How Lax the Nations is bringing lacrosse, education, & opportunity to children around the world.
Remember the expression, “All for one and one for all?” from The Three Musketeers? Too young to even know what we’re talking about? The story of The Three Musketeers is based on “real people doing their best to work as a team to serve anyone in need of their help and do it in a friendly manner.” This expression and meaning are that “All of the members of a group support each of the individual members, and the individual members pledge to support the group.” Although the Three Musketeers is known for being a historical/adventure novel, turned into multiple TV series and a Disney movie (add it your Netflix que), we cannot help but compare Lacrosse the Nations as an incredible group of passionate individuals, serving a greater purpose around the world… ALL through lacrosse!
Lax the Nations (LtN for short) mission is to improve the lives of children across the world through lacrosse. LtN programs use the lacrosse field as a physical space to teach students valuable life skills, improve education, bring smiles and pure joy to kids’ everyday lives. LtN’s holistic approach includes life skills, nutrition support, academic support and most importantly… FUN!
We sat down with Javier Silva, Executive Director at Lacrosse the Nations whose unwavering support has led to a decade long passion since 2012. What started as a volunteer opportunity, has filled Javier’s cup and he’s still drinking ;) Co-founded by Brett Hughes UVA Men’s Lacrosse 04’ and Brand Corrigan (Middlebury Men’s Lacrosse 96’) along with LtN’s dedicated team, they are seeing firsthand how lacrosse impacts the livelihood of children across the globe.
Why Lacrosse as the sport of choice to improve the livelihood of children?
When our founders, Brad Corrigan (pictured left) and Brett Hughes (pictured right) had the conversation about starting LtN they knew sports were a powerful tool to make a positive impact in people’s lives. They also wanted to use their strengths. The sport they had in common was lacrosse.
We started LtN to provide kids and outlet for play and the opportunity to be kids in an environment (the largest open-air landfill in Central America) that didn't really allow that. However, we saw that introducing a new sport was an opportunity to be intentional with what we were teaching. It put everyone on a level playing field. Whether they were an all-star soccer player or not athletically inclined at all, lacrosse was new, and it was difficult to learn. From there we started to develop our life-skills curriculum. As we continued listening to the needs of the community the rest of our programming developed (nutrition support at our partner schools, academic scholarships, tutoring).
We see you are in Panama, Nicaragua, Colombia and the United States – why these countries?
It's one-part serendipity, one-part strategy. Brett and Brad had the vision for LtN after a visit to La Chureca in Managua, Nicaragua. At the time it was Central Americas largest open-air landfill with approx. 2,000 people (half under the age of 18) living at the base of it in a makeshift community. They fell in love with the people and were compelled to help anyway they could. That's where we started and where we developed our programs.
When I took over as the Executive Director it was decided that we would expand to more countries. I enrolled in the Sports Entertainment & Impact Certificate program at JHU to develop as a non-profit leader and make sure our expansion would be successful. For my capstone, I created a rubric to help us evaluate any potential new sites.
In the spring of 2018, political unrest in Nicaragua forced us to look at other locations for our US volunteers. Week-long service trips, short and long-term volunteer opportunities for high school and college lacrosse players in the US are a huge part of our mission. It’s how we bring our communities together as well as provide incredible experiences for the US lacrosse community.
I had a friend who brought her girls team to Bocas del Toro, Panama. When I told her I was looking for an option to bring to the team trips and volunteers we had planned for the summer she told me Bocas was the perfect fit. Using our rubric and connecting with a few local NGOS on the islands we made the decision to offer this as an option. It was a huge success.
Colombia is home for me. After playing for the national team in 2014 and being involved with the program I knew I wanted to start LtN programs there. I developed strong relationships with several teammates, and we finally launched a pilot program in 2019. Bogota (and Tenjo specifically) checked off everything we looked for when we evaluate new locations. Colombia is somewhere we can really make an impact and we plan to continue to expand.
Are there any plans to expand beyond the countries of Panama, Nicaragua, Colombia and the United States?
100%. COVID put a pause on those plans. We won't expand to new countries until at least 2025. There are a lot of countries we've identified as excellent places for us to implement our programming, but we are going to be strategic in when/where we go.
