Growing the game is a common goal among many lacrosse enthusiasts, and there are different approaches in trying to attract new participants to the sport.

Perhaps one of the most innovative strategies has been recently deployed by the Tidewater Chapter of US Lacrosse. Tidewater has created an Ambassador Program built around middle school girls, using their enthusiasm, sociability, and extroversion to help draw their peers to the game. Utilizing girls in grades 8, 9 and 10 to attract younger girls to lacrosse seemed like the right growth strategy to program originator Dan Neumann.

“The question we had to ask ourselves was ‘how do we reach the younger population,’” Neumann said. “Getting the help of enthusiastic middle school girls seemed to be the right way to connect the dots to the next generation.”

The Ambassador Program pulls together 26 well-rounded, middle school girls’ lacrosse players who must first be nominated by coaches and teachers, and then must shine through a screening process overseen by the chapter’s board and local lacrosse leaders.

Grade point average and community service are as important as lacrosse skills in the evaluation. Attitude, commitment and recommendations are also key criteria. Once selected, the ambassadors, who represent all areas of the chapter’s geographic footprint, serve as part role model, part mentor, part cheerleader, and part innovator in attracting younger players.

“This is not a typical all-star team in that the ambassadors are not focused on tournaments or post-season play, but rather the program focuses on engaging high caliber student-athletes to assist the chapter, and US Lacrosse, to showcase the game,” said Jim Old, president of the Tidewater Chapter.

Since the launch of the program last spring, the Tidewater Ambassadors have volunteered at youth clinics, served as speakers and recruiters in schools, represented the chapter at community events and been active in supporting other special events. Their outreach activities have also included several trips to college games at Old Dominion University and William & Mary as escorts for younger players.

Through it all, the ambassadors leverage their social media expertise to further increase lacrosse awareness.

“It’s so nice to see their pictures and their photos wearing chapter gear all over the place,” Neumann said. “That’s clearly one of the ways in which you reach the next generation.”

The ambassadors have the full support of the Tidewater Chapter, which funds all of their activities and engagement opportunities. Most events are planned for weekends in order to minimize conflicts with school schedules. Neumann notes that the return on investment, about $2,500 in chapter funds, has been outstanding.

“We started this program to meet the challenge from US Lacrosse to develop new initiatives to support growth in our chapter area,” he said. “There have been no negatives across the board.”

One of the pleasant surprises for the chapter’s leadership team has been the level of ownership that the ambassadors have taken in the program. The girls provide the adult advisors with plenty of suggestions and proposals to expand their engagement in the community.

“They have some great ideas, so we task them with following through on developing the plans,” Neumann said. “It’s an impressive group of girls.”

One of those ideas, generated by the ambassadors, was to have them each pursue US Lacrosse junior official’s certification. Having now started the training process, the girls hope to complete the certification and earn their ratings in time to begin officiating youth games this spring.  

Neumann says that the chapter decided to recruit middle school girls as the ambassadors, rather than their older high school peers, due to several factors. For one, U15 girls are closer in age to the elementary age girls that they hope to influence. Additionally, they are still free from some of the mounting time demands, including college recruiting, faced by the older players.

The ambassador commitment from each member is for just one year, but age-eligible girls are welcome to re-apply. The chapter hopes to gage the success of the program via several metrics and make adjustments as the initiative grows.

“Obviously, we hope to measure the growth in youth registration for some of our area rec leagues,” Neumann said. “We’re also tracking our social media trends and seeing great increases. Our Instagram followers are up 90-percent; Twitter is up 120-percent. Hopefully, we’re heading in the right direction.”

The girls are currently working on a year-end video documenting their activities to present to the chapter’s leadership board. Neumann has no doubts that it will be well received.

“These girls have exceeded our expectations,” he said.