Lacrosse originated as a tribal game and as a method for Native Americans to “entertain the creator”. When it was first created it was much different than the game of lacrosse that we know today. Opposing villages and tribes would play for many different reasons ranging from a spiritual form of war to a medicine game to help heal tribe members. The game looked vastly different with no out-of-bounds and the field area could range anywhere from a couple hundred yards to a few miles. The early equipment was also very different where goals were often large trees or rock formations and the ball was made out of wood or some type of animal skin stuffed to create a ball shape. The largest different between the game as we know it today are the sticks that players would use, which have certainly come a long way since the early days of lacrosse.
The First Lacrosse Sticks
Early lacrosse sticks would be almost unrecognizable to a modern lacrosse player. The first sticks were made of wood and had a very small area in which to hold the ball. Players would typically wield two sticks in order to trap the ball while moving. Most of the time players would find things to attach to the stick to enhance their abilities on the field. Examples of this include a feather of a hawk for precise vision or fur from a wolf for speed and agility. When European settlers first saw these sticks with the special items on them they were reminded of the staff that religious bishops carried, hence why they referred to the game as la crosse.
The typical wood sticks we know today didn’t actually arise until the late 18th century when Iroquois Native Americans began to use a fully wooden stick. These sticks featured what we now refer to as a pocket, and were shaped much more similarly to modern lacrosse heads. The pockets were often strung with leather runners throughout the head and the opposite, non-wooden wall was laced up with deer or cow intestine that hardened to create a rigid shape, finishing up the outline of the head.
Double Walled Lacrosse Sticks
Robert Pool introduced the double walled lacrosse stick on July 20, 1937, and the game was forever changed. The sturdier stick made handling the ball much easier, and these sticks would eventually influence the design of today’s plastic sticks. In August of 1970 STX patented the first plastic molded head which was lighter and easier to maneuver than the thick wooden ones. This allowed players to be able to restring their sticks with ease and gave them a better ability to form the pocket to their liking.
The next major advancement in the history of lacrosse was the introduction of mesh laces instead of leather strings in the 1980s. Mesh was not only lighter and performed better, but proved to be more resilient in inclement weather.
In today’s game players use many different types of pockets and stringing styles varying from the old traditional leather pockets to some outrageous mesh pockets. Players in different positions even shape their pockets differently to help them play their position. Just in the past 20 years we have seen huge changes in the mesh world with different sizes of diamonds, different toughness and even wax coated mesh. Many players use their mesh as a way to express their individuality out on the field, using different color combinations and techniques to create the perfect pocket. This has brought the modern game back to the origins when players would incorporate something from nature to set them apart, bringing the game full-circle.