If you spend enough time and energy making sure your stick is throwing, catching, and shooting correctly, you will discover that there is magic in the stick.
Player's will NEVER reach their potential if they do not put time into understanding the physics and maintenance of the stick.
It can make all the difference.
Not even a good player can overcome the limits of the uncared for stick.
Time and care must be shown to make the sticks magic come alive.
"even today, when an Iroquois player dies, he is buried with his stick."
Stringing tips from Paul Gait
February 22, 2005
Paul Gait, now retired from playing lacrosse, has been a NLL and MLL All-Star and played for Team Canada and Syracuse. This article appeared in the 2003 Instructional Issue.
Let me start by saying I’m a traditionalist at heart, or as some might say nowadays, an old-school guy.
I’ve rarely used mesh pockets, and when I have, it hasn’t always gone well. The problem stems from my first Final Four appearance my freshman year at Syracuse when I was using a stick with a new pocket. We were playing Cornell and I was sent in early and told by head coach Roy Simmons to go to the goal. I got in, made my move and headed toward the goal. But it took me a couple of steps before I realized the ball had fallen out of my stick. Same thing happened on my next shift and I was benched the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, my replacement—my twin brother Gary—went on to score five goals and was named to the All-Tournament Team. So my poor performance with a mesh stick created the opportunity that started one of the greatest careers in NCAA history. Gary’s never thanked me, and I’ve never used mesh again.
Growing up in Western Canada, I learned the game using all-leather, traditional pockets. These pockets expanded and shrunk as you used them, and therefore required near-constant attention. Back then I spent as much time adjusting my pocket as I did playing. By the time I got my stick throwing just right, Mother Nature threw me a curve ball, raining on practice and starting the adjustment process all over again. These inconsistencies made it imperative that I understand how a ball releases from the pocket, and how to adjust the pocket to make the ball release accurately.
I went through nine years of adjusting and readjusting before I discovered the nylon bootlace. I took some laces from my dad’s old work boots and strung up one of my sticks. The stretching problem was solved.
Even though the ball had a tendency to slide on the nylon cross lace and fall out of the pocket easier than in an all-leather pocket, this seemed like a fair tradeoff considering the increased accuracy and reduced amount of maintenance. I could practice my stick protection skills in the time I normally spent adjusting my pocket and have a lot more fun doing it.
When I turned 13 I started playing field lacrosse. This presented a new problem—the muddy lacrosse field. Our season started in November and finished in April (the rainy season), so we practiced and played in very muddy conditions. Luckily some of the older players had discovered the all-plastic head and a one-piece, all-weather pocket called mesh.
It was my first exposure to mesh, and the combination of the nylon head and mesh pocket allowed you to wash the stick without damaging it. Although it was a major improvement for playing in the mud, I couldn’t feel the ball in the pocket and it had a tendency to roll around and fly out. I couldn’t adapt to it very easily so I always went back to my traditional pocket when the field conditions allowed.
Since then, and even since my freshman year troubles against Cornell, there have been some major improvements in head and pocket design. These have led to mesh’s increased popularity. In fact, the trend toward mesh pockets has been very obvious over the past 15 years. When I left Syracuse in 1990, more than 90 percent of lacrosse sticks sold had traditional pockets. Now over 90 percent of the sticks sold today have mesh pockets.
There are some major reasons for this trend. First off, soft mesh pockets have become standard on all entry-level lacrosse sticks, which make up about 30 percent of stick sales. Second, there’s the increased popularity of coated mesh, which allows the pocket to grip the ball in a similar fashion to the traditional pocket. Third, and most important, is the change in head designs. The new head shapes are designed to create narrow pockets that greatly improve the pocket’s feel and ball-retention ability. Lastly, most young players today want to spend their time playing lacrosse, not stringing and adjusting their pockets. For those of you trying to decide on a pocket, below are some thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of different types of mesh and other factors that affect performance.
Soft mesh was the original and is still one of the more popular types of mesh. For the most part, it’s been relegated to the entry-level or youth-level stick. Its soft texture makes it easier to catch the ball at lower speeds, and there’s almost no break-in period because the nylon is almost fully stretched when it’s strung into the head.
Soft mesh also creates a full pocket that has a sweet spot in the three major pocket areas. Having a pocket in all three areas is crucial when learning the skills used in the game. The lower sweet spot helps while cradling in a vertical position. The middle sweet spot helps when cradling with two hands and puts the ball in a good position for passing. The upper sweet spot—located just below the shooting strings—improves a player’s ability to pick up groundballs and allows for an increased wind-up when shooting hard.
