One of the biggest problems that I see in youth lacrosse is that young players are learning to play with huge pockets. Here are the reasons why most youth players love having a bag in their stick and the disadvantages of each perceived "advantage" :
1. It's easier to catch the ball with a deep bag. While this is true, it also allows young players to develop bad habits while catching the ball. For instance, many players will "snatch" at the ball and twist their stick into the catch, instead of catching it behind their head. To see the best way to learn how to catch the ball, watch these two videos by Josh Sims and I : VIDEO I / VIDEO 2 . As we display in those videos, the disadvantages of snatching the ball are numerous. Many times, the player usually drops the ball by spinning his stick and hitting it with the plastic, instead of giving with the ball in the pocket. Also, if you catch with your stick in front of your head, then it takes more time to bring it back for a pass or shot. To be able to get a quick shot or pass off, you need to be able to catch the ball behind your head and then you can get it out all in one motion.
2. Youth players must think the coolest part of lacrosse is cradling. The first thing I ever see with a beginning player is that he is cradling and spinning his stick wildly out of control, but the ball is still staying put because of the bag in his stick. The problem with the ball staying in the stick is that it makes it hard for that player to get it out for quick passes. This is wear youth players struggle the most. They may be able to throw a decent pass when they have all the time in the world in line drills or partner passing, but when they dodge in a game and a quick slide comes, they cannot get the ball out of their stick to save their lives! Being able to move the ball quickly is one of the most important aspects of the game. Youth players cannot do that with a huge bag or a lot of whip in their stick.
3. Youth, high school, college and pro players all do one thing very well - and that's because they all practice it ad nauseam - they can shoot great with time and room. They are all able to stand around a goal with no one on them, take a few cradles and LET IT FLY! The better players obviously can shoot it harder and into the corners more often than beginners, but anyone can shoot with time and room in lacrosse. Since this is the skill that players practice most often, what skill do you think they string their sticks geared towards? You guessed it…this certain time and room shot that happens maybe once a game. If you have a deep pocket and some whip, it definitely helps put some more heat on the ball. However, it hurts the players skills in the two other areas that I talked about above. It also makes them less effective shooting on the run, which is a much more important skill to have as a player gets to take that shot more often.
So youth players like having a big pocket because it makes it easy to cradle the ball and do stick tricks, to catch the ball in an ineffective manner, and to let it rip when no one else is in the same county as them. This is a bad way to learn to play lacrosse! If you go back and watch some college lacrosse from the nineties, you will see that the players had much smaller pockets. They also were able to cradle, catch, throw and shoot very effectively and quickly due to these smaller pockets. To find great lacrosse games on DVD, all you have to do is click on this link to Amazon and look up some of the NCAA Division I games from the nineties. You will be amazed by what you see and the skills that these players demonstrate are the perfect way for youth players to learn the game!
So, I want all youth players (especially my Denver Elite guys) to go get scissors, cut their pockets out and chuck them in the trash can. If you can string your own stick (which you should learn to do as a lacrosse player, by the way) then string up a nice new shallow pocket. If you cannot string up a stick, then take it to your local lax shop and have them string you up a shallow pocket with no whip. At this time of year, you can even ask Santa for Christmas (or your dear old grandma for Channukah) for a new stick (WITH NO POCKET SANTA…OR GRANDMA…GET IT RIGHT!). Better yet, you could also get a girls' stick to practice with which makes it even more challenging to learn these skills in the right way.
With all this being said, here are the steps you need to take to become a better player…and this goes for most of you high school players as well :
1. Get rid of that bag. I don't want to see it again until you get offered a scholarship by some big time NCAA program!
2. Go get a new stick with a shallow pocket.
3. Watch some game film from the nineties and study how those guys played back then.
4. Get out and practice with your new baby. It's going to be a lot harder to catch, throw and shoot, but that's okay. It's going to make you a MUCH better player!