Lifestyles: Meet the Stick Doctor
Stick doctor, stick guru, stick master. You name it. He's heard it all.
Lyle Tomlinson has become the de facto stringer for many of the top players in college and the MLL. He invented the "Pocket 34 and the Double Bag," which is known for providing that extra whip on a shot or pass.
His stick stringing is rooted in his playing days as No. 34 for Crawford High School in San Diego, where his coach Tom Hannum, a former member of the Philadelphia Wings, introduced him to the concept. For the past four years, Tomlinson has now applied his skills to women's sticks as a volunteer assistant for San Diego State.
Editor's Note: As part of his research, Tomlinson spoke with Drew Searl (Syracuse 1996-1999) at a lacrosse camp in 1999 and was inspired by the "Searl Special" pocket, later renamed "The Love Channel," that Searl created as a freshman. Tomlinson credits Searl for having an integral part in developing "Pocket 34," a name created by Tomlinson.
How did you first get into stick stringing?
I got started with stick stringing in high school. My high school coach Tom Hannum told me if I wanted to step out onto the field, I better have a nicely strung pocket because when you buy the sticks from the store, it's the manufacturer stringing. It's not a pocket. I did my own research, looking at pictures and talking to players and coaches. They gave me all sorts of pointers and told me what they are looking for in a pocket. Each player is different with their style of play with their throwing and shooting mechanics. In high school, you have so many friends at other schools that you end up stringing their friends' sticks and it continued in college.
Lyle Tomlinson strung the famous Pocket 34 for Michael Watson, formerly of the LA Riptide.
Whom have you strung sticks for?
A lot of the older guys in the MLL like Michael Watson and Todd Eichelberger. Watson was a four-time All American out of Virginia, played for the Boston Cannons and the LA Riptide. Eichelberger was another four-time All American out of Princeton University. He played for Bridgeport, when Bridgeport was a team back in the early MLL days, the Long Island Lizards and the LA Riptide. Most famous would be Conor Gill, another All American out of Virginia and he played for the Boston Cannons.
What was the idea behind Pocket 34?
Our most famous pocket is the Pocket 34, which revolutionized the stick stringing industry. Being roommates with Todd Eichelberger, playing in the MLL in its infancy stages, he wanted a tighter pocket, a pocket with more holes and a very quick release. Again, with a lot of trial and error, we'd go out to the beach, put up a goal and we would just shoot until he figured it wasn't it. He would tell me what he wanted out of it and then I would dial it in just a little bit more to tweak it until we came up with a strong formula where the strings stayed nice and taught, the mesh was nice and taught and he just had the perfect pocket every single time.
What are the benefits of Pocket 34?
Pocket 34 is designed with the way the game is played now. It's so much faster. Players are stronger and smarter. When they added the college rule with the wider head, players were wondering how we could have a pocket with better holes. That was a big factor behind the stick stringing. With the Pocket 34, there's a nice channel within the pocket itself so the ball is either passed or shot from the center of the stick every single time.
What's the concept behind the Double Bag?
The Double Bag is our goalie pocket. The goalies take so much of a beating from their pocket that the mesh would break right away. Strings would pop right away. We came up with a design that all the pounding is dispersed between the mesh and the strings. A goalie could go through two seasons, a spring and summer season, with a pocket before having it replaced. That's the nice thing. Matt Russell, an STX player who played at the Naval Academy and in the pros as well, plays with our goalie pocket.
How do players hear about you?
I look at my stick stringing compared to underground music. Some of the best music and musicians are underground. You're doing the research to seek them out. With some of the players, starting with Watson, Eichelberger and Gill, all the kids see the pockets that the pro players are playing with and the top college players are using and they're seeking out that player – "Hey, where did your stick strung?" "My friend out in California." Back then, I didn't have anything publicized. It was all word of mouth. When we got really popular, it was through Conor Gill when he was an assistant at the University of Virginia. The college players would say, "Hey, that pocket looks really cool. Let me check it out. Where did you get it? I want one strung." Next thing you know, I'm getting orders, a couple small orders here and there, and then it's boxes of heads from Virginia men's lacrosse team.
What other teams have you strung sticks for?
We've had a lot of other players from Princeton, Cornell, Navy that used my pocket before Conor Gill got to Virginia after his playing days. When he was an assistant coach, that's when it took off. From there, I was getting inquiries from schools, then those inquiries became orders – Whittier College out here in California. I've strung hundreds of sticks for Harvard for a good amount of years. Navy, Princeton, couple of kids at Army, Colgate, Cornell. You name it. There was at least a kid or two playing with one of our pockets at their universities. Bucknell, UMBC. The list just goes on and on.
Do you string women's sticks as well?
When I started coaching at San Diego State four years ago, then that's when I really got into the women's stick stringing. I've strung women's sticks before, but not as much or as extensively as I have been within the past four years. I string a handful of the girls' sticks on the team. I try to help all the girls out with their stick issues because a lot of females don't really understand the intricacies of stick stringing so I try to pass my knowledge along to them. Coaching there, I want the best for our players. I do receive sticks from all over the country whether it's men's or women's. I get a lot of sticks just because I've strung their older brothers' or sisters' sticks. Now it's just a tradition. "Hey, Lyle out in San Diego has been stringing your brother's stick or your sister's stick. We're going to have him string your stick."
Portions of this interview originally appear in the January 2016 issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Join US Lacrosse today to begin receiving your copy!
When's your busy season?
It all depends. It's very seasonal. I would say the end of the year would be a great time for stick stringing just because of the holidays. Mom and dad purchased you a new stick. "Let's get your stick strung. We'll call up Lyle." You'll get a nice little rush August-September because all the kids are getting ready for fall ball. Then you'll get another rush in February right before the season starts. Then you'll get another rush at the end of May, beginning of June for summer ball. Though I do get sticks all the time. As much as I can string sticks, I can average anywhere from one to two sticks a day to up to five to six sticks a day depending how much of a workload I want to do, again with my time and availability with coaching.
How long does it take you to string a stick?
Top to bottom, it'll take me about 34 minutes to string a stick. There's a lot of hidden meanings behind the number 34. That's the jersey number I would wear. It's a great number. Charles Barkley was one of my favorite basketball players at that time. Then with the stick stringing itself, we use four side wall strings and then we ended up using three shooter strings. We added a fourth shooting string, but that was the start of Pocket 34.
Did you teach yourself how to string?
It's really self-taught, but then you're always learning stick stringing from other people. We would do our stick stringing clinics at camps. You're always looking at other people's sticks, asking questions. It's pretty cool the way stick stringers work because everybody is very interested. "How did you that? Let me try that out."
What tips do you share about stick stringing?
There isn't really a true right way or wrong way. It's all trial and error. That's what I preach to all of my players, customers, clinics that we do. There are a million different styles of stick stringing. There's really not one that is better than another. It's personal preference. Your style of play will play into it, as well as your knowledge of stick stringing. You've got mesh sticks, which has very little maintenance, going into your traditional stringing, which is a lot of maintenance.
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