Advanced Tips for Defense
#1. Always stay between your man and the goal
This is the most basic tenet of defense whenever the other team has the ball. There are so many times that our players play adjacent to, or in front of the man they are covering. Other times, they are just plain out of position. The most basic fundamental of defense is that they should be positioned between the man they are covering and their own goal. Drill this into their heads! It seem simple and obvious, but new players don’t always know and many who know, have not developed their “field sense.” Many players lose track of where they are on the field and the man they are guarding as well.
If we can get them to remember this #1 Rule, it will help them know where they need to be on the field. This rule is also helpful in riding situations (so it is important that attack players know it too). How many times is a player positioned in front of his man on the ride, and while he is watching the ball, the opposing player (the one he’s “covering”) quietly moves behind him and into open space, takes a pass, and starts a fast break? If our players stay between their man and the goal, this will not happen.
#2. Feet First, Stick Second
Kids can’t wait to swing their stick at another player. But, that only leads to bad defense AND costly penalties. Defense is played effectively by moving your feet. LOYL must teach young players to play defense with their feet and to prevent them from relying on their stick. Teach this in practice by doing one-on-one dodges to the goal, but take away the defenders’ sticks. Emphasize the ready position, an athletic one (knees bent, on your toes, squared up on your opponent, good balance, low center of gravity…”basketball defense”). Also teach the drop step where a defensive player takes one step back as he moves left or right, mirroring the offensive player and allowing this defensive player to keep his body between his man and the goal. This will also prevent an offensive player from blowing by a defensive player. The latter can give ground and has a cushion away from the goal, but always stays between his man and the goal.
A nice bonus from drilling this concept is that it gives young offensive players a chance to practice their dodging and carrying techniques more successfully when their defenders are playing without their sticks. Emphasize to the offensive players that they have to keep their stick tucked away and protected as they dodge and having their hands positioned on the stick so that they can pass or shoot quickly. Once satisfied with players’ abilities to defend by moving their feet, give them their sticks back. Use this as a motivator to play proper defense.
When coaches give the defenders’ sticks back, we must instruct the players how to use them wisely as defensive tools. A lacrosse stick is not a baseball bat and should not be used as one! A slash is defined as “swinging a crosse at an opponent’s crosse or body with viciousness or reckless abandon…or striking an opponent in an attempt to dislodge the ball from his crosse, unless the player uses some part of his body…to ward off the thrust of the defensive player’s crosse.” Any time a defensive player hits another with his stick and it was not legitimately directed at the offensive player’s stick, it should be whistled by the referee as a slash. (Coaches should pull this player off as a internal “penalty” even if the referee misses the slash.) The opinions of many, at all levels of lacrosse, is that too many reckless stick checks are allowed these days. Play the game in a clean way!
Coaches should make a priority of reminding players to play with their feet first, stick second. (Make your own code words, like: “Feet!” and “Stick” or “Stick Leads!”) Players will often lose what they have just been taught the minute they have their sticks back. If this happens, take their sticks away again, until they show the proper footwork first. Give them their sticks back and it should be in front of the defender’s body, pointed at the offensive player. Too many times, the defender holds his stick close to his body, with the head pointing toward one side or another of the his body. The main thing he can do with the stick in this position is earn a cross check penalty. Keep the sticks out front.
The proper hand positioning on the stick is important, too. If the offensive player is driving to his right (the defender’s left), the right hand should be higher on the stick and closer to the stick’s head. By positioning the hands this way, the defender can drop step and stay between the man and the goal and still have his stick in front on the offensive player’s hands. This also allows for a V-hold—it is called a “V-hold” because the defender’s forearm and the stick form a “V” angle in front of the offensive player. The V-hold gives the defender leverage to push the offensive player out of a danger area. Ideally, the defender will switch hands as the offensive player dodges in different directions, but this is often tough to do at full speed. It takes practice to master.
Finally, LOYL wants its players focusing on their opponents’ hands. Just resting the stick on their opponents’ hands is often enough to disrupt things. No checks, no pokes, just a defender’s stick on his opponents hands, held together with superglue. Beyond this, a defender can harass his opponents by poke checking their hands or lifting their hands and arms when they are trying to pass or shoot. An offensive player is not able to easily catch, pass, or shoot if a defender is keeping pressure on his hands. Again, feet first, stick second.
#3. Always Protect the Hole
The hole is the area on the field inside the restraining box, roughly within an 8-10 yard radius in front of the goal. Probably over 80% of scoring in youth and high school games occur in this area. Players must understand this and defend the hole with intensity. In an unsettled situation, defenders must get back inside the restraining box, defend the hole, and play defense inside out. In other words, get back to the hole as quickly as possible, then “mark up” on defense by finding an uncovered opponent, calling out his number so your teammates know who’s covered (“I got 15!”). Then, employ Rules #1 and #2.
Coaches should consider teaching the midfielders that, once the ball crosses the midline, all the midfielders should be sprinting back to the inside of the restraining box, by the hole. The midfielders will want to contest the ball or cover a man far from the goal, but it is often better to teach the players to get back and play solid, fundamental defense. This is better than allowing a fast break goal because the midfielders are caught behind the play. Use common sense coaching here. If the ball is on the ground and a player is near it, he should go for it. But, if the ball is coming down the far side of the field, the midfielders are better getting to the hole and being ready to defend.
Throwing a check around the midline is often very dangerous here. Why? Because most of the time the check is unsuccessful and the opposing player runs right past the defender. So many goals come by midfielders being out of position that protecting the hole shows itself to be the solid strategy.
Practice this. Start out with a mock clear or face-off and roll the ball out to the midfield areas. Call “To the hole” and make sure the midfielders hightail it as fast as they can back inside the box to the hole. Then, have them turn and mark up on the offensive players as they come down the field. Calling “To the whole” also allows goalies to recognize what help is coming.
Remember that a midfielder near a loose ball should go after it, but the others should sprint—not jog, not float, not hustle—back to their defensive box. This can be practiced in any number of drills. Call “To the hole” and have players react accordingly.
If your team has a fast break goal scored against it, you can use the goal as an opportunity to illustrate the importance of Rule #3. Ask the defensive players who were in at the time of the goal to think about where they were on the field when the goal was scored. If they were covering a man way outside of the box or away from the hole, it should be clear to them how they took themselves out of the player by being too far away. Yes, they need to follow Rule #1, but it should also be obvious that they need to be in a position to help when their team is about to be scored on.
Constantly ask your players “What are the three rules of defense?” or “What is the first rule of defense?” The expectations should be that they know these rules and say them back to you. Be a broken record. Yes, players may roll their eyes at you, but constantly having to repeat the rules also means that the players are not sticking to them.