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Tier Lacrosse: Modern Sticks and Player Development

14 - Published October 17, 2011 by in College, High School, Training

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.

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