Glossary - Individual Defense (See Skill Analysis)
It usually takes two hands to score/pass effectively and playing defense with one-hand is just asking to be penalized.
Reaching for loose balls with one hand is equally as bad (see “two-hand tough”). Players should be held accountable at all times by coaches who see players unnecessarily/inappropriately playing with one hand on their stick.
Essentially, the defender’s job is to contain, not take the ball away from, the offensive players; “closing the gap” while preventing uncontested shots from the prime scoring area. It takes all players working as a unit to make this happen, which is why Team Defense is the key to overall defensive success. If, as a unit, the team can close the gap, “get on gloves,” “block shots,” keep an offense to the perimeter and force them to make the mistakes (“bad shots,” bad passes, getting “stripped”), the “30 shot-clock” is eventually enough "pressure" to force a turnover.
Although “big, strong and athletic,” has been said to be the ideal in “one-on-one” defense ("shut-down" defenders), it is team defenders that make a championship defense. "Over-checking" “lunging” and not “arriving in control,” can compromise an entire defense, creating penalties and demoralizing the concentrated efforts of the team. There has to be a “trust” and understanding of defensive strategies and positioning, along with the ability to “read & react” to the “situation,” and use good “footwork” to shadow the body language of the opponent.
Usually it is best for a team to have a balance of “big, strong and athletic,” with hustle/hard-work, toughness and most importantly, intelligence. It is up to “coaches/managers” to come up with proper chemistry, as teams rarely have the perfect balance. Players need to get to know the tendencies and attributes of their teammates and opposing offenders, reacting accordingly.
These types of players usually bring a lot of other valuable assets to the table other than handling the ball, however, and all skill-sets in need of improvement should be continually developed. “Running hard,” “communicating” well, playing good positionally and being strong/athletic, are just a few of the intangibles that these types of players can still bring to the table. "Stay home defenders" would be the nice way of describing a player that is more or less, defense first (not “a threat”).
Talk should be constant, loud and about anything a player sees happening on the floor. It’s intimidating to the offense and very helpful overall to prevent unnecessary breakdowns on defense. As a general team principle, communication should be commencing at all times on the lacrosse floor, no matter how obvious it may seem.
Loose balls should be pursued intelligently and generally only if the player deems that they have at least a 50% chance of getting to the ball first, in order to at the very least, “keep the ball alive.”
Players should never stand and watch what is happening, getting caught up in the play; the smartest players are constantly thinking (“recognizing”) the question, “what’s next?” The best players are proactive versus purely reactive in nature.
Defenders should also try to match-up on their "proper defensive side," which means lefty-on-righty and vice-versa; time permitting, which helps them control top-side positioning in being better able to utilize the leverage of the stick to take away space. However, all defenders, in theory should be able to defend either “hand” of player, utilizing the “cross-handed” slashing technique if need be.
Generally, there are usually more righties per team than lefties on average, a stat which is even more pronounced among American players.
When a defender makes any sort of contact with the opponent they are “covering,”body or stick, it is also known as a check (or checking an opponent).
When an offensive player is preparing to make a move toward the net, the defender checking that player has to get into proper position, shadow their movements, while also “denying” the top-side of the floor. This must all be done while also battling around and overtop of “picks/seals,” keeping a “head on a swivel,” and looking to “help” out other teammates where possible.
Being square to a target is advantageous only to the offender and should be avoided by defenders, as essentially it means the offender is in control of the next move. By opening or closing one’s hips (see “drop step”) and recognizing where there is help, defenders are better able to dictate which direction the ball carrier can go.
Offenders are eventually trying to face the net for a shot on at least a 45° angle relative to the net; thus defenders need to be aware of their positioning (“closed stance”) relative to that understanding.
With hips facing the boards, defenders are better able to see picks coming and “open up.” If a defender has their back exposed (i.e. square to check) at any time, it is ultimately a big liability to the entire defense. A true back-pick is virtually impossible to defend, so defenders need to do everything in their power not to allow that to happen.
In this way, defenders are dictating the play to the offender with the ball (inviting them “underneath”), meanwhile allowing all other defenders to be able to “anticipate” what is happening, ready to “slide” and “help”if they see an offender get over top of a teammate.
In essence, if top-side positioning is maintained, defenders can “automatically switch” as players run up and down the side-boards on the perimeter, thereby conserving energy and enabling defenders to play “on the same page,” as a unit.
