Lacrosse players that are just beginning to familiarize themselves with the art of stringing may wonder about how vital shooting strings are to the overall function of a lacrosse stick. As a stringing novice, I know I sure did.
Shooting strings are not required for lacrosse sticks. A lacrosse stick that lacks shooting strings is completely legal and can still perform well if the pocket is strung correctly. Players use shooting strings to fine tune their throwing release, not because it is an essential part of the pocket.
When I was first trying my hand at stringing lacrosse pockets, this was hard to fathom. After witnessing the majority of lacrosse pockets feature shooting strings, I had a hard time believing this fact to be true. Below, we will delve into the exact reasons why shooting strings are a non-essential part of the lacrosse pocket and the rationale as to why pockets that lack shooting strings are so rare.
Why Shooting Strings are Not a Necessity
There are a couple of hard and fast rules to stringing a lacrosse pocket in order for it to be considered legal. Although many up and coming lacrosse players are led to believe that shooting strings are a mandatory part of the lacrosse pocket, they are not.
Shooting Strings Have a Non-Essential Purpose
To understand why that is, it is necessary to first take a look at the overall purpose of shooting strings as a whole. We will compare and contrast the function of the shooting strings in relation to the other stringing materials involved in the making of the lacrosse pocket.
If you still have a bit of trouble identifying the different stringing materials involved in the makeup of a lacrosse pocket, I highly recommend you check out my article The Parts of a Lacrosse Stick: An Illustrated Guide and skip down to the structural breakdown of the lacrosse pocket.
The shooting strings play no role in tethering the mesh to the plastic of the head itself. The top string, sidewall strings, and bottom string are the nylon strands that are responsible for fastening the mesh to the plastic.
Thus, a player can perform all the fundamental skills needed for lacrosse without any shooting strings because there is no risk of the ball falling out of the pocket due to stringing deficiencies. They can catch, pass, cradle, and shoot because the basic function of the pocket remains intact.
The main drawbacks of not including shooting strings is that throwing accuracy and consistency may take a severe hit because the throwing release is not thoroughly optimized. We will talk about how exactly the shooting strings refine the throwing release later on in the article.
A Lacrosse Pocket that Lacks Shooting Strings is Perfectly Legal
Furthermore, a lacrosse pocket that is without shooting strings adheres to the rules regarding pocket legality.
There is nothing in the rulebook that explicitly states that a lacrosse pocket must incorporate shooting strings into the lacrosse pocket. However, the first bullet point that uslacrosse.org specifically states in the rules regarding shooting strings is that a pocket “may have 0, 1 or two shooting strings” (source).
As long as all other aspects of pocket legality are followed, officials cannot deem your stick illegal.
Why Most Lacrosse Pockets Feature Shooting Strings
Many incoming lacrosse players are under the false impression that shooting strings are an essential part of a lacrosse stick because nearly every pocket features them. It is uncommon to observe a lacrosse pocket that is shooting stringless. I suppose the question to ask now is why?
Increases the Whip of the Lacrosse Pocket
As aforementioned, the primary purpose of the shooting strings is to refine the throwing release. The number one way to go about polishing up a throwing release is by adjusting the whip of the lacrosse pocket.
For those of you that do not know, whip is a generic term used to describe how low that a lacrosse pocket throws relative to the ground. A high whip lacrosse pocket throws directly into the dirt, whereas a low whip lacrosse pocket throws extremely high in the air. Ideally, lacrosse players want to find the happy medium between high whip and low whip to get the most amount of precision and accuracy out of their lacrosse stick. That is just the basic gist of the concept of whip. To learn more about this staple stringing theory, click over to my article A Full Breakdown of What Whip Actually Means in Lacrosse.
I like to think of shooting strings as little speed bumps. In this analogy, the lacrosse ball is the car and the mesh is the road. If there are no speed bumps in the road, a car is much more likely to speed down the road. It is a completely different story if speed bumps are present. The speed bumps slow the car down and prolong the amount of time it takes for the car to reach its destination.
This same concept applies to shooting strings. With the introduction of these “speed bumps” into the lacrosse pocket, it takes more time for the ball to fly out of the pocket. Consequently, the ball releases later in the throwing motion, which changes the trajectory of the ball downward as opposed to upward. As a general rule of thumb, the later that the ball releases, the more likely it is to release into the ground.
For many players, an extreme lack of whip can be exceedingly difficult to manage. An extreme lack of whip almost always accompanies a lack of shooting strings. With that being said, pockets strung without shooting strings are still playable, but this sort of pocket may not be the most suitable option for certain players.
If a lacrosse stick is throwing excessively high, inserting a shooting string or two can be the answer to mitigating this problem.
Accentuates the Feel of the Throwing Release
In addition, shooting strings also establish a sense of feel during the throwing motion. For some of you newer lacrosse players, this may sound like nonsense. I know this because I thought the same thing. It was only after experimenting with alternative shooting string setups that I finally came around to this idea.
Depending on the shooting strings used, the throwing release can have an exceptionally snappy release or an exceptionally smooth release. Generally, a snappy release is associated with heavy nylon strings. On the other hand, a smooth release is associated with cotton laces. The difference in appearance between these two kinds of shooting strings is pictured below.
As a player continues to develop their game and solidify their play style, they begin to lean toward a snappier release or a smoother release. To further promote one type of feel over the other, players make use of certain shooting string materials and setups.
A lacrosse pocket that features no shooting strings cannot offer this sort of flexibility in terms of sensing the feel of the release. With zero shooting strings included, players are limited to just a singular sense of feel. This lack of adaptability can be a bit alienating to players, which is why they gravitate toward the shooting string route.
