Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada/Chapter 5

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



The Canadian Indians claim to have invented the present Crosse long before Jacques Cartier came to Canada. When the French first saw the game they gave it the name of La Crosse, the bat; and it is worthy of note that the use of the present shaped stick seems to have been almost entirely confined to Canada.

1. Tip. 6. Leading string.
2. Top.
3. Bend. A. Head surface of netting.
4. Collar or Peg. B. Centre surface of netting.
5. Butt. C. Lower angle.

The Crosse is made of ash, hickory, rock-elm, or bass wood, and, like the other aboriginal constructions, such as the bark canoe, the snow-shoe and tobogan, was made entirely from the productions of the chase and the forest, until deer-skin became scarce and the Indian domestic,—when the skin of the cow or the horse supplied the material for the netting. An Indian goes into the woods, cuts a load of green boughs, or young trees—which are split in four; bends them, while green, to the required shape around a wooden model, or between two logs, or in a hole, fastens a piece of cat-gut or birch bark from the tip to the collar or peg, to preserve the bend, and lets them season; or if the wood is already seasoned, it is bent by steaming. The Indians prefer hickory because of its strength, but unless it is light, ash or rock elm is better adapted for the purpose. Poor, cheap sticks are a snare: good sticks should be free from knots.

In bending the stick the incurvation of the bend should be regulated either by a wooden model or by the eye. The laws of Lacrosse now limit the width of the widest part to one foot, but nine inches is perhaps more serviceable and convenient for every purpose; though a goal-keeper may take advantage of the outside limit. A slight outward bend should be given to the middle. The part of the top of the curve which touches the ground in picking up should be shaved or filed off, either previous to or after weaving. There is no restriction upon the length of the stick, but the measurement most likely to suit all parties is from the toe, close into the hollow under either arm. A long stick is better for long and hard throwing, and for general play, providing the player can manage it ; but the disadvantage is, that the weight is increased, and that the length impedes ground frisking, and is more exposed to checks in dodging. Goal-keeper, however, should never have a crosse longer than the toe and arm-pit measurement. The circumference of the stick should be about 3½ inches in its thickest part ; the back part, which is pierced for the netting, should be shaved flat about a quarter of an inch wide on both sides of the holes. All trimming should be completed before commencing to weave. Care must be taken not to sacrifice strength to appearance. A curve too thin is sure to crack at the holes, and some fine morning collapse. The butt may be bound with waxed cord or chamois, to give a firm grasp, and prevent concussion.

After the stick is bent, and before the string is fastened to retain it in place until seasoned, a hole should be bored and a peg inserted, or what is, perhaps, better, the stick should be so trimmed as to leave a collar at figure 4, where the length stings are to terminate. The netting should be about twenty-nine inches long. About thirteen holes, two and a half inches apart, are now bored for the length and side strings, about a quarter of an inch from the inside of the wood, and exactly in the centre of a shaves surface. These holes should begin about an inch and a half from the tip, and stop at about nine or ten inches from the collar. The stick is then ready for weaving, after seasoning.


Before commencing to weave, decide upon the side of the stick which you will use. Holding it in your right hand, the right side is that which is uppermost when the tip of the curve is to the right. Reverse it, and you bring the tip to the left, and the left side uppermost. There are as many plausible reasons for using the one side as the other. Some maintain that there is less danger of being checked in dodging, and more ease and accuracy in throwing, by using the left side; but on the other hand, as many maintain the same advantage for the right. In the carried dodge from right to left, described in Sect. 1 on Dodging, the netting is more exposed to damage from the usual front check ; and as this is about the only carried dodge much practised by the Indians, we may attribute to this their general use of the left side of the Crosse. Another good argument in favor of the left side in dodging, is that in the movement from right to left the ball finds a better guard from slipping, as it is close to the stick ; while when held on the right side in this movement, it is altogether controlled by the wrist and arm in carrying. Personally we prefer the right side, as we never could make the ball run close to the stick in throwing from the left side. In facing, Centre is obliged to place the right side of the netting against the ball, and it seems awkward that in case of a slip, where the crosse has to be used as in close play, that he should have to reverse his stick or play at a disadvantage. It is more convenient, too, to have the angular ridge suggested for the Centre's crosse, on the side with which he plays. However, many good players who use the left side maintain that they make the ball run close to the wood in throwing ; and the most natural side for each player is the only rule.


