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Swedish National Team Q&A

The staff who will lead the Swedish Men’s National Lacrosse Team to the World Championships in Israel 2018 has been selected: General Manager is Rebecka Lind, Head Coach Rolle Björck, and Assistant Coach Alex Majd. To get a feel for the coaches and get to know what they are envisioning for the team, we put together a couple of questions.

How will the selection process work? What can players expect at trials?
Björck – Our idea is to focus on the 2018 World Championships, while looking further ahead; keeping the 2020 European Championships in our sight. We are building a national team that prepares us for the future.
The selection process begins with two full weekend camps that are open for more or less anyone to participate in. These weekends will serve as try outs as well as a way for us to improve the level of lacrosse for Swedish players and to give them drills and ideas on how to develop their own practices. The trials will be both a chance to improve your game and skills, and get feedback on what to improve.
Our next camp will be in October, and for that camp we will have picked an extended national team squad that will practise together to prepare for the World Championship. We are looking at building a competitive team to send to Israel, so if you as a player are looking to be on that squad – join the try outs, be prepared to perform and show us that you’re serious. To build the Swedish national team program the extended squad and all the players contributing will be very important in order to continually improve the level of lacrosse we play in Sweden.

Majd – At this level, with such little time together, it’s critical that we find the right mix of players from the start. Our main criteria when evaluating players will (in no particular order) be: 1) skill, 2) game IQ, 3) mentality, and 4) athleticism/fitness level. We will select players based on our strengths and weaknesses. It’s all about finding the right combination with what we have. We want to bring a team to Israel, not just a group of skilled players. Fitness will also play a huge role in our success at the tournament. We will be playing a lot of lacrosse in a short amount of time. Factor in the hot weather conditions and a skilled player who doesn’t value health and fitness maintenance will prove problematic.
We will be using a mobile application by TopYa! Sports to aid in both the tryouts and training sessions. Players trying out will be asked to film themselves completing position specific drills and post it to the app. We will use the drills as part of our assessment process. The app will also give us the ability to virtually coach players. We can’t meet as a team as much as we like, so it is paramount that we find a way to help players train productively outside of scheduled practice times.

What will the philosophy be when it comes to selecting overseas players?
Björck – If you have a Swedish passport you should have the chance to play for Sweden, however we are looking to build the national team program with a perspective extending past the 2018 World Championships. All players need to be prepared to commit to that idea and to commit to being part of Sverige Lacrosse, representing Sweden, and not just going to a World Championships. There are also openings for a few players without passports on the squad. Players with ancestry or who have lived long enough in Sweden, but to use that option is something that needs an even higher consideration in regard to commitment and being part of the Swedish lacrosse program.

Majd – There are a number of overseas players who want to be available for selection, both veteran and new. We understand that careers and other factors can prevent many of these players from attending one or both of the trials. Anyone who qualifies to play for Sweden will be given every opportunity to make the squad. If a veteran player cannot attend, they will be assessed based on previous performances for Sweden and the qualities they possess. If they are a new player, it will be more difficult to assess them, but we are willing to review game film/use previously mentioned app TopYa! to give them a fair evaluation. We are going to Israel to compete, not participate.

What are your performance expectations for the World Cup?
Björck – Sweden has placed 10th and 11th in the two last World Championships (2010 and 2014). We are going to Israel to improve on that! The first goal is that Sweden win the group and qualify for the play in matches and challenge for a spot in the Championships playoff. Due to the ever increasing competition in international play, we have to continue to raise our standards of play every tournament. The players need to work harder than ever and put in the time and effort to be at that level. That’s the performance and commitment I expect.

Majd – We are aiming to go undefeated in group play and reach the 5th place playoff game against one of the Blue Division teams (USA, Canada, Iroquois, England, Australia, Scotland). It is important to set realistic yet ambitious goals for the tournament and we are aiming and improving previous placements. Sweden underperformed in the 2016 European Championships, especially after a strong performance at the 2014 World Championship. We know Sweden is capable of far better. My personal coaching philosophy is to expect from your players what you would expect from yourself. We feel that a top 6 finish, though certainly challenging, is achievable. Think big, play big.

What makes you a unique coach and what do you plan on bringing to the squad?
Björck – I’ve been part of Sverige Lacrosse since more or less the beginning and with that comes a lot of knowledge about the Swedish teams and players. I have started up teams and developed players for 25 years and I have been part of team sports my whole life.
The last time I led the national team we won a bronze at the 2012 European Championships and placed 10th at the 2014 World Championships, so I know I can reach good results.
My knowledge and experience, together with my passion and commitment to the idea of what we can do together makes me well equipped to build this into a great team. In my leadership I believe in making people grow – my philosophy is that if you believe in your players and you emphasis that they can do it – if they do it wholehearted. Everybody can improve, maybe not to be the best, but to be better than yesterday, and we learn from trying and failing. I also believe that you lead by example, and if I want my players to be at their best, so do I as a coach.

