By Ryan Boyle | @ryan_boyle14
I hate your stick.
Despite my success early in high school, John Tucker, my coach then at Gilman (Md.) and now with the Boston Cannons, demanded a change.
Get a new one.
I had wanted a flashy stick with a bold color. Painstakingly, I coated the white plastic of my Sniper with a metallic silver Paint Pen.
I selected black leathers with navy blue nylon strings to align with Gilman’s colors. Given its flair, the stick affectionately became known as “Silver Bullet.”
The Silver Bullet utilized a six-diamond arrangement, balancing the hold of a four-diamond pattern with the accuracy of an eight-diamond design. My game shared that balance statistically (goals and assists), but it also included an alarming number of turnovers. The stick had plenty of pizzazz, but it didn’t optimize my strengths nor facilitate the style for which I was best suited.
I have one for you.
He could have said, “Find another one,” or “Use your backup.” But Tucker knew better. He was a master of the game with the street cred to back it up. As a player, he earned All-American honors and won NCAA championships at Johns Hopkins, gold medals with Team USA, and NLL titles with the Philadelphia Wings. As a coach, he has led three different schools to MIAA championships and won eight overall. He has been an MIAA and MLL Coach of the Year.
While I thought I knew what was best for me, I didn’t. Coach Tucker did, and he provided me with the right stick to match my strengths.
His prescription: a white Edge with navy blue hard mesh and three flat, white shooting strings.
My new stick was as wide as a boat oar and cradled like a pea on a knife. I had to alter my game to accommodate it, which was Tucker’s intention all along. Thus, my introduction to “KYP.” Know your personnel.
Tucker recognized I would be more effective with a different stick. With a low pocket enabling a perpendicular one-handed cradle, I could protect my stick and evolve as a ball carrier. The smooth shooting string progression allowed more consistent and accurate passes, optimizing my vision and feeding capabilities. The lack of whip provided a quicker release, optimal for inside shooting that relies on fakes and placement.
Tucker identified my strengths and gave me a stick that accentuated those traits. That year, I finished with 88 points and postseason accolades when we won the MIAA championship.
Since then, with each evolution of my game, I have made corresponding alterations to my stick.
So how should you pick your stick?
First, master the fundamentals: catching, cradling and throwing.
- A wider head maximizes surface area, making catching easier.
- For cradling, create a pocket that nestles the ball comfortably.
- For passing, accuracy stems from shooting strings that progress from loose at the bottom to tight at the top. This assembly creates a smooth transition so the ball naturally flows from the pocket through the shooting strings to a release point near the top of the head.
Once you develop specific skills, match stick to style. For example, Matt Poskay and Paul Rabil have both won MLL MVP honors. But their strengths differ significantly, and their sticks reflect these distinctions.
As a pure shooter, Poskay relies on a quick release and pinpoint accuracy. His pocket resembles a tennis racket, limiting his dodging ability but creating a swift and true release.
Meanwhile, Rabil and his herculean outside shot require a higher pocket that nestles the ball underneath his U-shaped bottom shooting string. Rabil’s shooting strings are pulled taut, enabling him to dodge and shoot with tremendous velocity.
At times, this arrangement can produce inaccurate or slow passes. Noticing this challenge and assuming more of a distributor role, Rabil altered his strings to give him more consistency as a passer. His numbers over the course of his six-year MLL career confirm this shift. In his first three years (2008-10), his highest assist total was 12. Since then, his lowest total is 18. In 2012, he dished out a career-high 38 assists.
If Rabil and Poskay swapped sticks, they would not be the same players.
Be honest about your game and choose your stick accordingly. Then you can either do it yourself or phone a friend. You’ll find plenty of instructional videos online. Or you can find your Tucker, a credible source with the playing or coaching background to know what is best. Otherwise, most teams (and some families) have a “stick doctor,” someone who strings sticks.
While the lacrosse nation universally appreciates the vintage Stanwick traditional leather pocket, most don’t know that the family patriarch, Wells Stanwick Sr., personally strings his sons’ sticks. For those without a trusted source (or Wells as a father), turn to retail stores or online specialists that provide standardized and custom options.
With endless options, stick selection is one of the most important decisions a player will make. Know your personnel, your own game in this case, so you too can dodge the silver bullet.
How have you tailored your stick to fit your playing style? Share your tips in the comments section.
Ryan Boyle is a six-time MLL All-Star and three-time Team USA attackman, the co-founder and CEO of Trilogy Lacrosse and an ESPN college lacrosse analyst.
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