83% (5 out of 6) defenders on the field are playing off the ball in a 6 on 6 setting. Off-ball defense is critical to being a great defender.
If you can prioritize your off-ball defense you can become a value add for any unit. At the core of great off-ball defense you have to be great at the following: stance, positioning, and connection.
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Stance defines how ready you are to make the next play. A proper off-ball stance enables quick reactions and efficient movements while an improper stance will always leave you a step behind.
Focus on keeping a linebacker stance when you are off the ball, especially when you are inside the Heart. Maintain a low and balanced athletic stance with your knees slightly bent, weight on the balls of your feet, and chest up. This stance allows you to move laterally, backward, and forward with ease, ensuring you're ready for any play.
Sideways “102” Stance
The other characteristic of your stance is that you must be able to see both the ball and at least one other man. To do this, we need to have a sideways stance to see both the ball and our man, or the man we need to support. This is critical – in off ball defense we have to be able to see more than just our man. We call this our off-ball triangle.
Developing an Off-Ball Triangle
By utilizing these stances above, we should be able to form an off-ball triangle between yourself the ball and your man. You should be able to see the ball and your man without fully having to turn your head in both directions – this means you may need to move your feet to adjust and find that appropriate angle.
Stance and positioning go hand in hand. Stance is abouthowwe are on the field, and positioning is aboutwherewe are on the field in context of the offense and our other teammates. We need to have a great stance combined with proper positioning to be an effective defender.
Our position should change as the ball and our man moves. We want this to be a flowing motion where we “flow” with the ball. We should be in our stance and bounce on our feet, but constantly making small movements as the ball moves to readjust to proper positioning. We need to read dodger body language and anticipate the next pass. If we are reactionary, we will always be too late.
Every player has heard “head on a swivel”, but what this really means is we need to bescanningthe field at all times to understand what is going on around us. We must see the ball and our man, but also glance around at our teammates to understand where everybody is and the general flow. The more looks we can steal before chaos ensues, that is pre-dodge, the better context we will have on the play. Don’t get so locked in on the ball that we lose touch with the rest of the field.
Positioning on the field is one of the best use cases for our landmarks. We can ensure we are flowing towards our landmarks to be in proper positions. For example, if we are hot to a wing or alley dodge, we want our positioning to be along the ballside wall. Our support should have at least one foot in the backside wall. As the ball moves we may flow from landmark to landmark. As we practice using these landmarks and actively focus on getting to them, we will develop a more innate sense of where to be on the field.
Connection includes communication, but it goes beyond that. It refers to the constant communication and teamwork required for a cohesive off-ball defense. Stay vocal and maintain clear lines of communication with your teammates regarding opponents' positions, potential threats, and slide packages. A well-connected defensive unit can react swiftly, providing necessary support and preventing scoring opportunities.
Having a Relationship
It should feel like you have a strong relationship with all of the defenders on the field. I do not mean everyone must be best friends off the field, but rather it should feel like there is a constant and open line of communication. You should be using each other’s names and having conversation throughout the possession. If you do not have this connected type of relationship, you will default to just blurting out buzzwords that will often not be received effectively.
Communicate What Might Happen
When you are connected and have this relationship, start communicating what might happen. So many players wait until a dodge starts to communicate if they do at all. Rather, if we communicate what might happen we will be a step ahead. For example, if the offense is swinging the ball and I am on the crease I might say “I’m hot on an alley dodge – Tim, you’re hot if he goes middle”. This way if either of those scenarios happen, we are ready and not scrambling.
Develop Connection Cues
We can use some brute force examples to get connection rolling as well. Communication is one of the fundamental pillars of connection, and it must be trained. Forcing it through “triggers” could be a helpful way to get everyone on the same page. Here are a few that I like:
A call every time the ball goes off the endline that means to quickly re-match up with your player
Before a faceoff, all of the close D guys talk through their spot on a fast break and clear if it comes back
Goalie calling out which area of the field the ball is and talking to the on-ball player
The farthest guy away from the ball constantly confirming he can support the crease (or whoever the slide and two slide are)
These are just a few examples, but they can serve as helpful “triggers” for guys to snap back in and connect. Communication and connection is a positive feedback loop – the more people do it, the more people will continue to do it.
- Coach Dunn
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