Majd – My career as a player and a coach has been built upon passion, determination, and spontaneity. I’ve retired from playing twice, only to find myself on the field again in a different country or stage of play. I set high goals and therefore often find myself to be an underdog. I constantly challenge myself to become comfortable with uncomfortable. Though I am goal-oriented, I often find myself being spontaneous. Whether it’s deciding to move back to the UK to continue playing while earning a masters or trying out for Team England, I like to tackle new and exciting opportunities with everything I’ve got. I truly believe that the challenges I’ve faced benefited me both as a player and as a coach.
I first grew up in London before moving to a hotbed for the sport, Darien, Connecticut (USA). I didn’t start playing until I was twelve and a half, which was considered late in the town. It was a sink or swim environment and I had to put in a lot of extra time outside of practice to compete at such a high level. Our high school is nationally ranked every year and it was a pretty great experience to be a part of. My lacrosse career came full circle after being selected to Team England in 2015 for the upcoming Euros.
So far I’ve played lacrosse in five countries and coached at the collegiate level in both the NCAA and BUCS. At Durham University (BUCS), I served as director and head coach for the men’s and women’s programs. Ever since picking up a stick for the first time I have been surrounded by incredible, top tier players.. I acknowledged early on that this is not the norm and that I needed to take advantage of it. You don’t need to be the most talented on the field – you need to use the talent you do have to your greatest ability, work harder than your competition, and be the best teammate you can be. If you are adding value to the players around you, your game will continue to evolve. You have to ask yourself after every practice and game – am I making my teammates better? Am I improving as an individual? You can always learn from your teammates, everyone brings something unique to the game. There’s always something you can be spending more time on and improving. I’m no stranger to adversity. Whether it be season ending surgeries or traveling 12+ hours a week to make every training session, while maintaining a full-time job – I hope that my passion for the game and desire for success is embraced by the team. Additionally, I hope that my experience with coaches and players from numerous countries and traditions make the players comfortable with me right from the beginning. I’m always eager to learn and embrace new cultures, especially within the lacrosse world.

What’s your favorite memory as a player and as a coach?
Björck – I have two great memories as a coach: 10 years after I started my club team Nordia we won the Swedish Championship (2015). I started the team with a bunch of kids when they were 15 years old, so that has been a great journey. The other was winning the bronze at the 2012 European Championships in Amsterdam.
As a player it’s harder to pick just one memory, but I had a Swedish Championship final when I played with FOC Farsta and had a 5 goal performance. I guess that stands out, even if I have a lot of great memories travelling with the Swedish national team over the years.

Majd – I have many great memories as a player. My favorite has to be winning the 2016 European Championships with England. We were fortunate to have so many training sessions together during our preparations for the tournament and we had a great group of guys. The amount of time England spends training together year round is unusual compared to most other international teams, so you really develop a close bond with everyone.
My favorite memory as a coach would be winning the 2016 CT State Championships and finishing number one in the country as a coach for my former high school, Darien. Having played for legendary coach Jeff Brameier in high school, it was so great to return as a member of the staff and work with such a great group of kids. Seeing them set the highest goals possible and achieve them through grit and determination was something I’ll never forget.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a player and as a coach?
Björck – I think the biggest challenge as a player has been realizing that I couldn’t and can’t play lacrosse in a way that I would like to. I still love playing, even though it hurts and the body don’t want to do what I want it to. When I tore a ligament in the knee the doctor asked me if I really had to play lacrosse, as I was turning 49…
As I coach I guess my first year as a head coach for the national team in 2008 was pretty challenging, I had pretty much no staff, as I shared the manager with the women’s team and had an injured player helping me in the box. It was also my first championship as a head coach.

Majd – My biggest challenge as a player was recovering from my ACL surgery leading up to my senior year in college. The physical rehab was hard work, but nothing compared to the mental recovery. I had knee surgery the year before (I injured it on the exact same day that year). Two knee surgeries in two years really gets to you, but I chose to look it as a challenge to overcome. I fully believe I became a better athlete from that point on. You realize that you’ve already made it back from rock bottom and that you are capable of pretty much anything you set your mind to. As a coach, I’d have to say my biggest challenge was coaching both the men and women’s teams at Durham University the year after I played for them. I was training with Team England at the time, so you’re drained mentally and physically. Traveling back and forth between Durham and Manchester takes a toll. I was also a very young head coach and I had never coached women’s lacrosse before. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, though. I met some great people and grew both as a player and as a coach.

What are going to be your biggest challenges at and leading up to the World Championship?
Björck – Getting enough time for the team to play together and keeping the costs down so that we can get all the players we want to be able to afford it. Bringing the team together is also of course tied to costs. Another challenge is injurys. We don’t have a huge number of players to pick the squad from so keeping the players away from injuries is essential for our chances to succeed in Israel. That will be one of the major challenges at the World Cup as well, with the number of games in the short time.

Majd – Our biggest challenge will be the nature of international lacrosse. Most teams don’t have much time to spend together in the lead up to the tournament. Our challenge will be maintaining a strong and consistent chemistry throughout the training process. The challenge at the tournament will be the relentless game schedule. You play a lot of games in a pretty short span of time.

If you are interested in playing with the best lacrosse players in Sweden, join us for the tryouts in August and September to compete for a spot on the Swedish Men’s National Lacrosse Team.

Open try out #1 in Stockholm (12-13th August):
https://www.facebook.com/events/156380928254414/

Open try out #2 in Norrköping (9-10th September):
https://www.facebook.com/events/1442191605871037/