As Todd Williams correctly pointed out in a previous article in The Hockey Paper, when it comes to buying a stick there are an overwhelming number of technological claims, each designed to make that specific brand appear unique and therefore desirable.
Are they all wholly relevant? Maybe, but given his analogy to the car industry, do we need seats that vibrate, or cars that read us our text messages or can go from 0-60 in 2.3 seconds (not helpful in a Woking rush-hour!)? No, but they exist in an effort to provide choice. As my father used to say: “That’s why they make mixed biscuits.”
So, what does make a difference? Carbon has become an over-used word, more carbon can create greater stiffness in the stick, that increased stiffness can transfer more power from the player to the ball, but it isn’t a magic wand, it doesn’t create power itself, it just transmits energy.
The quality of the carbon is relevant, the ‘lay-up’ – how the carbon is placed within the stick – is also relevant, as if it doesn’t overlap correctly it creates stress points where energy transfer gets compromised and potential breakages occur.
The problem is we have become as focused as Jeremy Clarkson on ‘Pooowwwweeeerrrr’ but haven’t recognised that pure power hitting is a tiny fraction of the game.
The other issue of super-stiff sticks is that with a young players, with wrists and elbows not fully formed or strengthened, a stick that is too stiff can lead to RSI-type injuries, discomfort and even pain when playing.
So, first things first, get a stick that is the right length! In the UK, one basic method is to put the head of the stick on the floor and see where the end of the handle comes to. The hip bone is the approximate target for a young player.
In Holland, the hip bone becomes the belly button, so giving about a two-inch margin based on personal comfort and ability – a better player can cope with a longer stick. Once the player’s hip is above 36.5 (a basic-length adult stick), it is all about personal preference. Don’t think that the further the hip goes above 36.5 the longer the stick has to be, use what is comfortable.
Then, if possible, go into a retailer unless replacing like for like (the internet is perfect for that). Every stick is fractionally different. Bends, weights and balances mean that the stick we see our favourite player use and perform well with may be wholly unsuitable for us. There is no substitute for picking a stick up, even trying it if possible.
If you can’t get to a shop, try a team-mate’s model, get a feel for something. It’s why car garages offer test drives. Then the internet can be a great place to find the product you are looking for once you have tested it.
If you are looking at a stiffer stick then look for vibration control – it will have a myriad of names across different brands, but if we recognise that touch and feel are important when we play, we need the control element of the stick to be enhanced and the power to not be too dominant. Don’t worry about what it is called, just look for it as a feature.
The issue then is that we get the problem with all the other names and details, as Todd pointed out. Can a member of staff in any shop remember them all?
Maybe not, although you would hope for not too many ‘I don’t know’ experiences. If possible, I would always try and do some research, find the brand or store website and quite often it will be a goldmine in helping to sort out jargon.
So, to try and simplify the process, get the right length sorted to start with. Then look at stiffness, recognise your own strength – if you aren’t just about the power then 101% carbon isn’t for you.
Seventy to eighty per cent is fine for a majority of players’ needs. Look at vibration control to help with the important touch and feel, and penultimately look at value for money. Compare specifications with prices, how does brand X with 80% carbon compare to brand Y with the same? Finally, what does it look like?
If you are investing in a new stick for a younger player, the reality is that if they don’t attach to it mentally, liking the product from moment A then it gets lost, left behind on the side of a pitch.
So having done all the research, got the perfect weight and balance, spoken to shop staff and researched Toray carbon on the internet, go for your favourite colour.
*This column originally featured in The Hockey Paper, which is available every Wednesday.