Mike Bottinelli is the founder of Soft Lacrosse, which uses the sport of lacrosse to fight poverty, childhood obesity, and childhood hunger while supporting educational systems and communities. Through lacrosse, Soft Lacrosse gives youth the skills and attitude needed to become the best people they can be.
Mike is originally from Wyckoff, NJ where he began playing lacrosse in fourth grade. He tried other sports, but says he was drawn to games that let everyone handle the puck/ball. He notes that was hooked on lacrosse, which combines soccer’s finesse, football’s physicality, and basketball’s tempo. Mike began coaching younger players just two years after starting his lacrosse career and hasn’t looked back since. He has led many elite teams to national/regional championship appearances and has since shifted his focus to growing the game through a grassroots movement.
Mike played at Bergen Catholic High School and went on to play for Bowdoin College, a top DIII program where he earned a degree in neuroscience and also played varsity golf. In addition to running Soft Lacrosse’s NYC presence, Mike is an executive recruiter for investment funds. Soft Lacrosse has runs programs in West Virginia, Pittsburgh and suburban NJ.
Whose idea was it to start Soft Lacrosse?
New Jersey USL Hall of Fame Coach Bob Turco founded Soft Lacrosse in 1985 and started the first ever, indoor Soft Lacrosse leagues in 1991. Coach Turco has been named: Coach of the Year (1988), Lacrosse Man of the Year (1992), inducted into The Peddie School Athletic Hall of Fame (1996) and has lead dozens of teams to stellar heights.
Soft Lacrosse was recently reincorporated as a not-for-profit and its focus has shifted from elite talent development to providing accessible opportunities for all children. It provides character and athletic development while having FUN.
How is Soft Lacrosse different from other youth lacrosse programs in NYC? What is the mission?
Soft Lacrosse believes that all children should have the opportunity to better themselves and their communities through lacrosse. Our programs are financially accessible and use proprietary equipment so we can bring the sport to all ages and backgrounds. Our programs are non-contact and age-appropriate so we can have fun while learning fundamentals. Additionally, we partner with other not-for-profit entities across the country to incorporate holistic wellness programming.
What is special about the sport of lacrosse?
Lacrosse requires that all players handle the ball. There are no superstars on the lacrosse field; everyone gets involved in plays and even the best players don’t dominate single handedly.
As a new program what are some of the challenges you face?
Lacrosse isn’t as well-known as other youth sports. Our main challenge is to build familiarity with the game. Once families see us in action, the game has an incredible draw.
Are there other coaches with Soft Lacrosse and what do they bring to the program?
We have dozens of coaches of all backgrounds. Many of them were former college athletes, some are even professionals. Each coach is with us because they believe in our mission and the importance of working with children.
What has been your proudest moment as a lacrosse coach?
One of my players, I was told, was fairly uninterested in sports. His parents signed him up for my program and he begrudgingly picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time. By the end of the day he had an ear-to-ear smile and asked about when he could play again. After a few weeks his father pulled me aside to tell me that his son was non-stop talking about lacrosse and about how much he loves the game. He even chose the sport as his essay topic in school. This is why we exist as an organization: to inspire and excite children.
What do you look for when you hire a coach to work with kids?
I look for coaches that love the “ah-ha!” moment. The second when something internal clicks into place and a new idea is solidified. Our coaches extend this idea beyond lacrosse by showing how fun learning can be.
What was the best advice you got from a coach?
A play that results in a scored goal typically starts minutes beforehand, when a teammate picks up a ground ball. Coach Turco (mentioned above) coined the phrase “one goal”, a chant that ends all of our Soft Lacrosse sessions. This phrase serves as a reminder that any great success is the culmination of smaller, incremental achieved goals, completed one at a time.
What is your favorite sports venue in New York City and why?
The tennis court in Grand Central. The building itself is awe-inspiring and serves millions of people every day. One enters the city through Grand Central and feels like royalty. It’s a place for everyone and has hidden gems within.
Favorite sports movie?
Coach Carter. Coach’s high standards and goal-setting resonate with me. His tactics and the discipline instilled in his players are not necessarily aligned with Soft Lacrosse’s mission but there are learnings to take away.
Best sports memory?
When I was considering colleges, I brought my equipment with me so I could play with my potential teammates. The Bowdoin team and I played for a few hours and was so much fun that I decided right then that I’d do whatever it took to get on the team.