5 Ways to Get Americans Back into Box

PHOTO BY GREG WALL

New England Black Wolves defenseman Brett Manney is one of just 13 American players suiting up for NLL teams this winter.


This is an updated version of an article that appears in the January edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.

Just 13 American players appeared in NLL games in 2016. Four of them — Mike Manley, Joe Resetarits, Joe Walters and Joel White — played for the bronze medalist U.S. indoor team in 2015. For a league with five of its nine teams based in the United States, the question abounds: Why aren’t more Americans playing box lacrosse?

The subject resurfaced in November, as Team USA field stars Tom Schreiber and Kieran McArdle reported to training camp with the Toronto Rock. More notably, the Rock moved Paul Rabil, who last played in the NLL in 2013, to the protected player list. He will not play this season. Nor will Walters, with both players focusing on their Major League Lacrosse commitments with the New York Lizards.

Though Schreiber and McArdle have been pleasant surprises in Toronto, the number of Americans on NLL rosters this season (13) is the same as last.

With the 2019 FIL Men’s Indoor Championship on the horizon, US Lacrosse is collaborating with the NLL to grow the box game and improve its indoor team. Georgia Swarm head coach Ed Comeau, who spoke at the US Lacrosse Convention over the weekend in Baltimore, one-time Colorado Mammoth hopeful Eric Law, Rabil and Schreiber spoke with US Lacrosse Magazine about ways to engage more Americans in box lacrosse.

1. Simply play

Comeau: You can talk about it, you can watch it, but the best way to develop their skills is to play and practice real box lacrosse.

Law: Working on shooting on a smaller goal in a smaller playing field where the ball is never out of bounds will help every player at every level.

Rabil: There’s tremendous value in learning the indoor game. The speed, skill, physicality and poise were big takeaways for me.

2. Reap the benefits

Comeau: Players that have played box lacrosse (Canada and Iroquois) hold nine of the 14 spots for all time goals in NCAA history. Scoring in the box game requires high accuracy along with deceptive shooting and faking techniques, which all of these players learned in the box game.

Rabil: Colleges recruit these players to add scoring to their attack. That said, it’s the Brodie Merrills and Chris Sandersons that changed the game in Canada.

3. The NLL and MLL should collaborate

Rabil: The best way to get players to play in both? Create a partnership between the leagues. Eliminate any season overlaps, or perhaps, unify the ownership groups ... where both leagues operate as one.

Schreiber: Unfortunately, the overlap between the NLL and MLL puts players that are interested in participating in both in an uncomfortable position. My hope is that the two leagues can work toward a solution.


 

Americans on NLL Rosters

Team

Name

Pos

Hometown

Buffalo (1) Blaze Riorden F Fairport, N.Y.
Calgary (0)      
Colorado (1) Brent Adams D Norwalk, Conn.
  Greg Downing D Auburn, N.Y.
Georgia (2) Mitch Belisle D Severna Park, Md.
  John Ranagan D Yorktown, N.Y.
New England (3) Kevin Buchanan F Cockeysville, Md.
  Ryan Hotaling T Syracuse, N.Y.
  Brett Manney D Newtown, Pa.
Rochester (1) Joe Resetarits F Hamburg, N.Y.
Saskatchewan (0)      
Toronto (2) Kieran McArdle F Ronkonkoma, N.Y.
  Tom Schreiber F East Meadow, N.Y.
Vancouver (2) Brendan Fowler D/T Wantagh, N.Y.
  Chris O'Dougherty D Kinnelon, N.Y.






4. Increase exposure

Comeau: Our new commissioner [Nick Sakiewicz] comes from soccer and he has seen the growth of the MLS. When he first came to our league he marveled at how good our game and our athletes were. He said the biggest challenge with our league, is that it is not widely distributed. The new management group is working hard to raise the profile of indoor lacrosse and is planning to use many platforms to expose the masses to our game.

Law: If you look at teams like Colorado and Buffalo, they have two of the highest attendance rates in the league. Fans in those areas know box and love watching the game. Having the ability to watch the game at the highest level, and then be able to play in a league, makes a big difference to get fans to follow and love the game.

Rabil: Focusing on corporate partners and media distribution is critical. It’s fairly ambitious to try and sprint to the top of the mass sports food chain, but an important long-term goal. For now, let’s try to get on more screens – particularly small ones.

5. Create developmental programs

Comeau: The small-sided game approach of the Lacrosse Athlete Developmen Model plays well into box lacrosse. In fact, many field tourneys and programs are following suit with 7-on-7 and side-to-side games. Smaller playing area, reduced number of players and more touches of the ball and more movement makes for an increase in decision-making with and without the ball. The smaller size of a box lacrosse field means that everyone is involved and active and therefore playing without the ball is as critical as playing with the ball in your stick.

Schreiber: In my limited experience, the speed and physicality of the game immediately stand out. I think these aspects of box will be appealing to most Americans. I believe the best way to generate more interest and American involvement in the game is to create and continue to develop box programs for youth players.

Comeau: Many teams have started Junior NLL programs in their area or have partnered with companies to introduce box lacrosse to the youth in NLL cities and regions. NLL teams understand that grassroots box programs in their area will help them develop more fans that are interested in watching this game at the highest level. ... We find that the young U.S. players playing box lacrosse really enjoy the level of excitement and athleticism.

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