Senior Program Director Daniel Lewis reflects on his two years working with LtN in Nicaragua. Dan moved back to the US on Friday and is headed to UVa this fall to pursue a career in Medicine.
Today (Monday, March 20) is the International Day of Happiness. I feel like this is the perfect day for me to write about my experience working in Costa Rica so far, because if there was one word I would use to sum it up it would be: happy. Not to sound too cheesy, but there is something about this country, the people who live here and the environment in which they live, that captivated me since the second I stepped foot on Costa Rican soil. I have become completely drawn to the “Pura Vida” lifestyle that Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves, live by. Though Pura Vida is used to mean many things, my understanding of it reflects the simple sense of happiness that people decide to live by. By focusing on the positives of life, they refuse to allow any sense of worry occupy their minds. I find this perspective to be incredibly inspiring, since sometimes it is easy to allow negativity to weigh us down and distract us from what is truly important. Everywhere I go, I am greeted with a smile. I can’t walk down the street without seeing families and friends talking and laughing, simply enjoying each other’s company. I may have only gotten to Costa Rica two months ago, but everyday I find myself more aware of the beauty that surrounds me and more interested in forming human connections that ever. I wake up with a smile on my face knowing that everyday in this country is an adventure.
One of the greatest sources of joy for me has undoubtedly been the children I work with! The amount of happiness these children bring to me is unparalleled. Their enthusiasm, determination, and positivity toward lacrosse reminds me of the simple joy that participating in a sport can bring. It is the exact sense of joy that had me hooked on lacrosse since the age of five. One thing I am certain of: I may be teaching the children lacrosse, but I am learning so much about life from them. Most importantly, they are teaching me not to take life too seriously and to enjoy every moment. For example, though I have seen plenty of beginners struggle to catch and throw, I have not observed a single ounce of frustration as a result. The look of triumph on their faces when they do finally manage to catch the ball if proof of the magic that this sport can have. It is this exact enthusiasm to learn and grow that motivates me everyday to give my very best to these children. And it is that exact enthusiasm that makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world to have the opportunity to work with LtN in Costa Rica.
With all of that being said, the Lacrosse the Nations team is thrilled to announce that we are seeking enthusiastic, dedicated volunteers to join our programs in 2017! With their help, we are looking forward to boosting our programs and making them stronger and more impactful than ever. By volunteering with LtN, you would not only be helping LtN grow, but volunteering has been proven to have a positive impact on personal happiness as well! Recent studies have found that volunteering is highly associated with greater health and happiness, and just a few hours of volunteer work can make a difference in happiness and mood. The experience of helping others has also been found to provide meaning, a sense of self worth, and health enhancement. Statistics also show that of people who volunteer, 96% say it enriches their sense of purpose, 78% say it lowers their stress levels, and 94% say it improves their mood. Living in a beautiful country, being surrounded by incredible people, growing the game, AND significantly increasing your personal level of happiness?! It doesn’t get much better than that!
“The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves.” — Helen Keller
Celebrate International Day of Happiness by checking out our 2017 volunteer openings in Costa Rica and Nicaragua to learn more about how to get involved!
Here in Nica, our style of lacrosse is a little different. Girls and boys play together. In past years, all of our players at Chiquilistagua and Club Hope played with men’s sticks as their only equipment. This made it easy for girls and boys to play equally and competitively on the same field. They had the same rules, the same gear, and the same love for the game.
This past fall, due to several generous donations and the rapid expansion of our programs, we were able to add helmets and gloves to all of our practices. With this addition, the game we play reaches a higher and more competitive level each day. Our players have the equipment to play harder while staying safe. While there are quite a few girls who enjoy this aspect, and continue to dominate the field, we are straying from the gender-neutral version of lacrosse we were once able play. Our practices are becoming more and more like the regulated boys’ games we know in the States. These recent changes combined with the presence of myself and local girls’ coach, Darian, have provided us with the opportunity to expand LtN Nicaragua to offer lacrosse instruction exclusively for girls.
