The lacrosse stick acts as the heart of the sport. Everything that a player does or intends to do on the field is done with the lacrosse stick. For this reason, it is important that players do everything within their power to ensure that their lacrosse stick is in pristine condition come game day.
Good lacrosse sticks feature some combination of these unique aspects:
- Symmetrical Sidewall Pattern
- Sufficient Pocket Depth
- V-Shaped, Ball’s Width Channel
- High Performance Mesh
- Tightly Strung Top String and Sidewall Strings
- A Lacrosse Head That’s Tightly Screwed onto the Shaft
- A Sturdy Donut End Cap That Doesn’t Fall Off
To understand what makes a good lacrosse stick, we’ll first take a detailed look at seven aspects that all lacrosse sticks need in order to be considered good. From there, we’ll analyze position specific tips that can take a lacrosse stick from good to great. Read until the end to get some practical advice on what to look for when purchasing your first lacrosse stick.
What Makes a Good Lacrosse Stick (Applies to All Sticks)
The following elements are critical in improving the quality of a lacrosse stick. Although many of these aspects are overlooked, it’s important that you take the time to familiarize yourself with these elements so that you can get the most out of your lacrosse stick.
Much of what is discussed below involves at least a fundamental knowledge of the parts of lacrosse stick. If you’re not yet acquainted with the names of each part of the lacrosse stick, head over to my article The Parts of a Lacrosse Stick: An Illustrated Guide.
1.) Symmetrical Sidewall Knot Pattern
One of the most important things that makes a good lacrosse stick is a symmetrical sidewall knot pattern.
Contrary to popular opinion, the sidewall strings do much more than fasten down the lateral edges of the mesh to the head plastic. The knot configuration of the sidewall strings is what determines many of the properties of the lacrosse pocket. The most prominent of which are listed below:
- Pocket Placement
- Pocket Depth
- Pocket Hold
- Pocket Definition
- Channel Tightness
All of these properties of the pocket ultimately determine how well that a player will be able to pass, shoot, and cradle in the face of defensive pressure.
When each sidewall string incorporates a different knot configuration, the mesh becomes lopsided. As a result, the entire pocket is misaligned, resulting in throwing inconsistencies and reduced pocket hold. Obviously, these are things we want to avoid.
2.) Sufficient Pocket Depth
Another element that greatly improves the quality of a lacrosse stick is adequate pocket depth.
Maintaining possession while defenders push you around and whack you with metal shafts is harder than it looks. To reduce your chances of turning the ball over, you need to make sure your pocket has an ample amount of depth so the ball can nestle within the confines of the stick.
The ball is much more likely to pop out in a shallow pocket. All it takes is one forceful check for the ball to escape because there’s so little resistance keeping the ball in check. It’s hard to have a considerable degree of pocket hold when there’s not that much “pocket” to work with.
A deep pocket also offers other benefits as well, such as a greater potential shot power. With the additional hold, players are able to rear back farther with their arms because the ball releases later in the shooting motion. As a result, players are able to drive more force into their shot, resulting in higher shot speeds.
Although deep pockets are beneficial, be careful not to make your pocket too deep to the point where it’s illegal. Lacrosse referees do check players’ sticks periodically to ensure that nobody has an unfair advantage.
You can learn more about what makes a lacrosse stick illegal by reading What Makes a Lacrosse Stick Illegal: An Illustrated Guide.
3.) V-Shaped, Ball’s Width Channel
In addition, the pocket’s channel must have a V-shaped taper to help guide the ball down the center of the head with each and every throw.
The root cause of most throwing inconsistencies in lacrosse has to do with throwing technique and the tightness of the channel. Since the channel forces the ball down the center of the head, the ball doesn’t veer off to the left or right. Instead, the ball releases straight down the middle, directly at the intended target.
Ideally, you want the channel to be about a ball’s width in diameter throughout its entirety to get optimal accuracy out of your stick. Too tight of a channel will cause the ball to snag on the mesh and potentially get trapped. Too loose of a channel won’t direct the ball down the center track of the head.
Stringing a channel that meets this gold standard is difficult, but very rewarding.
4.) High Performance Mesh
Next up on the list is high performance mesh. The mesh serves as the foundation of all lacrosse pockets. It absorbs the forceful impact of passes, endures the constant physical abuse of lacrosse games, and occasionally withstands the harsh natural elements of rain and snow.
