Simon Kofod played his first game of lacrosse in 1996, before most of the current Danish men’s national team’s players were even born.
He attended high school in Brunswick, Maine, in the United States, and played on his high school’s first lacrosse team.
“I just joined the team and played like you’d expect for someone with no experience, but it was a lot of fun,” Kofod said.
When he returned home to Denmark, there were no lacrosse clubs, but he wanted to find a way to stay involved with the sport. In 2002, he connected with a club in Copenhagen. He knew right away that he’d jump in to play again; he just enjoyed it too much.
Now, at age 44, he’s back with the men’s national team as the program prepares for the 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship later this month in San Diego. At the last men’s championship in 2018, Denmark placed 34th, finishing with three wins in the tournament.
“I’m really excited to get a chance to go,” Kofod said. “I actually didn’t really expect to get selected for the national team. I’m really proud. It’s going to be fun.”
A bonus for Kofod? His son has also become a huge fan of lacrosse and is part of the Danish youth team.
“He’d been watching the games I’ve played, so of course he picked it up and wanted to play,” he said. “I think it’s natural when you see your dad run around, you want to do the same thing.”
Such is a priority for Kofod and the rest of the men’s national team in San Diego: inspiring the next generation of Danish lacrosse players.
In fact, it’s something Kofod has already noticed, as the men’s senior team often practices at the same time as the U14 group.
“You can just see it – they are really inspired and they can see that if they look five years ahead, it’s their turn to go to these big international championships,” Kofod said. “They think, ‘In three years when I’m 16, I might have a chance.’”
“It’s really nice to hear. We do it for them, to show the possibilities they have. It might be a small sport in Denmark, but it can be more fun because you get these special international opportunities. You can go back to school and tell your friends that you went to a world championship.”
Like most countries where organized lacrosse is relatively new, Denmark has experienced its fair share of ups and downs in the two decades since it began, but there’s growing enthusiasm around the sport.
“At least in Copenhagen, we’ve never had it better,” said Kofod. “We meet up for practices, we have more than enough people to fully scrimmage, and we have the U14 team, so that’s great. The U14 team is going to go traveling soon and get a lot of experience. I think we are in a really good position moving ahead.”
While they’re still hoping to provide more opportunities for their players to gather game experience, Ronnie Mathiesen, the men’s national team head coach, said he’s seen a steady improvement.
When they first started playing lacrosse, they often had to travel to Germany. Other than that, they’d have to resort to playing against each other. They also didn’t have many coaches, so that meant looking up the sport online and trying to watch games so they could learn the game themselves.
Eventually, they built up their own Danish lacrosse league to five teams, but once players started having families and other priorities came up, maintaining that level of engagement became a challenge. That’s why the focus on youth participation remains so vital.
“Now we’re a fairly big group of people, and some of us older guys who can’t play anymore, we do more administrative stuff and help out the community as well instead of just being part of the team,” Mathiesen said. “My hope is that we inspire the younger people to play and that will also help us grow the national program.”
Qualifying for the upcoming men’s championship will certainly help with that, though the ride to San Diego was not the most straightforward.
Denmark qualified on the final day of the European Lacrosse Federation qualifier after results went its way, including a win from Finalnd over Norway. Kofod wasn’t able to be at the tournament, so he watched from home.
“I couldn’t sit still when I watched our games,” he said. “It was a great achievement. That’s really impressive.”
It was an event, Mathiesen said, that they didn’t enter with many expectations for, seeded fourth in their group of six teams. They just wanted to go out there and see what they had, which quickly materialized into a run with qualifying potential.
“We started to see that guys were clicking, and it was working out pretty well,” he said.
In the qualifier, Denmark beat Spain, Slovakia and Turkey, before losing narrowly to Latvia and then to Wales. The three wins were enough to finish as one of the three best third-place teams in the four-group qualifier, and Demark was one of two teams to qualify after originally being seeded fourth or lower.
Denmark will compete in Pool B in San Diego with Japan, Uganda, Wales and France, opening with a rematch against Wales on June 22.
But for Mathiesen, the 2023 Men’s Championship is less about the team’s record or how far they advance. They want to win as many games as possible and make it out of pool play, but he’s also emphasizing that his players understand the bigger picture of why they play the game.
Mathiesen explained that this experience for much of the roster will mean being around more lacrosse in a few weeks than they might be around their entire lives. So, taking advantage of the experiences, interacting with players on other teams and learning how other countries have grown the sport remains top of mind.
“That’s part of why we’re there,” Mathiesen said. “To observe and understand what’s going on. The least you can do is come out of this tournament and be a better player than when you went in.”