The World Lacrosse Championships begin tonight as the United States faces Canada at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Fans will not only get to watch the best players compete, but they’ll also witness how the sport of lacrosse is growing. These championships will feature a record 38 nations including Belgium, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Israel, Russia, Thailand, Turkey and Uganda who will compete for the first time. The differences and deviations of the sport from different cultures will be on full display in Denver, over the next week and a half.
Lacrosse fans will tune in, that’s not a question. The main point of this column is aimed towards non-lacrosse fans. To anyone who is at all skeptical about lacrosse, here’s why these World Lacrosse Championships mark the perfect time to see what the sport has to offer.
1) Pride in your country
The United States recently had World Cup fever, showing great pride in the Red, White and Blue. Even though the World Cup is winding down, why not channel that energy towards these lacrosse championships? The U.S. coaching staff began this week by talking about what it means to represent your country. Only five of the 23 players on the roster have played in a past World Lacrosse Championship. The coaches saw pride in one’s country as the most important aspect to cover with their team. You should too.
2) The sport is growing
Nine nations are competing for the first time this year. Not only is the sport growing within the U.S. with an increase in youth participation and college programs, but it’s also growing worldwide.
3) Best players in the sport
Granted, there is a significant talent gap between teams one through 38 in these championships, but the Federation of International Lacrosse has done a nice job of dividing the nations into competitive pools. The top pool (the Blue Division) consists of the United States, Canada, Iroquois, Australia, England and Japan. The U.S., Canada and Iroquois all have elite talent, so any time these three teams are in action (especially against each other), it will be a must-watch. Other countries are making strides as well, so even if the gap seems significant, I can assure you that the gap is shrinking. The Blue Division has a leg up to win a world championship, but teams from the lower divisions can still earn a spot in the single elimination playoffs, so every game has meaning.
4) Love of the game
Remember the reports that Ghana wouldn’t play because they weren’t paid their World Cup appearance fees? Sports has become about money, which isn’t what sports was meant to be about. The 23 players on the U.S. team do get paid to play in Major League Lacrosse, but that’s not why they play. The league is still growing, but is not to the point where players can make a living off their salary, so many have other full-time jobs. If all lacrosse players cared about was money, they would not play and there wouldn’t be a professional outdoor league. However, lacrosse players truly play for the right reasons and the love of the game. One day, the MLL hopes to be able to supply its players with a full-time salary, but it will take some time. In the present, these players are playing because they want to. That will be evident in these championships.
Disclaimer: By no means am I saying Ghana’s players were at fault to be upset if in fact they hadn’t been paid. This is more to illustrate a point about lacrosse players and their unique situation in this day and age.
5) You can’t beat the excitement
While some U.S. sports fan complain about soccer and the lack of goals and action, lacrosse appeals to a whole different type of fan. Those who don’t like soccer likely see it as “boring” in their eyes. To those fans, what are they looking for? Action…and very few sports have as much action as lacrosse. There is ball movement and screens like basketball, hitting like hockey and strategy like all of the best sports. These athletes can shoot in excess of 100 miles per hour while the goalie’s job is to stop those rocket shots (and they are pretty darn good at making stops). Games are usually in the high single digits with goals or low-to-mid double figures, so the games don’t lack scoring. It’s a good mix between soccer or hockey (with very few goals) and basketball (in which games commonly reach 100 points).
One issue about lacrosse for some may be its complexity. I urge new fans to not overthink what they’re watching. Biggest thing to know is simple, teams want to score goals and stop the other team from scoring. There are often referee calls that I don’t know, but rather than obsessing over “what was that call,” it’s best to focus on enjoying the game rather than trying to figure out every little minute detail. Lacrosse is quite complex, yet simple at the same time. Worry about the simple aspects and the more complex aspects will come in time. In the meantime, you will fall in love with the sport.
With the World Lacrosse Championships beginning, I urge fans (lacrosse fans and non-lacrosse fans) to enjoy the tournament. Focus on the action and excitement that the sport brings and in this case, cheering on your nation to victory. ESPN is doing a tremendous job televising this year’s games. Every U.S. game can be viewed on ESPN2, ESPNU and/or ESPN3 so be sure to tune into ESPN2 tonight at 9 p.m. for a clash of world-clash athletes playing an up-tempo sport, who are playing for the right reasons.