Youth

Hot Pot Of Lax: Is Lacrosse Gear Holding Our Sport Back?

kentucky youth lacrosse players

Every equipment manufacturer that read the above headline just had a heart attack AND a stroke.  But they really shouldn’t be too worried, as this post is NOT about blame, but about how we can move forward, and how EVERYONE can win.  It’s not always possible to arrive at a win-win-win end game, but in this case we can, so it’s worth investigating!

Last week’s Hot Pot was all about playing with a target on your back, but this week’s Hot Potis all about how lacrosse gear can help our sport make the next big jump!

kentucky youth lacrosse players

We can GTG even better!

Now I’m not going to talk about, or criticize, the top end lacrosse equipment that is out there right now.  It’s competitively priced along the lines of hockey equipment and other sports gear, overall the quality level is actually quite high, and for a small sport, we are blessed with a plethora of different manufacturers.  Warrior/Brine, Nike, STX, Cascade, Maverik, Easton, Reebok, Under Armour, Gait, Tribe7, Mohawk, 1 Lacrosse, Silverfin, Epoch, C-12… the list just goes on and on.  Few other sports have this many companies manufacturing gear for them.  NO sports as small as lacrosse have this many suppliers.

Overall, when it comes to high level product, lacrosse is really doing quite well.

But where we fail, and have failed for years, is with the youth and beginner markets.  It’s what is holding our sport back, and it’s where we can make our fastest strides if done right.  Make it available, make it affordable, make it quality, and leave the kids something to shoot for in the future.  Set up the dominos so you can knock them down later!

That last sentence might seem a little harsh, but we need to remember that all of the above companies, are just that, companies, and they operate under certain restraints.  One of those restraints, and often the dominant one, is the fact that they need to make money.  I could go off in a crazy hypothetical world, but that wouldn’t help anyone.  So I’m trying to stay grounded in reality here.

So here are some simple recommendations I have for how lacrosse gear for beginners could be improved, and how it could help every single one of us not only Grow the Game, but also keep the lacrosse economy humming, all while getting new people involved in the game.  Like I said, it’s win-win-win.

Beginner’s Sticks Should NOT Be Offset

Last weekend, every single stick I saw at my 5th and 6th grade team practice was offset.  EVERY single one.  WHY?  A brand new player does NOT need an offset stick.  PERIOD.  Their skills are so raw that the offset does nothing to help them.  It might make catching and cradling “easier” but it also teaches the kids bad habits.  Their cradles are pretty brutal often times, but the offset makes up for it.  Same thing goes for catching.  Sure, it helps them be “better” right away, but in the end it actually hurts true skill development.

The second issue with offset heads is the added cost.  Every offset head utilizes a patent held by a single manufacturer.  In order for Manufacturer B to make an offset head, they must pay the one manufacturer who holds the patent.  So if kids don’t NEED offset heads, AND it hurts them as players, AND it costs more, why do we continue to do it?  It literally makes NO sense.

The final glaring issue with offset heads is the fact that it leaves NOWHERE for the young player to go.  The shape of the head or design of the sidewall might change a little, and the scoop could be different, or the head could be more narrow, but there is no MAJOR step up to take.  By selling onset heads for beginners, EVERY manufacturer would then have an instant first and second tier product structure, instead of the somewhat jumbled line up most currently offer.  The onset heads could be cheaper to sell, and they would give the kids something to shoot for as they improved.

Beginner’s Stick Mesh NEEDS To Be Better

I still see some beginner’s sticks out there with that super stretchy and soft mesh.  STOP USING THAT.  With a small pocket, the mesh can be great, but I’ve never met a kid who didn’t let their bottom string out and create a decent sized bag.  This is reality.  So stop using the super soft mesh, please.  Hard mesh, real soft mesh, or mid mesh is MUCH better.  This is a bare minimum request.  Super soft mesh is a skill killer, and it forces coaches across the country to constantly restring sticks.

Beginners Sticks Should Come With Stringing Manuals

EVERY single beginner’s stick should come with a stringing manual.  I would love to see EVERY stick come with one, but I’ll settle for the beginner’s sticks for now.  Heads used to come with a photocopy stringing instruction kit.  I’ll take that!  Anything is better than nothing.  The reason why?  Beginner’s tend to neglect their sticks.  Parents want to fix them, but often have NO idea how to even get started.

