Excuse the overblown and corny title, but I think, in some respects, it has real merit. Here’s my dilemma with how we think about pockets, and how each player obtains one to their liking. I’d also like to comment on how words can be used in a number of ways – specifically regarding ‘custom‘.
As a full-time job, I work in advertising, so I see first hand how words and designs are used to evoke certain emotions and elicit certain thoughts; the word “custom” is one of those convertible words that, when framed in the right way, can mean two totally different things.
After years of coaching, playing, working as a retail manager for a lax shop, and stringing for everyone all along the way, I have learned a bit about how players get their pockets. Players have a few options; here is a quick rundown of the majority of possibilities:
- Your pocket is strung by a player or coach with vast stringing knowledge (strings a different way depending on the player) who knows the type of player you are and has discussed how you like the ball to feel and release in your pocket.
- Your pocket is strung by a teammate who knows how to string, but usually has his distinct style (this happens often when a stringer first finds a pocket that they like and can be adapted by a number of players; there are certain pockets that are easily adapt to a variety of players).
- Your pocket is strung by someone you don’t know – a stringing company or a lax shop that asks you what kind of pocket you want, but does not know the type of player you are.
Obviously, there are an infinite range of possible relations the stringing party has to the pocket-requesting party; the point I want to get across is that the more a stringer knows about the type of player you are, your unique motion, and your favorite feel of hold and release, the more your pocket will be “custom” to you.
After a high level analysis of how many lacrosse players string their own sticks, I am going to claim a high ballpark figure of 15% (I am happy to debate on this, but I think I am probably at least 3-5% higher than actual). Note that number, then let’s think about why and how pockets are requested, on a fundamental level.
Let’s also establish that if a player is asking someone else to string their pocket, than that player must trust that the stringer knows more than them about pockets and their construction. I’d also like to define what I believe to be a “good stringer”; a “good stringer”, in my eyes, is one that can string a pocket to meet the needs of any player through pocket manipulation.
Fundamentally, this means that any good stringer understands not only the technical details of tying knots, interlocks and how to weave each string, but also the on-field affect of each component: knot, interlock, mesh type, etc.
How pockets are requested now (especially from stringing and lax shops):
Players determine mesh type, mesh and string colors, pocket placement (high, medium, low) and how much “whip” they want (I am also pretty sure this term is the most undefinable term in pockets, as it means so many different things and can be applied in so many different ways).
Looking back at how many players that we are ballparking string their own sticks, this begs these questions: what authority do the majority of lacrosse players (85%) have in making decisions about their pocket? And what kind of information does this give the stringer to string a pocket that is custom to the player, and not just custom colored and formed to specific, and somewhat undefinable, dimensions?
Let’s imagine a new way of requesting a pocket; a way that I think has been going on subtly, yet remains in the shadows:
Players tell the stringer, firstly, about what they like to do on the field and how they like the ball to release. Then, either digitally or physically, the stringer watches the player cradle, pass, scoop a ground ball and shoot; in other words, the stringer watches the player do all the things they would need to do in a game with their pocket.
Now, from what we’ve established in respect to why stringers get other people to string their pockets (they trust them more than themselves), I would think that the onus for determining the type of pocket that the player should use is more on the stringer than on the player, or, at absolute minimum, determined with greater two-way communication.
Here are two ways to shorten the communication gap:
1) Stringers and shops need to ask better questions, and make sure they have stringers on staff who can really look at how a player plays and listen to how they like it to feel, then make a judgment call on the pocket type that might work for that player and discuss why it was strung that way. Video submissions would work well for online establishments, especially since most kids or families have a simple recording device like an iPhone; stores and solo-stringers can do it in person.
2) Players can learn more about their pockets! With greater knowledge of how a pocket works, you’ll be able to direct a stringer to a pocket you like with much greater ease than just saying “I want a low pocket with a lot of whip” when, in fact, you’re asking this stringer to do this because you’ve trusted that they know more than you about pockets and how they function. By providing more information, and going deeper into you as a lacrosse player, you’ll be able to get a pocket much closer to your liking than without those details.
The sole purpose of why I teach players how to string a pocket, at least once, and understand its components, is because it ultimately leads to a better experience for the player. Just as in all things, some people are more talented at certain things, but everyone can have an understanding of something they may not be innately talented in; this is why some players are very good at stringing, and why there are so few stringers in lacrosse.
To me, this is a travesty; it seems as if most players are deterred from learning about stringing because they project that the commitment to learning about a pocket is more than they can comprehend or handle. What I am saying is that, through learning what a pocket is and how to string one, even once, will give you a better idea of who you are as a player and allow you to instruct whoever strings your sticks in a more informative way (this includes informing yourself, if you choose to string your own.)
This seemingly simple, yet complex conundrum was the driving force behind my latest projects, Stringing Revolution, the DVD, and Zen, Lacrosse and the Art of Stringing, the book.
Get informed and don’t be afraid of what you might find out about you and your game through your pocket.
More than words or video… Action:
As a display of good faith of how much I actually believe this, I am going to try something for 10 players; I would like each of these chosen 10 players to submit their head, a video of them playing (in game if possible and the 4 fundamentals I mentioned) and enough for return shipping – the mesh and consultation would be free for the player.