Uganda men’s lacrosse head coach Patrick Oriana knows how important good coaching is. Still a player himself, he’s been on the front lines of the growth of lacrosse throughout his country.
But because he wasn’t necessarily taught the sport with the best techniques, it’s taken him a while to perfect the nuances of the game.
“Even after four years, I could still see myself playing with bad habits,” he said. “It was hard to break them.”
In Uganda – where the men’s national team is gearing up for its third appearance in the World Lacrosse Men’s Championship this summer in San Diego – and across Africa, strong coaching remains paramount to being able to continually grow the sport. Learning the game the right way from the start only accelerates the ability of athletes to develop to a point where they can compete at higher levels.
Relationships with the United States and the Ugandan government are key, Oriana emphasized, in helping the program have this opportunity.
“I think the game grows faster, even the quality of the game if we have better coaches, better officials, because at the end of the day, that’s ultimately what decides how fast people learn,” Oriana said. “We’re getting opportunities to learn from people who’ve had experience; we get coaches who have supported us in the past and are actually interested in the mentorship aspect of the game.”
Uganda claimed Africa’s spot for the 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship by beating Kenya, 9-8, in triple overtime last November in the inaugural Africa Association of Lacrosse qualifier.
The fact that there was a qualifier for the first time ever in the region speaks to the accelerated growth of the sport, and the game delivered.
Kenya led 3-2 at the end of the first quarter and 6-2 at halftime. Uganda cut the score to 7-5 by the start of the fourth and eventually tied the game to force overtime, before firing in the game-winner in the third extra period.
“If I could choose, I wouldn’t choose to win a game in that fashion,” Oriana said with a laugh.
And now, his team has the chance to take advantage of the spotlight in San Diego.
The 2023 Men’s Championship will be the first time a native-Ugandan is the head coach of the team. Aware of the importance of strong coaching and having played such a large role in developing the sport, Oriana decided it was the right opportunity for him.
After all, he was present when Uganda became the first African country to be represented on the world stage for lacrosse, playing for the team in 2014.
“That was one of those things you never really forget. It was an opportunity to see the sport at the highest level,” he said. “We’re also blessed to be a program that is at the forefront of the push to support the sport in many ways.”
From that first appearance to the experience that awaits them this summer nine years later, it continues to be about growth.
“Having this opportunity to compete on the world stage gives us a big opportunity, but it also comes with competitive development,” Oriana said. “That means we will have more coaches who not only grow the sport in Uganda but are actually able to grow the sport on the continent.”
Uganda will compete in Pool B with Japan, Wales, Denmark and France. The team opens up against Japan on June 23.
“We look at ourselves honestly as a development team. The goal for us is to actually just go out there and get better together,” Oriana said. “We’re definitely excited to play. It’s an opportunity to leave the country and just get a different perspective.”
The team has won games in each of the last two men’s championships, finishing 33rd in 2014 and 40th in 2018. How well Uganda performs this time around matters less, still, than just continuing to gain experience and allowing players to learn from other top athletes around the world.
As Oriana emphasized, it’s a collaborative effort building lacrosse from nothing in Uganda, so as he and his team grow excited about the upcoming opportunity, he’s also taken time to reflect on what it has taken to arrive at this point.
“I’m just grateful for the support that we have received amidst all the challenges,” he said. “We depend on donations, which means that someone has to give up something in order for us to have it.”
“It’s just a blessing. There’s no better way to look at this.”