I was a little surprised about the amount of engagement received via comments, shares, and one-off texts I got from fellow players and coaches. Honestly, it turned into a great conversation about a position that doesn't always get a ton of attention.
It's worth noting that this is not a shot at anyone's coaching style. There is not just one way to play defense, and all of these things have context around them. I have used terminology like "turn them" at GLE. I just continuously see similar mistakes or hear players say things like "but I was told not to cross my feet" that I think it is worth discussing some of these topics.
I decided to pull together a slightly more comprehensive (yet not fully exhaustive) list of some these items with an attempt to go one layer deeper. As mentioned in the tweet above, many of these have some truth and proper intention, but their phrasing and the way we describe them to players doesn't always align with the best way to play the position.
A Short List of Defensive Misconceptions:
"Don't Cross Your Feet":This terminology likely stems from basketball defensive coaching. While it has proper intention, even in basketball, a sport in much tighter spaces, defenders have to cross their feet at times to transition from a lateral shuffle to a lateral run. There is possible way for a defender in lacrosse to contain a dodger going full speed without the ability to get into a lateral run (ie, a "crossover run"). However the truth lies in the fact that many defenders make this transition too early. We do not want to cross our feet until we have to. As a defender, we need to work on our kick-backs & shuffles so that we can move efficiently enough in those to need to cross our feet on a dodgers initial move until they accelerate out of it.Watch this quick clip of Ajax Zappittello-- notice his quick transitions from shuffles to lateral runs then back to shuffles.
"Turn Players at GLE":There is not much wrong with this logically; however, in practice it is really difficult to execute this. Often times when players to practice this, they do it with improper form making it not applicable to game-like situations or over exposing them to the inside roll. My suggestion is rather than focusing on "turning" the dodger at GLE, focus on turning your hips at GLE to be facing the back corner of the field (rather then the end line). If this forces the dodger to turn back then great, and you should be in a better position to defend an inside roll. If the dodger doesn't turn then forcing them high and wide is also a win that I don't think we talk about enough for defenders from GLE. Watch this clip of Chris Fake absorbing contact vs Joey Spallina -- he stops Joey's momentum, but also has his hips angled to the back corner so Joey can't just easily inside roll. This "defend the baselines" video may be helpful as well.
"Slide to Collide": Another popular phrase that likely has proper intentions, but doesn't paint the full picture. The purpose of a slide is to neutralize the dodger. The objective of a slide is not to lay somebody out; yet, you may get a chance to if the dodger continues his path into you. When we go seeking contact on a slide we often leave ourselves vulnerable to getting re-dodged on the slide or a penalty. If we slide from a good angle at an appropriate time, most dodgers will likely just roll away or move the ball and this is a great win for the defense. Eli Gobrecht, PLL defensemen for the Waterdogs, provided this comment. He said we should "slide to contain", and I could not agree more.
"Checking is Good/Bad": Checking is not inherently good or bad. It is just a part of lacrosse. Different coaches have different schools of thought on this, and I definitely err on the more conservative side here. More often then not, players need to be reeled in on the checks they throw. That being said, I use some minimal checks when I play and I have certainly given players the green light that I coach to be disruptive. Where I believe the issue lies is the priority that some players place on checking over anything else. I do not think checks are something defenders need to spend a lot of time practicing. Some practice can help, but it must be within the context of your positioning and footwork. Some of the best defenders in lacrosse have never thrown a one-handed wrap, an over the head, a kayak, etc. -- to me this is not a fundamental part of defense, especially in today's age. Most of defense is about letting the offense make a mistake. Another great comment on the tweet was a quote from Coach Dylan Sheridan (Western Reserve) that stated we want to "pressure the offense with our feet". Stick swinging gets us in trouble. If you move your feet will, play with your stick in front and see an opportunity for a poke, lift, or slap then great. If you go seeking these out, you will likely get yourself out of position. Not to fully contradict myself here, but we did breakdown a couple of cool back-checks below and show how some of these can be thrown appropriately.
The list above is certainly not fully exhaustive, nor will everybody agree with each of those points. Those are just a few of the high level things that I think continued to be discussed around the defensive position in lacrosse. The game is changing, so let's make sure we don't mindlessly teach the same concepts that have been taught for years without thinking about the nuance of how to apply.
I'd love to hear any of your thoughts on these topics. I think all of these conversations are awesome, and it is great to stay informed on what all of the other coaches, parents, and players out there are thinking and seeing.
Until next time,
- Coach Dunn
We hope you found this helpful. We started First Class Lacrosse because we believe in the power player development. We believe you can get exponentially better if you combine a great work ethic with the guidance of knowing what to work on and how to do it. Luckily, we experienced it firsthand as players and coaches. Our goal is to pass on what we have learned and experienced to future generations of lacrosse players, parents, and coaches. Join our Email List here.