I sit kneeling in the middle of the field and I look up at the scoreboard – Sweden: 19 China: 4 – the last game of our Women’s Lacrosse World Cup in England is over. I feel bruised, battered and, as the captain of Team China, I can safely say that was one of the toughest opponents we’ve ever faced. As I gingerly start to stand, my teammates form around me and I can’t help but notice one thing – everyone is grinning from ear to ear.
When I look back to our final game at the World Cup, I have an overwhelming sense of pride. Yes we were beaten – flogged even – by women twice our size, but it was a monumental moment for us. Six years ago lacrosse barely existed in China, but in our short time as a team we’ve been able to take a new sport, establish a community and bring China lacrosse to the world stage.
Of course the journey hasn’t been easy. In a country where badminton and basketball rule all, finding a group of women to not only play, but thrive in an obscure – at least for China – sport felt like an impossible feat.
The experience forging lacrosse in China and getting a team to the World Cup has helped shaped me in more ways than I could have ever expected, and today I want to share a few lessons I have learnt along the way.
Take a chance on the underdog
I was the captain of my university basketball team when I was first introduced to lacrosse. Three of my peers approached me and asked me to join the new team, but I thought they were crazy. With no other players confirmed, there wasn’t much of a team to join. But what struck me was their confidence and energy – it was unlike anything I had seen in sport before. From that moment I had two choices: keep playing basketball or break out of my comfort zone.
When I look back at my choice today, I realize that taking that risk with lacrosse has resonated in all of my future life decisions. At work or on the field today, I am always more likely to look for those who don’t have the best resume in the pile. Instead, I look for those who have drive and perseverance. These are the hungry ones that work harder and will stick by you to the end.
Without passion, you’ll never grow
In those early years, our team numbers fluctuated. At the start of the first year our core group of four grew quickly to 20, but by the end of the year we were back down to four. This became a pattern, but the constant dip in numbers didn’t stop us. Our small group of four was passionately working towards a shared mission and that energy was contagious. By the time I left university that passion had spread and our network started to expand across Shanghai. With a solid roster of 30-40 women, we began playing in international competitions and it really started to feel like something big was brewing.
I admit, there have been times when my passion has faded, but when this happens I simply take a step back and remind myself of the groundwork we’ve covered. To stay motivated, it’s important to keep track of your achievements along the way. And just as importantly, when a teammate, friend or colleague does something brilliant as well, you need to cheer, applaud and shout it out loud to the rest of the world. The game has ingrained this in me.
It’s okay to pick yourself up again and again… and again
If you read my opening statement, you’ll realize that our team doesn’t sweat the losses. And this attitude stems from my first real lacrosse game. It was against a college team from Japan who were visiting Shanghai in 2012. We took the field full of confidence, but we were soon crushed. With a final score of 0-43, it was a massive blow to our egos. After the match, one of my teammates said something to me that struck a chord:
As soon as she said it, the words sunk in and this is the mantra our team carries to this very day. I even find myself using it off the field, too.
Whether it’s a project at work, a new hobby, or a game at the World Cup, we’re not always going to achieve greatness. You need to be ready to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep moving.
After that last game at the World Cup, we took the opportunity to connect and network with the other teams and coaches – it was one of the most valuable experiences for us. From here we will take our learnings and continue to push forward. In four years I am sure that Team China will be back at the World Cup and stronger than ever. If we’ve managed to grow this fast in the last six years, just imagine what four more will do.