Pick Pocketing

Pocket setup is a crucial factor to consider when getting your lacrosse head strung.  No one lacrosse player is exactly the same and how each passes and shoots can differ dramatically.

Carrying the ball is another element of the game that is often overlooked but one that weighs in on how you want to position your pocket.  With all that in mind let’s talk about some of the basics of lacrosse movement and pocket placement.

Cradling and Set Up

Moving with the ball in your stick is very important.  Whether you are maneuvering away from a defender with a dodge or quick wrist fake or running in the open field or open floor, feeling comfortable with the ball in your stick is crucial and should feel second nature after some practice.

The cradling motion allows the ball to seat itself in the pocket due to centrifugal force.  Cradling should be a subtle movement that coincides with your running stride.  When done properly it takes a simple wrist movement or arm movement to execute causing the ball to not fall out when running or moving.

Pocket placement determines where the player is going to carry their stick and how exaggerated their cradling or faking can be.  A deeper pocket will retain the ball better and requires less arm cradles while a shallow pocket is very shallow and the ball must be cradled frequently so the ball does not fall out.  But depth is only one element so lets look at the throwing motion to get a better idea about the other factors.

Shooting and Passing

The throwing motion used by each player determines how the ball will release from the head.  Different points in the mesh will be used to support the ball through the motion to create a hooked release, a high release or a true release.  The placement of the pocket along with the tension of the shooting strings determines this release.

After the player has gotten their hands and the stick into a position to pass or shoot the ball, the stick is usually brought back in an effort to load energy for the release.  Players will sometimes carry their stick high and beside their head, we’ll call this the twelve o’clock position.  This allows for a quick release and little movement from the body due to the nature of the set up.  It doesn’t allow for harder shots and passes however because of how little the torso moves and how little the head travels before the release of the ball.

Some players prefer to protect the ball and therefore carry their sticks low and behind their bodies.  This requires a considerable movement to bring the head from a low position behind the body to a release point above the head or near the feet in the case of an underhand pass or shot.

Most players prefer to load with the stick at the two o’clock position or three quarter position.  This is a good general position and can be used to get a quick release, or with an added step forward, can become a hard shot.  From this position it is easy to protect the ball and when rolling off a pick or screen, the head is still somewhat concealed and tough for the goalie to see.

All of these release points are each partial to specific pocket setups.  Let’s now find out about the three main positions of the pocket and how it relates to each style of play.

The Low, Mid and High Pocket Position

It’s safe to say at this point that no player is exactly the same and therefore they couldn’t possibly throw the same.  The shape and depth of a pocket determines a player’s style and can easily be changed to enhance your throwing ability.

The low pocket is one that is strung so that the ball is held closest to the bottom of the head or nearest the point where the handle inserts into the head.  This pocket is often tight across the top and mid point of the pocket forcing the ball low making it great for one handed cradling and good ball retention.  The release is really smooth due to the enhanced support the ball has from the mesh before it leaves the stick.  Quick passes and shots from that twelve o’clock position are popular with the low pocket as it rarely hooks and offers a quick release.  It’s difficult to really load with this style of pocket though so underhand shots and sidearm shots are not the easiest to pull off.

The high pocket causes the ball to be held closest to the top lip of the head.  High pockets often have a lot of hook or whip due to the ball catching the top shooting string, which is often the tightest string.  Players using a high pocket often carry their sticks behind them or low at the three o’clock or four o’clock positions.  Unlike the low pocket, the twelve o’clock position becomes difficult to execute because the ball easily falls out or hooks badly when thrown from this position.  Often a shot or pass is done with little to no follow through and the pocket offers very good ball retention.  It is really good for throwing big convincing fakes.

The last of the three pockets is the mid pocket.  The mid pocket is positioned in the middle of the head due to the bottom of the mesh being tied tighter and the tension of the shooting strings progressing from mid pocket to the lip of the head allowing for a smooth release.  Unlike the high pocket there is no drastic lip for the ball to release off of and unlike the low pocket, the ball is not able to seat itself in the bottom of the pocket.  The mid pocket offers good ball retention when cradling or dodging defenders and allows for decent ball fakes.  The stick can be carried in various positions allowing it to be easily loaded for a sidearm, underhand or overhand shot.  The mid pocket is a good multi-purpose pocket.

Which Pocket is Best For You

As you can see from the descriptions above, there are a few options that a player has at their disposal to ensure they are getting the most out of their equipment.  When figuring out which pocket is best for you the best answer is all of them.  There are benefits in each pocket position and a player’s style could change dramatically over the course of their playing career.

Your best approach is to experiment with your pocket positions.  Use one pocket style is a defensive role that allows for good outlet passes and easily scooping loose balls (low pocket), and use another in an offensive position that allows for good fakes and a quick release when you’ve dodged into a good shooting position (mid pocket).

The game should always be a source of fun so take the time to experiment with the different pockets and enjoy the benefits each one will give you.

About the Author

Chris Levis grew up the son of a goalie mask maker in southern Ontario.  Owner of Levy’s Source for Sports – an independently owned and operated sporting goods store located in Langley, BC – he focuses on a range of sporting goods including hockey and lacrosse gear.  He has played goal in the Western Lacrosse Association (WLA) and National Lacrosse League (NLL) since 1998.  Chris has also served on the negotiating and competition committee of the Professional Lacrosse Players Association (PLPA) since 2000.  In the 10 years preceding Levy’s, Chris was a Strength and Conditioning Coach focusing on sports performance and corrective movement.