Engineering A Better Lacrosse Practice

One of the fundamental obstacles lacrosse coaches face is the limited amount of time their goalies can practice with the rest of their team.

“You don’t want them to be in the goal for more than 50 to 60 shots a day for practice, because after that, your hand-eye coordination goes down and you increase the risk of injury,” said Jack Runkel, assistant coach for the Yale men’s lacrosse team. “Thumb injuries are common. If your hand is off by three inches, it could be the difference between a clean save and a broken thumb.” 

Offensive players, on the other hand, can take up to 300 shots on goal during a practice. To resolve this discrepancy, Runkel and Thomas Newman, strength coach for Yale Athletics, turned to ENAS 118 Engineering Innovation & Design. The course’s co-teachers, SEAS senior research scientist Larry Wilen and SEAS Deputy Dean Vince Wylczinski handed the problem over to a five-member student team. 

Over the semester, the students worked on the design in the Klingenstein Design Lab at the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (CEID). They discussed a number of possible solutions, including finding a better way to protect the goalie during practice. Ultimately, the students came up with a solution that stood in for the goalie: a frame with six panels arranged in an “L” shape that could be placed in any of the goal’s four corners. 

“Those are the areas where the coaches most want the players to shoot for,” said Pamela Banner ’20, a member of the engineering team, which also included Christopher Miller, Sebastian Rivero, Trevor Shim, and Hung Ho. Each panel is designated a number from 1 to 6. With a remote control, coaches can specify which panels the players should set their sights on. When the targets are hit, the panels emit a positive chirping sound. When the players miss, they receive negative feedback in the form of a buzzing tone.

Runkel was impressed. Up to now, he said, the team has been using old aluminum catering pans, dangling in the goal by strings. They work OK as practice tools, but can take only so many hits before the team needs new catering pans. 

“I’m really excited about it,” he said of the students’ project. “It’s really versatile, and it’s durable – that was one of our main requests when we were going through the material planning.” 

And the new device offers a lot more control. Runkel said they hope to use it when the team resumes its practice schedule in early February. 

“With a remote handheld controller and a number of switches, we can say ‘OK guys, today we’re shooting at panels 3 and 4.’ I think it’s going to provide us a competitive advantage.” 

Newman was also happy with the final design, saying the students “did a lot of great research.” 

“Hopefully, this is just the start of a lot of more innovation and athletics,” he said. “It’s great anytime we can work with other departments. We do have the smartest kids in the world.”