Get a GRIP... and Some Core Strength Too!
By: Hoch Cho
One of my favorite movies growing up was The Karate Kid. I loved watching Daniel LaRusso wax on and wax off as a way to learn karate moves. It’s even become a part of pop culture.
The moral is that technique and strength are two separate things and to get better faster, you should focus on each separately. The repetitive waxing and painting the fence (and in the remake, Jaden Smith putting his coat on and off the coat rack) builds up the muscles required for technique.
Today, we’re going to learn ART about how to do more with less by separating Technique and Strength. Sometimes a girl knows the technique but is simply not strong enough. Other times, she’s strong enough but doesn’t know the technique. In most cases, it’s both. Concentrating on each item separately will help her improve quicker and with less effort. She will enjoy the game more and stick with it.
First let’s turn to technique. Grip is the most important fundamental in lacrosse, yet online, there is almost no mention of it. It’s extremely common to see girls holding their sticks like a baseball bat. The grip should be loose with the stick where your calluses are, not in the palm. You should be able to feel the weight of the ball in the pocket. Check out Coach Holly R video below!
Gripping the stick with the thumb and forefinger, not gripping like a fist, ensures that the head of the stick is always open. If the stick head is tilted closed, it makes it difficult for the ball to enter cleanly when catching and exit when shooting or throwing. For example, imagine the sticks below are pointed at you when throwing.
The correct grip also allows your wrist to completely break when catching (cushioning the ball) and throwing or shooting (guide it at the end).
I have seen players improve more in three months after using the proper grip than in the three years before. 99.9% of Division 1 lacrosse players grip the stick in this way, and the handful that don’t are 6-foot tall, run a 5-second 40-yard dash and can vertical jump 25 inches.
Here are some other inefficient ways of holding the stick:
For players who’ve been gripping the stick inefficiently for a long time, it may be hard to change that habit. Just spend 5 minutes a day on it consciously (catch and throw with the right grip). Don’t stress them out because it’s been hammered already into muscle memory. I’ve seen it take over a year for a girl to change her grip. After that 5 minutes, here are some other exercises before wall ball, practice and games that may help:
Start by throwing without a stick. Throw like a pitcher throwing a fast ball. Make sure you follow all the way through and finish with your wrist broken.
Catch and throw one-handed. This is really hard to do if you hold the stick like a baseball bat. This video at minute 4:50 shows it.
Please note that the grip for cradling is different as your wrists need to open and close differently as you change from left to right side and change levels of cradle.
Next we’ll tackle Strength. As a coach, I was shocked my second season when two eighth graders returned over the summer never having touched a stick and both had improved more than the girls who had spent the summer on a club lacrosse team. One player spent three months riding horses and shoveling manure to pay for it, the other swam. That experience and speaking with Olympic swimming and skating coaches showed me that core strength creates hand-eye coordination.
Imagine operating a backhoe. It would be difficult to dig a hole if the tractor kept tipping over. That is essentially what happens when a player struggles with catching and throwing (you can even see it with advanced players with their non-dominant hand or when they are tired). Their base (the tractor) is tipping over which means they lose control of the head of the stick (the backhoe) which is almost four feet away from their core. If your team struggles to pick up ground balls, it is core strength. Scooping a ground ball is perfectly analogous to digging a hole with a backhoe.
The other truism is that the less you use something, the less your body wants to use it in the future. By just activating our core before a workout, we can start to strengthen it from the regular practice and play we do every day.
Here are some easy ways to strengthen core without too much extra effort.
Activate before wall ball, practice and games. There are 3 easy ways to do this in just 5-10 minutes. 1) Shoot a lot of balls. Don’t worry about adding other skills like catching on the run. Just get a bucket of balls and launch. For younger players or beginners, shooting before catching and throwing will help immensely. 2) Throw a medicine ball as violently as you can. 3) Pour a pound of sand in a bag and put that in your stick when you do your pre-practice jog around the field. The more you hold your core in, the less your body and limbs flop around and the lighter the sandbag becomes.
Stay in an athletic position. The knees should always be slightly bent. Often just asking a player to bend their knees and bounce up and down will significantly improve their catching. You will often see girls when partner passing or after a whistle in a game standing with locked legs, perfectly straight. Just asking them to bend knees in that situation will improve outcomes (catching, throwing, shooting).
Gamify. Add some core exercises to your practice ending relay races. Bear crawl, crab walk, wheelbarrow are all great. Most kids these days, boys and girls, won’t be able to bear crawl properly for even 20 yards in less than 10 seconds!
What not to do? Don’t do push-ups and core conditioning drills exclusively...especially for younger players. Push-ups shorten our muscles when we should be lengthening them. Conditioning can make kids hate the sport. If you want to do more, the best way is to play games. Baseball or softball, golf, boxing or kickboxing are great because they force the body to rotate around the core. Swimming, horseback riding, yoga, dance and gymnastics are impossible without using your core. Flag football is great because every motion starts from a standstill or athletic stance. If you have a little money to spend, getting a pair of hamster balls or rectangular football body shields and having the girls play sumo within a circle is fun and a tremendous core exercise. If you’ve explained the importance of core well, and the girls are committed and older, then together you and her can create a conditioning plan and get after it.
So, here’s the score: grip the stick right and improve at 10x the rate. Activate your core before and you will improve at double the rate.
For starting players, you’ll be catching and throwing in no time. For advanced players, you’ll finally be scoring with your opposite hand and have the presence to finish on a full speed cut to goal in traffic.
Please follow Coach Holly on Instagram if you like this blog @CoachHollyR and come play with us!
Lacrosse dad, enthusiast, player, and writer!
Hyonmyong (Hoch) Cho grew up in inner city Chicago playing pickup basketball, back alley football and stickball. He learned lacrosse at the Groton School where he started for four years as a leftie defenseman for Coach Tom Degray. He was also a three-year varsity player on the football team as a running back and outside linebacker for Coach Jake Congleton. They were both legendary coaches and leaders who won championships despite being at small schools by teaching ART. Hoch attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where he was a Morehead Scholar. He most recently coached both boys and girls youth lacrosse teams at The Waterford School in Utah.
Photo Credits: Claire Cho