The drawback of soft mesh is that the ball has a tendency to roll around and slide in the pocket. This inhibits ball retention and accuracy. One way to improve ball retention in soft mesh pockets is to put in V-shooting strings to reduce the amount of roll and improve accuracy.
My first experience using a V-shooting string was during my freshman year at Syracuse. John Zulberti used a V-shooting string and claimed it improved accuracy, so I tried one on my bad-weather stick (an STX Excalibur with soft mesh) and it was a definite improvement. In fact, that particular stick was shooting so well that I switched over to it full-time. Unfortunately, it came back to haunt me in the Final Four against Cornell.
Hard Mesh. Dura-Mesh. Stiff Mesh. Whatever you want to call it, coated mesh—soft mesh dipped in a rubberized paint—has become the mesh of choice for the bulk of the lacrosse community. Most of the high-end sticks sold today have coated mesh pockets.
The advantages of a coated mesh pocket are really felt most by an experienced player. The pocket requires a considerable break-in period but allows a player to create sweet spots where desired. An attackman may want a low pocket that improves ball retention and allows for a quick release, while a midfielder may want a sweet spot up high and in the middle for picking up looseballs and cradling two-handed.
The coating allows the pocket to grip the rubber ball to prevent it from sliding around. This creates ball retention and accuracy similar to a traditional pocket. Incorporate V-shooting strings and it will be comparable to any traditional pocket from a performance standpoint. The ease of stringing and the weatherproof benefits make the coated mesh a great replacement for the traditional pocket.
I was first introduced to large-diamond mesh by the founder of Shamrock lacrosse, Ron McNeal. He had taken a piece of a hockey net and strung it into one of his sticks. It was a five-diamond mesh piece (traditional mesh has 12 diamonds) that was uncoated and very soft. In fact, it was too soft.
The softer the pocket, the more whip or hook it will have when throwing. The idea behind it was to make the pocket feel more like a traditional five-diamond pocket. The larger the diamonds, the better the feel and ball retention.
Brine took this concept and added the coating so that it would throw with less whip. It became an instant success that had a very successful run.
However, the drawback was that it was very inconsistent while throwing. The pocket requires constant maintenance and has a tendency to shrink when not in use and stretch while you’re playing. This type of effort to maintain a consistent pocket is what has made the all-leather and traditional pockets a thing of the past.
I first learned to bake my nylon lacrosse head from Kevin Alexander, a teammate of mine in 1983. (He is also the person who showed Gary and I how to offset a handle). The concept was to make the head narrow like our wooden box sticks. This allowed for better ball retention and a more accurate release. Modern lacrosse head designs have incorporated this narrow pocket feature and have greatly improved a mesh pocket’s ability to hold and shoot the ball accurately. The only drawback to using a narrow pocket head is that it may be more difficult to catch the ball. One of the trends in head design is to widen the top of the sidewalls while narrowing the bottom where the pocket attaches to make it easier to catch. This is an old concept based on designs like the Brine Super Light II tabs and the Shamrock sidewall wings.
Another major innovation that has helped increase the popularity of mesh pockets is multiple stringing holes. Having several options allows pockets to be attached to a head in many different ways to suit all varieties of pockets.
The increasing varieties of pocket designs are probably the biggest reason mesh has taken over as the pocket of choice. I have seen hundreds of mesh pockets that are all different. Some may be unique in the way the sidewall lace is strung or in the number of shooting strings.
The key to any good stringing job is to make sure it works for the player using it. The main things to consider are ball retention, pocket shape and ball release.
Ball retention can be improved by creating a lip under the sidewall and adding a V-shooting string. Pocket shape is determined by individual needs. For example, if you pick up a lot of looseballs, you should have a pocket on the shooting strings. If you cradle with two hands, you will want a deep pocket in the middle of the head. If you cradle in a vertical position, there should be a sweet spot under the ball stop.
The pocket release is determined by two things: the amount of travel in a pocket and the adjustment of the shooting strings. Travel is determined by the distance from the bottom of the pocket and the height of the release point on the scoop. That distance will determine the release point of the ball. The shooting strings work in conjunction with the travel to determine how quickly the ball will travel out of the pocket.