College High School Training

Tier Lacrosse: Modern Sticks and Player Development

Tier Lacrosse

Editor’s note: Please welcome Trevor Tierney back to the Lax All Stars! This week, we posed a few questions to Trevor about today’s modern lacrosse sticks and how they impact the development of high school lacrosse players. For more information on recruiting, make sure you check out his “How To Get Recruited” series at TierLacrosse.com!

Got a question you want Trevor to answer in next week’s post? Drop it in the comments section below and we’ll make sure he sees it!
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Tier Lacrosse
To start off, we’d love to hear a little bit about your perspective on modern sticks.  They’re smaller, more narrow and make it very easy for offensive players to retain the ball.  How has this affected the game and changed how it is played?

It completely cracks me up when I hear old-timers talk about how modern sticks have ruined the game. It’s so ridiculous. First of all, it has nothing to do with the actual heads! When I was growing up and playing in the 80s and 90s (I know…I am getting up there!), having a nice pocket was nearly impossible. You either had to string your head with this nasty, crusty mesh that barely stretched across the entire head, or you had to use leathers that were as soft as sandpaper. For this reason, no one really had deep pockets in their stick unless they found the perfect leathers or found a completely new way to string their stick.

Now, you can actually buy a stick at the store with a deep pocket and play with it right off the shelves! That is unbelievable to someone my age. If I had a factory strung stick, it was like a tennis racket and pretty much worthless. I would have to take everything out and completely restring it. Now, the people who are stringing sticks for all the companies are actually taught by some of the endorsed pros and know how to make it nice, right out of the box!

Also, if you string your own sticks, the materials are so much nicer to use. Barely anyone uses leather anymore, but if you do, the leathers are like butter and you can make a sweet pocket if you know how to string traditional. If you string with mesh, all the different meshes can easily give you a deep pocket that holds the ball well and allows you to shoot over 70 mph, even if you have no clue what you are doing.

I think one of the first college players that I saw play with a really deep pocket was Michael Watson at Virginia in the mid-90s. He had a complete bag in his stick and no one could take the ball from him. He would top-step his defender from the wing and drop his stick down to his ankles and then let it go over the top or underhand. It was unstoppable and it was the coolest thing to watch!

This brings me to my main point, which is that the game is incredibly fun to watch, and there is now so much more speed and creativity out on the field thanks to the pockets that players can now string. Ever gone back and watched a game from the early 90s or 80s? I mean, don’t get me wrong…the players were incredibly skilled and probably had better stick work than the players today. But, it is not the same. It is slower passes, slower shots, everything is overhand. The moves that guys can make now with their sticks is incredible. I get to watch Mark Matthews at University of Denver do things that people would have never dreamed of when I was playing as a kid. Plus, the game is now WAY faster! The speed of the passes, ball movement and shots is what has people falling in love with this game as soon as they see it!  Why would we want to change that?

The game is evolving. That’s a good thing.  Imagine if snowboarders made a rule that they could only use a snowboard that was like the first one ever invented. You think we would have the Winter X games and Shaun White hulking 720s at the drop of a hat? No chance!  What about tennis?  You want to watch Nadal and Federer duke it out with two wooden sticks?  That would be lame compared to what we are watching now at Wimbledon! It’s the same thing with lacrosse.  Paul Rabil would not be able to shoot 110 mph with no pocket, I guarantee it. John Grant Jr. would not be able to pull off some of the amazing shots and passes that he does with no pocket, trust me.

The actual heads have definitely changed, but I don’t think the the width is going to make a difference. Look what happened the past couple years in college lacrosse. The NCAA made rule changes about head widths and it has not changed anything. The players just find a new way to string a deep pocket and get used to the new feel. Actually, some of the head shapes that the NCAA created have made for even tighter, deeper pockets. It cracks me up!

When ever someone starts talking about rule changes with sticks, notice who it is.  It is the “elder statesmen” of the game who want to keep the game just like it was when they were playing. Let the game evolve and let the young lacrosse players be creative with it and use the new technology to their advantage.