In the face of all these challenges, your lacrosse mesh needs to be sturdy and durable to maintain its shape and consistency. Standard mesh will definitely get the job done, but there’s a noticeable improvement in performance when players utilize high performance mesh.
At first, I was skeptical as to the benefits of high performance mesh. But when I finally integrated ECD Hero Mesh into my stick for the first time, I don’t think I could ever go back. This mesh strings extremely well, keeps its shape regardless of rain or snow, and lasts for multiple seasons despite heavy usage.
High performance mesh is definitely not a necessity, but it certainly helps to take a lacrosse stick to the next level.
5.) Tightly Strung Top String and Sidewall Strings
Moreover, the top string and sidewall strings should have as little slack as possible. Slack in these particular areas of the pocket will allow the knots to shift around, promoting pocket inconsistencies.
To preserve the current properties of a pocket, the knots on these strings must be pulled extremely tight. This way, there’s little room for change in the way the pocket is shaped and how it throws.
If there’s slack in the top string and the sidewall strings, the issues may not come up immediately. Typically, the problems only emerge once the pocket is starting to break in and settle into its final shape. For this reason, it’s good practice to take care of these issues early so you don’t have to worry about problems later on down the road.
6.) A Lacrosse Head That’s Tightly Screwed onto the Shaft
Another element that makes a lacrosse stick good is a tightly fastened screw that keeps the head and shaft locked together.
Sometimes, screws aren’t fixed tight enough to securely attach the lacrosse head to the shaft. As a result, the head has a tendency to “rattle” with every movement that the player makes with this stick. This head rattle is more than a petty annoyance. Over time, this rattle can loosen the screw, until eventually the screw pops out and the head flies off of the shaft.
To have a good lacrosse stick, you need to be certain that all the pieces will remain together. Otherwise, how will you be able to concentrate on the game?
7.) A Sturdy Donut End Cap That Doesn’t Fall Off
The last element on this list is a solid donut end cap that refuses to slide off of the lacrosse shaft, even when under an immense amount of pressure.
The end cap, also called the butt end, is a neglected piece of the lacrosse stick. Although the primary purpose of the end cap is to simply cover the exposed metal at the bottom of a lacrosse shaft, it can also provide other benefits.
The foremost benefit that a sturdy end cap can provide is further leverage on a shot. When lacrosse players wind up into the shooting motion, they apply tremendous pressure on their bottom hand, so much so that their hand or end cap may slide off the lacrosse shaft in some cases. This detracts from shot power since one hand can only produce so much shooting force.
A sturdy donut end cap that is firmly secured onto the end of the shaft stops the bottom hand from sliding off, allowing players to reach maximal shot power. This is crucial for outside shooting since players need speed to sneak the ball past the goalie.
What Makes a Good Lacrosse Stick (By Position)
Now that we’ve gone over all of the universal aspects that make a lacrosse stick good, it’s time to move on to the particular aspects of a lacrosse stick that benefit individual lacrosse positions.
Each lacrosse position has their own unique, specialized responsibilities. It only makes sense for there to be unique, specialized aspects of the lacrosse stick to complement these peculiar responsibilities.
If you aren’t yet familiar with what each lacrosse position does, click over to this article, 4 Major Lacrosse Positions: A Beginner’s Guide, to learn more.
What Makes a Good Lacrosse Stick for Midfielders
Mid to High Pocket – Midfielders do a little bit of everything on the field. Playing both offense and defense, they’re expected to have a base level of proficiency in practically every aspect of the game (with the exception of goalkeeping).
For this reason, midfielders need a pocket that can do a little bit of everything as well. This is why mid pockets tend to work out extremely well for midfielders. They can pass and shoot with precision, snatch up ground balls, and cradle with ease. Mid pockets may not be overly exceptional in any one area, but it does get the job done in virtually every regard.
Offensive-minded midfielders may even elevate their pocket placement slightly to a high pocket. A high pocket offers a quicker release, which is crucial for snapping passes off of the dodge when defenders are closing in with haste. At the higher levels of competition, midfielders only have a split second to get the ball to an open teammate, so this quick release can make a huge difference.
Slightly More Whip than Average – In addition, midfielders generally gravitate toward pockets with a greater degree of whip. For those of you that do not know, “whip” is a generic lacrosse term that describes how a lacrosse pocket throws relative to the ground. The higher the whip, the lower the ball throws. The lower the whip, the higher the ball throws.
