A World Championships throws up many different stories of people from all paths and backgrounds, each creating their own individual memories in all sorts of unique ways.
And for Mike Bartlett, in a year that has already featured some of his most memorable moments in lacrosse with a history-making season at Poynton, now sees him embark on a whole new challenge as Head Coach of the Spain Men’s National team.
We caught up with Mike at the recent Barcelona City Tournament, featuring top D1 university, Notre Dame, and six national team programmes including Team England and his Spain side.
For a relatively new lacrosse playing nation like Spain to host a tournament and teams of this nature is somewhat of a first for the country and a major step for the game in the area, something not lost on Mike at all.
“This has been huge for us. We’ve been excited about this opportunity since Notre Dame first contacted us last year, to host a team as prestigious as ND and leave them with a positive impression of everything we do is a great step towards growing the game over here”, Mike commented.
“Credit to the Barcelona Dracs club and wider Spain committee for delivering such a great weekend, they’ve put in a phenomenal amount of work to make this whole event happen.”
“The weekend’s been a huge success, with some fantastic lacrosse in really competitive games with teams given the chance to test themselves against top calibre European opposition and a powerhouse like Notre Dame.”
And while the Spaniards had some tough games on the field, the squad were happy with what they were able to take away from the weekend.
“From a Spain perspective, we knew the quality of the opposition we were up against and felt we needed to compete with that level of talent in order to show what we will need to be prepared to face in July.”
“Our goal was to show distinct improvement across the weekend and to work on our team cohesion and from that perspective, we’re definitely feeling positive.”
It’s now just two weeks before Spain will take to the field in Netanya, but for Mike, his route to get to this stage goes back seven years.
It’s a journey that started back in 2011, not with a direct involvement, but instead with the goal of helping a friend in playing international lacrosse.
“When I played for Reading Wildcats, one of my team mates and close friends was Spanish.
“He wasn’t yet playing with Spain, and I pushed him to get involved with the national team, working with him for nine months to prepare for the trials and eventual successful selection for the 2012 European Championships in Amsterdam.
“I then played with the Spain players at the Rhinocup in Belgium and became friends with several of the players who are still in involved now.”
After the 2016 Euros in Budapest, the Spain Lacrosse committee decided that a new approach was needed, with an emphasis on looking for a European-based coach to facilitate an increase in the amount of vital team training weekends, which is where Mike stepped in.
“The guys asked me if I would be interested and obviously I jumped at the chance to get involved with the opportunity being far too good to turn down.”
Since taking the Head Coach role, Mike has been impressed with the commitment and dedication from people to play the game in a country where opportunities can currently be few and far between.
“We currently have 10 clubs split across a country twice the size of the UK, so travel is a huge barrier to growth, but the players work incredibly hard to spread the word and grow the game with taster sessions in schools and universities to showcasing the game to the public on city streets.
“The players are the most dedicated I have ever had the privilege of working with; they regularly drive packed in a car for eight hours just for the opportunity to play a competitive game as they have a burning desire to learn all they can.”
Back on the English domestic scene, Poynton’s all-conquering treble success has been a year to remember for Mike and something a few years back he would have regarded as unthinkable.
“This year has been absolutely unbelievable. Coming into the season we knew we had the talent to compete with everyone else and had matured enough as a team over the past couple of years to maintain a title challenge, but to think we have completed the treble is something which I still find difficult to come to terms with.
“It wasn’t long ago we were a regular in the second division losing heavily to the likes of Stockport and Cheadle’s second teams and to have come from that to where we are now and give the same fans who watched those games the joy we have is something we will be forever proud of.”
And with the advantage of having an English coach, come the connections and assistance that Mike has been able to call upon to provide added backing to Spain with England’s Assistant Coach, Ravi Sitlani and Poynton & England players, Sam Russell and Will Baxter heading out to a number of the trial weekends.
“It’s been absolutely vital and I can’t thank the guys enough for getting involved – the influence they have had on the team cannot be underestimated.
“For the Spain guys to receive coaching from players of this ilk and experience level is something that they are truly grateful for, these are people that the Spain guys look up to and worship and I can’t thank everyone enough for giving up their time to be involved and help us grow.”
“Bringing the team to Manchester we were also joined by lots of other past and present England players, who’ve all shared insight and knowledge that the team have appreciated and took on board in a huge way.”
Although the development of the game in Spain is still in its infancy, Israel will be Spain’s fourth Men’s World Championships, and after a 30th place finish in Denver four years ago, Mike and the team are looking to make inroads up the rankings.
“From a personal perspective, I’ve always set my stall out that I want this to be the best in Spain lacrosse history.
“As a team, we want to finish in the top-half of the rankings (23rd and up after alterations made 2018 a 46-team tournament), which we see as ambitious but certainly achievable, with the talent in the team and the development I’ve seen since being involved.
“We always respect every opponent we face, but we won’t fear anyone. We’re not coming this far just to be passengers and enjoy the ride, we’re there to compete.”
Spain will begin their 2018 FIL Men’s World Championships campaign against New Zealand, who finished 12thin 2014, before taking on newcomers Croatia in the first pool stages.
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