israel internship has taught me a lot of about logistics and all of the little things that go into planning to start a sport in a new city. Being the “new kid on the block,” we have to share space and practice times with the existent powerhouse - soccer. This can be frustrating because the times are late, or right after school, which gives the players little time to get to the field, or we have to delay practice because a soccer game runs late. All of these are the challenges we face but when looked at positively, are necessary obstacles that teach us how to communicate and relay what we need. The field managers see our hard efforts and see the joy on the kids’ faces. When we all realize why we are here teaching, it makes the small logistical problems disappear.
Another logistical issue we tackle on a daily basis is how to provide all these kids with protective equipment. Lacrosse is a physical sport, and requires a lot of protective gear. When every player needs a helmet, chest pads, elbow pads, and gloves this becomes a logistical issue. How do we get these pads from point A to point B? Fortunately we have a car that allows us to transport some of this stuff. But we have to pack the car early, get to the field early, fit kids with the equipment based on their size, and make necessary adjustments.
Additionally, a lot of forethought goes into running a practice on any given day. From this I have learned to be diligent and punctual. Another major challenge is to expect the same from the Israeli youth. In the laid back Israel atmosphere, many people take their time and show up five or ten minutes late. We have attempted to make this a priority with the kids we teach. In the world, when work starts at a certain time, it is expected a person show up early to get set up. When there is a professional game in any sport, it is expected that players warm up before the game not after it starts. This is another challenge, but allows us to instill positive, useable work ethics.
Now that lacrosse has been in the city for a few months, it is interesting how it has changed and how the perception of the sport has been almost fully integrated. We have had a few different youth matches in public areas and without promotion, they have gathered fans and interested bystanders. Speaking for myself and the players, it has been really fun to see it all come together when the game starts. To have people cheer you on, in a new foreign sport, not knowing the rules but witnessing the physical efforts, makes one feel really good inside. It makes me very proud as a coach and mentor for these kids to see their hard work, and smiles and to know that lacrosse is in Kiryat Gat for good!