You can learn more about this fundamental stringing concept by visiting A Full Breakdown of What Whip Actually Means in Lacrosse.
Whip generally lends itself to more shot power since players are able to extend farther back during the shooting motion. Since midfielders generally score most of their goals from distance, this extra shot power really comes in handy.
What Makes a Good Lacrosse Stick for Attackmen
Optimal Pocket Hold – Attackmen are given the reins of the offense since they are largely considered the most talented ball carriers on the team. As a result, they possess the ball for extended periods of time and are forced to deal with heavy defensive pressure on a frequent basis.
Ultimately, proper stick protection is the most effective way for a player to hold onto the ball, but having some additional hold on the pocket certainly doesn’t hurt. This way, the ball is less likely to pop out, even when a hard defensive stick check does manage to make contact. Plus, this extra hold on the pocket grants attackmen an added boost of confidence to charge opponents head on and create scoring opportunities for the entire team.
Low, Shifty Pocket – To deal with the constant hassle of defensive pressure, attackmen are also forced to one-handed cradle often. The most conducive pocket for this sort of cradling is a low, shifty pocket. This way, the ball can conveniently sit toward the bottom of the pocket when the stick is completely vertical.
A shifty pocket also provides attackmen with a greater degree of versatility. When the pocket shifts low, they’re able to comfortably one-handed cradle. When the pocket shifts to a higher placement, such as a mid pocket position, they have the capacity to pass and shoot with a noticeably quick release. Both lacrosse skills are vital to the attack position.
What Makes a Good Lacrosse Stick for Defensemen
A Stiff, Wide Lacrosse Head – Defensemen apply stick checks to an opposing ball carrier’s stick and gloves to disrupt their stick handling ability. Constantly smacking a lacrosse head against a metal shaft will weaken the structural integrity of the plastic over time.
For this reason, it’s in the best interest for defensemen to invest in a stiff head that’s able to withstand the impact of repetitive defensive checks. This way, the head retains its original shape in spite of the routine physical abuse.
Furthermore, defensemen are always attempting to knock down and pick off passes by sticking their lacrosse stick high in the air. To have the greatest chance of disrupting opposing throws, it’s solid practice for defensemen to be equipped with a wide lacrosse head. The extra head width makes intercepting passes considerably easier because of the extra catching surface area that players have at their disposal.
A Lacrosse Shaft That’s Customized to the Player’s Height – What is unique about lacrosse defensemen is that they are equipped with a much longer stick than every other lacrosse position. Their stick could lie anywhere between 52 to 72 inches in length.
Most defensive shafts are sold at a length of 60 inches, which makes for a 72 inch long stick with the addition of the head. However, these shafts can be manually cut down to better suit an individual player’s size.
As a general rule of thumb, a long stick should be approximately the same height as the player. For example, a 5′ 8″ individual would warrant a long stick that’s 68″ in length. Manually cutting down the shaft of a long pole is especially common at the youth level, since players lack the strength to effectively wield a 72″ lacrosse stick.
What Makes a Good Lacrosse Stick for Goalies
A Pocket That’s Two to Three Balls Deep – Goalies certainly have the most unique looking lacrosse stick out of all the positions given the unique nature of their responsibility in the cage. A standard goalie head is much longer and wider than the average field head. They need that additional surface area to have a fair chance at making saves.
Unlike field players, goalies are permitted to have an abnormally deep pocket. It’s recommended that goalies string their pocket so that it’s two to three balls deep. Reaching this standard depth is crucial because the ball is far more likely to remain within the confines of the pocket when the goalie makes a save.
With a shallower pocket, it’s far more likely for the ball to rebound off of the pocket back into the field of play. As a result, the opposing team may have a second chance to score if they manage to regather possession. By having a deep pocket that is rebound resistant, goalies eliminate this problem entirely.
Lightweight Shaft – In addition, equipping a lightweight shaft is especially important to having a good lacrosse stick at the goalie position.
The primary duty of the goalie is to stop shots by reacting to the ball extremely quickly. As soon as a shot is fired their way, their stick already needs to be in motion to block the ball’s path.
