SIX NATIONS — The North American Indigenous Games is an event that subscribes to sportsmanship, community and personal growth, but as the Under-19 lacrosse team from Nova Scotia learned, winning can be fun, too.
Nova Scotia collected its first-ever victory at NAIG, on Tuesday afternoon, defeating Manitoba 12-5.
After the game, team captain Bryson Knockwood was quick to admit that although winning is not his primary motivation while playing lacrosse, it is accompanied by a feeling of complete euphoria.
“I feel on top of the world — I feel like we won the championship right now, we just won our first game and for some of us our first game in three years- none of us have won a game at NAIG before and last time we had to quit a game because we were so injured,” said Knockwood, still beaming after the game.
“For some reason, we found a different gear and we hit it and we were able to excel past what we were able to do before and the way that all of us returning players feel is just out of this world.”
The roots of lacrosse stem from the culture of the Haudenosaunee people and it has been adopted by First Nations across North America. It is widely regarded as “the Creators Game” and one’s success within the sport is not measured by wins and losses, but rather by effort and a sense of community and tradition.
Now that Nova Scotia has had a taste of victory, coach Brendon Smithson knows it’s important to re-establish that balance and keep his team grounded.
“It’s a really hard balance but because we definitely are a building program, we focus on working hard for 60 minutes and focus on every shift, every minute, working as hard as possible, doing it for the creator and your spirit animal — we talk about being a family and we support each other in that way,” he said.
“There has to be a winner and a loser, but once it’s all over we like to celebrate being together so, that’s how we focus on it.”
According to a study by True Sport Foundation, there has been a decline in participation rates across all age groups in sports. A heavy emphasis and winning, losing and seeking out the best talent has, the report claims, significantly discouraged those who want to go out and play simply for the love of the game.
“The less pressure you put on kids the more that they want to play because its more fun to be part of that group,” said Smithson. “We also coach a Junior A team, I coach with Bryson (one of the players) and we haven’t won in two years.
“But we have a full team every game because we create a welcoming environment … when when you put too much pressure on that (winning), it causes issues and I think if it was world-wide then we would see more people in sport and less dropping out and there are lots of stats to prove that.”
I am over come with emotions watching this group of young men be so focused, determined, passionate to achieve a goal as family #proudCoach
— Brendon Smithson (@BrendonSmithson) July 19, 2017
After years of local development across the province, Nova Scotia was able to field its first lacrosse team at the 2014 Games in Regina. The recruitment process was not easy however, as a lack of interest in the sport forced the team to combine both the U-16 and U-19 players to get enough talent on the floor.
But coach Smithson is confident that the game will continue to grow with the correct approach in place.
“Well, being Canadian, hockey will always dominate and that’s probably never going to change,” said Smithson. “I think the most important thing for us in Nova Scotia is creating that welcoming environment.
“I’ve talked to some people in other sports and they share a similar issue, but parents and kids will always pick the best place where they learned, had fun and enjoyed the environment, so we just need to keep creating that environment.”