The lacrosse world is always trying to expand, and is known as the “fastest growing sport on two feet”. Now imagine that these two feet are attached to a laxer with a British accent.
Sorry, just picturing it. I’m back. In the epic quest to grow the game, some of our own patriots have jumped across the pond and started to grow the game into the United Kingdom. This week, I was able to talk to the lovely Vincent Grimes of Arch Level Lacrosse, a new company out of England that is making big moves. They are trying to make the game bigger than just players and clubs by creating their clinics around coaches and officials as well, bringing every aspect of the game to the UK. The Zebra program provides officials to programs, the Confident Coach program teaches coaching and mentoring skills to prospective coaches, and The Box fitness program promises to whip players into fighting shape. The thing to be most excited for? Their summer all-pro tour, announced a couple of weeks ago. The best players in the sport are packing their bags and heading to merry old England for the Summer, like Brett Hughes, Kyle Harrison, Kristen Kjellman, Chazz Woodson and Johnny Christmas. The new guard out of England should be terrifyingly good with Arch Level Lacrosse training.
Sammie: So tell me a little bit about the company, your history, etc.
Vincent Grimes: It was actually founded last May, so it’s brand new. Several American coaches here all coach at Universities and the sport itself was taking off really quickly, so we started to kind of inject the coaching part of it into universities and clubs that didn’t have coaches. I came over with the Air Force, then started coaching. From coaching, I started making connections, started joining committees, getting involved in the governing body over here, and it just kind of took off. It used to be kind of hit-or-miss, if you could find a training session, or something like that, you’re not associated with an actual team, we wanted to change that. So we got involved.
Awesome, speaking of that, you guys do coaching clinics. What do your coaching clinics entail?
The thing to remember is, the whole goal of Arch Level is all about development. So the biggest part that we wanted to focus on was, what we’re very passionate about, is the coach idea and what that role does. So when we host these clinics, it’s everything from how to set up a practice to practice plans, everything form mapping out your preseason to your post-season, how to run tryouts, very simple things for first-timers all the way to getting down to practical sessions and different graphics on the field to set up offense and defense and so forth. So it depends on kind of the market that we have, and we’re finding a lot of people are new to coaching. A big thing with that is player-coach, because of the lack of actual coaches, so the player-coach is a very common position around here. We’re trying to inject the knowledge portion more than the seeing, doing and copying. It’s also the development of the coach, the mindset, how to coach each player differently, and kind of finding your own philosophy and style as a coach.
Lacrosse here has actually been around forever. I coach at the University of Cambridge, and they had their first team in 1882. What we’re seeing is that a lot of people here have been involved with the sport a long time, but it wasn’t that big right out of the gate around here. A lot of the talent that was here would eventually go to the States, start working, kind of bring those skills back, and it grew and grew and grew from there and all of a sudden, we’re hosting the World Games last summer [SAMMIE NOTE: USA WON THE GOLD! Check the pics on Lax Playground’s FB!]. The growth is exponential right now, it’s massive. It’s absolutely amazing over here, because the English community in general is just phenomenal, and then you add lacrosse into that, it’s just so much better. So it’s a very cool thing that’s going on right now in this country.
So what, then, would be the goals of Arch Level Lacrosse as far as the United Kingdom? It’s been “around forever”, but what do you hope to bring to the game?
We’re hoping to increase the development portion of it. The game’s been around a long time, but some details have been worked on for a very long time. What we’re seeing is, simple things we’re used to in the States, like always having a referee every game, that’s something we really take advantage of, and there’s a big effort here a lot of the time to get things like that. So getting officials to games, (actually playing the game most of the time, because of the weather over here) a lot of little things are affecting the game’s growth. So we have a program called “The Zebra”, which is like a referee or an umpire deployment program. So instead of clubs having to go out and hunt down refs right now, (which a lot of them are having to do), we’re trying to put together a system where all of the referees get certified, and then they come to us for work, and then we set up a deployment system. We’ll set up a contract with the specific club, that club we guarantee every home game will have refs, and we set up the admin portion that they OK. So we’re kind of taking the pressure off the club and kind of getting a hold of all of the scattered refs out there. Little things that like, like referees, like the coaching aspect of it as far as getting a coach and another big thing that’s taking off is the actual time period of when they play lacrosse. Regular season over here is October through March for the most part, so if you can imagine, England is not the best weather in general, and those months, it’s not really the best timing to play an outdoor sport. But, they’re very serious about tradition here, so it’s a hard thing to change. One thing that we’re doing is we’re actually launching the first of its kind of a summer league this year. In the States it’s just something you’re used to. You finish spring season then go right to your summer league. It’s just not done here, so we’re having huge response from that. So little things like that, little aspects of the game as far as the officials, summer leagues, participation outside their normal leagues, development clinics, workshops and things, that’s what we’re looking to bring to the sport and hopefully grow it from there, from the inside out.
What about gear? Do you guys think you’re going to branch out into gear at all?
Coincidentally, I just got back from the states. While I was there I talked to several different companies, that we are in talks with right now in terms of getting some dealer rights and using Arch Level as a UK-based dealer through gear manufacturers. A good 80% of sales is online through the States, a lot of people buying online and getting it shipped over here. At the very least, it’ll get to the UK in three weeks. Shipping and costs and things like that are a big expense and a big hindrance as far as time, so what we’re looking to do is back-stock gear, players buy the gear online but use us as a shipping point to get a 2-3 day shipping period.
