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Choosing the appropriate lacrosse stick is essential to peak performance while playing.
For a beginner, the technical aspects of choosing the appropriate stick can be bewildering.
The ideal stick varies with your position, how advanced your lacrosse skills are, and even with your gender due to different rules governing sticks.
Lacrosse sticks are, broadly speaking, made up of two main parts: the head of the stick and the shaft of the stick.
You can either purchase complete sticks or you can buy the head and the shaft separately and combine them to make your own stick.
The head is further divided into a number of components such as the pocket and the throat, with the pocket being further divided into sections such as the scoop and the sidewall.
Such specific details can seem daunting but the following section of this article will give a careful breakdown of each part, giving you a comprehensive idea of what to look for in a lacrosse stick as well as familiarizing you with the vocabulary.
The Anatomy of a Lacrosse Stick
As stated above, lacrosse sticks are divided into two separate sections: the head and the shaft.
Each section shall be considered separately, with the individual components of each being discussed in further detail.
A summary of the main parameters to look out for with your stick in terms of legality for gameplay is given here:
The following article will explain things in greater depth.
The head of the lacrosse stick is the most integral part of your stick. It is the front portion of the stick from which you catch the ball.
The head itself can broadly be said to be composed of two components: the mainframe and the pocket, which refers to the mesh that is strung onto the frame.
The frame itself contains the scoop, which is used to scoop up the ball and control it on the ground, the sidewalls, which are the sides of the frame on which the pocket is attached to the frame, and the offset, which is the curved portion of the frame which bends away from the center line of the handle.
The pocket is most of the mesh portion of the head in which the ball is caught and kept. The mesh itself is used to hold the ball while the strings above it are referred to as shooting strings.
These are used to control the ball’s speed and direction. The sidewall strings are used to connect the pocket to the sidewall.
The NFHS sets the rules for boys and girls while the NCAA sets them for men and women.
According to the NCAA rules for men’s lacrosse, for instance, the head must be between 6 to 10 inches wide while for women it must be between 7 to 9 inches wide. Goalies of both genders can have wider heads of up to 12 inches.
Depending on which set of rules the heads adhere to they will be classified as universal heads, which satisfy both NFHS and NCAA requirements, NFHS approved or NCAA legal.
The width of the head is important because the wider the head, the greater is the surface area for you to catch and pass the ball with.
Conversely, a narrower head allows for greater precision and accuracy while controlling the ball and is preferred by more advanced players.
The shape of your stick’s head can vary according to your skill level as well as the position that you have on the field.
The popular head design is the offset head, first introduced in 1995.
It drops down at the throat of the head, which results in the ball being placed lower down in the pocket, giving greater control and accuracy while playing.
More traditional heads are generally used by beginners which extend in a straight direction from the handle.
There are also curved lacrosse heads in which the scoop and sidewalls curve towards the throat for improved accuracy.
Apart from varying with your skill level, different heads are appropriate for plays in different positions.
Offensive players choose heads which will give them better control over the ball while defenders choose stiffer heads which are more durable for defending. Goalies, as noted above, can have the widest heads, giving it a broad shape to block incoming shots.
Generally, wider heads are preferred by beginners as they give easier control over the ball while narrower heads are used by intermediate to advanced players who want precision and power while playing.
These days, heads are generally made of an advanced plastic capable of withstanding the impact of shots while also yielding slightly so that the head doesn’t break.
Heads have varying degrees of stiffness, depending on the polymer they are made of.
The strings on popularly manufactured models are generally made of nylon, although other more traditional woven strings are also available.
With these general characteristics of the head, let us elaborate on the specific parts of the head:
The scoop is the top of the head which is used to maneuver or pick balls up from the ground into the pocket.
It is also the section of the head where you attach the top of the mesh using top strings.
The important dimensions of a scoop are its width as well as its drop.
While the width of the scoop generally depends on the width of the head as a whole, the drop is a specific characteristic of scoops.
It refers to the amount that the center of the scoop dips. Flat scoops, which have minimal or no dips, are good for beginner players and allow for better control of the ball on the group.
More curved scoops with larger dips are better for more advanced players as it gives them greater shot accuracy.
These are the side portions of the head and are important for a number of reasons. These are where you will attach pocket so a number of regulations are related to them.
For instance, when the ball is in the pocket it must be visible from the sidewalls or else your stick will not be legal.
Because of this, the depth of the sidewall is an important feature.
It can come in high or low variants which will affect the depth of your pocket as well as how well the ball is kept in the pocket.
This is referred to as ball retention.
Like the rest of the frame of the head, the sidewalls are generally made of plastics or polymers.
Their stiffness and flexibility are often important considerations and determine the stiffness of the head in general.
Stiffer sidewalls tend to be heavier but can be used more effectively for defending because of their sturdiness.
However, if you are a player in an offensive position and prefer speed and agility for your attack then a more flexible and lightweight material is suitable.
The throat is the part to which your head attaches to the shaft.
If you are buying a complete stick, then the throat is a lesser central concern. However, the angle of the throat can still make significant differences to your gameplay.
For example, some heads have a throat which flares up towards the head. The sharp angling of this flare can add tension to the strings or mesh because they are pulled across the top of the throat.
Other innovations in throats include supports in the throat which reduce head rattling or Loc-Throat technologies, which give a more secure fit than regular throats.
Throats become an important consideration only when you are using a separate shaft and head, rather than a complete stick.
Generally, you can mix and match different components easily, even if they are from different manufacturers.
However, recently many new models of shafts have entered the market which do not fit the standardized shapes of shafts.
The general difference between these shafts is their shape and whether they are hollow or not.
