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.
“California’s starting to send Division 1-caliber athletes to schools back east and that’s a trend that’s going to continue,” Watson said.
Lax West teams cater to players from under-11 to high school on the boys’ side. The girls teams are just starting to roll out. They also have a Lax West Elite program, open to high schoolers with a focus on getting players recruited for college.
All of the coaches work in the system that Watson has designed, following the Lax West vision down to the drills players use in practice.
Kids learn not just the fundamentals of the game, but how to function as a team and those all-important life lessons.
“I want to do that for young players because playing sports can teach children so much more than the game,” said Watson.
Spring is the in-season, with the Carmel Valley Wildcats currently playing in the San Diego Club Lacrosse Association league, but Lax West runs programs year-round.
Home fields are at Cathedral Catholic, Solana Highlands and Ashley Falls elementary schools.
Currently, they are gearing up for this summer’s camps and tournaments, and tryouts will be held for the under-11, under-13, and under-15 Lax West Wahoos on April 23 and April 30.
Devoting his time fully to running Lax West and coaching, Watson said a part of him will miss competing in the major league.
“There’s nothing like playing and playing at the highest level, that’s why I wanted to play for so long,” Watson said. “But I get something different out of coaching, to really connect with the young players and make an impact on their lives is irreplaceable. I feel like I have a unique skill set and it’s my mission to share that unique skill set and experience with the kids out there.”
For more information on tryouts for the LAX West, visit