Experiencing Argentina Lacrosse
Coach Holly's Travel Journal!
It has been two weeks since I returned from Argentina, and it already feels like a lifetime ago, but I imagine you might be asking, "How did Coach Holly end up traveling to and coaching in Argentina?" It all started late in 2018 when I re-connected with a Princeton alumnus. He had reached out to me to collect men’s lacrosse gear for Team Argentina. I responded that I would forward the message along to Southern California men’s coaches, but asked, “How can I get involved on the women’s side…is there even a team?” Over the next couple of months, I connected with Argentina Lacrosse General Manager, Mariano Flores Leyes, who shared my enthusiasm for standing up an Argentina women's team as well. Working around an Argentinian holiday and Memorial Day, we landed on the ideal time for me to travel and work with as many Argentinian players as possible.
First, a brief history of lacrosse in Argentina. Men’s lacrosse in Argentina is just over a decade old, and as far as we know, no native lacrosse was played in South America, only North America. Most recently, the Argentina Men’s Team competed in the 2018 World Championships in Israel placing 29th out of 46 competing teams. Many of the first women’s players were girlfriends, sisters, and friends who wanted to join in on the fastest sport on two feet! The first women’s club team, Águilas (meaning Eagles) Lacrosse was formed in 2016 in Buenos Aires. From my conversations with players during my travels, there are now at least six club teams competing in Argentina. Check out my draft map below! Unfortunately, it is difficult to estimate the exact number of players because teams come and go as players move into different jobs in different regions and momentum oscillates.
Why Argentina and why now, you might ask? 2021 marks the next Women’s World Championships set to be held at Towson University in Maryland, and Team Argentina is setting its sights on attending. Building a National Program and attending its first international competition will boost publicity and garner support for the growth of the sport in Argentina. More importantly, this will give the young women of Argentina an opportunity to grow through sport and to represent their country…a true privilege. To qualify for the World Cup, Argentina must place in the top eight of Pan-American Teams (visit HERE to learn more about Pan-American Lacrosse Association). Right now, the top three positions are held by the United States, Canada, and Iroquois Confederacy. This leaves five remaining spots to be determined at the Pan-American Lacrosse Association Women’s Qualifiers in Auburndale, Florida in November 2019. It's go-time. From a coaching standpoint, I could not be more excited to engage with a group of young women fighting to grow the sport in their country and to represent their country. I am motivated by the challenge of building a program from the very early stages and to spreading my transformative Team USA playing experience with girls in Argentina. From a personal standpoint, my husband, Brendan, and I have always shared a passion for travel and speaking Spanish, and this is a great opportunity to do both. Working with Team Argentina presents an opportunity for me to grow professionally and an unforgettable experience for my family. If you aren't convinced, check out my most recent Argentinian food adventures!
Clockwise from top left: Cooking veal milanesa, a European-inspired Argentinian breaded meat; my hosts Andi (far left) and Mariano (top right); chorizo and morchilla (look it up so as to not gross any readers out!); feasting on alfajores...a chocolate sandwich often featuring dulce-de-leche; and finally, hydrating pre-practice with Matcha tea made-to-order field-side!
In preparation for the training, Argentinian General Lacrosse Manager, Mariano, gave me these directives:
Leave something behind – Cultivate an idea of competition because these are the first girls in Argentina to play lacrosse. I have a tremendous opportunity to impress upon them the value and traditions of the game!
Instruct – Bring a specific plan for every training and be organized in what to teach, how to teach it, and how long to teach. Be an expert!
Elevate level of seriousness – Challenge the players physically and mentally because they want to develop a competitive program!
Relationships – Develop a global channel with higher-level lacrosse organizations and institutions enabling Argentinian players to consider attending United States universities to play and increasing the number of coaches who visit and train players in Argentina.
These directives motivated and inspired me to think critically about how to organize training. Our training consisted of four-hour practices, so I did not want to risk over-exhausting or losing steam with the players, but I also did not want to risk losing valuable in-country time to train! What I ended up creating were phases for each training session. Each phase consisted of a physical test, two to three skill training drills, and a team bonding activity/off-field lesson. An example of an outside lesson might be stick tricks or how to make your stick legal. We also started off each day with what I call mental journaling. We would ask questions like, “What do I bring today?” “Why do I want to be a part of Argentina Lacrosse?” “What questions do I have?” “Am I excited to be here?” We would reflect on these questions at the end of training which provided me a glimpse into the team dynamic and developing culture.
You may be wondering if there was a language barrier. Yes and no. I coached almost exclusively in broken Spanish with the help of players translating. Some players spoke no English and there were many words I did not know in Spanish. Check out my lacrosse Spanish-English dictionary below! I hope the players learned as much as I did over the weekend. While I studied Spanish in school, using it smoothly while coaching is difficult. Some of my favorite new words included amague (meaning fake!), tira (shoot and pass), cadera (hips, to be used for marking on defense), and choque los cinco (high-five)!
Over the course of three days, I worked with anywhere from twelve to eighteen players on developing proper stick work habits; implementing a new offense; establishing a “do not mess” attitude on defense; teaching goalie drills; coaching shooting technique including mechanics and power; and playing competitive, game-like scenarios. It felt like a lot to bite and chew-off for my first visit, but I felt so rewarded as the players walked away with tears in their eyes thanking me for coming to teach them. I realized that my visit, although short, energized the girls and provided many details and strategies to continue their development in the coming weeks.
Looking ahead, I plan to continue working with Team Argentina and hope to lead them in their mission to qualify at the Pan-American Lacrosse Women’s Qualifiers. It is an ambitious goal, but I have always embraced the underdog mentality and sought challenge. I look forward to playing a small role in the future of Argentina Lacrosse.
With that said, Team Argentina needs your help! To attend the Pan-American Lacrosse Qualifiers in November, an individual player’s estimated fee is $2000.00 USD. As of June 9, $1.00 Argentine Peso equals only $0.022 USD. These players are motivated by their inspiration to be the first; their love of sport, team and learning; and the positive influence of coaches from around the world. Visit their fundraising page HERE to make a donation that will make a BIG difference!
Team Argentina is also looking for players with Argentinian roots! While most players are from Argentina and learn the sport through one of the local teams, a few players are "expats" from countries including England, Canada, and the United States who learned the sport in their home countries. As long as these players hold residence two full years of the past five years OR their parents or grandparents were born in Argentina, they can compete on the National Team. Does this apply to you?! Reach out to Coach Holly R (email@example.com) to learn more about playing for Team Argentina!
Lacrosse has once again afforded me the opportunity to grow the game, travel abroad, learn more about myself, and build relationships. I know one day the players reading this will have similar opportunities through lacrosse.