High School Girls

March 30, 2014

Her Spaces: For the Love of Lacrosse

by Katie Hickman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

This column originally appears in the April 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Join US Lacrosse to receive your subscription today!

In the South, I've been asked (to my face) if lacrosse is also known as field hockey (and I choked on my water).

In the middle of the country, you may hear that lacrosse is a town in Wisconsin.

To the fashion savvy, it sounds similar to a trendy brand.

To the uninterested jokester, it's French for "the cross."

And to my grandfather, it's the new Buick mid-sized luxury sedan.

But to those in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, lacrosse is life. Growing up in Maryland, I never knew lacrosse as anything less than the sport every kid wants to play, the sporting equipment always restored at Christmas and the big game on warm spring evenings.

But the borderline obsessive level to which the sport has been raised defies the purpose of sports, which fundamentally and collectively allow us develop, socialize, be healthy and get educated. The virtuous lacrosse I know can be flipped, turned and distorted into an ego-driven machine that dulls the natural shine sports provide.

I played sports for no reason other than this: I loved them. I would practice lacrosse in the backyard for hours after watching "The Mighty Ducks," not because my parents made me or because I wanted to keep up with anyone, but because I simply took joy in it. Lacrosse was where I could have my "Mighty Duck" moment.

I lost my father a month before turning 11, and that was when sports became something even more valuable to me. Sports became therapy. They gave me a support unit, a stress releaser and a distraction.

In high school, I played soccer and lacrosse and ran indoor track as the captain of all three teams. My mom never pressured me to succeed in that way, nor did I ever play sports or seek accolades as the cool thing to do. I simply played my hardest and never stopped practicing because I enjoyed it and expected the best from myself.

That changed when I realized I wanted to play lacrosse competitively in college. Knowing coaches were watching my every move, it added pressure to my performance and distracted me from the innocent passion that had kept me outside playing as long as the sun was up (and sometimes after it was down). It happened slowly and silently, but before knowing it, I came to define myself as an athlete — a lacrosse player — rather than a young woman defined not by what she did, but whom she was. The joy was not gone, but at times overshadowed by the pressure.

I went to Vanderbilt to play for a college program on the cusp of something great. My sophomore year, I was a starter and leading scorer during our Cinderella run to the 2004 NCAA final four. I went on to be a two-year captain and earned several individual accolades.

But after my four years in Nashville, I was just tired. I was tired of the pressure, tired of the work and tired of feeling that my sole existence depended on my performance.

Being a lacrosse player was not my sole purpose. There was so much more to me.

I went on to teach art in Baltimore City and coach as an assistant at my high school. I discovered a passion for teaching children about their purpose and their sense of self. I realized I could empower children otherwise brushed aside by their families or society — those seen as a financial obligation or a public nuisance — by giving them art as an outlet for their emotions.

Now I find myself as the head coach of a historically successful high school program and the director of a club rooted in the beating heart of lacrosse nation. I get the opportunity to speak to the little girl inside of them who just wants to play. One of the most enjoyable coaching experiences I've had is with fourth- and fifth-graders just getting into the sport. Nothing is more refreshing than the light on their faces when they simply catch the ball. That moment speaks so profoundly to my heart as an athlete.

I want lacrosse to be the pure, untainted blessing for them that it was for me. I want lacrosse to be the place they run to when the world is too much to handle, rather than the thing that becomes too much to handle and makes them run away.

Kate Hickman is the girls' lacrosse coach at St. Mary's (Md.), director of Bay Area Lacrosse Club and founder of Balance Lacrosse.

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