Today, we had an opportunity to catch up with Steve Hess, the acting head coach of the Thailand Lacrosse Association. Steve was one of the most feared defensive weapon, and the constant threat on the face off wing during his four years at Loyola. Now he’s half way across the globe helping growing the game of lacrosse in Thailand, with a mission to turn this young lacrosse program into one of the strongest international program. Prantarit Nerngchamnong, the president of Thailand Lacrosse Association said that “If other international programs has someone with determination, and heart like Steve, they will progress so much faster” of Hess. Now we learn more about his move to Thailand, his view on the team, it’s players, the TLA development officers, and where does he think Thailand is heading.
We understand that you moved to Thailand permanently. How is that going so far?
I love it. Things have been great. Thailand is a beautiful country, the Thai people are very friendly, the culture is fascinating and, most importantly, the guys on the team have really gone out of their way to help me out. I am lucky to have their help, especially Payu and, of course, Korn (Poonsirivong, Defensive Captain/ TLA committee) when I’m learning to get around, suggesting places to eat.
So, what was your biggest culture shock?
In Thailand, I get better service at McDonalds than I used to get at some really nice restaurants in the USA.
How are you adjusting to all of the change?
Pretty well. As I said, I had a lot of help from the team. As a result, I quickly began to feel completely at home in Thailand.
Other than acclimating yourself to a new country, and new culture what was your biggest surprise when you began to work with Team Thailand?
The talent level was much better than I expected. I never would have guessed that so many Thai lacrosse players would have had the level of experience they do.
What’s the biggest challenge you have had to deal with in connection with coaching and player development?
I expected the language barrier to be a hurdle, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most of the players on the team speak very good English, so communications have been no problem. Instead, I discovered that my biggest challenge is developing a thorough enough knowledge of lacrosse to be able to be truly helpful to the team.
I came to Thailand expecting to be the defensive coach, which is something well within my comfort zone. Now my role has broadened, and I have responsibility for all aspects of the game. All of a sudden I am being taken outside of my comfort zone much of the time. In particular, coaching offense at this level is forcing me to acquire a perspective on the game that I frankly never had before.
How is the team looking this year?
I think the team looks even better than last year and, as you know, last year the team exceeded all expectations.
On the defensive end of the field, we have some very exciting young talent. Two of last summer’s starters at close D, Tavin and Punn, are juniors in high school so they bring us a lot of energy. On the other hand, Korn, with his much greater level of experience, provides defensive leadership and he plays a very physical game. Peem, who is a senior in college right now, had a great night for us in the cage at the first Hong Kong game last year, and we’re expecting big things from him this year. On top of which we have a new goalie joining us from the University of Utah, he was honorable mentioned in his MCLA Conference last year.
The offense is a good mix of some of our youngest and most promising players and some of our most experienced and polished players. Mike Pansiri has the potential to dominate face-off with his size and speed and he has stepped up his play lately. We also have a good number of athletes who can play both middie and attack. Finally, Payu and Todd (Cornell ’02), both captains, provide a solid core for the attack; both of them have played a lot of lacrosse, and they have a lot of poise on the field.
This year’s schedule is going to require a lot of long-distance air travel. How do you expect this to affect the players?
Traveling is always hard and it often puts the whole team off its game. But, like my coach at Loyola, Charley Toomey, used to drill into our heads, we have to learn to travel well. Last year we did well flying to Hong Kong. However, this year’s flights are much longer, but all of the guys on the team are focused on playing great lacrosse, and I’m confident we’re not going to lose that focus despite the demanding travel schedule.
We understand you as well as Chazz Woodson and Sean Lindsay (TLA Development officers) played for Thailand last year. Is that fair to the other team?
I expect some complaints about fairness. But I think if you support growing the sport worldwide, it only makes sense to support these guys coming, running clinics and playing in games to help showcase lacrosse. It’s important that we draw people to the games and that when they come, they get excited about what they see. We especially need to have young kids saying, “Wow, I wanna do that.” I personally think Chazz and Lindsay have the kind of wow factor that makes that happen.
In our game at the IMPACT’s Yamaha Stadium, the Thai crowd was really into the game. They went nuts every time Chazz and Sean touched the ball because those guys were able to do some things no one else on the field could do. Close to 1,000 people showed up in pouring rain to watch a sport many of them never saw or even heard of. I think it would have been a wasted opportunity for lacrosse as a sport had we just put Chazz and Lindsay in collar shirts on the sideline. I think that our opponent should also be excited about having these guys play as well. I don’t know, but personally the most fun I ever had in sports was against the best team or the toughest matchup. I think everyone benefits.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that these guys won’t be playing in the World Games for us, although we do hope that they will still be involved with the TLA. I think by involving Chazz and Lindsay, Payu has come up with the right formula to grow the game and push it to the next level in Thailand. And that is ultimately going to benefit the entire lacrosse community throughout the world.
That being said, with the addition of Kyle Harrison and your former Loyola teammate P.T. Ricci recently announced by the TLA, will the big name “TLA Development officers” help or hurt the program?
Kyle and P.T. will help the program tremendously for the same reasons Chazz and Lindsay do. Our players will have an opportunity to learn from a couple of the best in the game.Kyle Harrison is a name everyone is familiar with and it would be hard to find a better ambassador for the sport. He is not only exciting to watch, he has a lot he can teach our players and is a real class act. The team is thrilled.
I am also excited to have an opportunity to play and coach alongside P.T. I am even more excited for our team to see him play and be coached by him. P.T. is a playmaker, as are all of Coach Matt Dwan’s (Loyola) products at LSM. I am not close to the level P.T. is as a player, so when he practices with us he will be the best defensive player our offensive guys have ever gone against. That is the kind of thing that will really give our guys an opportunity to take their game to the next level.
What will be the biggest game of the year in your opinion?
The ASPAC 2011 tournament in New Zealand will draw some great teams, and I am especially looking forward to playing Australia. The tournament will defined our team, as a serious players at the international stage. But playing in front of our home fans is hard to beat, and playing lacrosse in Thailand is important to the long-term growth and success of the TLA, so it would be hard to understate the importance of our games in Bangkok this year.
Lastly, what is it like working closely with Prantarit Nerngchamnong (the President of TLA)?
We had our period for a month or so where we felt each other out, but after we got comfortable with each other it has been great. We sometimes disagree on things but, when we do, we discuss it, and our discussions are always constructive and never taken personally. The thing I respect most about him is that he loves lacrosse more than anyone I know and is committed to doing whatever is best for Lacrosse and the TLA. He is passionate about what he started in Thailand. Sometimes it is easy to forget how much time and effort he has put into this. Beyond the lacrosse field, he and I have become great friends and I feel lucky to have his help, and supports.