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| Oct 20, 2022

A Personal Encounter with Lacrosse in Bogota - Part 1

By Donovan Dennis

Earlier this month, USA Lacrosse staff member Donovan Dennis was asked by World Lacrosse to make a trip to Bogota, Colombia to hand deliver lacrosse sticks to local organizations. In the first of two parts, he shares some of his interaction with a local player.

Most of the time, when someone thinks about traveling outside the country, they think about the basics: local eats, must-see sights for Instagram, and what to pack for the weather. I recently went to Bogota, Colombia, and what was on my mind leading up to the trip was the culture. I wanted to dive headfirst into everyday life there. This was the opportunity of a lifetime.

I was asked by a colleague that works for World Lacrosse if I would be interested in going to Colombia to drop off sticks. We had worked on a few projects together in the past, and I have a background coordinating Sankofa Clinics around the United States. The USA Lacrosse Sankofa program is an initiative in which we work with local organizations to plan and implement clinic opportunities where a majority of the participants are ethnic minorities.

In addition to dropping off the sticks and helping with a practice session in Bogota, I also planned to explore as much as possible while I was there. Lacrosse was the main focus, but this trip was about immersing myself in the culture of Colombia.

I agreed to do the trip because of that reason. I mean, yeah, I get to go to a new place and introduce the game of lacrosse. It sparked excitement and an interest in the dynamic of lacrosse in another country. Through this experience, I met different people and got to understand what lacrosse adds to their lives.

Let’s start with my host, Dani. He grew up in Bogota with his father, who owns a salon. His father’s specialty is hair coloring. It’s a small shop but has a lot of customers coming to get that good hair treatment. They live in the north side of the city, which is a calm, yet bustling area. He is currently in university to earn an engineering degree.

For Dani, lacrosse is not only a hobby, but an outlet. He has been playing the sport for the past six years. He has played all around Colombia, in several different tournaments, but has never played outside of the country. He is associated with the Colombian national team. He has practiced with the team but has never pursued a roster spot. I asked Dani some questions before we explored the city. 

Here is part of our conversation:

Do you see lacrosse growing in Colombia?
“Yes, COVID stopped a lot of progression, but things are starting to get back to normal. There are different things planned between the Latin American countries pertaining to lacrosse. The more organized and established countries are helping with growing the sport in Colombia. We are trying to get into the universities, and into the high school and middle school realms. There are also talks about more South American tournaments to occur where the best clubs play each other and also help teach the lesser experience clubs.”

Are there a lot of places to play in Colombia?  Are there fields where you can hold a training/practice session?
“For a complete training, there are only a couple places where it can be held. It is not about the number of places for access because there are so few individuals looking to train regularly. It is more about time and the number of individuals to show up for trainings. We are competing with other sports for field time. We have to talk with field administrators to get permission to hold a training there. In order to get field space for free, they require a lot of participants, with documents stating the reasons to use the field, and scheduling the right time that works for everyone. If we have to pay, less people will take part because there would be a fee per person and not everyone would be able to pay.”

Do you see more older participants playing lacrosse versus younger participants in Colombia? 
“It’s a mixture, but there is a specific age range. It’s almost impossible to pull young people toward lacrosse because they are in a time of their lives where they want to hang with friends. From ages 3-13, it is easier to get them into the sport because they get to grow with the sport as they mature. From ages 13-22, it is harder because the different obligations that occur during that stage of your life and they could be school, family, friends, work, and a social life. Once you get to that older age range, about 23 and up, it is more attractive to them to be a part of something new and exciting because their lifestyles are changing.”

What do you see as the barriers that are keeping individuals in Colombia from being introduced and playing lacrosse? What makes it hard to be a part of lacrosse? 
“Here in Colombia, kids need a lot of motivation. They need to see an end goal in order to give that full commitment to playing this sport. As a small community, it is hard to show them what can come out of playing lacrosse. There are different benefits that come with the sport; networking, your skills getting better, growth in the sport, discipline, health, as well as the impact the sport has on your personal growth in your life. The hard part is we don’t have the resources to show the youth what is possible through this sport. There is a need to grow the game as much as possible, but it is also useful for them as well, and it is difficult to show them what success could look like without said resources.”

Do you have a favorite lacrosse player?
“When I started following lacrosse leagues, you see the big names. For sure, they are the best at what they do, although when you start paying attention to the game as a whole, you stop looking at the big names and pay attention to specific things each player does, not just one. It’s great to understand all the techniques Paul Rabil has to show, the physical strength of Myles Jones. He can move a wall. But you can learn from watching every player on the field, not just the big names. You can learn and appreciate everyone’s skills on the field because it all comes down to one goal and that is the success of the team.” 

That was one of many conversations I had with Dani during my trip. I learned that there is a difference, but also some similarities, when it comes to access. You can’t just go to a sporting goods store and buy lacrosse equipment in Bogota. If you are in need of equipment, you either have to wait for donations or order it online. To make it even less accessible, people cannot always afford to buy the new or popular line of equipment. 

It was just interesting to get Dani’s perspective on the growth of the sport and what is still needed. I would say the common theme of our talks were guidance, help and support needed from other well-established countries to help lacrosse in Colombia get to where it can be.