By Dana Dobbie
I grew up in Fergus, Ontario where ice hockey and box lacrosse were basically a birthright. For as long as I can remember my friends and I, both girls and boys would switch between the two sports as the seasons changed. My childhood memories always seem to involve the rink, or grass beneath my feet as I followed in my older brother Jason’s athletic footsteps.
Growing up there were no separate leagues for girls hockey or lacrosse. Instead, I pestered my brother in the backyard and joined in as he practiced and played. I followed along as he joined various teams and my parent’s recognizing the lack of opportunity signed me up, got me the gear and encouraged me to play the sports I loved right along side the boys. There wasn’t any fuss as far as I can remember. We just showed up and played and had fun!
Fast forward to middle school where I had my first personal taste of division in sport because of gender. During hockey season I would tuck my ponytail into my helmet, and nobody could tell the difference between the players on the ice. My skills and athleticism were able to speak for themselves without any pre-conceived feelings towards me. At one tournament I played well enough to earn an MVP award and I can vividly recall everyone cheering for me as I went to accept it. When I took my helmet off however, the cheers turned to unforgettable booing from the opposing team and parents. Unhappy that a girl had received the award over their sons, their message was received loud and clear to me in that moment. Sports were no longer just a thing I could show up and play and have fun. There was going to be other stuff that got in the way!
I often think about that experience and how it ignited a fire in me regarding inclusion and equal opportunity in sport. Since then, we’ve come leaps and bounds, and I hope girls today don’t have to go through an experience like that as they live out their dreams. Sport is for everyone to compete and be the best versions of themselves and I am so fortunate that lacrosse ended up providing me a platform to achieve my goals.
My lacrosse journey started with box lacrosse alongside my brother, but eventually morphed into opportunities to play girls field lacrosse. In a nutshell, I tried out for junior national teams at 14 and 17, played in multiple senior world championships, earned a scholarship to play collegiately, played in two professional leagues and am currently coaching college lacrosse for a living. It’s safe to say lacrosse became my life and I am so grateful for that.
People see my age and sometimes call me a pioneer, but I don’t feel that way. Pioneers had to create something out of nothing, and my experience was only possible because of people who came before me. There are some incredibly instrumental women who paved the way in sports so that I can be and do what I do today. I am honored to get to continue to carry the torch and hopefully make a positive impact for the next generation.
When I really think about how I got here, I know I was only able to become the athlete I am and compete at the highest level with the support of my family – my parents, my brother, aunts, uncles and grandparents. My family has always played the biggest role both financially and emotionally. They have helped push, encourage and empower me to chase my dreams, regardless of how big they were. More than anything, I want other women to be able to live out their sporting dreams and have the opportunities that I have been afforded without anything standing in their way.
We’ve made such incredible progress in my time playing and coaching the sport. Fans can see their favorite women lacrosse players more than ever thanks to increased exposure via broadcasting and digital opportunities. We’ve always had phenomenal athletes playing our game, but now you can turn on your television and actually see us. You’re not just hearing or reading about today’s stars – they’re on ESPN and other major networks, something we didn’t have before.
I’ve been playing internationally for Canada since 2003, and the 2022 World Lacrosse Women’s Championship was the first one to be broadcast on ESPN. The accessibility to the game and the personalities of our athletes was a major win for our sport. After the championship, I had little boys come up to me now to ask for autographs and to get me to teach them how to do my ‘twizzler’ shot. It wasn’t lost on me how far we have come that just a decade ago I was getting taunted for taking my helmet off and now here I am signing little boys’ lacrosse helmets.
My goal for lacrosse is for men’s and women’s lacrosse to coexist under one lacrosse umbrella, and not have the default of ‘lacrosse’ meaning men’s lacrosse. I believe we can be a cohesive sport and provide platforms to lift each other up and support a mutual passion for the game.
We’ve also made incredible strides at the collegiate level in the United States. A group of forward-thinking people came together to make rules changes to showcase the sports highest level of speed, agility, talent and strength. That has gone hand-in-hand with technological advancements by our equipment manufacturers to match the level of the athlete now playing the game. Together new rules and innovative equipment have catapulted women’s lacrosse into an exciting game that is captivating to both existing, as well as new fans.
New college programs are popping up from coast to coast and we are experiencing growth in participation outside of the traditionally powerful regions and schools. Women’s lacrosse is catching like wildfire across the North America at all levels and we are benefitting from drawing top athletes away from other typical sports.
And with the advent of Name-Image-Likeness and social media followings, there is more star power than ever in our game, and ways for fans to follow their favorite players, teams and clubs.
Between the World Championships, increased media coverage, and college lacrosse advances there is such an exciting trajectory for the future of our game right now. The next big push comes with the Sixes format and our dream of bringing lacrosse back into the Olympics. The harmonization of men’s and women’s lacrosse and increased global exposure is going to be one of the most impactful developments in our sports history.
Sixes is so important for making our game more accessible. I’ve seen first-hand the great work from Canada Lacrosse and USA Lacrosse in this regard to decrease the cost of lacrosse and diversify its geography. We need more lacrosse sticks in the hands of kids who don’t have the opportunity to buy them.
I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had, and I can’t wait to see athletes in the future living out their dreams, playing on the biggest stage in the world and competing for an Olympic medal.
If everyone in lacrosse is pushing together toward this goal, the benefits won’t be specific to a gender – it will make a difference for all of lacrosse and we can all get back to showing up, playing and having fun!