Can we really grow this game?


By Pierre Filion

We’ve all heard the words: ‘’Let’s grow the game’. What have we not heard is ‘’How much has the game really grown?’’

I have gathered the data for the real growth of the game in the last 15 years (2004 to 2019), prior to the pandemic. The data is from the official reports presented by Lacrosse Canada to its member associations (the provinces) at its annual meetings.

From 2004 to 2019 box lacrosse has gone from 37,516 registered players to 37,638; a growth of 122 players over 15 years. The data does not mention the specific number of registered females playing box lacrosse.

In the same period men’s field lacrosse has gone from 5776 registered players to 8361 players for a growth of 44.7%. This is highly relevant and should be looked at further. The data does not mention if some of those field players are also registered box players.

Women’s field lacrosse has gone from 796 players to 2409 for a 302% growth. This is also important. However, in 2004 seven provinces did not register one single female player; in 2019 the same seven provinces (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Québec, First Nations, New Brunswick, PEI and NFLD) still did not register any females playing women’s field lacrosse. Ontario and BC registered 2071 of the 2409 players. 85.9% of the female players were active in two provinces.

The total number of registered players in the three disciplines (box, men’s field, and women’s field) has gone from 44,088 in 2004 to 48,408 in 2019 for a 9,7% growth in 15 years. In 2022 Lacrosse Canada’s registration numbers indicate a membership of 46,212…largely affected by the effects of the 2020-2021 pandemic…

Men and women’s field lacrosse have grown significantly; box lacrosse has not. Absolutely not.

Anyone slightly interested in the game of lacrosse, especially in the box game, would have the following questions:

  • Is there is national developmental plan to grow box lacrosse in Canada? If there is one the results of the last fifteen years seem to indicate a clear lack of growth. If there is none, what are we waiting for to produce one?
  • Is there a national strategy (implementation of strategic tools) to grow box lacrosse throughout Canada? Not IN Canada but THROUGHOUT Canada. Not in one or two provinces, but throughout Canada.
  • Who oversees the numerical growth of registered players? Is it Lacrosse Canada? Is it the Provincial Associations? Is it the local associations? Who is in charge in this democratic association which is Lacrosse Canada?
  • Are there annual reports which mention the evolution of growth and who report on the factual situation of this limited growth? Are there clear corporate goals established before the start of an annual cycle and assessed at the end of the annual cycle? Did we meet our goals is the main question to ask at each annual meeting. Not after 15 years…
  • Who reports to whom on the matter of this obvious failure in terms of numerical growth? Does Lacrosse Canada report to its members at an annual meeting? Do the Provincial Member Associations report to Lacrosse Canada in their annual report to LC? What significant conversations are held pertaining to growth?
  • Who is expected to act in order to change this fifteen yearslong trend?

These are technical or political questions which beg to be asked, obviously. Hopefully someone will have answers. Probably someone will be held responsible for this fiasco and will bear the responsibility and the guilt. Poor soul.

That would not be my approach.

I would suggest we look at some type of social answer to explain the lack of growth in box lacrosse. So, I will ask ‘’social’’ questions…if you allow me to do so.

  • How many times have you heard someone, in your lacrosse environment, accuse someone else of ‘’killing the game’’? In the same perspective, how many times, however, have you ever heard someone come out saying ‘’I’m killing the game; I’m personally killing the game’’…You get my point. Someone else is always killing the game.
  • I remember the past CLA president, Bryan Davies, after a long weekend planning session, telling the members: ‘’After a long walk in the desert we finally came face to face with the enemy; and the enemy was us’’. And I remember an enlightened delegate saying…’’What’s he talking about?’’
  • In a CLA meeting, some years ago, the OLA president Marshall Spence who had a slight inclination towards conflict, promoting field lacrosse and talking about ‘’the box people’’ said…’’these guys fight on the floor, they fight in the corridors, they fight in the dressing rooms, they fight in the parking lot, and they even fight in the boardrooms; fighting is part of their game. Fighting is their existence; it’s their culture’.
  • Deb Stocks, a sharp and witty volunteer from BC, once faced the CLA membership with this: ‘’Do you guys realize that box lacrosse is the only sport that eats its young’’…Many, not in appetite, missed the point. Most still do.

Let’s get a mirror and ask some relevant questions…for which currently I don’t have answers. But asking the questions is a first step.

  • Is it possible that we (and I mean all of us) don’t really want to grow the game of box lacrosse? We all pay great lip service, but do we really want the game to grow?
  • Is it possible that we really don’t want to come together over a plan created, accepted, and trusted by all parties? Is it possible that we all wish for permanent battles between Lacrosse Canada and the provinces? Is it even possible that we relish those battles because they, and not the growth of the game, define us? Do we seem to exist because of our conflicts with someone else?
  • Is it possible that we are comfortable amongst ourselves and unconsciously wish to remain just amongst ourselves, fighting our traditional battles and totally satisfied with the actual situation of our game? Are we not happy to blame others and to entertain another fight?
  • Is it possible that we believe that we have all been anointed from ‘’above’ and that we know WE are the only ones who really know what is good for our game? And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Is it possible that we have claimed ownership of the game and act as if it was simply ours?
  • Is it possible that we believe that box lacrosse is such an elite sport that it must be a marginal sport, not accessible to everyone and governed only ‘’by those in the know- us?’’ Those who get their unchallenged wisdom from their own marginality?’’
  • Is it possible that the democratic process within Lacrosse Canada (where two provinces control 44.6% of the votes at LC annual meetings), might have something to do with the lack of growth in box lacrosse?
  • Is it possible that our ‘’thanatos’’ is stronger than our ‘’eros’’? …. What’s he talking about??? You have all heard of the Ancient Greek’s definition of life as a constant battle between the forces of life (eros) and the forces of destruction (thanatos) which applies to humans, societies, and cultures. Is it conceivable that in box lacrosse our cultural forces of self-destruction are stronger than our collective forces of growth/life?
  • Is it possible that as a blue-collar sport we resist any intrusion into our inner sanctum from the scholarly people who manage school sports and who address it as an ‘’educational tool’’ while we address it, and protect it, as ‘’Canada’s national summer sport?’’
  • Is it possible that there will be no reaction whatsoever to the publication of the data for box lacrosse from 2004 to 2019 and that we will all simply move on…and do the same thing all over again?
  •  Is it possible that someone might just ask…’’With the financial and human resources we have why have we only gained 122 players in our last 15 years? And expect to get some type of an answer.
  • And is it possible that one element that defines the ‘’culture of box lacrosse’ is the unconscious refusal to grow the game and to, simply, want to remain amongst us as the unique privileged and marginal ones who own the game which we call ‘’our’’ game?