Overall, the beginner stick string jobs are pretty low quality from what I’ve personally seen.  So if companies are going to put out low end pockets, the least they can do is teach people how to fix them.  I have encountered at LEAST 10 kids in the last year who were playing lacrosse but hating it, because their factory beginner’s pocket was holding them back so much.  I replaced the pockets for these kids, and EVERY single one of them now enjoys the sport immensely.

Beginner Padding – Keep It Simple!

Simple doesn’t mean “not protective”, it means not complicated.  Cascade is a great example of how this can be done effectively with their youth lacrosse helmet.  The customization level is low, the flash level is low, but the protection level is there, and the lid is more affordable than their senior helmet models.  Cascade kept it simple and protective, and they gave the kids something to shoot for (a CPX-R or CPRO7) down the road.  Many companies try to follow this path, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Overall

In general, youth and beginner lacrosse equipment is decent.  The padding and helmets are in line and could use just a little tweaking.  The big issue surrounds the sticks, but if companies start selling onset sticks, with good pockets, using good mesh, everyone can win.  More people can play the game affordably at a young age, the manufacturers can lower their own costs, and create a differentiated, higher end category of gear for serious player, where the big profits will come in.  Win-win-win.

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About the author

Connor Wilson

Connor is the Publisher of LacrosseAllStars.com. He lives in Brooklyn with his better half, continues to play and coach both box and field lacrosse in NYC as much as possible, and covers the great game that is lacrosse full-time. He spends his spare time stringing sticks and watching Futurama.

7 Comments

  • Amen! So frustrating trying to teach fundamentals when almost every kid has a deep bag with tremendous whip. They don’t have the strength or ability to play with that type of stick, and all they pick up are bad habits. In the right climates, youth programs should mandate traditional pockets until a certain age. I remember hearing about a very successful girls school program that didn’t allow their players to use plastic heads until high school.

  • As far as youth equipment goes, I don’t think it’s too bad, Brine, STX, Maverik, and Gait all have pretty decent starter gear, and it’s often sold in a starter pack which makes it a little easier on Mom and Dad’s bank account. (actually, I’m just assuming that, I didn’t do the math.) 
    A lot of youth programs have gear exchange programs so as kids grow out of it, it can be used by the next group of youngsters.

    A true straight beginners stick would be great.  I would love to hear manufacturers open up about why they have not done that yet.  Maybe they would view it as a set back?  

    The relationship that players have with their stick is what really makes lacrosse unique.  I’m sure mesh quality is an area that manufactures skimp on to improve the bottom line, but it’s replaceable.  I’d rather a stick be cheaper.
    Stick maintenance is a skill that needs to be taught along with passing, catching, cradling, and shooting.  They need to understand how pocket depth is going to change the way the ball is released and how adjusting the shooting strings can make your stick throw better.  
    Would an hour of time spent on that at the start of the first practice be worth it if you don’t have to take the time to pull kids aside to fix their sticks?  (That’s a serious question, I’m not sure what the answer is.) 

    Final though on mesh.  Soft mesh isn’t awesome, but with a shallow pocket it’s not that bad, at least for a beginner.  Conner is right, there is better quality soft mesh that can be used, but it’s more expensive and that is going to get passed along to the consumer.  Hard mesh for beginners would cause different problems.  It has to be broken in and it would be harder to work with for someone who is new to lacrosse.  

    Great post, I love talking about this stuff.        

  • Mr. Wilson I completely agree, its not even just a problem at the young child’s level. These problems are also present at a school like ours! A lot of guys get discouraged because they can’t afford the equipment that you need to play. So most of the time it’s a lot of talent lost

  • To applaud the industry, starter gear is way better than when I got my kit in January ’02. I got a head with soft mesh and a plastic seam in the middle of the scoop, which broke 2.5 weeks later in the front yard. It’s also good that the PLH line of helmets is no longer around!

  • the main problem is the terrible quality stringings that the manufacturers put on thier heads. as a stringer, you know how to specificly tune your stick to your needs, but when players recieve heads with rock hard mesh and pocket deepness similar to girls sticks, they get discouraged because they cant catch or throw. kids always say thier sticks suck when really all they need is a better string job. companies should sell thier sticks unstrung and include a free stringing kit. i know its too expensive to hire professional stringers to work at the factories, but at least teach the workers that you have the proper technique. in giving kids terrible sticks, you are driving them away from your product and ultimately away from lacrosse. the begginer sticks that are on the market are very good, but they become obsolete unless they are properly strung.

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