Beware, today’s Hot Pot of Lax is SERIOUS!
This week’s Hot Pot victim: The Pockets That Lacrosse Manufacturers Put In Youth Sticks
Youth lacrosse sticks get a lot of heat from the gear heads out there, but when the rubber hits the road, the plastic isn’t the issue. It’s true that sticks designed for youth players are usually more flimsy, and noticeably cheaper, than their elite and mid-range counterparts. And it’s true that an adult player will probably break a youth head very quickly if they were to use it in a competitive game, but again, that’s not the problem. The single reason that youth sticks are holding back the game are the POCKETS that manufacturers put into these sticks.
Back in the day, you used to get a Brine stick, in either mesh or traditional, that had been strung by a bunch of old ladies sitting in a room about 45 minutes West of Boston. They weren’t lacrosse players obviously, but when you got a stick, you could see that time had been taken to do it according to the manual, and that corners weren’t cut. The strings were taught, the pocket was stiff, but with a little wall ball, anyone could have a perfectly acceptable pocket in their first lacrosse stick.
This was true up through the early 2000s. You could still, for the most part, buy a new stick for beginners and with a little work, go out and use it pretty quickly. How things have changed!
Nowadays, I have to restring almost ALL of the pockets on the sticks of my 5th and 6th grade players. And there are two really noticeable differences in the sticks coming out for kids today when compared with sticks of yesteryear: 1) the materials used in the pockets are of a noticeably lower quality and 2) the actual string jobs themselves are just plain AWFUL.
A normal piece of mesh usually bags out in rain. That’s to be expected. But the kind of mesh most manufacturers put in sticks today (STX, Brine and Reebok are great examples here) is of the absolute lowest quality. So when it rains, the pockets on most of the kids out there bag out to insane proportions. Kids who had sticks that were legal by half a ball’s width played for 5 minutes in the rain, and then had sticks that were ILLEGAL by half a ball’s width. This is simply unacceptable.
The sidewalls, topstring and even the shooters are also of a low quality and fray and break quickly. The strings in beginners’ sticks are also often quite thick, but still cheap, and this results in poorly string pockets. Knots don’t hold well with cheap string. Stringing holes that could usually accommodate 2 passes through can only handle one, and many stringing techniques are therefore eliminated.
The heads cost the companies DOLLARS to make (like $4 per head or something ridiculous like that) and then sell them for $40, which is affordable for most people. But they increase their profit margin by using lower quality mesh, and strings, and this hurts their product, and the players using it, much more than using a cheaper plastic ever would. These pockets are unreliable, change with the weather like crazy and wear out very quickly. So while the head and shaft are fine, the pocket falls apart. It’s almost as if the sticks are actually DESIGNED to fail!!!! One Brand that stands out to me as putting a higher quality pocket in their sticks is Warrior. Their youth heads are not elite heads, but the plastic is thick, they are strong and stiff and the pocket is usually pretty decent as long as one stays away from the soft mesh. But one should never buy beginner’s soft mesh. It’s the worst stuff in the world. Talk about bag city! But I digress.
Now maybe I’m way off with my math and it costs more than I know it does to product a head. Ok. We’ll give the manufacturers the benefit of the doubt here. And we’ll just assume that they HAVE to use the materials they use to stay profitable. Fine. But that still doesn’t explain why the actual stringing in most youth sticks is still SO bad.
The mesh is almost NEVER pulled tight across the top of the heads. So almost every youth stick develops a lip in the rain or if the kids loosen any strings, which they often do. The sidealls are a joke. Mesh holes are rarely tied down to the plastic, so the whole piece of mesh usually slides up and down the side of the stick, which gives kids a lot of whip when they’re only just starting, and makes it very difficult to teach them how to throw and catch properly.
The shooting strings being 3 across or 2 across and a V is immaterial, but the fact that shooters are almost never attached to the plastic IS a huge issue, and leads to even more problems with kids throwing off of the plastic lip of the scoop. Most youth sticks also leave off the nylon shooter and rely solely on hockey laces, which is a stringing 101 mistake. Come on, guys! These are the basics here!
Fianlly, it’s rare that sticks come with company stringing manuals anymore. And I find this more bizarre than anything. The plastic and metal of a stick DOES NOT REALLY MATTER. The Pocket is the most important thing. But now companies don’t even show you how to maintain or create a pocket in a lacrosse stick? Wow. And this is what makes me think that the crappy pockets are on purpose. This stick is just the beginning, and sooner rather than later, the kids will move on to better heads. But what if the manufacturers have gone too far? What if we’re turning kids off to the sport because the entry level equipment makes it so hard to be good?
I see a lot of kids that can catch and then run with the ball. But they can’t really cradle, or dodge. They just keep the ball in their stick with the soft mesh and bag pocket. When they go to shoot or pass, not only are they unsure of themselves, but they are unsure of their stick. And if this is all being done in the name of profit, I think the manufacturers may be hurting themselves more than they are helping.
The manufacturer that sits atop the pile is Warrior. They make a stiff head that lasts and put a decent pocket in it. Maverik’s Bazooka was a great head, but they never promoted it, and again, the stringing was abysmal. Embarrassing, really. The same is true for the STX AV8 and all of Brine’s beginner heads, and Reeboks are no better. I had to restring an entire 3K yesterday because it simply fell apart after the kid used it 3 times.
So maybe the companies involved with lacrosse can afford to put better materials in their sticks, and maybe they can’t. But there is NO excuse for the bad stringing and absence of a stringing manual. Those should really be considered the basics.
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LACROSSE VIDEO OF THE WEEK
This literally NEVER happens. 80 yard long lax goal. Boom. Celebration Time.
Via reader, Bill, and the Washington Post!