Lacrosse Gains Global Appeal with New Rapid-Fire Discipline


Kiyoshi Sano in disbelief after Japan defeated Great Britain for the men's lacrosse Sixes bronze medal at The World Games in Birmingham, Ala.

This story appears in the September/October edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum.

Aaron Cahill and Jeremy Thompson embraced. Both wore ear-to-ear smiles. Thompson and the Haudenosaunee were readying for Group B play in The World Games. Cahill and Ireland were not.

That’s because the Haudenosaunee would not have been there without Ireland’s sacrifice.

Once the International World Games Association deemed that the Haudenosaunee could compete as their own nation in Birmingham during the world’s first large-scale Sixes tournament, Ireland vacated its position as the final team in the field.

The Haudenosaunee were ranked third in the world. Ireland was No. 12.

“From the beginning, it’s always been if you’re going to have a lacrosse event, you need to have the Haudenosaunee,” Cahill, the assistant of the Ireland men’s team, said after the Haudenosaunee’s 16-12 win over Israel. “It’s respect. It’s unity. It comes down to the fundamentals of the sport.”

The Haudenosaunee finished in fifth place in The World Games. The originators of lacrosse were the subject of fanfare and media attention despite not medaling. Players from the team held an open panel hosted by The World Games on their sovereignty, fans flocked to their games and other nations looked on with welcoming curiosity when they saw the purple and gold Haudenosaunee flag carried onto the field at Protective Stadium during the opening ceremony.

“It’s humbling, in a sense,” said Brodie Merrill, coach of the Canada men’s team that beat the Haudenosaunee in group play and defeated the U.S. 23-9 to win the gold medal. “Everybody who cares about the game and knows the history of the game, there’s a lot of pride there. We’re playing their game. Being here at The World Games, it wouldn’t have been the same without them.”

Lacrosse at The World Games showcased not only the sport’s roots, but also its potential. Sixes, the discipline developed by World Lacrosse to help the sport’s chances of reaching the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, levels the playing field across the world.

Japan’s men’s team, with its sharp shooting and speedy transition play, topped Great Britain 19-18 in overtime to capture the bronze medal — the nation’s first medal in international lacrosse competition.

Hiroki Kanaya found Kazuki Obana on the doorstep for his fourth goal of the game in the extra period, sealing an improbable run to bronze. Fans then flocked to the edge of the bleachers at PNC Field, asking players for autographs.

In becoming the darling of Birmingham, Japan left feeling like a champion. Its on-field celebrations rivaled that of Canada’s gold-medal festivities.

“I hope that it highlights that the sport is growing,” said Kinori Sugihara Rosnow, Japan’s No. 23, who greeted his parents on the sideline immediately after the game. “Around the world, there are places that might not seem like traditional lacrosse hotbeds that are becoming a lot better.”

A smaller field and smaller rosters of 12 break down barriers for nations either new to the sport or struggling to compete in full-field play. Sixes also considers existing infrastructure and widely available equipment, like field lacrosse goals, helping ease the transition to the new discipline.

Japan’s men’s team epitomized the opportunity Sixes provides as a team that never quite got its footing in full-field competition.

“The No. 1 focus is understanding what’s available across the globe,” said Dana Dobbie, a member of Canada’s women’s Sixes team that won gold and someone who helped develop Sixes. “I think we’ve hit the nail on the head as far as that goal and that standard.”

The caliber of play in Birmingham was indicative of a more balanced discipline. Spectators — some new to lacrosse and some already fans of the sport — were enthralled by the constant action. There were few stoppages in play, and goals came in bunches. They marveled at the athleticism on display and didn’t have time to dwell on a missed shot or a bad call. It was on to the next highlight-reel play.

Perhaps the engaged audience provided the International Olympic Committee enough evidence to keep lacrosse in the discussion for inclusion into the 2028 program. On Aug. 3, lacrosse was invited by Los Angeles 2028 to make its case for a spot. Baseball/softball, breakdancing, cricket, flag football, karate, kickboxing, motorsport and squash are the other sports being considered for addition to the program.

“There were a couple roars in the crowd that were really, really loud,” U.S. goalie Jack Kelly said. “The game is really up and down, so there’s a lot of action on one end, and then all of a sudden, someone’s making an incredible play on the other end. And that can happen in less than five seconds. It’s a really exciting version of lacrosse. I’m excited to see where this will go. Hopefully to the Olympics.”

It was difficult — if not, downright impossible — to find anyone involved with lacrosse at The World Games who had bad things to say about a discipline World Lacrosse hopes will trickle down to the youth level. Its benefits for young athletes are abundant.

Because athletes must be well-versed in both offense and defense, they will get nearly equal exposure to both. The conditioning element of Sixes speaks for itself, and the strategies best-suited for Sixes — passing in tight spaces, team defense, etc. — are essential building blocks for young lacrosse players.

“I haven’t run into one athlete yet who said they didn’t like playing this Sixes version,” Dobbie said. “There are more touches and more opportunities to make plays.”

With that in mind, Sixes could very well usher in a new wave of lacrosse talent. As each nation leans on its strengths to field teams of 12, lacrosse is entering an exciting period in its history.

“All the people who are just starting the game over there, I hope the game grows over in Japan like crazy,” Sugihara Rosnow said. “It really should. I hope this brings a new era of lacrosse in Japan and across the world.”


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