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!
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.
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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