Glossary – Team Defense (See Skill Analysis)
When players are playing as individuals, and not abiding to “principles” set-forth by the team, "trust" will be lacking and team success will be compromised. Should a player consistently break rules or guidelines (being “undisciplined”), they should be held accountable in terms of playing time and respect. Champions put teammates before self at all times and egos must be kept in check in subtle/creative and overt ways by coaches and teammates alike.
Note: It won't always go exactly as drawn up, the goal is to ATTEMPT to accomplish the basic principles.
In games, throughout the season, and especially during playoffs, lacrosse is a war of attrition. The team that can impart/withstand the most amount of physical abuse (see fitness), usually has the decisive advantage (if the stay disciplined).
Toughness doesn’t necessarily mean fighting, or over-checking with aggressive slashes and cross-checks. More importantly, toughness means taking hits to make plays and being “two-hand tough” on loose balls; reaching for the ball with both hands knowing that a slash across the wrists is imminent. Toughness means working hard in scrums, battling to keep the ball alive and sticking up for teammates at all times.
Whether vulnerable or not, a teammate should never be outnumbered by an opponent. Players should “protect the goalie” at all costs, and when the time is appropriate, fight a player in a deserving scenario. Defensive players should make it difficult for offensive players to play their game, finishing their checks, “cross-checking” all opponents in the middle of the defensive zone, and blocking shots, as just a few other examples of what it means to be tough.
Non-contact is at the opposite extreme of playing physical and is the style of play used in both Women’s Field Lacrosse and Masters Lacrosse.
When players try to play outside of their role, or in a way that is counter to the defensive system being played, the team defense is at risk of breaking down. Coaches need to establish set rules/guidelines for players to follow (both defensively and offensively), and players need to be held “accountable,” based on these principles (playing time is usually at stake).
Players need to learn to play with poise, especially under pressure and adversity. They need to be both physically and mentally tough/ready. It is important that all defenders stay alert, concentrate (focus) and avoid mental drift. Talk! Defenders need to anticipate what is going to happen before it happens and communicate with fellow defenders, trusting if a teammate says something on defense and adhering to what is said (trusting that it will be communicated early enough for the teammate to react in time).
All players need to hustle and be aggressive without taking penalties; playing with determination. All of these essential aspects of the game are trusted to be present at all times throughout a game/practice, and should they be lacking, players need to be held accountable (during or after the game, or at practice). Sitting players might be warranted in certain situations where accountability is not upheld (at the discretion of the coach).
A defensive “breakdown” could also refer to a simple miscommunication or failure to communicate either on-ball or off-ball by two defenders (often not detectable by the casual observer). Unless a player gets “naked” in tight, one defender is usually able to make a desperation slide after a breakdown, splitting two players and either forcing a shot or hitching, based on inventory and goalie communication.
On offense, the most obvious and frequent mistakes made usually have to do with passing and catching the ball. There are also many subtle mistakes made in regards to basic cycling, and reactions to the faulty coverage of defenders throughout the course of a game.
At the end of the day, mistakes are inevitable, but usually it is the team that makes the least amount of mistakes that ends up winning the game.
Should the other team enter the zone on a slow-break, skilled teams will press up (to try and “kill” time off of the shot clock) after having quickly sorted, knowing that help is in place behind them. Usually the quickest defenders are the first off of the bench during line changes to defend against breakaways and to initiate pressure, if called for. These players especially, need to “pick up at the bench,” which means to run to the other team’s offensive door as a first priority, when the defense has the long change. All other defenders should run back “into the hole” taking inventory, sorting and if there’s time, “pressing up.”
The low defender has a greater responsibility for communicating picks and any other directions that might help the higher defender maintain top-side positioning. The “high” defender needs to fight overtop of all picks and close the gap on shooters, while also denying top-side position to the offense. If defending the strong-side, there will also be a player defending “the middle” near the half-board, with all three positions communicating and automatically switching as much as possible.
If an offender cuts, "rolls" or slip picks toward the net, defenders must follow and may eventually find themselves in a new position in the “wall.” When playing in “the wall” off-ball, the middle defender on the strong-side, or the high defender on the weak-side, need to “sluff” over into a position where they can help (otherwise known as the “hot” position).
Switches can also be utilized while sorting, in order to create better match-ups against the offense (see mismatches). A switch is most often dictated and communicated by the defender checking the player attempting the pick (ideally a second or two before the pick arrives); generally the lower defender in the wall.