Has this change in technology changed the kind of player that gets recruited to a NCAA D1 school?  Are coaches looking for a different type of player now than they were 20 years ago?  Does that have anything to do with the sticks?

The biggest difference the new technology has made is that it has allowed for some more big-time athletes to cross over to the game. A lot of the players that you see playing in college that also could have been playing football in college started playing lacrosse later in life. The new technology has allowed for better athletes to pick up a stick, develop fairly quickly and play the game at a high level.  Don’t get me wrong, if you want to be a very skilled lacrosse player, it takes years of work against the wall and stick work is the number one key to being a great player. But, there are spots for great athletes on the field now who may not be as skilled, like face-offs, wings, d-mids, and defensemen. The technology allows for these “stud” athletes to be competent enough to fill their roles out there and do a great job. It also allows for the game to grow more throughout the country and allows athletes who have not played the game to pick it up more easily. It also makes the sports world take our game more seriously as we have more bigger, stronger, faster athletes playing the game. All good things…

What advice would you give to a high school player trying to get the best looks they can?  Is there a type of pocket or stick that could actually help or hurt a player getting recruited?  For instance, could a player who relies on a ton of whip, or a really deep pocket, possibly be too one-dimensional to play at the next level?  Do college coaches look at what kind of stick/pocket a player uses?

Now, you would actually think from reading all of the above, that I am totally pro-deep pocket, which I am for the game. But, for young players who are just learning to play, I actually think deep pockets can hold their development back as a player. When I do individual lessons with a young boy’s lacrosse player, I like to make him use a girl’s stick. The problem with deep pockets for beginners and intermediate players is that they allow them to survive on the field with bad habits. For instance, a lot of players will “stab” at the ball when they try and catch it, which you can actually do with a deep pocket and still make the catch. The problem is then you cannot get off a quick pass or shot and you will probably get it checked a way in a game. To develop soft hands and learn to catch the ball behind your head, which is proper technique that all the best players use, you should learn to catch with a stick with no pocket or a girls stick.

In fact, my best friend, Josh Sims (former MLL and NLL All-Star) learned to catch with a shovel!  You think you are a good lacrosse player and can do cool stick tricks? Try and go catch with a shovel! That will teach you something that you can really use as a lacrosse player, which is exceptionally soft hands.

When I watch youth or high school lacrosse, I think the girls stick work is so much better. The reason is obvious, as they have to learn to catch and throw with no pocket, which is extremely challenging. So, if you want to get better as a boys’ lacrosse player, go buy a girl’s stick and get against the wall.  Then, after years of developing great stick work, the things you will be able to do with a deep pocket will be limitless, and you will have the technique that will allow you to be successful on the field.

– Trevor

Tier Lacrosse 

Check out TierLacrosse.com for more great articles from Trevor Tierney.

About the author

Trevor Tierney

Trevor Tierney is the founder of TierLacrosse.com, a website dedicated to instruction, coaching and advice for today's young lacrosse players. Currently an assistant coach at University of Denver, Trevor was NCAA goaltender of the year, a 2x All-American and a 2x National Champion at Princeton. He played in the MLL 2001-2007, during which time he was a three-time MLL All-Star and won a MLL Championship.

14 Comments

  • Come on man… “Plus, the game is now WAY faster” how can you even say that with a straight face. The game is so SLOW these days at the D1 level its not even funny. There is little to no transition and that does stem from the head/pockets as its pretty tough for a defender to knock the ball out even when landing a clean check. This is partially why I thought the UVA zone worked so well.  I’d much rather watch a D3 or even legit HS teams match up than another boring D1 game where the coaches don’t let their guys run.

  • Not all HS teams are.  Main point was that the D1 game is not fast anymore.  Feel thats mainly due to coaching but lack of transition can be partially ‘blamed’ on sticks.

  • His dad was the one that banned offset sticks for his teams back in the 90’s. Now Trevor is all about it. Seems like someone just wants to ruffle his old mans feathers.

