The National Lacrosse League is committed to growing lacrosse.
On October 31, the NLL joined representatives from Athletes Unlimited, Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association, Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association, Joe Tsai Sports, Premier Lacrosse League, USA Lacrosse and World Lacrosse at the New York Stock Exchange to send the lacrosse world an emphatic, unified message that growing the game is the utmost priority.
Under the banner ELEVATE28, all parties are committed to doubling participation in the sport, with a focus on the youth level. This will be done by getting sticks in more kids hands and ensuring they have certified and educated coaches to teach the game. By the time the 2028 Summer Olympics arrive, which is the wind behind the sails of this initiative, the goal is to have up to four million annual participants in lacrosse.
Doubling participation in the game is a lofty goal but a realistic one if all members stay committed to the process and the long-term goal. USA Lacrosse CEO Marc Riccio said it best during his speech to the distinguished guests attending the welcome meeting ceremony before the ringing of The Closing Bell.
“Individually, we can make progress, but together, we can make change.”
ELEVATE28 is comprised of an historic group of passionate and influential lacrosse leaders captaining the charge for the growth of lacrosse. Representatives from box, field, women’s, and youth versions of the game are going all in to make these goals a reality. NLL Commissioner Brett Frood is honored to be one of the select distinguished members of ELEVATE28.
“I’m honored to be around all of these folks who are huge constituents in our lacrosse world,” Frood said. “It’s a transformational moment to be in lock-step with everybody with the same goal, which is obviously growing lacrosse. It doesn’t matter if it’s box or field; all disciplines win here.”
Commissioner Frood understands that the box community alone will not be able to reach the target numbers on its own, but what can be done is that the NLL can help focus more of its efforts on growing the game in the United States. The goal would be for box lacrosse to one day be as prevalent and beloved in the U.S. as it is in Canada.
“It’s woven into the fiber of Ontario and B.C., and so prevalent in Canada from the youth level,” Frood said. “In the U.S., we’re behind from a box standpoint, so it’s really important to be able to navigate the elasticity of supply and demand. We want to grow as a league, and that is going to necessitate having people on both sides of the border that can play [box]. There’s no better way than to start at the youth level, that’s for sure.”
For Gary Gait, who is a lacrosse legend in both box and field versions of the game and is a prestigious member of the NLL Hall of Fame, box lacrosse is a special version of the game that trains players to have a particular set of skills that can even benefit a player’s field abilities. It is an increasingly coveted skillset among coaches in the U.S. and is a version of the game that would be appealing to those who have yet to try it.
“Box is very unique, but it’s growing, and it’s growing rapidly,” Gait said. “I hope there is a target to grow box lacrosse in the U.S. because it’s such a wonderful game to develop your skills. As a college coach [in the U.S.] now, I recruit box players because of the unique skill set that they bring from playing as kids.”
Gait is a Canadian who grew up playing box lacrosse, but there are increasing numbers of lacrosse players (professional and youth) who have yet to dabble in the box version of the game. In the case of lacrosse star and one of the newest members of the San Diego Seals, Trevor Baptiste, having knowledge and experience of both ways of playing the game has been beneficial. Baptiste did not come into the NLL with notable box experience, but he dove head first into this new game, and it has transformed the way he plays.
With Sixes being chosen as the version of the game that will be played at the Olympics, Baptiste believes that having experience in all versions of lacrosse will create the most dominant players. A unified stance that alllacrosse experience is the most valuable experience to have will go a long way to developing the most dominant athletes on the world stage.
“I think more Americans have to play [box lacrosse],” Baptiste said. “I think it’s a really great game, and I think the real reason we’re here is because more types of players need to be playing all three disciplines of the game. That’s what will continue to grow the sport and make it more mainstream.”
Former NLL player and current ESPN broadcaster Mitch Belisle couldn’t agree more with Baptiste. Adding this newer version of the game, which is very much a hybrid style of box and field, will create superior athletes for the Olympic Games.
“I think it’s crucial,” Belisle said. “There are so many different ways to play lacrosse, but at the end of the day, it’s still all the same sport. If everyone can get together and rise up together, it’s only going to make things better… It’s great when everyone can rally together and grow the sport together.”
In five years’ time, when lacrosse is on the Olympic stage as a medal sport for the first time since 1908, the efforts made by ELEVATE28 will have expanded the game to unprecedented levels.
This is lacrosse’s moment. For the moment to be capitalized on, it will take a collective effort to make the game known and appreciated in as many households across the globe as possible. Whether it’s box, field or Sixes, lacrosse is lacrosse.