We currently have 26 girls participating in co-ed practices. These girls will be able to continue to do so, with the additional option to attend girls-only sessions with women’s equipment. Princeton Women’s Lacrosse was generous enough to donate the first round of goggles and sticks to make these practices possible. The creation of a women’s program will take some time. Interest for the sport needs to grow organically – similarly to how we started our co-ed programs years back. I spend time at Chiquilistagua on Monday and Thursday afternoons, so that girls can join during recess or come outside of the co-ed practice time to receive girl-specific instruction. Right now, we have five girls who have been attending outside of co-ed participants, with new ones showing interest.
I think once more girls see these afternoon sessions, more interest will be generated. Lacrosse is still very much a foreign sport here. To a middle or high school aged girl, playing in full mens’ gear can be pretty intimidating. Being able to see girls throw around in space dedicated solely to women’s lacrosse, women’s instruction, and the building of a women’s team environment will attract more girls to explore this new and exciting sport. Once number rise, we can begin holding a full practice using all girls’ equipment and rules. Considering our recent program growth and current staff, this is the perfect time to make this expansion. With the experience of our old players and excitement of our new ones, I believe the girls’ program is going to take off with record speed!
This school year, we were able spread our scholarship reach to more LtN athletes. You may know about our original LtN Scholars program, which awards one 6th grader in Costa Rica and one rising senior or one older player that has not been able to attend school in Nicaragua. Our LtN Scholar program developed out of need for change. In Costa Rica, receiving a high school education in the area of Potrero means travelling to the next town – a financial burden on many families. In Nicaragua, rising seniors who wish to go on to University can be dissuaded by financial barriers like needing to start work to support their families, or the costs of classes, supplies, and transportation. The LtN Scholarship program pays for our scholar’s school and supplies while also providing them with the opportunity to coach with LtN to receive a stipend to support their families while furthering their education. After expressing the needs of many other athletes in our programs, LtN was awarded the Bill Belichik Grant – giving us the opportunity to expand our reach.
This Spring, we provided 22 LtN players of various ages in Nicaragua with school supplies for the entire year. Eleven players from Chiquilistagua and eleven players from Club Hope were awarded with notebooks, geometric tools and graph paper, writing utensils, two full school uniforms, and two sport uniforms for gym class. While students can attend public primary and secondary school here, the costs for uniforms, books, and transportation can be overwhelming for families. This scholarship expansion helps these 22 players by lowering the costs associated with receiving education – encouraging the kids to remain in or return to school. Without the BFF Grant, none of this would be possible.
Under these scholarships, we aim to encourage good school performance and responsibility on and off the field. Players who have received supplies for the year are expected to maintain a 75% grade point average and attend study hall each day that we hold practice. Awarded players are also expected to come to every lacrosse practice unless they provide an excused absence.
Parents of children receiving the scholarship are expected to support their children with pursuing their scholarly responsibilities, helping ensure that they are attending school each day. In addition, scholarship parents stay informed by attending meetings with the coaches and staff of LtN. As liaisons, LtN coaches and program directors are responsible for the positive encouragement of scholarship players on and off the field. Coaches are present for study hall sessions and provide tutoring to all LtN students who need it.
Receiving an education in Nicaragua is not always a priority. With the help of the Bill Belichik Foundation, we are reinforcing the importance of education to our student athletes and how much we value it. Our first and foremost priority is to address the challenges of receiving education. Through their participation, student athletes can speak to and work with LtN coaches, volunteers, and staff to find the best avenues to make a change. Through the expansion of our scholarship program, we hope to encourage more kids to join LtN, making their own personal growth and development a part of their everyday lives.
With the start of 2017 underway, LtN Costa Rica has gained a new scholar, Valentina! Valentina is in 6th grade and travels to school outside of Potrero with her scholarship. We sat down with her to hear about her plans for the year and what she likes about LtN . . .
How old are you?
12 years old.
Do you have any siblings?
Yes I have two sisters.
How long have you been playing lacrosse?