  • Ha! That is partially true…he did allow Lorne Smith to use an offset head because he was the only Princeton guy that could throw with one.

    As I said in this article, I think it actually has more to do with the pockets than the heads. I could string a Shotgun or Superlight II to have a deep pocket with the materials available today and it would be just as effective.

    Also, I have much better ways of drivin my pops crazy…

  • I meant the stickwork is faster…passes and shots are harder. No question.

    I want to find the stats but I really don’t believe that scoring is that much lower these days. I just think teams play better overall team defense now.

  • I was interested in trying to find out if there have been any real scoring changes over the past couple decades and this was the best that I could find. This is from the NCAA website. Below are the scoring offense champions, scoring defense champions, and scoring margin champions.

    On scoring offense, other than the 96 and 97 UVA teams, the highest scoring teams have relatively similar amounts of goals per game. I definitely would say that there is not a huge difference in scoring the past 15 years (at least for the champions of this category).

    Interestingly, on scoring defense, the team with the highest goals against per game that won the scoring defense category was Syracuse, this past year! That could suggest that teams are scoring MORE overall.

    On scoring margin, the past two years champions have had two of the lowest scoring margins in the past 15 years. This could suggest that games are closer. I personally think closer games are more exciting.

    So, this isn’t exactly Mythbusters work here, because the champions of these categories do not necessarily reflect the whole of the game, but it does imply that perhaps things have not slowed down as much as people suggest.

    I think people are just remembering some games in the playoffs this past year that were brutal to watch because some teams relied on invert offenses, but I would speculate that those games are just exceptions to what we would see most of the time if all games were on television.

    SCORING OFFENSE
    Year Team Games Goals Per Game
    1996 Virginia ……………………………………………………………… 16 275 17.19
    1997 Virginia ……………………………………………………………… 14 255 18.21
    1998 Johns Hopkins ………………………………………………… 14 205 14.64
    1999 Virginia ……………………………………………………………… 16 240 15.00
    2000 Hartford ……………………………………………………………. 16 250 15.63
    2001 Quinnipiac ………………………………………………………. 16 240 15.00
    2002 Massachusetts ………………………………………………… 16 226 14.13
    2003 Johns Hopkins ………………………………………………… 16 224 14.00
    2004 Syracuse …………………………………………………………… 17 245 14.41
    2005 Duke …………………………………………………………………. 20 267 13.35
    2006 Virginia ……………………………………………………………… 17 269 15.82
    2007 Cornell ……………………………………………………………… 16 224 14.00
    2008 Duke …………………………………………………………………. 20 304 15.20
    2009 Virginia ……………………………………………………………… 18 234 13.00
    2010 Robert Morris ………………………………………………….. 15 230 15.33

    SCORING DEFENSE
    Year Team Games GA Per Game
    1996 Bucknell……………………………………………………………. 12 74 6.17
    1997 Princeton …………………………………………………………. 15 103 6.87
    1998 Princeton …………………………………………………………. 15 114 7.60
    1999 Princeton …………………………………………………………. 13 93 7.15
    2000 Navy ………………………………………………………………….. 13 78 6.00
    2001 Princeton …………………………………………………………. 15 87 5.80
    2002 Maryland …………………………………………………………. 13 91 7.00
    2003 Villanova ………………………………………………………….. 15 91 6.07
    2004 Binghamton ……………………………………………………. 16 111 6.94
    2005 Navy ………………………………………………………………….. 16 106 6.63
    2006 Navy ………………………………………………………………….. 15 82 5.47
    2007 Princeton …………………………………………………………. 14 87 6.21
    2008 Siena …………………………………………………………………. 16 100 6.25
    2009 Notre Dame …………………………………………………….. 16 99 6.19
    2010 Syracuse …………………………………………………………… 15 111 7.40

