I began coaching girls’ lacrosse just three years ago. I try to remind myself that I may be hardcore, but the middle schoolers I coach often are playing for fun. Lacrosse may not even be their first love.
I had to examine and find a reason for my “lacrosse is life” attitude. I began asking myself, “Why does lacrosse matter so much?” The next question became, “Why does lacrosse matter so much to me?”
I grew up on Long Island just outside of New York City. The youngest of three children, I am the product of a single-mother home and a distant alcoholic father. My mother was a busy woman. Three kids, a ten-hour a day job and a home to manage all on her own. Foreclosure notices came from the bank and food stamps helped get meals on our table. At an early age I came to understand what these things meant. Often times I felt ashamed.
My mother didn’t have time to get us into organized sports. Heck, she didn’t even have time to ask if we had done our homework! That’s how my learning disability went undetected for many years. It wasn’t until fourth grade that I learned to read. By that time, the damage had already been done; I had already labeled myself stupid.
That is, until ninth grade, when lacrosse came into my life. It was the spring of 1982 and the first day of lacrosse tryouts. By phone from a ship off the coast of Beirut, my brother, a nineteen-year-old U.S. Marine, had urged me to tryout for lacrosse. Yet, I was having second thoughts. My friend Colleen saw me at my locker as I packed up at the end of the day. “Hey Elaine, are you trying out for lacrosse?” “No, I don’t think so”, I replied, “I don’t know how to play.” “Elaine”, she urged, “No one knows how to play! Lacrosse starts for all girls in ninth grade.”
That conversation changed my life.
Lacrosse became my love. I carried my stick everywhere I went. I played whenever and wherever I could. The park down the street from my house had a wall perfect for practicing. When I was upset or angry I went to the wall and threw that ball for hours. It didn’t matter what I was feeling – that wall, the ball and my stick helped me cope with my teenaged problems.
When it got dark and I could play outside no longer, I went to an underground parking garage with dim light and hit against that wall.
If I wanted to stay on the lacrosse team, I had to for the first time in my life, stop thinking of myself as stupid, I had to bring up my grades, learn how to study, and get help for my learning disability. The idea of going to college became a possibility. Lacrosse was going to get me there.
In my senior year, I sent out applications and spoke to college coaches. I received only rejections in return – except for one. Hofstra referred me to their program for learning disabled students. The stupid kid would be going to college after all!
Lacrosse gave me counsel, confidence and an education (I later went on to receive my master’s degree from Columbia University). It was the catalyst for many of the great things in my life today.
When I ask for commitment from my players, tucked away in the back of my mind are all of those wonderful things lacrosse has given me, and the hope that lacrosse will do the same for them. In my world, lacrosse is life and that’s perfectly OK.
This article was published in Lacrosse Magazine in November 2013.