I’ve been playing lacrosse since the Lacrosse the Nations programs started in Potrero! So I believe it’s been about four years now.
Do you like defense or offense more?
I love defense. I think it’s more fun for me because I get to run after the other players and try to steal the ball from them. It’s a little bit harder than offense, but that makes it more fun!
How did you spend your vacation?
My vacation was good, I spent most of it with my family here in Potrero and also spent some time in San Jose. We went to the beach a lot and just hung out together.
How is your day-to-day schedule going to change now that you are an LtN scholar?
My schedule is going to change a lot now that I am an LtN Scholar and going to start studying at the Colegio. I leave for school around 7am and usually don’t return home until 5pm, so my day will be a lot busier. Because of this, it will be harder for me to participate in lacrosse practices throughout the week, but I will now be responsible for helping Carolina coach on the weekends in Potrero and Brasilito. It will be different to be in the new role as a coach, but I am very excited to work with the younger players and help them.
What are you most excited for this year?
I’m really excited to start school at the Colegio, I’m going to meet a lot of new people there and be able to make more friends. And of course I’m excited for lacrosse.
What is your favorite subject in school?
My favorite subject is probably Español. I like English too, but I find it very hard.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to be a chef! I have a very big family, and I always have a lot of fun cooking for them and helping in the kitchen.
With the start of a new year, we have another great addition to the LtN Scholar group here in Nicaragua! Luis, 17 years old, has joined our local coaching staff for Club Esperanza. Along with helping instruct our weekly practices, Luis will be attending Miguel Ramirez Goyena High School to earn his diploma. We sat down with Luis this past week to share his lacrosse experience, his expectations for this upcoming year, and to hear a little bit more about our newest LtN Scholar!
Do you have any siblings?
I have two sisters. Keyling is 5 years old and Rosa is 19. And I have my brother, Juan Carlos, who is 15 (and plays lacrosse at Club Esperanza as well).
How long have you been playing lacrosse?
What is your favorite memory from playing lacrosse?
This would have to be the second LtN Cup, when my team won the Cup for the Club.
How will your day-to-day schedule change now that you are an LtN scholar?
Everything is going to be different. My classmates now will see me like a coach not like a teammate – as a leader. I am going to start going to school, I am going to be a lot busier studying, prepping my uniform for school every day and teaching lacrosse. My routine is going to be totally different, but that is good for my future. I am going to school from 7:00 am – 12:00 pm, then I get back home and will study the LtN curriculum [for our team discussions] before practice.
What do you plan on studying?
Accounting - I like math a lot!
What are you most looking forward to this upcoming year?
To complete my scholar year, achieve my goals of being a good coach, and to teach to others what I have learned. I want to invite more kids and young people to come to lacrosse and increase attendance in our programs.
What do you like to do in you free time?
I like to hang out with my cousins, who I am very close with, and play video games with them.
Luis is an unbelievable role model for our young players. We are so excited to have him as a part of our team and cannot wait to see all that he accomplishes this year both on the field and in the classroom!
After the success of this year’s LtN Cup, our players were given an opportunity to continue their work on the field before the close of 2016. Earlier this year, a small school in San Juan del Sur had reached out to LtN regarding the possibility of hosting a clinic for their students. On December 2nd LtN Cup finalists Team Carazo and Team Chinandega traveled to the beach with our coaching staff to help us grow the game.
The day started with a two and a half hour bus ride out to the coast. We arrived in San Juan in the morning, first touring the facilities of San Juan Day School and meeting the kids that would be attending the clinic in the afternoon. From there, we continued on to the beach for a day of relaxation and celebration for the Cup finalists. Being able to treat our city kids to a day at the beach was a great experience. I was overjoyed to see the players from both Chiqui and the Club enjoy such a beautiful day together - from chicken fights in the waves to digging holes in the sand. Of course, we had to end our trip with a little beach lax before grabbing a traditional Nicaraguan lunch at San Juan Cerveceria in town.
