By Karen Billing
In a little over a year-and-a-half in existence, Carmel Valley-based Lax West youth lacrosse program has grown to have about 500 kids participate in its club teams, tournaments, camps and clinics. Leading the attack on this successful program is founder Michael Watson, a four-time All American and former professional lacrosse player.
“My head is spinning,” said Watson. “There’s a lot going on right now.”
Watson is originally from Baltimore, Maryland, right in the middle of America’s “hotbed” of lacrosse. He didn’t start playing until he was in the fourth grade, but quickly found an aptitude for the game.
He played college lacrosse at the University of Virginia, reaching the Final Four in the NCAA championships all four years and earning All American honors every year. After graduating, he played on Team USA in the Federation of International Lacrosse’s World Lacrosse Championships in 1998, scoring 12 goals and pitching in eight assists to help USA on to a world championship.
In 2001, Watson entered Major League Lacrosse, playing attack for the Boston Cannons and the LA Riptide. He just retired from professional lacrosse last year.
Watson has lived in San Diego since 1999 and worked in real estate while he played professionally. When the market crashed and his partnership split up, he took the time to start thinking about how he wanted to boost youth lacrosse in the area.
“The sport has just grown so much,” said Watson, who is the assistant coach for the Cathedral Catholic school varsity team. “I wanted to provide an alternative with a specific vision of developing young players, building their lacrosse skills and their lacrosse IQ.”
Lacrosse is a sport that borrows from a little bit of everything—it’s a little bit of soccer, although you play with a stick; a little bit like basketball, the way you move your feet and the pick and roll action; and like hockey in the way you play behind the goal and make contact with hits and checks.
A fast-paced sport, players are constantly in motion, running, stopping and starting again, making it a great cross-training activity for other sports.
“What’s great about lacrosse is you’re not limited by size,” said Watson. “You can be short and be successful, you can be tall and be successful, and you don’t have to be strong. There’s all kinds of ways to get on the field and succeed as a lacrosse player.”
Watson attributes lacrosse’s growth in the West to the increased exposure the sport is getting. ESPN regularly airs college lacrosse games and the proliferation of lacrosse how-to instruction videos on youtube has made it possible for people to view videos and teach themselves to play.
The Southern California climate makes year-round lacrosse possible and more and more tournaments are popping up.
“There’s just more opportunities for everyone who wants to learn and play the game, you can get hooked,” Watson said.
Area schools are racking up reputations for lacrosse strength. Torrey Pines has been successful and La Costa Canyon cracked the national top 20 last year.