Glossary - Transition  (See Skill Analysis)

  • Face-Off Execution (See Games Drill #22):  Depending on the situation and the quality of the opposing face-off-taker, teams will usually play two players on the defensive side and two players on the offensive side of the ball.  Face-off-takers should be careful not let the opposing face-off-taker get a fast-break on their own net, doing their best to get on the defensive side of the opposing face-off-taker if they lose the draw (chasing for a trail check if necessary). 

Where a team is continually winning the face-off to the same spot on the floor, the opposing team should adjust and try to pursue that area with multiple players and/or in a strategic way. Placing two teammates on the restraining-line side-by-side (foot to foot) is one way of taking control of these “hot spots.” After players are “set,” the referee’s whistle is then blown to the cadence of “down, set, “(whistle)” and the “face-off” commences, usually with some sort of scrum. Quick hands and anticipation are great assets for face-off-takers, although if they make a move after the ref says “set” and before the whistle (early), it is a loss of possession.

For players behind the restraining lines, a quick slash on the gloves, hook or “bump” is often enough to get a head-start on their check; but they too need to make sure they don’t go over the line before the ball exits the face-off circle, otherwise it is also a loss of possession. Players need to either pick up the ball themselves or do their best to keep the ball alive for a teammate by communicating, boxing-out their “check,” throwing a "body check," setting a pick or being an outlet.

Teams need to be aware of quick, advantageous line changes, where one player may actually line up near the “defensive door” of the players bench and send an offensive player out (“long change”) quickly, upon possession of the ball (otherwise known as a “32”). It is important to identify personnel and understand the “situation” to be effective on face-offs. When down a few goals on the game clock, teams may put three players on the offensive side of the face-off circle; usually more offensive-minded players. Always note who you are playing against.

The players on the defensive side of the face-off circle should “hold the line” and not allow any opposing players behind them (held accountable). Generally speaking, all players have the responsibility of eliminating “fast-breaks” and goals against. A face-off goal against is always devastating for a team. Should the other team have the momentum, it is sometimes even better to intentionally move early before the whistle (deferring possession), just to get all of the players back and settled on defense.

When trying to create fast-breaks off of a face-off, the first place to look after getting the loose ball should be to the far-side and/or up-floor on a “lead” outlet-pass. If a team has a premiere face-off-taker, or is down a few goals late in the game, teams may also choose to put two offensive specialists down by the opponents net prior to the face-off. This type of offensive strategy forces two defenders to have to cover these offensive players back in the defensive zone and allows the face-off-taker more time & space to pick up the ball themself, which often creates “fast-break”opportunities.

  • Anticipation:  A trait developed through experience as well as good scouting and adjustment making, anticipation helps players read a certain situation and react before the play develops (see timing/execution).  “Timely” anticipation can be helpful on defense, offense, and also in transition, where players can sometimes cheat and/or take risks depending on the scenario.  In it's most basic form, box lacrosse is best described as a game of action, reaction and anticipation.

Players should not stand around while teammates are battling for possession of a loose ball; they should be actively involved and ready to react as either an outlet, or by getting hard to the bench if gaining possession is unlikely.

On defense and in the “neutral zone,” a player’s initial reaction after getting a loose ball should be to avoid pressure, preferably while running forward not backward (towards own net). Do not “huck” the ball unless absolutely necessary (very rarely).

Protecting the ball is the first priority after obtaining a loose ball, but skilled players should look to beat their check one-on-one in the open- floor and try for fast-break opportunities wherever possible.

Pursue loose balls intelligently; get to know the bounces and angles of the boards.

  • Cheating/Contest & Release:  If a team is down a few goals late in a game (sometimes early in games), often coaches will instruct their off-ball high defenders to start “cheating” in transition, leaving the defensive zone early (before their team has possession) in an effort to create a fast-break.  The on-ball high defender should "contest & release" after the shot, with all other players looking to "push the ball" as soon as possible after retrieving a loose ball.  Where a player might normally box-out after the other team shoots the ball, instead the defensive players will sprint past their check either to the player’s bench or down the floor, ideally for a breakaway on a “home run pass.” 

Cheating, in general, is all about anticipation, reading body language and catching other players being lazy or having tendencies. Should an offensive player, for instance, be caught on defense when everybody knows they want to line change, the transitioning player can always “fake the change,” and occasionally run to the net uncontested, as the offensive player runs off too obliviously (early).