That’ll definitely make it a lot easier to get involved in the game. So let’s talk about programs. The summer league is your big push now, and you’ve got huge stars coming in, Brett Hughes, Chazz Woodson, they all seem very excited about being a part of it.
Yeah, that was something I was really excited about. I thought it was going to be difficult to get players, but it turned out to be much easier than I thought! (laughs) All I had to do was say, “Hey we’ll fly you into England to play lax, teach some lacrosse”, and they’re good to go. It’s really refreshing and pretty amazing to see the response we’re getting for these kind of events, because we’re seeing a lot of the big names and these people are willing to drop everything, find a time and teach the sport to new players and to people willing to show up. It’s amazing when I get on calls with these players, because the last thing that they even ask about is monetary value. All they care about is getting over here, teaching the sport and having fun, which is absolutely amazing. The Pro Tour portion has actually been pretty easy. People have been jumping at the chance. We have Johnny Christmas, and we’re starting to get into the women’s side as well, we have Kristen [Kjellman of Northwestern] coming over here. Now that so many people are involved, we’re trying to get some over for the coaching symposium in September as well. Honestly without the whole social networking scene, it wouldn’t have come to fruition as well as it has, but you put something on Twitter [Sammie Note: Follow @ArchLevelLacrosse on Twitter for updates! Also me!] and you’re golden. It’s a very easy way to communicate with people. It’s a very comfortable thing for them to start getting involved in, in the initial stages. Our focus now, because we had such an enormous outpouring from the men’s side, is to start working on the women’s side. That’s probably our biggest goals on the tour now, to get more women on the tour.
When it comes to building the game up, what do you emphasize in terms of skills? What skills do you think are important to build the game?
From day one, we’re firm believers, as cliche as that is, in fundamentals. It goes back to the lack of coaches. Players might have been playing the game for 20 years, but it’s they haven’t necessarily been taught properly for 20 years. Teaching fundamentals just right off the bat, breaking down everything from ground balls to passing and throwing, those things are monumental. We’re focusing on those things like teaching proper ground balls, proper drills, how to receive a ball on your shoulder, the imaginary box. It’s great for coaches to break things down to their simplest form, which is a blast. The real strength, where we’re helping the community, is getting down to basics with the sport.
What can players do to help the cause of growing the game?
It depends, because what we’re finding in clubs is that we need to start focusing on the junior side of the game. There’s pockets like the North of England like the Manchester area that are kind of the equivalent of the Northeast in the States in terms of “lacrosse hotspots”. Those areas have full-blown junior programs all the way to adult. But the average age for picking up a stick in the UK is 17. The biggest thing players can do is start focusing on the junior side, start getting into the schools, the academic side and really start working with the younger kids. When you start teaching something, you’re going to learn it even more. As a player, they’re going to learn the sport better, and it’s going to help the sport because it’s getting kids to start at a young age and keeping them playing hopefully for the rest of their lives.
What advice do you have for other companies growing lacrosse outside of the US?
For people that want to expand the game, we have a philosophy that everyone wants to belong to something bigger than themselves. That’s just kind of a thing of the human race. So put something like lacrosse, a community based lifestyle, into a community, and it’s going to take off. You start spreading the word, start small in a local community, and from there people will get involved. And if you surround yourself with good people, good things will happen. I’m excited to see where it’s going to go on the world stage for places that don’t have the sport. Lacrosse is an absolutely amazing sport to build a community with. It’s a phenomenal tool no matter what you’re trying to do with it, no matter if it’s mentorship, leadership, growing the community, education… It’s a very good backbone to launch things off of. We have something growing, it’s kind of an exchange program where we take players here called LDOs (Lacrosse Development Officers), and it’s an amazing program that the ELA has, and it’s basically US college grads who are brought over here, and they put them in the club system and use them as coaches to develop the game and develop club lacrosse. It’s an amazing program. We’re putting something together where we want to take players who have just graduated from high school (who are about to enter college as lacrosse players) and bring them over, mash them up with the group of LDOs who have just finished their college careers as far as lacrosse and put them together in summer camps to teach juniors over here. It’s marketed as kind of a mentorship, leadership program.
What about the ELA (the governing body over the sport, equivalent of US Lacrosse)? Do you work with them?
Yeah, the ELA is amazing at what they do as far as the sport, what they’re doing and their 10 year plan. We, as of February 1, are fully endorsed and sanctioned by the ELA. It’s going to be a very good partnership and I’ve been on various committees with them in general, it’s a very good relationship, you know, supporting the cause and the business. Which is cool to see because this is the first of its kind as a private company to be doing what we’re doing. They’re really showing their support and getting behind it.
I’m Sammie, and am not A “lax babe”, I’m THE “lax babe”. My first big-girl crush was on a laxer, who let’s just say is still on the field (and in the box) today, and it’s only expanded from there. I live and work around bros, who I love and could hang out with all day every day. One could really even call me a “bro in babe’s clothing”. While lax is (with a bullet) my favorite sport, it’s not the only one I follow, growing up a diehard NY Giants/Yankees fan. If all I had was YouTube clips of MLL skills championships, my aviators, my Ipod, Summer days, pinneys, and laxers, I’d be one happy chick.