Last week, for the first time, US Lacrosse combined two of its annual leadership conferences into one virtual event, seeking to educate and empower both program leaders and members of the Urban Lacrosse Alliance through shared growth opportunities. 

Over the course of three days, conference participants were provided with nine different sessions, ranging from regionalized return to play discussions to athlete development, and from resources for coaches to growth of the game.

John Moser, CEO of CityLax in New York City, attended most of last week’s virtual sessions and had high praise for the event.

“One of the things that impressed me the most was how open and honest everyone was,” Moser said. “We all face challenges with our programs, and folks didn’t join in and just try to paint a rosy picture of what they were doing. There was a good feeling about all of us being on the same level. We’re all in this together.”

Founded in 2005, CityLax is a non-profit organization committed to developing and expanding the game of lacrosse inside New York City public schools through a public-private partnership model. The goal is to help establish lacrosse as a mainstream sport in New York City’s high schools and middle schools.

“New York City kids were hit pretty hard by the pandemic,” Moser said. “Our schools really weren’t prepared for online learning last spring, and so administrators lost connection with many of their kids.”

Seeking to utilize lacrosse as a tool to motivate students to stay in school, CityLax launched a series to Zoom presentations to keep their players connected. The organization reached out to Black collegiate players to serve as presenters.

“We felt it was important to establish some dialogue between the college players and our kids,” Moser explained, “because once you see it, it becomes real. There are a lot of hurdles for our high school kids to get to college, including believing that it’s possible.”

Moser noted that the webinar sessions that discussed returning to play and overcoming the obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic were especially helpful and timely.

“We’re all going through it and trying to figure out how to get back on the field,” he said. “Lacrosse just stopped here in New York City last spring, really before it even started. We’re now back to doing some small clinics with limits of about 15 kids. We have to crawl again before we can run.”

Moser is optimistic that the momentum for growth that CityLax has enjoyed in recent years will continue when life returns to normal. The organization started 15 years ago with just three high school teams, and now supports 72 high school teams. It has 170 volunteers who support over 3,000 players each year.

“We’re so fortunate to have so many people in our community who want to give back to the game,” Moser said. “So much of our work depends on our volunteers.”

Cynthia Lisa, president of the St. Mary's (Md.) Girls Lacrosse League since 2018, has the same viewpoint and found the virtual conference’s discussion about resources for coaches very helpful. 

“Being able to empower coaches is tremendously important,” said Lisa, who also serves as the girls’ varsity coach at Leonardtown (Md.) High School. “We try to support our coaches as well as we can.”

Growing participation in the SMGLL, especially over the past two years, has only highlighted the importance of finding and developing quality coaches. The league has about 200 participants across five age divisions.

“We feel good about the direction we are going, but you really can’t stress coaching enough,” Lisa said. “We know that it’s the coaches that do the hard work every day. We want to build their confidence and take away some of the barriers to coaching.”