For a club who plays such a demanding, equipment-heavy, and (in the UK at least) little-known sport, the St Andrews Men’s Lacrosse Club seems remarkably laid-back. Described by Club President, Max, as “social first and competitive second”, it is a club whose easy-going mantra is nevertheless stabilized by a slew of recent success. Even if a fifth consecutive BUCS Scottish Division 1A title isn’t secured this April, rest assured: there won’t be any Yaya Toure-style sulking.
What is most impressive about this success is that the Club has no coaches, either part-time or full-time. Instead, the players are self-taught, with new intakes – of which there have been many – required to learn directly from those already at the Club. There are two huge positives to this. For one thing, it ensures that training more closely applies to matches. If those who teach you how to play are also those who will actually play with you on matchday, it is easy to imagine less experienced players learning faster than they would do if they were they trained by a coach.
Granted, those players who have more experience do not receive specialist coaching themselves. But, given how obscure lacrosse is in the UK, it isn’t hard to imagine those more experienced players – largely from Canada and America, according to Max – possessing no less expertise than would specialist coaches from the UK. Indeed, lacrosse is huge in Canada, to the point where many of the Club’s more established players have been playing since they were children. In the UK, playing men’s lacrosse at all is a rarity, let alone the idea of playing from a young age. But in Canada, lacrosse is an official ‘National Sport’ (under the 1994 Canadian National Sport Act, if you’re interested). The history of men’s lacrosse is also distinct from women’s, which has very different rules.
Max tells me that men’s lacrosse originated as a pre-war ritual for Native American Canadians in the 1600s and 1700s, and was played on a truly epic scale. Teams would comprise somewhere between one hundred and one thousand men, on a pitch half a kilometre long and three kilometres wide, over three entire days with no break in play. A set-up which, although only a distant relation to lacrosse as it is played today, makes the St Andrews side’s laid-back approach somewhat ironic.
To return to what marks out modern day men’s lacrosse from women’s. Max describes the difference as “very big, to the point where it is almost a different sport”. The main difference concerns physical contact. In the men’s game, body-checking is legal, where it isn’t in women’s lacrosse.
Accordingly, and unsurprisingly, the men’s game necessitates far more protective gear. They are required to wear helmets, mouth guards, gloves, shoulder pads, elbow pads, and often ribs pads. As concerns the St Andrews side, this equipment is often self-bought, such is the club’s emphasis on, er, clubbing together. Indeed, on the topic of clubbing together the Club’s emphasis on self-sustenance, and in particular fundraising, has helped them with a current dilemma.
Towards the end of last year, the team were unable to attend a BUCS game, and were fined £750 by BUCS. At the time of writing, the Club are working with the AU to find ways to generate the funds. More broadly, it is interesting to wonder if such a hefty fine is paid to all BUCS teams who fail to fulfil fixtures. Do bigger clubs, such as football or rugby, receive bigger fines, or do all BUCS sides receive the same fine? Certainly, anyhow, £750 is hefty for a club as small as Men’s Lacrosse, however self-starting its members may be. Yet in spite of such challenges, the Club is ever-building.
Max tells me some “40%, perhaps nearly half” of the side are freshers, all of whom are “hilarious” and yet wholly buy into the club’s ethos. The freshers, Max continues, implicitly acknowledge that they must obey orders from older members – solely in virtue of being freshers. Any fresher at a sports club will know this unwritten rule as well as the back of their hands. For the men’s lacrosse club, then, success is sure to stick around much longer. If any club exemplifies the success story that is St Andrews’ special connection with North America, it is the intense sport of Men’s Lacrosse.