    SCORING MARGIN PER GAME
    Year Team Games GF GA Margin Mar./Gm.
    1996 Princeton ………………………………. 15 235 111 124 8.27
    1997 Virginia …………………………………… 14 255 136 119 8.50
    1998 Princeton ………………………………. 15 217 114 103 6.87
    1999 Virginia …………………………………… 16 240 132 108 6.75
    2000 Hartford …………………………………. 16 250 145 105 6.56
    2001 Massachusetts ……………………… 14 208 108 100 7.14
    2002 Maryland ………………………………. 13 157 91 66 5.08
    2003 Johns Hopkins ……………………… 16 224 111 113 7.06
    2004 Navy ……………………………………….. 18 221 127 94 5.22
    2005 Duke ………………………………………. 20 267 139 128 6.40
    2006 Virginia …………………………………… 17 269 129 140 8.24
    2007 Cornell …………………………………… 16 224 112 112 7.00
    2008 Duke ………………………………………. 20 304 146 158 7.90
    2009 Syracuse ………………………………… 18 233 133 100 5.56
    2010 Virginia …………………………………… 18 242 148 94 5.22

  • So the question I have is would yesterdays players fair better with modern equipment than modern players with yesterdays equipment?  Who would the 1990 Syracuse squard beat the 2011 Virginia squad?

  • Partially, but that’s a good point about the transition. I’ve heard some suggestions for rules regulating on-the-fly substitutions with the aim of eliminating specialized middies, bringing back the 2 way player, and promoting faster transitions. I like that idea much better than stick changes.

  • Ah ok. Fair enough then.

    When I saw that I thought you were talking about the pace of the game.  My real problem with the game today is that I feel its over specialized and over coached. Every posession all the D middies are subbed out for the O middies, spin the ball several times, dodge down the alley (not really looking to beat their man) to try and draw a slide and then repeat. This is why I found myself enjoying watching D3 games much more last year as it was more run and gun and coaches letting the players play

  • I like the advice regarding using girls lacrosse sticks to teach soft hands.  I think the modern lacrosse stick has helped create lacrosse’s biggest problem, YAWNBALL.   Takeaway checks are a thing of the past, it’s almost impossible to dislodge the ball from today’s bags and deep sidewalls, this has led to teams playing zone defense.   The transition game is rare because the ball is rarely on the ground , so you don’t see fast breaks as often, which was exciting.  The passing game has suffered due to the modern deep pocket stick, which kills off ball cutting, etc.  Baseball doesn’t allow aluminum bats. Golf doesn’t allow square grooves. What about protecting the integrity of the game?  Is today’s slowdown game the “spirit” of the game? 

  • I agree that todays stringing materials are much easier to work with, but more then that is the fact that kids can go online and read about how to string sticks better, see what others are doing, learn about different materials, etc.  When I was young, I had the instructions that came with the kit, and other kids I played with who really didn’t know much more then me.  
    However, I think the shape of the head factors in more than Trevor.  A lot of the new NCAA only heads remind me of pinched turbos, excaliburs, and hi-walls from my day.  People back then would pinch their sticks because they thought it gave them an advantage.  The less room there is for the ball to move around, the less chance there is it will come out.  
    Also, modern sticks have more sidewalls holes and are off-set with help a lot too.  
    Trevor is right when he says the game is better due to the new sticks, it’s more fun to watch and it’s easier to learn.  
       

  • Hi Trevor.

    You’re not wrong about the pockets but the combination of deep channeled pockets with narrow heads make it damn near impossible to get the ball out.

    As someone who’s prime playing days were back in the 90s I can certainly feel a difference with the newer sticks vs my old viper/turbo and excalibur.

    There was a huge advantage gained when the first deep high-wall heads came out (like the turbo), yet another gained with the offset technology, and more yet with the narrowing of the heads. 

    So the correct answer is widening the heads and re-evaluating pocket depth.  I’d love to see the return of the “take away defender”.  Today, you’d have to remove the stick from the players hands to take the ball away.

  • Because they HAVE to play better team defense.  You can’t take the ball away one v one.  A combination of deep channeled pockets and narrow sticks make it near impossible.

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