The material used for weaving must be "cat-gut." (See Rule 1, Sec. 1.) Formerly it was customary to use cord, leather thongs, and moccasin strings, and we have seen stay laces, boot laces and tape utilized for the same purpose. The cat-gut, if good, will be transparent after being prepared in a solution of potash and water. It should be cut into straight strips of uniform thickness, and soaked in water for a few minutes before weaving. The longest strings are used first, and the weaving may be commenced by catching at the collar or peg, passing through the tip hole, across to the second hole, down to the collar or peg, up to the third hole, and so on until the length strings are completed. The inter-weaving is then done by continuing sideways, twisting the gut in a half knot as it has to cross any length string. It is much cheaper to buy than to make a crosse, but every player should learn to weave a netting for himself, as the Indian manufacturers make a hide go a long way, and have no conscientious scruples about sending miserable gut into market. The strongest material we have ever met for the netting, and which may be used alone or interwoven with the regular material, is the clock gut used for clockweights, and which seems to last longer than anything else.

The length strings should be made so tight as to prevent the possibility of the netting bagging. The "bag" was instituted by bad players who were fond of dodging, and too lazy or unskilful to learn the art of managing the ball on a flat netting. The difficulty lay in defining a bag, but every player instinctively knows one. There is no such thing in a new crosse; and, to induce players not to bag, it was agreed years ago by the Montreal and Beaver Clubs to use a leading string resting upon the top of the stick.

When the leading string was first proposed it was also suggested to make a certain concavity, below which it would be illegal to bag, thus meeting the baggists half way ; but this was clearly seen to be impossible with the pliable substance used for weaving, and the length of surface exposed to alteration by the vicissitudes of play and damp weather. It would be far easier to lay down a rule for the mathematical exactness of the curve and dimensions of the stick than for the concavity of the netting ; because the latter loses its original shape in using, especially when wet, and would not retain any original concavity half an hour. Picture the confusion when several Crosses would bag below a restricted depth after a game had commenced. The men might present a netting perfectly flat, before the Umpires, and, when their backs are turned, let out the length strings and make a bag of any depth. There would be many more disputes on this point, if such a law was made, than there ever can be as the law now stands. No player should own a Crosse suspected of bagging. Prettier and more scientific play is made with a flat surface. The improvements in general play commenced when the old bag was repudiated.


Two goals are required. Two flags constitute a goal; colors generally scarlet and blue, sometimes very handsomely worked in gold and embroidery. The flag-poles should have iron spikes about two inches long to sink into the ground. The distance from one goal to the other should be proportioned by the number of players ; two hundred yards is a fair length for twelve players a side.


should be distinctly drawn with chalk or the butt of a Crosse.


The more level the ground the more pleasant ; but one may see Lacrosse played in Montreal in lanes, yards, unmacadamized streets, on hills and in rocky valleys. The fewer the stones and the shorter the grass the better. The ground does not absolutely need rolling or preparation of any kind ; but level grounds develop fine play. Lacrosse may be played on ice on skates, or on the snow. The size and nature of the ground changes the character of the game. Men with good wind, who run well, will prefer a long field ; but the real science in Lacrosse, and the beauty and skill of close contests, will be sooner developed on a field where the men are often brought near together.


The circumference of the ball is about half an inch less than a cricket ball, and weighs about four ounces, less two pennyweights. The weight of balls of the size and quality defined by the laws is nearly always the same. Solid rubber was discarded some years ago as being too heavy. Just before the sun rises, and at dusk, there is a grey misty haze over the ground, and the ball can scarcely be seen in its rapid œrial or terrestrial flight. No goal-keeper can stop balls under such circumstances. Would not white rubber balls be an improvement? A white speck can be easily seen on the ground when black is invisible. Painting a black ball white is only a temporary expedient, as the paint soon wears off.


