World Lacrosse offers grant funding to its members to undertake grassroots development projects. The Grants in Action series highlights federations that have successfully used World Lacrosse grants to grow the game. 

When World Lacrosse Sixes made its formal debut in 2021, China Lacrosse was quick to utilize it, launching a biannual domestic series. 

The first Sixes Series was a successful start for sixes in China with competitive games and an engaged player base, however, China Lacrosse quickly found that it needed more referees with experience in Sixes, an understandable plight for a newly created discipline. 

China Lacrosse identified the issue quickly and applied for a World Lacrosse development grant in early 2021 to support extra referee training for sixes. Normally, referee courses or clinics come at a cost to the attendees, but the successful application allowed China to hold three classroom and on-field sessions at no cost to participants. 

The goal was to improve the quality of refereeing and increase the pool of qualified referees, which can be a challenge when referees are often also athletes.  

In the summer and early fall of 2021, China Lacrosse helped train more than 20 newcomers as well as a base of existing referees to a level that they could comfortably officiate a match by the time of the next competition. The training was conducted by three of the head referees in the country and held in Shanghai. 

The results were noticeable as the next sixes event in the fall, with attendees remarking in the post-event survey that refereeing was more consistent with minimal complaints. Event organizers additionally had few issues assigning referees to cover matches across the three weekends of play with an increase of more than 300 percent in the number of qualified referees after the completion of the training.  

China Lacrosse’s approach to seeking out grants has already paid dividends with sixes officiating, and the template for future success exists because of the federation’s intentionality. 

“I think the key with our grants has been identifying a specific area of need,” said Brendan Mullin, a coach and administrator with China Lacrosse. “If we started with a goal like trying to develop youth lacrosse that would be too broad. What has made the grants helpful is a narrow niche focus with a wider benefit.” 

The same process has informed China Lacrosse’s next grant, which they applied for in early 2022 and received. The area of need this time was quality of goalkeeping, a common focus area for developing national governing bodies.  

One of the main challenges with goalkeeper training is that athletes starting at an early age can scale up with the comparative difficulty of attackers as they become faster, stronger and can shoot with more velocity. It becomes much harder to pick up the position later when a goalkeeper with no experience is suddenly facing a barrage of attacks. 

China Lacrosse’s next grant proposal was aimed at this conundrum by providing free goalkeeper clinics for university-aged kids, a target demographic that can compete quickly with reasonable athleticism and are also mature enough to coach youth programs. 

While COVID-19 restrictions delayed the clinic scheduled for this November until the Spring of 2023, the plan is to hold three separate sessions in Shanghai to mitigate the steep learning curve by bringing goalkeepers along step-by-step. 

“Goalkeeper is one of the most important positions in lacrosse,” said Mullin. “You need a pipeline of homegrown goalkeepers to be competitive in international lacrosse. It’s always been hard, so we’re trying to do it for free.’ 

The level of instruction will help, as the clinics will be taught by the men’s national team assistant coach with a background in goalkeeping and the starting goalkeepers for both the men’s and women’s national teams.  

China Lacrosse has already seen several entrants commit to the clinics and through sign-up with a mobile app, is expecting around 20 participants by March. 

“Knowing that the clinics are free specifically because of a World Lacrosse grant helps people come,” Mullin said. “It adds an extra layer of legitimacy when people see support from the sport’s international governing body.”