Lacrosse is a huge part of my life.
I am the Owner/Founder of 380 Lacrosse (youth training/summer club program) and Assistant Head Varsity Lacrosse Coach at The Hill School in PA. And at the age of 28, I found myself wondering “Is coaching and men’s league the only thing left for me?” I’m not saying there is anything wrong with coaching or playing in a men’s lacrosse league, but let’s face it men’s league is more recreational than anything and does not come close to quenching my thirst for REAL competition. I am 28-years-old, I am not “over the hill” yet. I work out regularly, train hard and still have the fire inside, but it’s been quite a few years since my college club days so what are my options?
The answer became clear thanks to social networking… One day, when I saw a comment on my friend, P.T. Ricci’s Facebook page from his former Loyola teammate and current Coach of Thailand Lacrosse, Steve Hess, about being in Thailand coaching their national team, I immediately knew this was an opportunity I had to explore. I did some research, wrote a few e-mails and Facebook messages, all which lead me to Payu, the President of TLA, and a tryout in October 2011 in Thailand.
I was very nervous and hesitant to jump at the opportunity to play international lacrosse, but something in my gut was telling me to “GO”. I had never been to Thailand and had only been outside the US one time. The only thing I knew about Thailand was that my mother and the other half of my family was from Thailand. My mother left my family when I was 4-years-old and I realized this was a double sided opportunity. The opportunity to learn about my family heritage, and to resurrect my playing career and play for something meaningful again, as the Thai team’s motto goes: FOR KING AND COUNTRY.
I booked the ticket, threw my heads and cleats in my carry on and flew 25 hours half way across the Earth with no idea what to expect. Once I landed, I was welcomed with open arms and treated with the most amazing hospitality. I landed on a Wednesday, rooming with TLA development officers Sean Lindsay and Chazz Woodson. The two unbelievable players that I watched on TV and idolized, and practiced with the team on Thursday. By Saturday, I was stepping onto the lacrosse field playing with Thailand against the Hong Kong team in the Annual Friendly Cup game.
This was a very quick trip where everything happened so fast, but every single second of this experience will be forever engrained in my memory. At the first practice that I attended, I noticed that the Thai team was raw, but very eager to learn. I could see in every players’ eyes how much they loved the sport already and how much they wanted MORE! Sean ran through a basic double triangle offense from a 1-3-2 set (from behind) while Coach Hess worked with the D-poles on positioning, and stick skills.
Payu oversaw everything and was the glue between the players, and the coaches. Often adding the inspirational talks about the upcoming game, and what it meant to the development of not only for Thailand but the Asian Lacrosse movement in general. Practice was intense, everyone (experienced or new) had their ears perked up and eyes wide open as they soaked up everything like sponges.
From a coaching stand point, I couldn’t help but notice how much of a benefit it was to work with players that were so new to the sport, and didn’t know anything about over the head checks, rusty gates or unnecessary behind the back passes (which I’m sure will come in due time). The Thai players simply listened, trusted their coaches and did what was asked of them. They worked as a cohesive unit and worked as a team and this would end up being our advantage in the come from behind win against Hong Kong that Saturday night.
The Friendly Cup is a game day that I could not have been more nervous about. All of my college pre-game rituals that I had not used in years came back to me. I ate a good breakfast, double and triple checked my equipment, had a sick playlist on repeat in my headphones all day long, visualized different game situations and, of course, TRIED to relax. We showed up at the field and immediately I realized this was something BIGGER than any college game I ever played in. Banners all over the field, bright lights, uniforms laid out in locker room, fans starting to show up, The Friendly Cup Trophy on display.
You could feel the nerves and the tension in the air. Some players looked scared, but at the same time READY. The game started and we fell behind early, but after some key halftime adjustments, we came out the second half and fought our way back taking the lead mid way through the 4th quarter. Thailand ended up winning the game 20-14.
I will never forget looking into the stands after a goal and seeing hundreds of Thai fans waving the Thailand flag screaming, and yelling in support of their country’s new found passion…LACROSSE! After the game we celebrated and took pictures with the Hong Kong team and officials. We held the trophy high and I could see on every player’s face, the feeling of pride and achievement. For some of the TLA players this was their first EVER lacrosse game and for it to be on such a huge stage and to be for their country was an amazing feeling. I was so proud of my teammates and felt blessed to be a part of it. We all know how much Payu puts into TLA and why he does it, so we were all proud we could help get this win FOR KING AND COUNTRY.
For me personally, this experience allowed me to visit my mother’s native country, learn about my heritage, “resurrect” my playing career at the international level and become part of a FAMILY.
I returned to Thailand this past March to play in the Rival Cup versus Singapore, which Thailand won 9-2, and I plan on going back in August as well. I was able to stay longer during my trip in March, and immediately saw that the team is improving at an exponential rate. This improvement is a benefactor of the hard work the Thai players, and staff put in year round. There is no ceiling to the potential of Thailand Lacrosse. We can not wait for the 2014 FIL World Games to show everyone what Thailand has been up too!