A lightweight shaft allows goalies to shed a couple milliseconds off of their stick reflexes. Although this may not seem like a lot, every fraction of a second is valuable at the goalkeeping position. One split second too late, and the ball may end up sneaking past.
To get the maximum reaction speed possible, equipping a lightweight shaft is highly advised. The difference may not be discernible at first, but come game time they’ll see the improvement.
What Makes a Good Lacrosse Stick for Face-Off Specialists
A Flexible, Yet Sturdy, Lacrosse Head – Face-off duty requires a very special kind of head for players to perform at their best. For those of you that aren’t familiar with how face-offs work, it’s essentially a contest of speed and physicality to establish possession.
To gain the most physical leverage possible during the face-off, players place a tremendous amount of stress on the head, forcing it to flex. Although this flexing maneuver may increase the chances of winning possession, it warps the plastic of the head significantly.
For this reason, it’s in the best interest of face-off specialists to find a head that’s intentionally designed to be flexible. Stiff lacrosse heads have a greater tendency to snap and break when flexed repeatedly.
Easily Pliable Mesh – Another aspect that makes for a good face-off stick is easily pliable mesh. Although it’s hard to see from afar, face-off specialists line up their sticks so that the back of their pocket is facing toward the ball. Face-off specialists attempt to clamp the back of their lacrosse head onto the ball and fling it out to an open area of the field where they can pick up the ball themselves.
The only problem is that the mesh has to be pushed inward to properly perform a face-off. Consequently, it’s difficult to pick up the resulting loose ball off the ground if the mesh stays in this inward position.
To combat this issue, experienced face-off players use soft, pliable mesh that can conveniently push inward or outward. This makes it more convenient for face-off specialists to perform their face-off duties and scoop up the ground ball afterwards.
Helpful Tips to Keep in Mind Before Buying a Lacrosse Stick
If you’re on the hunt for a new lacrosse stick, there’s a couple of things that you should know before committing to a particular stick. After buying multiple lacrosse sticks over my playing years, I’ve learned a couple things as to what features to look for and what traps to avoid.
Higher Prices Don’t Necessarily Mean Higher Quality
Unfortunately, many beginner lacrosse players fall into the trap of believing that more expensive sticks automatically equate to higher quality. During my novice phase, I fell victim to this trap myself.
As I experimented with a broad spectrum of lacrosse sticks, I quickly realized that much of the “high tier” expensive products performed practically identical to many of the “low to mid tier” products that were available.
Over the years, lacrosse products have really evolved into top notch, high quality gear. Yet, these same companies still release new lacrosse heads and lacrosse shafts season after season. What I have found is that these new releases overshadow the products that are only one to two years old, so much so that many of these “old” products are put on clearance.
I would highly recommend that you at least consider purchasing these semi-old lacrosse heads and shafts as opposed to the newest releases because they perform relatively the same.
Personally, I still play with a lacrosse head that I purchased five years ago because it’s held up extremely well. It will be tempting to go for the newest releases, but financially, they don’t always offer the most bang for your buck.
The Pocket is the Most Important Part of the Lacrosse Stick
If you do want to splurge on your lacrosse stick, I would highly recommend investing in the making of your lacrosse pocket. The lacrosse pocket is the single most important element of your lacrosse stick.
Why you may ask?
The lacrosse pocket dictates how well you will be able to throw, catch, shoot, cradle, dodge, and a myriad of other fundamental lacrosse skills. If your pocket is strung in a mediocre fashion, it can severely limit your potential to play at your best.
For example, I’ve seen players play with pockets that are so shallow it almost resembles a tennis racket. If you’re a newcomer playing with a pocket this shallow, it’s going to be extremely difficult trying to catch the ball consistently. There’s no actual “pocket” for the ball to sit in!
As another example, I’ve also witnessed players that throw the ball directly at the ground with each and every passing attempt. These players immediately blame themselves when in reality their pocket is the one to blame. Often times, the channel is too tight that the pocket is ensnaring the ball, preventing from releasing. Since beginners lack adequate stringing knowledge, they are completely unaware of this problem.
Put simply, it’s important that lacrosse beginners ensure that their lacrosse pocket is strung exceptionally well so that they can ease into the learning process. Many players get caught up in what lacrosse heads and shafts look the most aesthetically pleasing. Although it’s good to buy a lacrosse stick that looks cool, I believe it’s far smarter to spend some extra money to hire an experienced stringer to design your pocket.