Twenty-five nations compete in the Lacrosse World Cup in Surrey over the next ten days. None, though, will enjoy themselves quite as much as Team Wales as The Mixed Zone’s Laura Winter discovers from midfielder Amy Martin
Not for the Welsh lacrosse girls the usual pre-match warm-up routines seen the world over in every team sport: the sprints, the well-rehearsed drills and match-play practices. Instead, Team Wales choose to crank up the volume and complete a synchronised aerobics session, squatting as one, as though they are on a night out clubbing.
It will be no different this evening when they play in the opening game of the Lacrosse World Cup against hosts England at the Surrey Sports Park in Guildford. Rather than self-combusting with nerves, self-doubt and pressure, midfielder Amy Martin will be hanging out with her team-mates and best friends, and embracing the challenge.
It is this team spirit, this indomitable love for their sport, along with a dash of downright silliness that Martin believes makes Wales special. “There is a lot of singing and rapping in the locker room,” reveals the 25-year-old. “I’m resident DJ and usually play a bit of Eminem, and there are a few of us who know all the words.
“At the 2013 World Cup we had a lot of downtime and used it to make the best music videos. We made one to Baby Got Back and another to Jar of Hearts (by Christina Perri) in the airport. We even got the air hostesses and gate staff involved. When we get together and have that downtime, we go a bit mad.
“Last World Cup people came to watch our aerobics session. They want to be part of Team Wales; there is a different vibe. We have a smaller set-up than England, and we are one of the countries with the smallest membership. That makes us incredibly close-knit and that concept of family is so important. It’s not about being competitive or stabbing each other in the back for a place in the team. We are all trying to improve together. And as well as training intensively for nine months ahead of this World Cup, we also choose to spend time away from training together as well.
“Being part of something like this … you can’t find it anywhere else. Playing for your country is incredibly special and you have to take a step back and remember that every now and then. Our coach said to us, no matter what happens we have already achieved more than 99 per cent of the population in representing our country. Thinking about it like that blows me away and gives me goosebumps. When you see a Wales shirt with your name on it, you just have to take a deep breath and take it in.”
Then, after the aerobics have well and truly got the blood flowing, there will be no greater challenge than playing England straight after the opening ceremony to the tenth World Cup tournament. In the recent Home Internationals against England in April, Wales clawed their way back from a 9-2 deficit to lose by just one goal. And in the last World Cup, in 2013, they finished fifth, one place below England.
Martin, an investment banker, says: “We are so excited to play England. There is so much history, and every time we play each other it is getting closer and closer. Spectators will know it’s going to be a really exciting game. It is the biggest grudge match we will ever play. And what makes it worse is that the British lacrosse community is very small, so everyone knows everyone. We see each other regularly, and because of that you know your opposition as well as you know your team-mates.
“Losing to England is one of the most disappointing moments of my career. At the 2013 Home Internationals we were playing out of our skins, having never come close to beating them before. We were one goal up with two minutes to go, but threw away the ball and they scored two quick goals. It was both a high and a low, knowing we were so close but couldn’t hold on. I will never forget that. Usually I can walk away from a result and move on and think ahead. But that defeat will stay with me for a long time. I can’t forget it.”
That will undoubtedly fuel the fire burning tonight. But beyond England, there are bigger fish to fry. Martin readily admits that the United States, the 2013 champions, are in a league of their own. Canada and Australia have also been dominant in recent years. But now the former Warwick University student believes this tournament is more wide open than ever before, and Wales have never had such an opportunity to show their potential.
“We are really confident,” says Martin. “We know how hard we have worked. I have never played on a team that has worked so hard over the last two years. The team is deeper and stronger than ever before. This is without doubt our best chance to beat England.
“But in a wider sense, for British lacrosse, this World Cup on home soil is about putting the UK on the lacrosse map. Historically it’s a sport for private girls’ schools in the south of England. But it has been growing rapidly in the last four years.
“Previously the United States, Canada and Australia have been untouchable, but now it’s opened up. That is important because the ultimate goal is getting into the Olympics. We can’t do that until we get a bigger following and lacrosse is played on more continents. It’s about getting visibility, a real sponsor and more money. There is a really professional set-up at this World Cup and a great sponsor in Rathbones.”
As is so often the case in minority team sports, Martin and her team-mates must balance the rigours of training alongside the everyday demands of family and jobs. Martin, though, loves going back into the HSBC office in Canary Wharf on Monday mornings, exhausted, bloodied, bruised and battered, and ready to show off her battle scars.
“I couldn’t train as hard as I do if I was on my own,” Martin admits. “I couldn’t keep focused without knowing there is a bigger purpose and agenda. I live for the weekend, getting out on the pitch, having a run around with some of my best friends, who have one combined passion.”
It is the desire to sacrifice so much, not for fortune or fame, but for the sheer love of their sport and the pursuit of glory, that epitomises the spirit of team sport and Team Wales.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.