When the world was on pause (due to Covid), how did this impact LtN? Are there any challenges or obstacles you face now?
Most of our student-athletes were learning remotely for about 1.5 years. At first, we were engaging students and parents via WhatsApp groups and "at-home" challenges/workouts. It was incredibly difficult for our coaches. The silver lining was that we were able to build much closer relationships with the parents. Now these WhatsApp groups are thriving. Parent engagement is at an all-time high. They've seen the positive impact we are making and are a huge reason our attendance is so good.
Financially, it was also a big challenge. We raise a lot of money during the spring lacrosse season here in the US by having teams dedicate a game to our mission. With the seasons cancelled all those fundraising games were cancelled and we did not have a ton of revenue coming in. That's where the idea for Squat4Good came about. We wanted to engage our community and get them active and sweaty to support LtN from home.
Additionally, we had to put a pause on all our international service trips since there was no safe way to have high school and college lacrosse players from the US visit our programs abroad.
With the Men’s World Championships approaching in June of 2023, how has the growth of lacrosse helped LtN’s mission?
As more countries launch national team programs it gives us the opportunity to grow our footprint too. For the student-athletes who have been with us for a while the establishment of a national federation in their country gives them the opportunity to keep a stick in their hands after they've graduated from our programs. Most of our coaching staff abroad is involved in some way with their National Federations, if not leading them!
In these countries, do you see equal participants across boys and girls?
35% of our program participants are girls. There are a few reasons for this but one of them is we don't have many girls’ coaches. Our goal is to develop more female leaders so we can increase participation on the girl’s side. Parents in the communities where we work are a bit hesitant to let their girls join our programs for cultural reasons, but we are breaking down those barriers by demonstrating to the parents that having their daughters join our lacrosse programs will be a real benefit.
How many children has LtN impacted, and can you share any stories on how lacrosse has impacted their lives?
Each year we work with roughly 500 students through after-school lacrosse, PE classes, and tutoring in Latin America. Approximately 150 US lacrosse players volunteer their time with us yearly. Either as fundraisers or at the programs themselves.
One of our youngest coaches, Roberto, was one of the first kids I coached lacrosse when I lived in Nicaragua. He fell in love with the sport and really dedicated himself to getting better. He was also one of the most coachable kids on the field, just soaking up everything we had to say. As his skills improved so did his leadership abilities and he was really epitome of the type of young person our programs aim to develop. When he was graduating it was a no-brainer for us to offer him a role as an assistant coach. Roberto is now running the practices for the advanced players at Club Hope while going to university.
Last fall, Roberto played on the first ever Nicaraguan men's national team. I was fortunate enough to be playing for the Colombian team at the tournament and got to play against him in their first game. It was such a fantastic experience.
Who/what makes LtN run?
First and foremost its our coaching staff. They are the ones that are putting in the work every day all year round to give our student athletes an opportunity to grow as lacrosse players and individuals. They are the heart and soul of the organization.
Our long-term volunteers play a critical role, especially at our newer sites. We typically have at least one recent college grad doing a gap year with us. They build up our coaches. The job of our long-term volunteers is to teach our coaches how to be great lacrosse coaches. A lot of times at a new site they are leading practices while our local staff learns the sport. Our mantra then is always to have our volunteers "work themselves out of a job". To train and build up our local staff to the point where the programs can run on their own without any volunteers. That’s how it is in Nicaragua now and what we hope Panama and Colombia will be too.
Here in the US myself (left) and Anders (right) lead the charge. Our focus is partnering with high school and college lacrosse teams to get involved with our mission as well as overall fundraising and the administration of the org.
What is your personal and professional WHY you are involved with LtN?
Personally, LtN combines some of my biggest passions - sport, travel, coaching. I've always believed that sports are an incredible tool. To be able to use the sport that has given me so much to make an impact in the lives of others is a dream come true.
Professionally it fuels my creativity. We have a vision for where and how we want to operate, and I have the privilege of being the driving force for that vision.
Can you tell us if there is any meaning behind your logo and branding? Why the color orange at the top?
