As the head coach of the Jamaican men’s lacrosse team, Mark Wilson has had the opportunity to witness the explosion of the sport across the island firsthand.
High school leagues have popped up left and right for both men’s and women’s teams and the sport has received institutional support from the Ministry of Sport. Wilson has now seen talented athletes rise through their program.
As such, he feels Jamaica enters the 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship this June with momentum on its side, both in the immediate term and as he looks ahead to the future.
“It’s pretty cool how it’s growing,” Wilson said. “It’s our expectation that the players we’re developing are going to be part of this national program at an increasing rate and the level of play is just going to keep increasing as well.”
Compared to the 2018 championship, Jamaica will be in better positioning this go around. The ability to participate in the regional qualifier and the men’s U21 championship in Ireland in 2022 gave the Jamaicans more experience playing together and a chance to lock in for their trip to San Diego.
“We definitely are way more prepared for this than we were for 2018, just because we had to get ready for those two events,” he said.
However, other teams will have had the same advantage, so this year’s men’s championship might feature a deep field of prepared teams, perhaps more so compared to past tournaments.
“Everybody comes to the world championship with a little better roster than they’ve had; everybody comes to the championship really prepared, and just like us, everyone’s gone through this process this year of really organizing their teams,” Wilson said.
He noted a game they had against Germany in Ireland, where his team jumped out to an early 5-2 lead, but Germany rallied back to grab a 7-6 win.
It may not have been the desired result, but it was proof to Wilson’s squad that they could compete on a global stage against some of the established programs.
Growing the game in Jamaica starts with exposure to the sport from an early age. That requires equipment that isn’t always readily available. Wilson said that’s been their biggest obstacle to expanding lacrosse in Jamaica.
But once they distribute that equipment, it catches on quickly.
“It’s critical to get the sticks in kids’ hands as early as possible, so they’re comfortable with the game,” he said. “Once you get comfortable with your stick and catching and throwing, it becomes an addictive thing, and you just want to get better and better. The younger you learn it, the easier it is to pick it up, and you develop that love for the game. You can take it as far as you want.”
Wilson anticipates that it’s only a matter of time before a college in Jamaica adds a lacrosse team, while it’s also possible to see post-collegiate playing opportunities arise.
Lacrosse is also now part of the Jamaican athletics curriculum in the teacher’s college, so physical education teachers can teach their students how to play in school.
Though there’s still plenty of room for growth, the national team has now reached a point where it’s not unfeasible for them to try to model their roster construction after some of the top teams in the world.
“We’ve tried to construct our team similarly with guys who have major college experience,” Wilson said. “We have a National Lacrosse League guy on our team, and other competitive athletes who have played at the highest levels. We want to put ourselves in that top tier by having a roster that hopefully matches up with some of the best teams in the world.”
Jamaica will compete in Pool D with Germany, New Zealand, Poland and Switzerland. Its first game is on June 22 against Germany.
Wilson’s optimistic that his team can finish in the top two spots to advance to the playoffs, but the magnitude of these games matters even more than just wanting to put on a strong showing in San Diego. One way or another, how the team performs this summer could have implications for future support of the sport in Jamaica.
“Most of the teams in the tournament are not funded like the top four or five teams, so I think it’s really important to make a case for yourself,” Wilson said. “It’s important for us to make a case to our own countries that we’re well deserving of funding toward a hopefully Olympic event in the future.”
Jamaica is probably in the best position it has ever been to make that case.
“This is probably the most organized we’ve been, not just from a team standpoint, but organizationally because of the leadership we have in the Jamaica Lacrosse Association,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of pride in what we’re doing, and we’re really excited to honor that effort with a really good showing at the men’s championship.”