US Lacrosse Sankofa Clinician Sophia Lugo was introduced to lacrosse as a high school freshman in Chicago. She remains active in the sport today in several ways, including as a coach with Puerto Rico’s Women’s National Team program.

Tell us about your background. 
I was born and raised in Chicago. Both of my parents were born in Puerto Rico and moved to Chicago. I attended Indiana University and majored in sport marketing & management. I also played club lacrosse there for four years.

How did you get started in lacrosse? 
I didn't start playing until my freshmen year of high school. I went to one of the three Chicago public high schools that offered girls’ lacrosse at the time. I knew that I wanted to play a sport in high school, but the school I went to was really big and highly competitive in all sports. They did a lacrosse demonstration for us during my freshmen orientation and I knew that it was my opportunity to get into athletics.

How do you stay involved in the sport of lacrosse?
Lacrosse has become part of my everyday life. After college my first job was with a youth lacrosse league, then I worked in lacrosse retail for several years, and I have also always coached and stayed involved in the game. My coaching experience has expanded to the collegiate level as well as international play once I became a part of Puerto Rico Lacrosse.

Tell us about your involvement with the Puerto Rico Women’s National Team?
Being involved with Puerto Rico Lacrosse is something that was only a dream of mine. I had no idea it even existed, so when I was sent a screenshot of a retweet from OfficialLaxGirl (shoutout to Tari), there was this initial shock that this was something I could get involved in and then it became a reality once I reached out to the organization. Being on the sidelines coaching the U19 team at the World Championships in 2019 was something that I could never have imagined as a 14-year-old when I was trying lacrosse for the first time. 

What does it mean to you for the sport of lacrosse to become more diverse?
The first team I ever played on was very diverse, reflective of the fact that it was a Chicago public school team and had the demographic makeup of the general student population and the city of Chicago. It wasn't until I really tried to expand my learning of and exposure to the sport that I saw the real lack of diversity within lacrosse. As city kids, we had to travel pretty far for most of our games and as a team, we were never really taken seriously as true competitors. Watching the sport grow within Chicago and other surrounding areas has been amazing. Chicago still has a long way to go in terms of providing its schools with the proper funding to assist with increasing lacrosse diversity, but when I take a more macro look at the game at the national and international levels, there are small strides being made. What is unfortunate is that, like the world outside of lacrosse, everyone does not see diversity as a good thing.

What do you like most about being a Sankofa Clinician?
Meeting other coaches that have made an impact in their areas and have the same dedication to the sport and truly represent what lacrosse should be has been the most refreshing for me. Being able to grow my lacrosse family and know that I can now go to different cities across the country and meet up with a fellow Sankofa clinician is very comforting. It has also challenged me to be a better coach and person by learning from all of them. A close second is talking to the kids that we work with, either after the clinics or in between activities. Hearing their excitement or even their frustration in the beginning, and then being able to celebrate the small wins within the two hours we have with them really brings me back to why I started playing and coaching and why I want to continue to grow the game. 

Did you play other sports?
Growing up I was mostly the little sister that was a spectator at all of my brother's sporting events. I was very involved with dance before I found lacrosse and was part of a Puerto Rican Folkloric dance group, where I learned traditional dances from Puerto Rico and the rest of Latin America. Lacrosse has been the only sport I have played competitively.

How important is it for younger individuals to be diversified in sports and not focus on one sport at a young age?
Your curiosity is one of the best things about growing up because you are able to try anything and everything until you truly find what keeps your interest. Diversifying your interests, both athletically and otherwise, also prevents a kid from burning out and feeling too much pressure. I think specializing at a young age really shortens someone's trajectory with something because it very quickly isn't about the fun of trying something. It gets overly competitive too fast.

What other activities do you like to be a part of during your free time?
That's an interesting question these days! Pre-pandemic, it was exploring new restaurants and coffee shops in Chicago and other cities around the country. I also enjoy lazy days of reading or binge-watching shows, and I occasionally dabble in CrossFit.

How has the increase in social justice and racial awareness in our country impacted you?
Social justice and racial awareness has been something that I have always been passionate about and intrigued by. It is something I am constantly learning and reading and challenging myself and others about. I have never shied away from an uncomfortable conversation and those conversations have been happening much more often lately. This is a topic that needs to maintain the momentum it currently has as there are so many systems in place, within every established structure in our society, that should be evaluated to ensure that they are inclusive and anti-racist. I have also challenged myself to learn more and continue to grow. I have enrolled in continued education coursework so that I can take these conversations into my professional career, both in and outside of lacrosse. 

How do you encourage people to engage in conversations about diversity and inclusion?
I think the most important and first step is for people to self-educate. Yes, asking questions is great, but also understanding that it is not a BIPOC's duty to constantly educate others on their experience or answer baseline questions. Everyone should do the initial work of educating themselves on things as simple as the definitions of these concepts so the conversation can be about how things can move in the right direction. I believe that understanding your athletes and their respective identities is very important. Making everyone feel seen and accepted is key. Things like using the preferred pronoun of your athlete and knowing their home dynamics is how to nurture an inclusive space for everyone. 

Are there any encouraging words you have for everyone as we come near to the end of the year 2020? 
One of my favorite quotes comes from baseball player and humanitarian Roberto Clemente. “Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don't, then you are wasting your time on Earth.” Especially now, we all have so many opportunities to make a difference in our own little bubbles, which can contribute to making a larger difference in our sport and society as a whole. Let's not waste any more time and start making our marks! 

The previous article is featured in the monthly US Lacrosse Diversity, Equity & Inclusion newsletter. Want to receive the newsletter? Let us know by sending an email to diversityprograms@uslacrosse.org