Last week I decided to take a deep dive into a topic that I’ve been interested in for years. As the name of our online journal suggests, we are exploring the field in an effort to uncover the untold stories of lacrosse and shine light on the important people inside our community. I’m honored to have the opportunity to write about lacrosse and peel back the layers of this beautiful game.
When I look back at the recorded history of lacrosse there’s an interesting and glaring detail that really stands out to me – something I feel is unique to our sport and a topic worth learning more about: Why does lacrosse seem to have such a prolific and pronounced history of brotherly success? The Gaits, Seivolds, Stanwicks, Thompsons, Leveilles, Merrills, Pannells, Bitters, Coffmans, and the list goes on and on and on. Find a name at the top of the record books, scroll down the list a little bit and chances are you will find his brother. I don’t think you can say that about any other sport. Of course there are a few rare cases in other sports where family members achieve success like the Williams sisters in tennis and the Barbers (Ronde and Tiki) in football. But the list is not nearly as prolific as lacrosse. Why is that? What is it about lacrosse that makes it such a breeding ground for collective family success?
To help me get closer to answering these questions I called upon my personal favorite lacrosse playing brothers, Blake and Cort Kim, to see if they had any insight into this topic. I will start by saying that I’ve never met two more genuine people in my life. They are easily two of the most well respected figures in lacrosse. If you’ve ever been at the Lake Placid tournament, the Final Four or the convention and noticed a set of twins walking around carrying sticks, smiling and talking with just about everyone, then you’ve seen the Kims. They are incredible ambassadors, lacrosse preservation experts and I am happy to say two of my best friends.
Their lacrosse story starts in 1984 at Guilderland High where they discovered the sport, like many of us did, in gym class. “The gym teacher brought out a bunch of those all-plastic head lacrosse sticks, and I have to tell you, I was not at all sold on the sport. You ever try catching with one of those things? Brutal. I ended up borrowing a real lacrosse stick from a friend that year. I took it home and Blake and I took turns using it while the other used a baseball glove. We practiced passing back and forth with a stick and baseball glove until we got the hang of it, enough to want to ask our parents to get us sticks of our own”, Cort explained. This sort of introduction to lacrosse was commonplace in those days. Blake and Cort didn’t realize it at the time but, in the years to come, this sport would completely sweep them off their feet and change their lives forever.
They were already gifted athletes equipped with a heavy appetite for competition and physicality. The more reserved and artistic twin Blake says, “We actually enjoyed playing a variety of different sports as young kids: backyard football, tennis, soccer, hoops, running track (sprint distances), road biking, etc. And while I wish we had picked up sports like ice hockey, golf and skiing at a young age, I know I personally liked the combination of many different sports that lacrosse had to offer (as well as the skills required): agility, speed & quickness, good hand-eye coordination, physicality, teamwork. I believe we felt like the sport fit our overall skill set well, and we quickly fell in love with developing our stick skills. We would just have a catch and shoot on the goal in our backyard for hours and hours a day.”
From there the Kim Brothers’ love for lacrosse blossomed and the grass in their backyard began dying off as a result of days and days of intense training sessions. Like most Upstate NY hardworking families, they made their first goal out of what was cheap, easy and available. Cort laughs about it now and says “We built our first lacrosse goal out of 2×4’s. I don’t remember where we got the net from, but it was an actual lacrosse goal net, I think. We didn’t account for the weight and tension of the net pulling back on the uprights, so it used to lean back a little.” Blake adds, “Our backyard seemed to be pretty huge when we were younger. The space was mostly flat and our parents put a decent-sized garden with a small picket fence in the corner opposite the lacrosse goal that they had purchased for us in our junior year of high school. There was a small bird bath just beyond the 5&5 area of the right wing. Shots that didn’t hit the back of the net always had the potential of caroming off a pipe or the crossbar to either hit the back of our house or sail over the fence. I can still vividly recall the way Cort & I would quickly look at each other with frightful anticipation of hearing a neighbor’s house siding get hit whenever a ball sailed high over the fence; thankfully, we never heard a window shatter!”
It was clear at this stage of my interview with the twins that they both had some fond memories of playing together in their backyard. I could certainly relate to this as I share many of the same experiences growing up in my backyard with my brothers. So maybe this was my first discovery. Maybe brotherly success in lacrosse has something to do with the private training environment of the backyard. Most all other sports require public access. To play tennis, you need to go find a public court. To play basketball, you either find your neighborhood hoop, gymnasium or you’re in clear view of passing cars in your front driveway. To play football and baseball, you need more people and usually more space. All you needed to play lacrosse was your brother and a goal. So could it be that this closed practicing environment, out of sight from the public eye, is a factor? Could the protected solitude of backyard ball play a role in encouraging creativity, competition and development of an athletic imagination? When no one is there to see, you can truly hone your craft because you aren’t scared of failure.