It has always been the fashion to wear a light dress, and though we would not advocate the nudity of the original players, we think the less and lighter the dress the better. The respective sides in a match should have a distinguishing dress, easily particularized at first glance. Flannel cap, or Havelock — though some say the latter is an impediment to running, and we know in running races boys always pitch away their caps — tight shirt, knickerbockers, woollen stockings, and moccasins, sandals, light shoes or rubbers, complete the costume. The Montreal and some other Clubs sport pretty jackets, but we disapprove of any covering over a tight fitting shirt. Belts are worn, but we hope some one will introduce instead a light variegated Canadian sash. Gloves are not to be sneered at. Driving gloves, which should protect the wrist from blows, are the best. The palm may be cut out sufficiently to give a good grasp.


It would be a weakly game of Lacrosse that would be played by one legged men, as cricket is sometimes indulged in between the one leg'd and one arm'd veterans of Greenwich Hospital. A gouty foot, a rheumatic limb, and even the minor affliction of corns and bunions, are the greatest impediment to Lacrosse players. Though there are desperate men who esteem their legs above brains in the game, it must be admitted that unless a man's lower extremities from hip to heel, and indeed the whole man externally and internally, are in prime condition to dash down a common at the rate of a hundred yards in thirteen seconds, and keep it up at intervals, at the rate of four or more miles a match, he has little chance of getting on our crack "Twelves," unless his hobby is goal keeping or "home." So much of the success of a player depends upon his legs that they must be in good condition, requiring a special education in the art of sudden leaping and springing, and of suddenly arresting the speed, which the practice of ordinary running does not give. The directions laid down in the various works for position in running cannot apply to a man carrying the ball on a Crosse, checked and impeded by numerous opponents at all points; but the general principles are the same. A good runner is always an acquisition, providing he masters the real art of play, but is too common a delusion to believe, that because one has gained a reputation for pedestrianism or snow-shoe racing, he is peculiarly fitted to make a good Lacrosse player. As well expect a cavalry squad to be able to dismount and master the velocipede.


Training a "Twelve" has never to our knowledge been systematically applied by any Club, though it is quite as important in Lacrosse as in boating or cricket. Individual separate training as systematically as laid down in books on the subject, applied to Lacrosse, is not only inconvenient for the large majority of players, but decidedly inadvisable; but every one can avoid excesses of livings eat plain strengthening food, retire and rise early, and exercise sufficiently to develop a fair amount of wind and endurance. For ordinary play, however, absolute training is unnecessary, if the man lives anyway reasonably. The nature of Lacrosse is such that it will not permit "first Twelve" men to live immorally. Indulgence in liquor and tobacco tell on the wind and muscle, especially in America. The nut-brown ale of England, home-brewed in inns historical, is a different thing to the bottled trash and barrelled bitterness imported or made and sold in Canada. The less we know of their taste the better. We can only recall to mind one or two instances where players "finished off" after practice by a spree; and they went to the dogs, and would have gone sooner, we dare say, but for their indulgence in a game which occupied and utilized a share of their leisure.

Before a match, players should nurse themselves by temperance and gentle exercise. A night's dissipation will counteract a fortnight's training, and the finest pace may be killed by a champagne supper.

Apart from individual training to develop and perfect the individual body, we would impress upon "Twelves" the advisability of practical training together, to perfect each other in individual positions, to combine and equalize their action, and to establish mutual confidence. Our theory is that young player should be taught progressively a systematic squad drill, beginning with picking up and mastering the ball on the Crosse, until they know the principles of throwing, catching, checking, &c.; and that the twelve selected to play on a match should all play on one side at practice as much as possible. Let them take gentle trots together of a quarter of a mile to begin with for a few mornings; then dashes of a hundred and two hundred yards as hard as they can go; then longer runs of two or four miles. Let them practice a little the art of bringing up suddenly while at full speed, turning around suddenly and dashing back, turning to either side-face and dashing sideways.