After lunch, we arrived back at San Juan Day School to start up our clinic. This was the first time any of these students had ever picked up a lacrosse stick. Our LtN players were definitely timid at first, not used to being in coaching position. After getting warmed up however, they were helping out the San Juan beginners left and right and really stepping up into leadership roles. It was amazing to see Kevin, one of our most experienced players, breaking down passing and throwing basics; or Gina, our newest player, jump right into the exhibition game afterward to show the new kids what a fast game of lacrosse could look like. After the clinic, we got to share some of our LtN curriculum with the group of young new players - discussing what they enjoyed about the sport and the day’s activities over ice cream.
It was incredible to see our LtN student athletes have the opportunity to spread what they have learned and worked on over the past few years in our Managua programs. With their help, we were able to bring lacrosse to an entirely new community. We hope this relationship between LtN and San Juan Day School will continue. The rapid growth of our Managua programs is unbelievably exciting, and can allow us to have more clinics such as this one. Our LtN coaches, scholars, and players are building up a community that can grow the game to a level never before seen in Nicaragua.
As an LtN PD, the LtN Cup was something I heard about before even arriving in Nicaragua. Whether I was speaking with my boss Javier, Senior Program Director Dan, or players who have participated in LtN programs in the past, everyone around me regularly expressed their excitement for this day. Having an athletic background, I could recognize and share in this excitement for competition; however, prior to experiencing the LtN Cup for myself, I can honestly say I had no idea just how special this day is.
The Cup is one of LtN’s biggest fundraisers. On the day of the event, teams that we coach from the Chiquilistagua Public School compete against the teams we coach at Club Esperanza Private school in Villa Guadalupe in a championship style format. The goal of the Cup is to get each team sponsored in order to play. Through their team’s sponsorship, LtN student athletes are able to play an active role in giving back to their communities.
On a weekly basis, we hold practices for various ages, from 4th grade all the way up to the high school level. One thing I immediately noticed upon arriving at practices was the players’ unarguable passion for lacrosse, across all age groups. Whether it was answering questions during our life skills discussions before practice, mastering a new concept, or scoring a “tuani” goal on the field, the kids show a constant love for the game. When it came to their preparation for the Cup, their motivation alone triggered my own excitement.
The day of the Cup is like no other. Players from each school arrive together on a bus geared up and ready to go. Normally, these kids practice on a gravel-dirt mixture or a concrete basketball court. On the day of the Cup, they are greeted by the site of three turf fields with painted lines and music playing. The players are divided into their respective teams and enter the fields single file. This moment alone gave me goosebumps, reminding me of when I would suit up for games. The only difference was, this is a special occasion that only comes around once a year for these kids, and they are playing for so much more.
I had the honor of coaching team Managua this year, a group of players from Chiqui. While we did not have the age or size of some other groups, I saw performances in those players that I had never seen before. Millie is high school aged girl who is able to come to practice just once a week. During the Cup she was our star defender - chasing down fast breaks and stealing the ball from boys twice her size. Fourth grader, Jose, who was by far the smallest player on the field, scored a hatrick in our last regulation game which took us to the semifinals for Chiquilistagua. Every accomplishment on the field was celebrated by team Managua that day (my personal favorite being the seated rowboat with their sticks). I could not have been more proud of my team, not for their physical performance, but for the mere energy they brought and encouragement they provided each other.
Whether players were from Chiquilistagua or Club Esperanza, being able to represent where they were from incited a sense of belonging in their play. Each player's pride for their respective school and community was apparent in their demeanor. The desire to perform well and compete for their program really shown through. As a coach, there was nothing more gratifying than being able to witness all that their hard work amounted to.
This year was the fourth annual LtN Cup and our most successful one to date. Not only did every team get fully sponsored by the day of the event, in total we raised over $40,000.00. This was $10,000.00 over our original goal and over $35,000.00 more than LtN raised in their first Cup just three years ago. As LtN’s programs in Nicaragua continue to develop, the LtN Cup will only grow to include more players, coaches, and LtN scholars. Through this event, our LtN students athletes are able to become agents of change for their communities and strong competitors in the lacrosse world.