Another time where cheating can be effective is when sliding. If an offender is clearly trying to go one-on-one toward the net, the defender can slide earlier than normal, but this must be done in careful anticipation and using “disguise” (beware of a draw & dump).

  • “React” Back (See Stickwork Drill #5A):  After a shot is taken it is the responsibility of all other players on offense to “react back” towards the player’s bench or defensive zone, defending against "reverse transition."  Players should not stand around and watch the shot or wait for the ball to roll towards them.  At the very least, they need to slow down any defender attempting to join a fast break, "jamming" them with a cross-check.

Unless players are pressuring or attempting to get a loose ball, they should be running hard to the bench. When practicing, a drill is never done after a player takes a shot. Instead, players should get into the habit of reacting to the shot after it is taken (coaches should constantly re-enforce this team principle), making smart decisions as to whether or not to attack the rebounds.

In this way, the defense is still in good position in case of a sudden turnover that results in reverse transition. Having said that, the two defenders closest to the bench should be running hard to the bench on the most direct path possible, in order to try and create bench assists.

Also, in "Ball Back" Situations where teams need the ball at the end of the game and are looking to double-team, the fake change might also be used. A player from the team being pressured can always go in the defensive door and another player come out of the offensive door, and if the defender goes to check the offensive door, the same player can also come back out of the defensive door. All of this in an effort to elude a defender and “free up” a teammate to be an outlet for the ball carrier.

Teams/players should naturally hate turnovers with a passion, constantly adjusting (learning) how to reduce them as much as possible. Turnovers translate into lost scoring opportunities, contribute to the opponent’s transition game, provide scoring opportunities for opponents, and often result in penalties, as players often tend to react irrationally after making a mistake.

If a fast-break is in progress, it is important that players maintain good Spacing. Ball possession is the number one priority while “transitioning” the ball up-the-floor, and as such, players should not force a pass trying to create a fast-break, and instead lose possession of the ball.

Some turnovers must be expected in order to generate high percentage scoring opportunities in transition, but if short-handed or late in the game (while leading on the scoreboard) these sorts of turnovers are unacceptable (players should be held accountable).

  • Team personnel greatly affects what system should be used by a given team, with coaches choosing a system that they think best suits the strengths and skill-sets of their team, relative to the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent. For example, if a team plays extremely well in a Set-Offense and has defensive players that aren’t the most proficient in transition, the Offense-Defense System would likely be best. On the other hand, if a team is very athletic but lacks depth in terms of offensive specialists, a Two-Way System or 4-10-4 might be best suited. The luxury of transition specialists should always be a consideration, as two-way play is great at eliminating reverse transition opportunities for the opponent; also creating fast-break opportunities for ones team.
  • As an extreme (versus applying no pressure), teams might even choose to implement a Full-Floor Press (usually depending on whether they have the short change offensively), in an attempt to dictate or adjust the momentum of a particular game. It takes high levels of fitness (physical and mental) to play these sorts of transition-based systems where average shift lengths can double to approximately sixty seconds, versus thirty, which is what is typically promoted. In-season training regiments should also be adjusted according to systems being played more regularly.
  • Having said all of that, for a team to have an effective transition system overall, the importance of a good goaltender that can stop shots-on-the-run and pass well, cannot be underestimated.
  • Overall, the easy marker of whether a certain transition system is effective or not, is to track transition goals for versus transition goals against.
  • Transition Players/Transition Specialists/“Two-Way” Players:  Ideally, all defensive players on a team are able to safely "transition" the ball into the offensive zone once they get it, without taking too much time off of the shot clock, while also making smart decisions with the ball.  Transition players should also use common sense and awareness of situations as a guide for whether to stay on the floor or “change.”  

Should it take a long time to get the ball safely into the offensive zone, and the shot clock gets under 16 seconds, it’s usually best that the “transition player” stay on offense because of the time it would take them to get to the bench versus what would be left for a teammate getting back into the play after a line change. Transition players staying in the play also gives the offense a bit of a rest (most teams only dress between 6-8 offensive players in the Offense-Defense System).

If there are some egg & spooners on defense, they should look to run open space and/or pass the ball to an outlet and get off the floor as quickly as possible after getting a defensive loose ball. If a traditionally "stay-home" defensive player does find themselves in the offensive zone, at the very least, they should keep their feet moving and set lots of picks/seals.