By seeing both the ball and their check, the defender can both pick-off a pass to their check, and also help defend the ball carrier, if required. Defenders must be especially wary of back-door cutters when “ball watching,” as the best offenders are great at anticipating defenders turning their heads and immediately cutting to the net.
Occasionally, players must stand in the “shooting lanes” knowing that they will likely get hit by the ball, in order to deter a player from shooting. Blocking shots is an element of “team toughness” that is often under-appreciated but very important to a successful Team Defense. Defenders should take pride in this element of the game; something the team can rally around to build momentum (see captains). When a defender "soaks" a shot while standing in the shooting lane, or with their stick, the player that shot the ball will usually think twice the next time before they shoot, thus interrupting the “flow” of the offense and boosting the morale/momentum of the defense.
In short-handed situations, defending the passing lanes is vital to the success of the defense, and coaches should put out players that are good at picking off passes, in order to limit the effectiveness of the other team’s power-play.
The one exception is when the defender has the offender “clamped” and the offender doesn’t move. Adjacent and off-ball defenders should keep their stick on the stick/body of their opponent as much as possible while also knowing the position of the ball. If the defender feels their check move, then they move. If their check receives the ball, then the defender should adjust to a closed stance and begin denying top-side, getting in the shooting lane with their stick up.
Players should be running or agility-sprinting at almost all times while on the lacrosse floor, otherwise looking for an opportunity to line change, if tired. Offensive players should rarely, if ever, be standing still, unless wide open in a soft spot. In general, the golden rule is to run out of trouble rather than forcing a pass ("when in doubt, run it out.").
For defensive players to stay in proper position on their check they should start and finish with a few quick short, half-step side-shuffles ("shuffle steps") with their feet meeting together underneath their body and extending into long strides if covering any sort of distance (staying balanced); never crossing their feet over (see carioca). Shuffle-steps are also the most effective footwork while applying controlled pressure on a ball carrier.
For example, facing the side-boards, players could start on the goal-line and do “carioca” laterally to the rag-line and then back (using a different lead leg each direction). Players should keep their head up and get good rotation of their hips, while keeping two hands on the stick.
Players should never cross their feet over during games, only practicing that way to work on their balance and dexterity.
This skill is an art form and needs to be timed appropriately in order not to get “beat clean.” Defensive players need to be able to judge the speed and body language of an opponent and be able to match it (shadowing as best as possible while evading picks).
The act of rotating or turning on one foot or leg in general, is known as a “pivot,” used to quickly change directions. Defenders will sometimes use 360° spins, also known as an "inside roll" (similar to a drop step), as an effective means to avoid getting picked or to get overtop of “seals;” otherwise to maintain top-side positioning. Offenders can also utilize a drop-step in an attempt to get underneath on a one-on-one toward the net.
Tracking can also be used, if only briefly, in a forward direction while applying controlled pressure on an offender; otherwise to be unpredictable on defense. For example, marquee players that are used to “the same old thing” are reading the pivots (body language) of a defender, with an understanding that the defender is trying to deny top-side, and using that fact against them (deception) while trying to beat them one-on-one. If a defender switches (“pivots”) from denying top-side, to inviting top-side, back to denying top-side, this can effectively confuse the ball carrier, and picker, disrupting their “flow.”
If using tracking as a footwork drill during training, coaches can instruct kids on how many side-shuffles they want to see in between drop-steps, also whether to side-shuffle or half-step side-shuffle (or mix both).
This concept also applies to when an offensive player cuts around a pick, trying to be "hip-to-hip" (aka "brushing shoulders") with the picker (facing opposite directions) in order for a pick to be effective.
Players may also find themselves hip-to-hip with an opposing player while pursing a loose ball (potentially bumping hips while trying to box-out) or when switching against a pick & roll attempt. In the latter scenario, it is important that defenders do everything in their power to get between the "roller" and the net (turn & clamp), as a lead pass towards the player's stick is in jeopardy of being quickly caught and finished "in tight."
Faster players may be given less restrictions and allowed to pursue the ball (40-60) if they think they have a chance at keeping the ball alive. If at any point during a game a defender gets cleanly beaten, they should also be in “pursuit” of their check, chasing them for a trail check or recovering to the back-side of the play (depending on the situation).