Adds Hold to the Lacrosse Pocket
Another major benefit that has popularized the inclusion of shooting strings is the prospect of additional pocket hold.
Remember the speed bumps analogy from earlier? Well it applies here yet again. We already established that shooting strings slow down the release of the ball along its exit pathway. What I didn’t mention is that these same shooting strings can act as a barricade to the ball as it attempts to roll down that same exit pathway during cradling.
The ball wants to escape the pocket during the cradling motion. As the ball bounces around the pocket, the path of least resistance is through the same pathway that the ball travels during the throwing release. This lack of resistance is magnified when the pocket has no shooting strings to speak of. When shooting strings are present, the ball is less likely to shoot out of the center track of the pocket because they help to keep the ball in check.
To see what I mean, check out the demonstration of pocket hold below in a situation where shooting strings are present and in a situation where shooting strings are absent.
Notice how the addition of the shooting strings allows the ball to remain in the pocket at a position slightly more perpendicular to the ground compared to the pocket with no shooting strings whatsoever. Even though the angle difference may just be a matter of a few degrees between the two scenarios, this makes a noticeable difference in the amount of hold that a pocket has.
This extra hold is especially beneficial to offensive players that regularly carry the ball. It definitely saves them from a few turnovers in the long run.
Because It Is the Norm
Lastly, a great deal of lacrosse players throw on shooters in their lacrosse pocket because it is the standard.
Believe it or not, a considerable number of lacrosse players are completely oblivious to the nuances of stringing. Many lacrosse players simply hand over the job of pocket stringing to someone else so that they can do it for them. Since the inclusion of shooting strings is so ingrained into the lacrosse stringing community, they are thoroughly unaware that playing with a pocket with no shooting strings is a viable option.
Even those that are aware of its legality decide against playing with no shooting strings. By the time that they have uncovered this stringing possibility, it would be a pain for them to make such a blunt transition. They have played far too long with shooting strings to ditch them for good.
Others simply don’t want to have to deal with teammates asking why their pocket lacks shooting strings. “Why doesn’t your pocket have shooters?” “Is that legal?” “You should really put shooting strings on that thing.” You can see how this could get annoying.
Should You Put Shooting Strings on Your Lacrosse Stick?
This brings us to the real question that has probably been on your mind the entire article… Should you put shooting strings on your lacrosse stick?
Like most things, the answer is that it depends. Every lacrosse player has their own individual tendencies, play style, strengths, weaknesses, and throwing mechanics. These are but a few factors that play into how you should structure your lacrosse pocket. The only true person that knows the answer to this question is you, the player.
With that being said, I can help guide you to that answer by offering some guidelines as to when you should incorporate shooting strings in your pocket and some guidelines as to when you should not incorporate shooting strings in your lacrosse pocket. Keep in mind that these are guidelines, not hard and fast rules.
Times When You Should Include Shooting Strings in Your Lacrosse Pocket
When You Keep Dropping the Ball While Cradling: As aforementioned, shooting strings add a modest amount of extra hold to a lacrosse stick. If you find that you regularly drop the ball while cradling, shooting strings may be an option you want to experiment with if you haven’t done so already.
Just be sure that all of the shooting strings that you include lie within 4″ from the top of the lacrosse head. Any shooting string that lies below this 4″ threshold will deem your stick illegal for formal game play.
Prior to doing this, however, you should first take a look at your cradling form and make sure that it is on point. The problem may lie with you and not the pocket.
When You’re Consistently Throwing Too High: Another time where you should test out the effect of shooting strings is when you’re routinely throwing higher than your intended target.
This is a strong indicator that your pocket may not have enough whip to complement your individual throwing motion. To fix this problem, you either have to a) adjust your throwing motion to accommodate the pocket or b) adjust your pocket to accommodate your throwing motion.
Either method works. But if you elect to modify the pocket, start with incorporating a shooting string or two if you haven’t already. This way, you don’t have to mess around with the integrity of the pocket shape itself. Not to mention that inserting a couple shooting strings only takes a few minutes to do if you know how to string. Adjusting the knot pattern on the sidewall requires a lot more time.
Times When You Should NOT Include Shooting Strings in Your Lacrosse Pocket
When Your Stick is Already Throwing Relatively Well: For whatever reason, some lacrosse players tinker with their pocket even though it is performing rather well. As the wise old adage goes… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Too many times players try to mess around with their pocket with the hope of making it incrementally better than it was before. More often than not, this plan backfires and their pocket actually ends up worse off.
If you are dead set on experimenting with your lacrosse pocket, I would advise you to at least do so in the offseason. Permanently lousing up your pocket in the middle of the season will have severe repercussions on your game performance and playing time. Trust me, no lacrosse team wants to have an offensive liability on the field that can’t throw, mediocre lacrosse stick or not.
When You’re Consistently Throwing Too Low: Furthermore, you should explore the possibility of shooting strings if you regularly toss the ball into the dirt.
Trying to play lacrosse with a stick that only throws projectiles into the ground is not a fun experience. I learned that lesson the hard way.
The most convenient approach you can take to solving this problem is by simply removing the shooting strings altogether. Often times, a shooter that is strung too tightly can have an adverse effect on the throwing release. Instead of the ball traveling smoothly out of the pocket, the ball snags on this excessively taut shooter. This snagging action causes the ball to repeatedly hook to the ground with every throw.
Taking out this problem shooting string may clear up any issues that you might be having with throwing too low. And the best part is that it only takes a minute to do!
In summary, it is possible for a lacrosse stick to not have shooting strings. If you are still exploring the ideal pocket setup that suits your play style, you may want to consider the zero shooting string setup as an option. Who knows? You may find that this unorthodox pocket setup was exactly what you’ve been searching for.