While everyone has their own philosophies on slide packages, zone vs. man defense and whether a strong hand hold or a v-hold are best, there are certain truths on the defensive side of the lacrosse field that ring true. Below are several mistakes we see players make at every level, and how those players and their coaches can easily correct them.
1. Forgetting the Ultimate Role of a Defenseman
I often like to start coaching seminars with the question: “What is our job on defense?” The answer is always “to stop the opponent from scoring.” It is not a flashy objective, nor is it something that has to happen quickly, which is why players sometimes forget. Too frequently, young players get impatient, overaggressive or confused and their instinct is to abandon all principles of defense all together. They think that taking the ball away, delivering a body-crushing check or pushing the ball in transition is what they were born to do (hint: SOME are, but our first priority is still tight DEFENSE)! So when in doubt, remember your role…to stop the offense from scoring. You do that, and you win. Or at least tie!
2. Lunging at a Dodger
Another bad habit (largely driven by the misconception above) takes place when a defensive player runs towards the ball carrier as he initiates his dodge. This is a game of chicken. And if the defense loses (and misses), it is off to the races for the man with the ball. Our first 3 steps should always be choppy and backpedaling to match the dodging players’ speed. By maintaining this cushion, the defenseman forces the offensive player to make a move or else run right into his well-positioned stick and body. Working into the middle to help off-ball and then back out to address the ball carrier using a good angle when he receives the ball makes the choppy steps back that much more effective.
3. Stick on Hip Off-Ball
The final bad habit is also the most pervasive and can be found among youth, high school and even collegiate players. When players are off-ball, their role is to support the defense. This means knowing where their man is, covering the dangerous areas of the field and protecting skip lanes. The only way to protect skip lanes is to start with your stick IN THOSE LANES. Often we find off-ball players' sticks on their hip, where it is most comfortable. Training defensive players to track the ball with their sticks as the man they are covering transfers it to a teammate and then leave it up in the lane is crucial to building off-ball defensemen. With repeated cues and coaching this truly becomes habit, improving both that players’ off-ball presence and your team’s defense.