The only exception to this team rule would be if the ball comes loose out of an even strength scrum and the defender is “90%” sure they can get to the ball first. It is better to error on the side of defense instead of potentially leaving a player “naked,” or on a 2-on-1, “in-tight” on the goalie. These sorts of “broken plays” tend to end up in goals against, especially when players are over-zealous (over-checking) or cheating.
Individual players need to know when (i.e. trying to draw a penalty) and how (slash, cross-check, “churp,” etc.) to “give it back” to a player that is being overly aggressive towards them, and when not to. Players don’t necessarily want to risk receiving a penalty themselves but ultimately a “message needs to be sent” to the over-aggressive player that their actions will not be tolerated. If the problem is not addressed, offensive specialists and other players may be at risk of being physically abused all game and perhaps all season. Action need not be taken at the particular moment something happens, but better yet it should be when the opponent least expects it, and ideally when the referees aren’t looking.
Whether you like it or not, the emotions of the game sometimes get out of control and players may respond by fighting. Likewise, it is worthwhile knowing how to protect yourself because you never know when an opposing player is going “jump” you, for one reason or another. Players always have the option to “turtle” and fall to the ground holding onto their helmet while an opponent tries to get at them, but when multiple players are fighting the referees are only able to break up one fight at a time.
The majority of the time it is two notorious fighters trying to stop or add to the momentum of the game, or perhaps one teammate sticking up for another teammate that “doesn’t fight.” A good fighter knows not only the technical aspects of fighting but more importantly they know about the timing of fights and when/when not to fight.
It is important that teammates stick up for each other and play "team tough," especially when teammates are vulnerable. The most honourable thing would be for players to fight their own battles, but it doesn’t always happen like that, nor should it. It would be stupid for a top offensive player to fight an “egg & spooner” defensive player; the trade-off simply isn’t worth it. Most teams carry more defensive players than offensive players on their roster, and to lose an offensive player to a "major penalty" would be a “bad trade” for the team. Accordingly, teams at the Junior & Senior levels will often "dress" a “tough guy/fighter” on their roster, who ideally is still a good defensive player, but if not, has limited playing time and takes care of any “problems” that may arise.
Generally speaking, it is the primary responsibility of the “low” defender to “anchor” the crease, and there are a couple of reasons why this is important: goalies may be out challenging shooters and any “skip passes” will ultimately end up as quick stick shots on net (which are high percentage); also because many rebounds become available near the crease area, and if the crease is anchored the goalie will have better "rebound control."
Body checks from behind are a penalty ranging from 2-5 minutes, with a possible “game misconduct,” especially when by the boards. If a player willingly exposes their back in the “open-floor,” this call may or may not be called, depending on the severity/aggression.
Cross-checks should be executed only when the defender is balanced (“athletic position”) on the balls of their feet; and using a lacrosse grip; checks must be above the waist and below the neck. A proper cross-check starts with the stick “perpendicular” to the opponent’s body, bending the elbows to load up, then lunging forward with a lead left or right leg and subsequent extension of the arms; all in one motion. The defender should then recover back into the athletic position as quickly as possible.
Cross-checking from behind is illegal unless the ball carrier willingly exposes their back while making a move towards the net. Aggressive cross-checks off-ball should also be discouraged, as they can also be called penalties. Referees and coaches are usually best to encourage a “push check” to beginners, whereby a player places their stick on their opponent and pushes ("push & steer") them out of the prime scoring area.
If an offender wants to "block," or defend themselves against a cross-check, the best ways to do so is to keep your stick up and out in front (forming a cross against the defenders stick); otherwise staying close to your check, or hooking past them.
Being on gloves forces the ball carrier to “protect the ball,” which also takes a little pressure off of the other defenders playing off-ball. This tactic may also cause a turnover through a bad pass, dropped ball (strip), or missed catch. It is especially important when defending “hip-to-hip,” clamping, and when closing the gap.
Ideally, a slash (“slap” check) begins from 6”-18” away from the opponent, in order to avoid getting a penalty. Slashes should be an honest attempt at separating the ball from a player’s stick; otherwise defenders should rely on cross-checking first and foremost.
Slashes are usually executed on a 45° angle across one’s body, from high to low. A slash from low to high tends to be the most effective on a trail check, although players must be wary not to get a “wrap around” penalty.
The tighter and offensive player is to their check, the less likely they are to get slashed.
