September 7, 2007

Sept. 7, 2007

Note: This article appeared in the "Lacrosse Classroom" section of Lacrosse magazine in August/September 2006. If there's a topic you'd like to see covered in the "Classroom," e-mail section editor Matt DaSilva at mdasilva@uslacrosse.org.


by Matt DaSilva, Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

He's the most respected stringer in the game and a sultan of the stick. So it's funny to hear the irreverent and sometimes blood-curdling screams from the sideline.

Butts!

Jimmy Butler, a longtime equipment manager for Team USA, was as critical an element as any Powell when it embarked on the 2006 International Lacrosse Federation (ILF) World Championships in London, Ontario. He spoke with Lacrosse magazine about the intricacies of taping your stick, and how a $2.50 roll of athletic tape may just be your most valuable piece of equipment.

Overview

There are two reasons players tape their sticks: grip and memory. With Butler's help, we also developed terminology for four standard tape styles: full cover (wrapping tape over tape to leave no space), the "candy cane" (wrapping tape diagonally and leaving spaces), single wrap-around (for memory spots, just a singular layer of tape) and the "roll and wrap" (rolling tape into so it's thin like a rubber band, and wrapping whole layers around it).

As a beginner, Butler suggests, you should determine an "at-home" hand position -- the spots on the stick where you ordinarily hold your top and bottom hands, hip-wide apart -- and apply tape accordingly. But as you evolve as a player and determine the specific functions you want your stick to perform -- be it shooting, feeding, facing off, checking, or making outlet passes -- tape jobs become a bit more of an intricate science.

Regardless of your level, you should:
• Take your stick apart weekly. Break it down, strip the existing tape, clean it, tighten your screws and strings, and re-tape it.
• Have an identical backup. This includes an identical tape job. Consistency is the key.
• Be versatile. Don't lock yourself into one specific tape pattern too early. Experiment with different grips to perform different functions.
• Be able to slide your hands freely. Even with the tape, you want to be able to transfer hands and perform new game-time situations without hesitation. Tape should be a guide, not an impediment.

Functional Grip

"Ninety-nine percent of players who shoot the ball are using fairly large knobs on the ends of their sticks," Butler says. "A shooter's motion is to pull down on the bottom hand and push through with top hand."

The best way to complement the "pull down" part of that motion is to wrap multiple layers of tape around and above the butt end, to the extent of creating a second lower handle.

"Just before the butt end, there should be 4 to 5 inches of just consistent tape," Butler says, "completely under your bottom hand."

Especially if you are someone, like Kyle Harrison or Roy Colsey, who shoots hard on the run, the extra weight at the bottom of your stick will compensate for any power lost in your upper body by extending. More tape means more power. Even defensemen and feeders, who in today's game are expected to be apt shooters as well, should apply some additional tape to the knob. "Over 60 percent of defensemen will have tape at the bottom for a little leverage," Butler says.

But grips are not just for shooters. Some attackmen, Butler notes, will use full-cover tape below the head of their stick for cradling one-handed. Ditto midfielders -- "old-school midfielders" he calls them -- who cradle with one hand, as opposed to the two-handed power cradlers.

If you're a faceoff specialist, especially one who employs the two-hand-over motorcycle grip, you should have full tape coverage where you clamp down. For U.S. team alternate Paul Cantabene, he brings his bottom hand up the handle, so Butler does a roll-and-wrap between 5 and 6 inches up Cantabene's handle to increase the leverage on his clamp.

Memory Points

If you are a shooter, feeder, defenseman or goalie, odds are as you develop as a player you will develop different hand positions and angles to make your stick perform different functions. "Memory points" are like a lacrosse player's brail, knowing where your hands are by the touch of tape.

"Memory tape is a fairly thin layer of tape," says Butler, "that allows you to slide your hand to a point on your stick to do what you need to be doing throughout the course of a game."

For instance, Ryan Boyle -- primarily a feeder (and one of the game's best) -- has memory spots that are higher on his stick. They are subtle, but stop his hands at a point where he knows he can force the crease.

Trevor Tierney -- a goalie -- has memory points on his stick that reflect where his hands need to be to make various outlet passes. The top tape is where he'll bring his top hand for a lob to a breaking long pole; directly below that is memory tape for a beeline over-the-shoulder pass in close to a breaking midfielder; and the mid-range tape is just his standard grip for a dump off to the wings. In this regard, a goalie's memory spots act much like the seams of a football do for a quarterback, guiding his hands to the different positions needed to throw different types of passes.

Nicky Polanco -- a defenseman -- has a memory spot a little higher than halfway up his stick, where he'll apply a "candy-cane" wrap. That's his memory spot for a multitude of stick checks, be it a wrap check or a one-handed check, so the candy cane accounts for more than one memory point.

A lot of young players have mimicked Casey Powell's candy cane up and down the entire stick (Mark Millon of the Long Island Lizards utilizes similar full candy-cane coverage). "Idol worship," Butler calls it. But those are all memory points. "With a guy like Casey who shoots at so many angles -- sidearm, overhand, underhand -- he needs those spots," Butler explains.

"What Casey does is a product of function. He wants to be able to control his stick the entire length of the stick."

Moral of the Story

After you've determined your "at-home" hand position, study where your hands go to perform these various functions, and tape your stick accordingly. Just like muscle memory suits a musician who need not look at the keys or strings, a player's tactile memory allows him just as involuntarily to perfect the functions of his stick.
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