So with environment possibly playing a role, I decided to discuss the amount of time spent together to see if that also had something to do with it. Blake explained, “Cort and I spent SO much time just practicing together. We stopped playing football after our sophomore year in high school and, although we certainly wouldn’t encourage the kids who we currently coach to follow this example, we only focused on the sport of lacrosse for our remaining years in high school. All of that free time after school during the fall meant big off-season strides in stick skills for us. It never felt like work to us – we loved the whole process, and still do to this day.” He later added, “Several years back, I had posted an old TBT clip on Facebook and a friend of ours commented in a way that I believe encapsulates the notion of brotherly success in lacrosse: “The brother radar is unbeatable. Who else has anyone thrown 30,000 passes to in their backyard than a brother?”
It’s no mystery that practice plays a tremendous role in athletic achievement. But is there something about playing catch with the same person your whole life that affords you a comfortable zone to improve? One of the many things I find interesting about the Kim Brothers is that, like the Gaits, they are twins. For the most part, it was an equal playing field for them. They shared a very similar starting point – same time period, same environment, similar physical attributes. I’m not going to get into twin dynamics and social experiments here but it’s worth noting that they learned the sport together at the same time. Maybe one developed a skill quicker than the other but through constant repetition and a real life visual training guide they seemed to eventually even out.
This leads me to another potential factor in my quest to understand brotherly success in lacrosse – visual guidance.
I’m the first one to admit, I struggle learning things through spoken or written words. I need to SEE it done, that’s how my brain works. Blake and Cort have one of the largest video vaults of lacrosse footage that exists anywhere in the world. They’ve been recording lacrosse games since the mid 80’s and have luckily saved all of them and remarkably can recall most of them right down to the play. I asked Cort how important visual learning and watching lacrosse was to their development as players. “Watching lacrosse was EVERYTHING to our development. It’s where we learned nearly everything about lacrosse. Back then, there were no lacrosse camps, no lacrosse clinics, no travel teams, and no internet, so no YouTube! We were big into recording things on VHS way back when, especially sports highlights (football, This Week In Baseball, cycling, etc.). We missed the 1985 NCAA final on ESPN, but we were all over the 1986 semi and final. By then, we were hooked, and the anticipation for those two games was like that of opening presents on Christmas Day. We watched those two games countless times – no lie. We had scouting reports on everyone on those teams, even though we had no idea what a scouting report was at the time. We have ALWAYS paid attention to others who played lacrosse. I could go on and on about this, but one of the beauties of lacrosse is the individual expression it brings out in each and every player. Even identical twins have subtle differences in their respective games and the way they handle their sticks. It’s as unique as their DNA. I love that about lacrosse. So many others have influenced us along the way, and still do.”
The Kims would watch lacrosse, retain the information and then apply it to their games. This is not uncommon at all for athletes to learn this way, but what makes them unique is the fact that they weren’t going out to practice it alone. They went out together with moves in mind and could actually watch the other one perform and continue the learning process. So, perhaps this visual guidance is something that helps brothers develop collectively on the same curve.
After high school, the twins went on to have great college careers at the University of Albany just minutes from their backyard. They played the game fast. They were small, quick and tenacious. It was their stick skills however that really set them apart. Heavily inspired by the Gaits, they carried the ball like Canadian box players – crafty, spontaneous and sharp, #3 (Cort) and #9 (Blake) played on the same attack line with one another. All of their experience playing together made them hard to guard as a duo. They were always on the same page and comfortable. Cort talked about this connection with Blake, “All those hours of having a catch with him have fostered a deep trust. That’s the real secret to brotherly success, in my opinion – the trust you develop after hours upon hours of connecting with a catch. It breeds tremendous confidence – the strongest of expectations – that he will make the pass that I need thrown, or that he will catch any pass that I’ve thrown him. It strengthens that understanding between two blood brothers. It strengthens our connection.”
That brings up an interesting thought — could trust be a factor? Could knowing your brothers game actually help yours? I think so, especially if you are teammates. Could this feeling of not letting them down provide a relentless drive? I asked Blake about how a twin helps with drive, “For as long as I can remember, we have always been extremely competitive with one another, and I believe that attitude naturally carried over to our competitive nature toward other players or teams we faced. It was probably a bit detrimental when we were really young; for example, we could NEVER be placed on separate teams in anything or we would end up in a fight, and I think other young kids in the neighborhood just didn’t understand that.”
On the positive side of things, whenever I saw Cort try something new (whether it was lacrosse or anything really), it would motivate me to try to do it as well. When we got into lifting weights in high school, we always had a spotter when working out and we always pushed each other to achieve things that we probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve on our own.” Trust in a person is a powerful thing, so I don’t think we can rule out trust as one of the biggest factors in lacrosse brotherly success.
So I think we’ve got some pretty good leads that will guide us down the never ending path of exploration. I would like to take this time to thank Blake and Cort for so thoughtfully answering my questions and helping me develop a deeper understanding of yet another completely unique element of lacrosse. Something I’ve mentioned in the past and will continue to present going forward is my love for the people of lacrosse. We are part of something really spectacular and special, and the Kims are a perfect example of this. We could all learn a lot from them about how to treat lacrosse. Their love for each other and their family is easily their most admirable quality.
Although not by blood, I always consider the Kims my lacrosse brothers.