If the stick gets wedged between the offender’s arms, this is the perfect time for a “poke & lift,” at which point the defender can attempt to pry the ball loose ("can-opener").
Constant pokes or even just a stick on the opponent’s chest can otherwise disrupt the flow of an offensive player, and perhaps dislodge the ball in the process.
This action is similar to taking a shot on pool table, in that the stick is usually first drawn back and then propelled forward by the bottom hand, with the top hand used for accuracy.
Combined with a slight pulling motion, hooking will impede an offensive players’ progress to the net, but if held for more than a brief second, hooking can also be a penalty, so it must be done artfully.
Hooking could also be used to defend a pick & roll situation, as part of the turn & clamp technique. Offenders will also sometimes hook a defensive player to cut past them on their way to the net (especially on an over-aggressive defender).
Good defenders can identify when and when not to attempt to “strip” the ball. Usually when a player is holding their stick out, far away from their body, and not protecting the ball, is when they are must vulnerable to being stripped.
In extreme cases players sticks will go flying if they don't see a stick check coming (i.e. when double-teamed), otherwise known as a "helicopter check" or "yard sale."
Stick swinging can also refer to when goalies are faced with a skip pass from side-to-side and are forced to swing their goalie stick across their body in defense of a quick stick. Stick swinging by the goalie is essentially a desperation maneuver (last effort) to stop the ball; goalies should be taught instead to be sound positionally and quick to re-position, with good footwork and anticipation (reaction).
Showing help means to be a threat to help, without necessarily sliding (“head on a swivel”). Off-ball defenders do not need to follow their check wherever they go, they should be “staying tight” ready to help (especially if one's check goes deep into the corner or behind the net).
The most important “help defender” is usually the player in the “high” position on the off-ball side of the floor. Having said that, most will teams designate the off-ball "middle" defender” as the “hot defender” when the ball is on the “weak-side.”
If a defender "slides" to help, the offender who is being checked by this player will usually "follow the slide" in an attempt to improve their angle, as a general rule. Likewise, if one player on the defense slides, a second and third defender should also be ready to slide (head on a swivel), performing "multiple slides" if necessary (everybody “go”); forcing the offense to string together multiple passes in order to get off a quality shot. At the on-set of multiple slides, the player who initially "got beat" should then try to recover to the back-side of the play.
A common use of "hitching" is when defending against a 3-on-2 in transition, the high defender in the “I formation” may fake to slide to the ball carrier, and at the last second slide to someone else instead.
This scenario is frequent during "diamond" short-handed situations when a low defender is defending against two opposing crease players (east-west); the defender in this scenario must be great at “picking off” passes and also anticipating when to close the gap.
It is also important that goalies be proficient at making this particular save and it should be drilled at practice, if necessary.
It is generally the responsibility of the “high” defender to “fight overtop” of seals and close the gap on perimeter shots in the "prime scoring area;" which is a "principle" they should be held accountable" to. The best defenders always have a sense of "gap control" and are able to "show help" just far enough away from their check that they can recover in time, if need be.
A pertinent example would be playing the “Rotating Diamond,” which eventually rotates into a “box.” When the ball is not at the point player, the defense may “hold” in the box, instead of rotating away from the ball (principles), as multiple skip passes would see defenders rotating out of control if they tried to keep up.
Defenders must be in control at all times and have good athletic position before cutting off the path of an offender with a cross-check or body-check, otherwise risk getting beat clean to the net. Good offenders will try to bait defenders out toward the boards, leaving lots of open space behind them for cutters, where it is usually better for a defense to just stay “tight.”
If offensive players want to stay spread, leave them out there, as ultimately they have the shot clock working against them and need to get close to the net to score goals. Defenders are in a great position to help if they don’t chase these players out by the boards, instead constantly adjusting their footwork while utilizing the 2-for-1 rule.
Defenders need to be physical but only to the point that they are still in control, otherwise they risk getting "beat clean" to the net with a basic juke, swim or backdoor cut, for example. Most often defenders "get beat" as a result of ball watching, a miscommunication while sorting, over-checking, or in the pick & roll game.
Essentially, defenders should take the shortest possible route back toward the net when recovering; potentially throwing a trail check on the opponent if the opportunity presents itself, otherwise a teammate will usually come and help on a slide if another teammate needs it. If the player that got beat has no chance for a trail check they should try and recover back to a position on the “backside” of where the ball is located.