This feature story highlights Lauren Norris, the Head Coach of the Israel National Team that will compete in the 2017 FIL Women’s World Cup. Following the announcement of tryout dates, we sat down to discuss all things lacrosse to understand her relationship with the game, her leadership style, the importance of youth programs and much more. All quotations are attributed to Norris. Find out what she is looking for in July and if eligible, register for the tryout!
Lauren Norris didn’t even want to play lacrosse. A Baltimore native who earned a laundry list of accolades as both a player and a coach, she originally fought her father when he introduced her to the sport and wanted her to get involved during middle school. But he loved lacrosse and he was persistent so he bought them both sticks and after they practiced in the backyard she promised to try out for the 8th grade team.
Norris was a natural, picking up the nuances of the game quickly. She had played many sports but never found anything she wanted to commit to, until lacrosse. “Lacrosse is a combination of multiple sports, which is why once I tried it I was attracted to it. I enjoyed the pace of the game and saw that with speed, one could be a standout player. The hardest worker on the field could be successful. Lacrosse seems complicated but I think if you’ve played another sport you won’t have much trouble.”
And she didn’t. Norris played through high school and after being admitted to Franklin & Marshall College she walked on to the team. From 2000-2003 she was a two-time All-American, three-time first team All-Metro Region player and a three-time All Centennial Conference first teamer as well as a four-time Jewish All-American. She was the first player in F&M’s team history to score 100 goals and register 100 assists in her collegiate career.
After a stellar playing career, coaching would seem to be the obvious next step but it wasn’t as clear to Norris. “After I graduated I wanted to work in finance but my college coach encouraged me to apply for an open assistant position at Lafayette and I thought ‘ok, I’ll try this for a year’. But from there I got another assistant position and then a head coaching gig and I couldn’t shake it – so more than ten years later, I just finally got around to Wall Street.”
Still, there are innumerable athletes who profited from her stock in the interim. Norris served as head coach at Franklin & Marshall from 2009-2012, leading the Diplomats to the 2009 NCAA Div. III championship and Centennial Conference titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011. She was named IWLCA Coach of the Year in 2009, as the first coach ever to win the national championship in her first season. In four seasons at Franklin & Marshall, Norris led the team to a 68-10 record. She has additional experience as an assistant coach at High Point University (2012-2014), Dickinson (2005-2007) and Lafayette (2004). In 2013, Norris led Israel to an eighth place world ranking in their debut at the World Cup in Canada.
Considering her tremendous success, Norris’ coaching philosophy is rather simple. She approaches the game with a “big picture” mindset. Without the time of Division I programs, she has never been an individual skills coach. Instead, her focus is finding good athletes who can put it all together on the field. “I like to teach big picture concepts and educate athletes on the types of things I want them to implement but basically give them the tools to be successful themselves because I want people to have ownership over everything they are doing. I don’t micromanage, It’s not ‘my way or the highway,’ because every group of people is different. Every team has their own strengths so we need to find out what they are and play to our strengths in every scenario.”
And this philosophy has guided her teams to success on every level, whether coaching in the NCAA or international competition; the only difference being the way she is able to implement things. Because the national team is often comprised of many post-collegiate players who are also coaches, they have a similar mindset to those on the sideline, which allows communication at a higher level. “College kids think differently than our post-collegiate players. When a post-collegiate player becomes a coach and then returns to the playing field they are not just taking direction but critically thinking on the field…they are able to do things while exerting less energy and can be coached ‘smarter’ because they can think on a different level.”
This is an important characteristic that Norris will look for in women during the tryout for the 2017 World Cup as part of a team that she hopes will be in serious playoff contention. “I will be looking for players who can adapt well on the field and who are really good at playing as a part of a team. I want to build a cohesive unit of athletes who are critical thinkers – who work smarter, not harder than necessary. Of course I want hard workers, but that quality falls into many categories both on and off the field and within the many avenues to being a good teammate.”
The team selected during the July 18-20 tryout will compete at the 2017 FIL Women’s Lacrosse World Cup, which will be held from July 13-22, 2017 at Surrey Sports Park near London, England. With the exponential growth of lacrosse in Israel since the women’s first appearance in the 2013 World Cup, Norris expects this year’s tryout to be 100% different than the first one three years ago. “The interest in lacrosse in Israel has increased, the commitment level has increased and we are expecting a high level of competition so it’s very exciting to see and be a part of.”
Israel Lacrosse and its national team players also invest an enormous amount of time in youth development and Norris believes the impact the national team and other volunteers have had is monumental especially since she has seen the transformative power of sport first-hand. “I can completely relate to the youth in Israel who are suspicious of lacrosse or indifferent at first glance. I was there; I was that kid who thought, “what’s the big deal?” But I know the Israel Lacrosse staff, the volunteers and all of the national team players are as passionate and convincing as my dad. You can see it in the progress that has been made in just a few short years.”
Girls who have never played a sport before in their lives, who have maybe never been a part of a team try lacrosse and form a bond with a group of women, competing for the first time. With aspirations to play for a successful national team, it is no wonder that youth development has flourished as the organization works towards building a strong and deep player pool of homegrown Israeli athletes, who can tip the scales in favor of Israel becoming a perennial medalist.
With the progress that Israel Lacrosse has achieved, Norris believes Israel has a chance to go farther than their eighth place finish in the 2013 World Cup in Canada. She is hoping to put together a team that will advance to championship play and earn a place in the top-five, if not compete for a medal. That journey to the podium begins this summer.
Tryouts for the 2017 FIL Women’s World Cup Team will take place from July 18-20, 2016, in Be’er Sheva, Israel. Israel’s roster will be composed of both Israeli players, as well as members of the Jewish Diaspora, in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL). US-based players who are interested in trying out are encouraged to participate in Lacrosse Birthright. Summer internships with the Israel Lacrosse Association are also available.
For additional information about the Women’s National Team tryout or Lacrosse Birthright, please contact Amanda Tuck at [email protected].