Players should look to “jump switch” as much as possible (north-south), with the closest defender closing the gap on any time & space that might be available to a potential threat up high (fight overtop).
Switching north-south allows defenders to maintain top-side defense and stay in the shooting lanes, while at the same time closing the gap on shooters, and more easily getting on hands to contest outside shots.
A flat switch is generally only utilized on the strong-side to close the gap at the half-board, soft spot, which is where offenders like to set-up pick & rolls and look for quick sticks off of skip passes.
Big defenders with quick feet should strive to master this play, one which also physically intimidates many offensive players from cutting through the middle and setting further picks.
At the same time, defenders who are blowing up picks need to be careful not to “over-commit,” exposing themselves to a back-pick, for example. With good top-side positioning (“hips to the boards”), adjacent defenders should instead contain and continue to deny top-side on their check, blowing up picks only if they are able to maintain their balance and position.
Best case scenario would be that the player getting picked is able to "avoid the pick" all together, while still maintaining top-side positioning. This tactic must be finessed (disguised) so as not to incur a holding penalty; grabbing should be for a half-second maximum. The defender being picked (hopefully communicated by a teammate) in essence switches checks and covers the picker who is now "rolling" towards the net. When the pick happens, the other defensive teammate then needs to “fire out” and close the gap on the ball carrier.
Defenders must also be wary of a play maker in this situation, of whom are often capable of cradling/swimming (one-handed) between a double-team (defenders must be sure to pinch the player if they try to escape through the middle of the two checkers).
Players usually communicate as to whether they will defend the “left” or “right” side of the ball-carrier, or some people say “high” and “low,” as well. The player arriving on the double-team needs to make sure they don't waste the opportunity by stick swinging and going for "the strip," instead taking the body (ideally a cross-check) as a good habit. Defenders that are overzealous risk leaving their check wide open or getting beat by a "swim move;" the best offensive players can anticipate a double team and find the open players.
Another "situation" where a double-team can be effective is when an offender is not facing the net (i.e. when they are posting up); it is most effective if the offender doesn’t see the double-team coming. If a player is doing a bull rush and is obviously committed to going to the net, this is another good time to “double.” Lastly, defenders can also be on the lookout for opportunities to double during line changes when their check hasn’t yet entered the offensive zone (defensive "numbers"), where they could still recover to a check if need be.
During a double-team in a situation, two players are often trying to get an opponent “pinned” up against the boards, either stripping them of the ball or forcing a withholding call from the referee (if the player isn’t moving their feet).
Defenders should run through their crease and pressure the player behind the net, forcing them out on their wrong side, if possible. The other defenders should also communicate to “tighten up,” and essentially play a box in front of the net.
When the opposing team is on the power-play teams should not flush out, but should still tighten up while playing a box.
Goalies should play tight against the post, with their back against the cross-bar and shoulder in the far-side top corner; with their opposite arm across the top of the net.
Coaches may choose to play posts against certain players and “flush out” against others, but usually one simple team rule works best. All defensive players should communicate to each other when an opposing player goes behind the net, potentially switching to box and flushing out, or otherwise playing a Box + 1 Zone depending on what strategy is chosen.
There is no need to chase out when the offense inherently has to get close to the net to score a goal. A defense that is “tight,” has a better chance of blocking shots, knocking down passes and stopping opponents from getting quality shots in the middle.
A good goalie is heavily relied upon for playing “tight” effectively as they need to be able to communicate (see goalie communication) to defenders as to whether to close the gap or “tighten up,” while otherwise being accountable for stopping the majority of the outside shots.
Should a teammate get side-stepped (beat) at any point while applying pressure, that player should call for “help” and all other defenders should “collapse,” tightening up “into the hole” (the middle), prepared to slide. When defenders initially pick up their checks while "sorting" as they enter the defensive zone, they should first get "into the hole" which is approximately "the middle" of the prime scoring area.
Defensively, after a “collapse,” if teammates are able to effectively slide and deter the opponent from a quality shot, forcing them back to the perimeter, this would be an example of an “unsettled” situation returning to a settled situation. A "broken play" is another example of an unsettled situation, which usually refers to a quality scoring opportunity that is the result of a turnover by the other team, or a rebound off of the goalie.
Some coaches refer to the ball being behind the net as unsettled as well, with players often taught to switch to a box zone as a default (until the ball-carrier returns past GLE). If a player is hurt or somebody loses a stick (breaks, dropped etc.) during 5-on-5 play, this is also considered unsettled, and teams will generally try to take advantage of this situation using a set-play.