The logo is circular to represent the globe and the lacrosse ball but with cross pattern to show connectedness. It also comes from the close up of mesh from the pocket which is why the lines are not smooth. The bottom three sides represent the earth/ground, the simple part of the field. The orange came from Brett's memories of La Chureca, a place where trash fires were everywhere. The idea of opportunity rising out of the fires.
Are there any partners or contributors that have made an impact to LtN?
We collaborate with most major lacrosse brands. They are all fantastic and generously donate most of the gear we use at our programs. For the rest of it we partner with an organization called ReLax Collections. They collect gently used gear and redistribute it to folks like us.
We are also one of the PLL Assists charity partners. They've been a great resource and a fantastic way to spread our name to larger audience.
Our biggest partnerships, however, are all the high school and college teams that work with us. These teams do a lot for us. They donate gear. They dedicate games during the spring season to raise funds on our behalf. They volunteer their time and energy to our programs.
Five years from now, where do you want to see LtN?
In five years, we will have done significant expansion in both depth and breadth of programming at all our sites. I expect Panama and Colombia to be operating with several teams, a group of home-grown coaches, and a cohort of our student athletes on scholarship, like where we are in Nicaragua now. Ideally, we'll also be in the early years of programming in a brand-new country, like where Colombia is now - with one or two coaches and a recent college grad from the US helping plant the seeds for our programs to flourish.
Anything on the horizon with LtN that you are most excited about or want to share?
One of our biggest fundraising days of the year (GivingTuesday) is coming up on November 29th. This year we’re hosting a Squat for Good Challenge and are asking our supporters to get active in support of our mission.
The challenge is simple. On GivingTuesday share our mission with your network and get folks to donate. For every dollar raise you commit to doing 5 squats. We encourage creativity so some people will do pull-ups, burpees, and a lot of other creative stuff. The money raised this year will be going towards hiring at least one additional coach in each country.
This year we've kicked it up and a notch with our partnership with you all. Every donation over $30 will get a limited edition LtN x Triad Athletes charm bracelet. I'm really excited we've partnered with you because it will encourage folks to give and is helping us increase our network of supporters. I'm excited, too, because our partnership will go beyond just a limited-edition bracelet. There are a lot of similarities between our two organizations and the way we want to use the lacrosse field as a platform to develop young people into awesome humans. I see a lot of potential in creating opportunities for both our athletes to benefit.
BONUS: Speed round, you can only choose one for each – what are you favorites at the moment:
What are you reading
What Happened to the USMNT?
As the Head Coach for the Colombian Men's National Team I wanted to gain insight to the struggles and successes of national team programs. It's been a very interesting read so far.
Bad Bunny. No explanation needed; his music is fantastic.
Ooof this is sooo tough! Probably anything my dad throws on the grill, especially his ribs. Though I'll never say no to an evening ordering Chinese takeout!
Object or material thing
My new work computer. Game Changer!
Who do you admire & why
My mom. She's the strongest, most caring, most determined person I know. She and my dad moved us to the US to make a better life for themselves and our family. They didn't speak the language or know very many people. They worked their butts off to give us the life we have now.
Choosing the non-profit world and wanting to make a positive impact in kid’s lives is a direct result of the example she set for me and my sister growing up.
Watching on Netflix
The Crown… I know, I know - I'm late to the game.
Physical activity (and not lacrosse)
Favorite life quote/mantra
“To fully experience this life as a human being, we all need to connect with our desire to realize something larger than our individual selves.” - Thich Nhat Hanh I was given the book, Silence, by one of our board members when I took over as the Executive Director and I re-read It a few times a year. 100% recommend It for everyone!!
How to get involved?
- Volunteering with LtN abroad is an incredibly unique and rewarding experience. LtN is an integral part of the communities where they work, providing volunteers with genuine connections, invaluable community development and nonprofit experience, and lifelong memories.
- Donating to LtN provides education and opportunity to youth around the world by supporting LtN's:
- After-school lacrosse
- Middle, high school, and university scholarship programs
- After-school tutoring
- Coaches Salaries
- Field Rentals for special events/tournaments
- Life skills curriculum instruction
- Sports and recreation programs
Donate by clicking this link and make an impact in growing the game!
Learn more about Lax the Nations by visiting: https://www.lacrossethenations.org/