Interest in sport has understandably increased over the last year, thanks to the Olympics, but one event that was sadly missing from the 2012 Games was the internationally enjoyed sport of lacrosse. Despite this unfortunate absence, 2013 celebrates 100 years of international women’s lacrosse and sees the World Cup hosted in Oshawa, Canada. With the announcement that the 2017 World Cup will be hosted at the fist-class venue of Surrey Sports Park in Guildford, the captain of the Senior Female team, Katy Bennett, looks back over her involvement with lacrosse and its growing popularity in Britain.“It’s the fastest, most exciting sport I’ve ever played,” Katy enthuses. “There are principles and tactics which require real discipline, but there is also plenty of room for flair and players with unique strengths.”While lacrosse has a global following and is extremely popular in America, here in Britain it has a somewhat lower profile, despite Team England being amongst the very best in the world (the Senior team has placed in the top four in the last six World Cups).
So how did Katy become involved in the sport?“I was lucky enough to go to a school where there were lots of sporting opportunities (St Catherine’s, Bramley),” she replies.
“Growing up I was actually a much better netball player and swimmer than a lacrosse player, but being five feet four inches tall and with a mild allergy to chlorine meant that lacrosse was the more sensible long term option!”
The teaching was exceptional in all sports, but my school lacrosse coach was playing for England at the time and was a great inspiration.”
After being picked for the Senior England team at 18 years of age, Katy’s international career really took off, resulting in a rigorous training regimen to keep her skill and fitness in top condition“Training definitely requires significant self-motivation” she elaborates. “Two to three times a week I do a running session at 6.30 in the morning before work, and once or twice a week I go to the gym in the evening for a weights session. On top of that, there is a significant amount of‘stick work’ and shooting practice to be fitted in as well as injury prevention exercises. Weekends either involve another tough ‘conditioning’ session, matches or squad training. We are guided by our own strength and conditioning coach who writes our training programmes. This is a great help, although it is still down to each individual to make sure they put the work in.”
All this hard work from all the players has paid off, however, as Team England has performed consistently well in the World Cup matches, as Katy recalls:“Winning World Bronze medals in 2001 and 2005 were proud moments, but the match I really loved was just before the 2009 World Championships when we played Australia (who were world champions at the time) and beat them in front of a home crowd. Personally I had lots of family and friends watching and the atmosphere was electric.”
Hugely popular in America, lacrosse was played at both the 1904 and 1908 Olympic Games, and despite its absence in the event since, has remained a fim staple in international competition, with teams from Canada, Australia, Japan and many more joining the USA, England, Wales and Scotland on the worldwide stage.“It is amazing playing in the States, where lacrosse is a much bigger sport – you feel like a real superstar,” Katy enthuses. “Most of the time in the UK when I tell people I play lacrosse, there is a furrowed brow expression, followed by ‘is it a bit like hockey?’ I’ve never been to Japan, but I’d love to play there as I’ve heard they are really passionate about the sport. When we were at the European Championships in Amsterdam this summer, my perception was that the sport was becoming much better known in Europe.”
In England, the growth of the sport is largely thanks to the sterling efforts of English Lacrosse, who support the four national teams (Senior Female, Senior Male, U19 Male, and U19 Women), as well as local matches and leagues throughout the country. They also run training and teaching events for both players and officials throughout the year through their CENTEX and Academy programmes, about which Katy is highly admiring.“I’ve been privileged enough to be involved in CENTEX since its inception, and seen it have a major impact on the depth of talent of young lacrosse players in this country. Elite teams are now made up of young players from a far greater variety of schools, clubs and regions. I’m excited to see what the future has for England teams as we continue to look at the structure of the talent ID programmes.” With burgeoning talent ever more present in England, it is clearly a great help in promoting the sport by hosting major competitions in this country, as well as giving existing players extra passion, as Katy explains: “Overall, I think it’s a real advantage playing on ‘home turf’, although I do sometimes feel extra pressure if I have close friends and family watching. Generating role models and publicity are key to promoting our sport and this is another real strength of a home event. It would be great to increase the awareness and numbers of young children keen to have a go. The support of a sponsor would also be hugely beneficial to the elite squad who have to fund all their own training and playing.”
This year lacrosse also celebrates a century of international women’s competition, a milestone that will not pass without celebration, as Katy elucidates:“I have seen publicity information for a dinner organized by the elite committee to mark the occasion, which sounds like a fantastic event. I hope that it will be well supported by as many former and current internationals as possible.”
The spotlight will once again be on Britain for the 2017 World Cup, as England hosts the World Cup for the third time (after 1982 and 2001). The chosen venue is Surrey Sports Park, which as one of the
official training centres for the 2012 Games, hosted Olympic and Paralympic teams throughout the year who made use of the state-of-the-art fitness and training facilities the Park offers. Over 30 nations are expected to compete in the 2017 World Cup, compared to the 16 that competed in Prague in 2009. Paul Blanchard, Surrey Sports Park CEO, is excited about the future prospects for lacrosse at the venue: “Surrey Sports Park is extremely proud to be working with the England Lacrosse Association in a joint bid to host the 2017 Women’s Lacrosse World Cup. We already hold a number of regional and international lacrosse events here at the Sports Park, including Best and Brightest weekends and one-off international friendlies and fixtures“Over the course of the next few years we hope to develop lacrosse at all levels at the Park with community sessions and programmes focused on juniors and entry level.
This has already started at the University of Surrey with the launch of our Team Surrey Lacrosse team last year which has proved increasingly popular.”For Katy, however, 2013 will mark the end of her successful time as a player for Team England:“ I’m sure that the coaches and players will have a plan for 2017 as soon as 2013 is finished (if not before). Personally, I will be hanging up my boots at the end of this season and will look forward to watching the tournament from the comfort of the spectator area at Surrey Sports Park. After that, I hope to have a bit of a break from the game and then work out which area I could contribute to ‘off-field in terms of giving back to a sport that has given me so much.”