You should check the shafts that your head will be compatible with before deciding on one, although many types of shafts are available on the market and compatibility isn’t a huge concern either.
Similarly, you should check whether the throat of your head has any special functions which may make it incompatible with some types of shafts.
Pocket and Strings
The pocket is the netted portion of your head in which the ball resides.
It is an extremely important part of the head, which is why there are a lot of rules surrounding it.
Pocket depth is the parameter which is most significant in judging the legality of a pocket.
In women’s lacrosse, for instance, the pocket shouldn’t be so deep that the ball cannot be seen above the sidewall.
There should also be no holes or gaps in the stringing which are larger than 1.5 inches. Generally speaking, the rules for women’s lacrosse regarding pockets are much stricter.
For boy’s lacrosse, guidelines include the fact that the pocket should be attached closely to the sidewall and it shouldn’t be loose enough for a ball to be able to go through the distance between the sidewall and the pocket.
Wide pockets are suggested for beginner players because they make it easier to catch the ball while narrower pockets give more accuracy to experienced players.
As far as depth goes, deeper pockets give more control over the ball while shallower pockets allow for quicker release.
The general test for seeing whether the pocket depth is legal or not is by turning the head, with a ball in the pocket, 90 degrees forward after holding the stick perpendicular to the ground.
If the ball does not fall out then it is too deep and you need to change your stringing.
Heads can either come strung or unstrung. If the head if unstrung, lacrosse pockets often come pre-manufactured for use by newer players. These can come in a variety of styles.
A very common style is the mesh style, which is made entirely of nylon, which has recently become possible for use by women as well due to changes in the rules.
These require little to no adjustment but this also means that they tend to be looser than other types of pockets, giving less accuracy. These are ideally suited for goalies.
Traditional pockets, on the other hand, consist of nylon strings which are woven around four straps of leather.
The leather can be either soft or hard, depending on your preference. Recently, hybrid models have also become available which have the leather straps as well as a pocket section made of mesh.
More recent innovations include synthetic pockets.
Phantom pockets, for instance, are a single solid piece of plastic which are attached to the head of the stick and are useful for beginners trying to learn the basics of the game.
Warp pockets consist of a single piece of plastic with multiple holes cut into it to make it resemble a traditional or mesh pocket.
While pre-strung pockets suffice for beginners, more experienced players can choose to string their own pockets with nylon strings and leather straps of their choice.
This lets them customize their pockets, giving them greater control over their sticks according to their own preference.
Finally, pockets can come in three styles: low, mid, and high, depending on where the pocket is located on the head.
Mid pockets are the most common ones, being used by new players and being suitable for all positions.
High pockets have a larger distance from the ball stop at the base of the head. These are preferred by defensive players since it gives them better control of the ball.
Low pockets are situated close to the throat of the head and let the ball rest near the stick so that it can be held with one hand.
This makes it useful for players in offensive positions as they can use their other arm while dodging.
A popular lacrosse channel on Youtube, ECD Lacrosse, has a number of videos covering various types of pockets, depending on their style or even the position of the player on the field.
One of these videos, covering attackman pockets, can be viewed here:
A number of other strings are used alongside the ones in the pocket to connect the pocket to the frame of the head.
These include the sidewall strings, which are needed to secure the pocket to the sidewall as well as strings which tie it to the scoop of the head.
Apart from these strings, the most important strings are the shooting strings, placed horizontally at the top of the head below the scoop and above the pocket.
They are used to control the ball’s direction and are used to direct it when it leaves the pocket. Three to four strings ensure that your ball leaves the pocket smoothly.
An in-depth guide to shooting strings as well as the various ways of tying them and their benefits can be watched here:
The second main component of the head is the shaft.
This does not have any components, unlike the head which is highly technical, as the previous section might have demonstrated.
The main considerations while choosing a shaft is the length of the shaft, which is governed by rules, and the material that the shaft is made out of.
Generally, players who choose wider heads also go for longer shafts, thus giving an overall ‘bigger’ stick.
For male players, attackers should go for sticks with a minimum length of 30 inches so that they have good control over the ball.
Defenders should get the longest sticks, which is around 60 inches so that they have a long reach. Midfield positions should look for sticks which have a mid-way length between the two.
Women’s hockey sticks tend to be much smaller, and only range from 36 to 44 inches in size. However, the same basic pattern applies to them as well.
The smaller sizes are suitable for attacking positions while the longer ones are ideal for defensive players.
A brief overview of choosing shafts for girl’s lacrosse can be seen here:
The second consideration is the material from which the shaft is made. Traditionally, shafts were made of wood but now either metals or synthetic materials are used to make them.
Aluminum is a common material, which is popular due to its affordability when compared to the other materials as well as due to its lights weight.
However, it does not have the sturdiness of other materials. It is ideal for younger players or players who prefer speed to sturdiness in their game.
Another metal used for shafts is titanium. It is both lighter than aluminum while also being extremely sturdy, giving you the best of both worlds.
Its strength and speed combination makes it perfect for defenders.
The final metal used in shafts is scandium, which is a favorite among professional and elite top-level players because of their high strength to weight ratio.
They are extremely durable and strong, being long lasting but also lightweight.
Apart from metals, shafts made of composite materials such as carbon-fibers are also available.
These are good for attackers and are designed for intermediate to advanced players. They combine strength with a lightweight while also having a natural grip, unlike metals.
Choosing a lacrosse stick can be a technical affair, especially due to the many different rules governing them.
However, this degree of specialization also means that you can customize your stick to your needs.
Even knowing the most basic parts of your stick will give you a better idea of what options you can look for in the market and which styles suit you better.
For experienced players, a comprehensive understanding of the parts of your stick can ensure that you always play at top form with a stick that is ideal for you.