Nat St. Laurent Wins With People
By Doug Greenberg | Jul 23, 2020
Everybody wants to know the secret to Nat St. Laurent’s success. In only the last few years, the 40-year-old has built two lacrosse programs from nothing into winning teams: Division III Ohio Northern University has never experienced a losing season since St. Laurent became the team’s founding head coach in 2016, while the Redwoods improbably reached the Championship Game during PLL’s inaugural season in 2019.
But for the man himself, the answer to winning in lacrosse is obvious.
“The relationships that you get to build, the friends that you make, without question,” he says. “You win with people and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a bunch of awesome people.”
Nearly everything St. Laurent does, whether it’s between the lines or outside them, is with the intention of bettering those around him. He believes the key to his success, both as a coach to lacrosse players and a mentor to young men, is respect for everybody. It’s something he’s fought for his entire life.
Resiliency in the Face of Adversity
There were two moments in Nat St. Laurent’s life where he knew he needed to do more. The first was on September 11, 2001.
“[I was] feeling so angry, frustrated for all these people that lost loved ones,” he says. “That was the first time in my life that I was like ‘You gotta do more, you have to do something else.’”
St. Laurent took action and joined the US Army Reserve where he taught ROTC students and deploying soldiers in various maneuvers. His time around the military shaped his views on putting the interests of the team above those of the individual, which would follow him into his lacrosse coaching career.
“It truly, truly taught me that I was part of something so much bigger than me,” St. Laurent says. “I realized that yeah it’s about me, but it’s about me making sure that I’m holding myself accountable and doing all these little things right to be able to wear the American flag on my shoulder when I put this uniform on. And that represented so much more than me.”
“Accountability, punctuality, and attention to detail, that’s certainly present in all of our meetings and practices,” says Redwoods midfielder Jack Near. “It speaks a lot to the team-first mentality. The only way to get through whatever you’re going through is with a team.”
St. Laurent often takes this level of accountability to extreme lengths.
“As a leader, he’s willing to accept all blame on whatever outcome results,” says Redwoods defenseman Eddy Glazener. “But he’s willing to share any success that comes from the team. Which I think is something that all of us players are trying to learn and you learn through teamwork.
“The most elite way of learning something like that is through service. So he’s certainly shown that in his ability to take responsibility for things that aren’t even his fault.”
To that end, St. Laurent’s ideologies shined through in one of his most difficult professional moments. Following the loss to Whipsnakes in last season’s Championship Game, he shouldered much of the blame himself.
“I know how I felt about that, I felt terrible for my team,” he says “I let these young men down. It’s been something that’s really fueled me and really been at the forefront of my mindset since that game. It was an unbelievable experience and to lose it was very difficult.”
“I know for a fact that he took it just as hard as anybody else. And not because he wanted to win, but I think because he knew how bad we wanted to win,” says Glazener.
But Coach Nat is quick to point out the lighter side of that game; the Redwoods trailed by as many seven points near the end of the third quarter and ended up leading Whipsnakes with less than a minute remaining in the game. He also notes that Woods’ chances of even making the playoffs were slim in the final weeks of the 2019 season.
“There’s no quit on the team, there’s no quit in Nat,” says Near. “There’s no ‘poor me’ or ‘this isn’t going well for me.’ It’s all about the team.”
“If you watch that game and you look at our huddles, he’s just talking about chipping away and we don’t quit,” says Redwoods midfielder and longtime St. Laurent collaborator Kyle Harrison. “We keep going.”
It all comes back to the never-say-die attitude and passion for the sport from the coach.
“A big piece of that is knowing and understanding and buying into the fact that we’re never out of anything,” St. Laurent says. “In the game of lacrosse, and it’s why I love it so much, you’re never out of it.”
Molding Young Men
The second moment in which St. Laurent felt he needed to do more was earlier this year when George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police. For the Redwoods coach, it was a painful reminder of the struggle of being black in America, but it also spurred him to become a leader for meaningful change in the sport he has committed his life to.
“I quit playing lacrosse,” he recalls from his early years. “This game that I love, I quit playing it for a while because I was told that my people can’t play this game. That I needed to stick with basketball and football from a varsity player. And I remember how I felt.”
“It really kicked off in the coaching world in lacrosse when Coach Nat put out that tweet,” says Harrison. “I’m not surprised that he stepped up and is leading the charge here, but it’s also been really pivotal for me. He’s a guy I’ve bounced a lot of ideas off of as we try to navigate what we are going to do in the PLL when it comes to Black Lives Matter and everything that’s happening in our world.”
“This sport is for everybody,” St. Laurent says.
These two pivotal moments in the history of Nat St. Laurent compelled him to become something greater than himself, but by no means do they define him. The man who answered the call in his country’s time of need and who is currently answering it again did so because it’s who he is at his core.
“He just wants to make sure we’re doing things the right way. I know he has a military background and I’m sure he learned a ton there, but I also think that’s just him,” says Harrison. “I got the feeling since I met him that that’s really just his personality.”
It’s a personality that always strives to make others better. Through St. Laurent’s teachings and wisdom, his players not only become better lacrosse players but also better people.
“It doesn’t feel like a typical player-coach relationship, it feels like a little bit more than that,” Near says. “There’s a genuine connection. He values everybody’s input and he takes the extra step to make sure he hears what that input is.”
“He does the little things that make you really appreciate him,” says Glazener. “Every single pregame stretch, he comes by and gives everybody a hug. That’s just his way of expressing that he cares for all his players equally and that he wants everybody to achieve.”
“In wanting to make sure he’s molding young men and teaching us the right way to do things, he’s a bit of a mentor to all the players and coaches,” Harrison says.
St. Laurent’s belief in people will undoubtedly keep him in the conversation as one of the game’s most effective coaches. But he hopes that it will also lead to something greater.
“We as coaches are in a great spot to help change the game and work with young people that can, quite frankly, change the world,” says St. Laurent. “We can do it if we work together and put our differences aside. Focus on how we’re alike more so than how different, and we can make this place a better world.”