When local lacrosse players like Yarin Lin Yourun and Michael Tan Chun-wai try to explain their sport, it doesn’t help that the Cantonese word directly translates to “stick netball”; since tennis is literally translated to “net ball”, people often think lacrosse is a variation of the sport famously played at Wimbledon.
It’s not until they take out their lacrosse sticks, which have a scoop, sidewall and pocket for picking up a ball, that people realise it’s a completely different sport.
Luckily, the resurgence of the Hong Kong Lacrosse Open in 2014, which is now a leading tournament in Asia, has helped to boost the sport’s popularity and make it better known among locals.
Shun Tak Fraternal Association Cheng Yu Tung Secondary School students Yarin and Michael who play for the Hong Kong High Performance team, a team that trains potential national team players. The pair made their sporting debut at this year’s tournament on Good Friday, they had only started practising formally last year.
Though their team lost all their matches, they both agreed it was still a valuable learning experience.
“Our team had only trained together for about a month, plus other teams are much more experienced, so it was no surprise we lost by a lot,” said Michael. “The most important lesson we learned is how to communicate with our teammates and coaches on the field, and to understand the strategies better,” said Yarin, who plays defence.
It has been particularly challenging for Yarin to communicate with his overseas-born coaches, as the Hainan native came to Hong Kong only six years ago. While he finds the local education system less stressful than that on the mainland, he has been struggling with English. He recalled an awkward exchange with his coach when he first started training with the team.
“When I saw him looking in my direction, I would look away because I’d be afraid he’d ask me something,” Yarin said, laughing.
“But it is much better now, I can understand the phrases he uses.”
Another problem Yarin encountered was learning to use both his right and left hands to control the stick. Players must learn to be able to switch the stick rapidly between their hands, as their opponents may block them on the side of their dominant hand to prevent them making a pass or a shot.
“It took me almost two months to be able to pass the ball smoothly, and I still have a lot to improve on. I need to strengthen my left hand,” Yarin said.
Michael picked up the sport more quickly than his teammate, thanks to his background in football. The lacrosse midfielder used to play forward in football, which equipped him with the speed to run past his opponents. With his experience, the Form Five student also developed great observation skills, which allow him to find players that need marking, or spot a gap to help their team’s attackers advance towards the goal.
Despite the sport being around for more than two decades, lacrosse remains a niche sport in the city.
Alongside the association’s effort to promote lacrosse in Hong Kong, the Cheng Yu Tung students are seeking to expand their school team, which has fewer than 20 members at the moment. With the first-ever Interschool Lacrosse Competition taking place next month, Yarin hopes their schoolmates will give lacrosse a try.
“Although the responses have not been so positive, we do hope to recruit more members before we graduate next year,” Yarin said.
Michael believes one of the reasons people are shying away from the sport is the high cost of the protective gear, which includes a helmet, gloves, shoulder pads, elbow pads, and a chest guard.
“The full set of gear costs around HK$4,000. Right now we only own gloves and sticks; the rest is borrowed from the association,” said Michael.
Yarin and Michael have just begun their lacrosse journey; their next stop, if all goes well, will be playing for the under-19 national squad, and eventually for the senior team.
“We still have a long way to go, I don’t like to think about the future too much,” said Yarin.
“Instead, I’ll concentrate on the present, and improve my understanding of the sport.”