Ryan Wallace is currently the Head Coach for the Cologne Lacrosse Men’s and Women’s 1st and 2nd Teams, now in his third season. Originally from Kansas City in the USA, he spent the last 10 years before moving to Germany coaching and reffing lacrosse in Denver, Colorado. After helping start his High School and College Lacrosse teams in the US, he spent two years in Wales in 2005-2007 as a Development Officer for the Welsh Lacrosse Association. There he helped spread lacrosse in schools and clubs, as well as reffed many games and tournaments throughout the UK.
On most weekends when there are no games in Cologne, Ryan travels to tournaments, camps and clinics around Europe to continue to Grow the Game, working with players, coaches and referees of all ages and abilities to grow their skills and experience.
DLAXN: You traveled to many countries, what made you stay in Germany?
I had never thought about living in Germany or even wanted to travel here until I came to visit my good friend Adam Grey, another very good lacrosse coach, in Münster in December of 2015. After that, he and several other people recommended I speak to the Club here in Cologne, and lucky for me, they offered me a contract. The details of my job here were very organized, so it was possible for me to move here. Germany is a beautiful country. German people are incredibly nice and friendly. But the most important factor was the club in Cologne had budgeted and planned to pay for a coach. And I’m very fortunate that I was available at that time.
It’s important for other teams around Germany and Europe that want coaches to make sure that the arrangements are made for those coaches to come here. How will you pay them? Where will they live? What will their work schedule look like? How will you help them with housing, transportation, and a visa? The visa is the most important part. The players in Cologne have been very good about helping me get settled in Germany so I can live and work here without too many obstacles.
DLAXN: You are coaching the cologne men’s and the women’s lacrosse team since day one of your stay. What is the biggest challenge and what brings you the most joy?
Coaching women’s lacrosse was completely new for me when I came here, so it is obviously a challenge. There was a ton to learn, both plays and strategies, but also how to relate to and communicate with women players. The new FIL Unified rules that change women’s lacrosse to 10-on-10 from 12-on-12, 6-on-6 settled offense and defense instead of 7-on-7 make it a little easier now, since the formations and plays will be more similar. But the first two seasons of full 12-on-12 women’s lacrosse was a very wild ride for me as a coach. We took 4th place at the DM in 2017 (when the Men’s team won Gold) and now 3rd place this past season. It has been very exciting to learn along with the women’s players. I love women’s lacrosse. I think it’s so fun. With the men’s team, the things we are working on in practice and games are usually things I have seen before. But with the women’s team, everything that happens is new and exciting. I will step in at training and play with the girls sometimes if we are not enough for 7-on-7 or 6-on-6. I think women’s lacrosse is so fun. If you’ve never played it before, I would highly recommend it.
DLAXN: You are not only a coach but an experienced referee. You reffed many international tournaments, including the World Championships 2018 in Israel. Why do you enjoy reffing so much and how did it influence you as a coach and person?
I was a Festival Referee in Israel this summer, so not an „official“ World Championship Referee. But I got to ref some of the scrimmages before the tournament started. I reffed the Germany vs Ireland scrimmage. That was really fun, reffing my Cologne guys playing for the National Team in an international game. That was special for me. I was also a Box Referee at the European Box Championships in Finland last summer. Also a very special experience.
Reffing actually takes me many more places than coaching or playing does. And I make more friends that way. The best part about refereeing is getting paid to watch lacrosse. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. Reffing a good game is a great feeling, because there are just a two or three refs, and so many players. You have to do a good job if the game is going to be good. The better job you do, the better the game is. Especially big, important games. You have to be good. It’s fun to be under pressure like that, but also trying to be invisible, so the players decide the game. I’ve reffed thousands of games in my life. So I’ve seen most things before. Not much catches me by surprise. But most importantly, refereeing makes you a better, smarter player and coach. If you are watching a thousand games from right there on the field, with the action right in front of you, then you begin to really understand what is happening, and what is about to happen. It also gives you an overview of everything that is happening in the game, in those very fast and exciting moments, not just what you can see from inside your helmet. So I’ve actually learned much more about lacrosse from being a referee than I have as a player or a coach.
Reffing also changes how you relate to everybody on the field, and in the lacrosse „family“ anywhere in the world. I can’t be an angry coach if I’m also a referee, because the referees are my friends and colleagues. I can’t be a dirty player, or an angry ref, because I will have to interact with the same people in a different context tomorrow or next week. I have to be nice, professional, courteous, and under control no matter what my role is. As a referee, because I’ve had people yell at me for so long, it takes a lot to make me upset.
DLAXN: Sometimes coaching can be pretty demanding, what keeps you going and what is your advice for young/inexperienced coaches?
You have to be knowledgeable. I see lots of coaches in different places that don’t have a lot of knowledge that they can teach, so they cover it up with lots of yelling. Or they can’t really catch and throw very well for example, but they still criticize their players for missing passes or ground balls. That’s not coaching. That’s not teaching. „Competence breeds Confidence“ is my favorite saying right now. You have to be a competent player to demonstrate what it is you are teaching your players, if you want people to listen to what you are saying.
I would say, „Just go anywhere and do anything.“ People ask me all the time how they can coach like I do, and my answer is always, „Buy plane tickets.“ The door is open if you want to go somewhere in the world and help a new or developing team. The less experienced your team is, the more you can help them, and the more they will love you. The more exciting and obvious the improvement will be. I will coach anybody. I will coach offense, defense, goalies, whatever. I get invited to travel and coach different teams all the time because my answer is usually „yes“. If you want to coach, start accepting invitations while you are learning. Coach youth lacrosse especially. If you can’t teach kids, then you can’t teach adults. Be knowledgeable. Reflect on your communication skills and style, and see how your messages are being received. Provide INSTRUCTION, not criticism.
DLAXN: Since you traveled to so many countries to ref, play or coach where would you rank Germany and why?
I would easily put Germany in the top 10 in the World, Top 3 in Europe, which is good because they (we?) won 9th place in Israel. München took 2nd at the Ken Galluccio Cup last month, falling to Poynton from England in the Championship Game. Although there are some other countries that are making progress and catching up, Germany is definitely up there in the top, and I hope we keep heading up. England, Scotland, Israel all provide great challenges. The most important part that I see is that lacrosse in Germany continues to attract high quality Athletes at a young age. Some of the English teams just have bigger players than the German teams. The Israelis are fast and skilled. If German Lacrosse continues to attract top-level athletic talent at a young age, 12-16 years old, then it will not be long before Germany will be winning European Box and Field Championships, and bringing home the gold at the Ken Galluccio Cup every year.
DLAXN: What is your favourite part about Germany?
Germany has been very welcoming to me. Especially the club and players in Cologne. This is a very friendly, polite, stable country. I feel at home here. German is a fun language to learn. And this is a great base for me to get involved with the whole European Lacrosse family, which I enjoy very much. To me it’s almost like Germany is the center of European Lacrosse. Some people might disagree, but that’s what my experience has been for the past two seasons, and I hope for many more.