It's not easy to grow in the desert. There are always elements working against you, both internally and externally. Growth takes constant nurturing, attention to detail, and above all, patience...
As part of TSL's mission to grow the game of lacrosse in Montana and the surrounding regions, this year I've been putting a personal emphasis on the women's game. The idea has been building inside me for a while, really since the birth of my daughter more than five years ago, and through our camp and instructional programs I've also been fortunate to have worked with some amazing women's players and coaches in the past few years. So last week I took a trip to Arizona for some personal professional development with the NCAA D1 Arizona State University Women's Lacrosse team, and my eyes are wide open.
I arrived in Tempe on Thursday and headed straight to the film room to meet up with the coaching staff. Friday was bringing the first Pac-12 competition of the season to campus and there was lots of work still to be done. Everyone does it differently, but it's so important to prepare your body and your mind for game day.
I've been friends with ASU Women's Head Coach, Tim McCormack, since we were in college working camps together on the east coast, and I'm not surprised at all that he's ended up as a head coach at the highest level of the game. He has a great understanding for "the game within the game" and a work ethic and focus that's truly admirable. He coaches the right way and for the right reasons, which is something that I think gets overlooked more often than people think. Tim first came to visit Montana right before he committed to his first professional coaching job back in 2013, and also just last December to help us with the first ever Montana Lacrosse Convention.
Coaches McCormack, Graziano, and Van Dyke have a pretty special thing going on at ASU - a coaching unit where value and strengths are recognized and appreciated, where open communication is both paramount and prevalent, and where a shared vision and team centered philosophy stays at the forefront. I really can't thank them enough for allowing me to learn from them during this trip, it was motivating for sure!
My trip included the all-access campus tour, on-field practice time, film room sessions, workout sessions with strength and conditioning staff, and the chance to watch two games against quality opponents - and in reflecting on my experiences I tried to boil it down to three key components that kept coming up; camaraderie, community, and competition.
Camaraderie - this is the brotherhood (or sisterhood) of the sport. It starts with an environment that is supportive and where people aren't afraid to make mistakes, or to hold each other accountable. It's always "we" before "me" at ASU. Positivity is contagious, and the ASU team is making conscious choices to promote this. The girls are constantly communicating support to each other during drills, in the weight room, and during games. Whether the players can see the payoffs or not, this is a great foundation for the future and the sign of a healthy team environment.
Community - this is an area that the coaching staff has expressed a sincere desire to grow, and they are making an effort to do that. They are a tremendous resource to youth and high school programs, teams, and players in the area, and I expect there to be lots of collaboration in the future. Beyond the Phoenix area, they are already taking strides to support the sport throughout the west and other "non-traditional" areas. This will not only come back to them as a return on investment, but will strengthen the larger lacrosse community as well. I think this is especially important on the girls side of the sport. The ASU program also has great support from parents and from within the University, with many attending the games and supporting the team before and after.
Competition - not all teams or coaches understand how important it is to lose games. You have to really see the bar in front of you and understand what separates it before you can "level up" your own game. Sometimes this can backfire, but more often than not, losing is what sparks an athlete's competitive nature and what pushes them to do more and to do it better. The girls at ASU are learning about themselves every day through film, working with trainers, and being challenged by their coaches. There are battles being won and lost everywhere, not just on the scoreboard. The strongest among them are growing, and their growth is pushing the whole team forward.
On the field, there is still plenty of work to be done. To no surprise, a lot of it comes down to the two most fundamental principles of success in this sport - understanding of the game ("lacrosse IQ") and stick skills. This team is by no means a polished product, but they are getting better and growing in the desert every day.
You can learn more about the ASU Women's Lacrosse Team by:
Checking out their diverse ROSTER, which features players from 18 states and Canada!
Checking out their SCHEDULE, which features Pac-12 and non-conference opponents and video streaming access for most games!