Lastly, if using a set-defense involving rotations (i.e. Rotating Diamond or Rotating Triangle) and the opposing offense executes several skip passes in a row, this is also considered to be unsettled and the defense should “hold” until they are able to re-establish themselves; and once again continue with their rotations (once settled).
Players must be held accountable by these rules and principles, based on the discretion of the coaches. Defensive systems are usually “man-to-man” or zone in nature, but sometimes are a mixture of both.
At the Minor level, coaches should strive to keep opposing teams to around six or seven goals in an effort to be consistently successful. In Junior and Senior lacrosse, under 10 goals against is usually the team goal (7 or less would be consider an excellent performance).
The first player on the floor to hear the alert from the bench, or to notice what has happened, should also loudly communicate the situation to all other teammates on the floor. Teams will normally revert to a Basic “House” Defense in these situations.
Should the point player attempt to shoot, both defenders should “pinch” tight together, trying to block the shot. When one of the shooters cuts through the middle, it is also the off-ball “high” defenders responsibility to follow the cutter, eventually “passing them off” to the low defenders. The “low” defenders’ major responsibility is to lock-off the creases, with all defenders keeping their sticks and bodies in the shooting and passing lanes.
Ideally, the “high” defenders’ sticks are toward the middle, and the low defenders’ sticks are toward the boards, in order to best defend these lanes. As well, most coaches generally prefer fast-players with “good hands” for breakaways and loose balls to play up high, while larger stronger defenders are usually best for playing low, boxing-out on rebounds and intimidating cutters. Additional responsibilities may also be given to certain players, depending on the inventory of the opposing team (see “split box”).
Likewise, the two defenders at the side of the diamond, or up high in the triangle, should also have their sticks toward the middle in order to defend the passing lanes to the creases; also from one crease player to the other (“crease-to-crease”) at goal-line-extended (when rotating).
This defense is designed to invite shots from the crease players and take away the shots of the offenders up high. Defenders must be careful not to get over-extended, leaving too much space in the middle. The goalie usually plays back close to the goal-line (“deep” in the net) to eliminate the angles for quick stick opportunities at the crease and the two defenders at the side of the diamond should also have their sticks toward the middle, in order to defend the passing lanes to the creases.
Playing two defenders up high invites the crease players to shoot, and vice-versa (1 up, 2 back) invites the shooters to shoot. In the latter case, the “low” defenders need to lock off the “crease players,” allowing the goalies to come out and challenge the shooters. With two defenders high, the low defender must be able to deter quick sticks from one crease player to the other (“crease-to-crease”), while also playing “cat & mouse” and communicating with the goalie.
When defending against a fast-break, if 3 defenders are able to communicate, they should also attempt to form a triangle formation (usually 1 up, 2 back).
If the team needing the ball doesn’t then pull their goalie (see Ball Back Situation), the player with the ball can then simply run circles around their net and eventually huck the ball to the far corner when the shot clock is almost expired (or if they get into trouble). If the coach determines that they need to pull the goalie in order to counter this situation, they should call a time-out at their first opportunity and at the very least finish the game with a Full-Floor Press.
Another time that stalling/killing time is used, if only briefly, is when an offensive player has the ball early in a shot clock and they pause and wait for the rest of their teammates to get on the floor before initiating the team offense.
Defensively, if there have been lots of fast-breaks consecutively, alongside potential turnovers and/or bad shots, the offense would be doing the defense a favour by quasi-stalling and attempting to extend their possessions as long as possible. Coaches need to actively recognize these types of circumstances and encourage the offense to “take their time” in this scenario, allowing the defense to re-energize from a previous double shift if need be.
A chaser could also be a player in reverse transition or coming off of the bench, attempting to even-up an odd-player (fast-break) opportunity for the other team. In a set-defense, off-ball players rarely “chase” their check all over the floor, instead they stay “tight” knowing that offenders need to eventually get to the net to score (don’t over-commit).
The ball carrier should be marginally contained, or otherwise enticed to take a shot (which would be considered a low percentage shot). The other option would be to double-team this player, depending on the situation (i.e. close to the boards or while the opposing team is line changing).
Conversely, this call could also be used in the offensive zone as well, to notify players that there is less than 5 seconds remaining to get a shot on goal. Offensive players should do their best to get a re-set of the shot clock in this situation, while at the same time being aware of their reverse transition responsibilities.