Some teams will move an offensive specialist back to defense and have them play high as much as possible, taking off for breakaways at every opportunity. This can also be the case when killing a penalty, in which case the opposite high defender should drop into the middle to form a triangle should the breakaway play be intercepted. These players should be very fast and have great hands or a good shot-on-the-run.

True transition players are usually the best athletes on the team, capable of running up and down the floor several times without getting tired. Even if the breakaway is not there, if these players are able to get up-the-floor with speed, it gives the offense that much more time on the shot clock. Some teams will run a 4-10-4 for offense/transition/defense if they have the athletes to do it, but it's very rarely used, perhaps just for one period/quarter if a team is being dominated in transition.

In the “offense-defense” system, which is used most often at the higher levels of lacrosse, defensive players still have the option to stay on the floor if the transition opportunity is there. It's all about recognizing the fast-break opportunity, otherwise just “running the ball deep” into the offensive zone can often force the other teams’ offensive specialists to have to run back and cover against reverse transition instead of changing (at which point they can be set-up for an Isolation Play). Accordingly, if the offensive player tries to change when the “transition player” looks to change, the transition player also has the option to fake change and potentially run naked down the middle (if the offensive player is cheating to the bench).

When offensive players are defending against reverse transition, players need to transition back to defense based on necessity. If a player is the last player back (closest to their own goal) it is unacceptable for them to change where they would be causing a fast-break against (accountable). The player on the far-side from the bench usually has the most responsibility as they are so far away from the bench, that if they were to change, they would be indirectly causing a fast-break. When an offensive player does get caught on defense, it is usually best to have them play low, so that they can't get picked as easily and are able to see everything in front of them (also easier to help).

The time it would take for that player to get to the bench for a line change versus the time that would be left for an offensive specialist to get back into the play, would almost render the offensive possession as useless. Even a "stay at home" defender in the Offense-Defense System should be able to set some meaningful picks/seals and cycle through the offense, if needed.

This is all dependent on transitioning players Clearing The Ball away from the bench-side, and players closest to the bench running hard to the bench and beating an opponent off of the floor.

When no odd-player advantage presents itself, transitioning defenders should “pull out” of the offensive zone, pass the ball off to a teammate and get off the floor, opting instead for a line change.

Should a predominantly offensive player be stuck on defense, the other more experienced defenders should instruct that player to “stay low,” so that they can't get picked as easily and are able to see everything in front of them. Defensive teammates are also better able to help from the adjacent or hot positions in this scenario, with the offender’s only major responsibility being not to get beat underneath. If there’s time, another option is to sort such that the offensive player gets a good defensive “match-up” that they can handle, working hard stay with their check wherever they go (man-to-man). If stuck with a mismatch, this player should deny their check of the ball as best as possible (fronting etc.) with all defenders aware of the situation and prepared to help.

Offensive players who find themselves on defense must be totally committed to doing the job and doing it well. They should be careful not to overestimate their abilities. There is no need to attempt to strip the ball, these players should just play with good defensive positioning in a contain mind-set.

Each player has set responsibilities as to exactly where to go and what to do if the goalie makes a save, or if there is any sort of turnover by the opponent's offence.

After a shot on net by the opponent or the goalie/defender has corralled the rebound, all other defenders should make their way to the “set breakout positions,” based on their relative floor position (whoever is closest).

Transition players should not force a shot on goal in this situation and should be held accountable if they do so. Instead, the transitioning team should slow the play down, get the ball to the offensive players on a line change and attempt to score a goal from a regular “offensive set” (5 vs. 5).

Opposing teams will usually try to pressure up during a slow-break (especially if they have the short change), so defenders need to “support” each other until the ball is safely transitioned into the offensive zone. Players who travel alone are at a much greater risk of getting double-teamed, which opposing defenders are usually equally aware of.

In the NLL this becomes even more effective when the half-line comes into play, much like the rag line, where if a player gets pushed back-over the line after crossing, the result is a loss of possession.

Simply put, the aim of any fast-break scenario should be to break down a 4-on-3 into a 3-on-2, into a 2-on-1, and onto a breakaway, unless a quality shot in the prime scoring area presents itself first.

If possible, players should attempt to get to their proper floor side as early as possible. During the break the ball should be passed north-south versus east-west as much as possible (until entering the prime scoring area), while avoiding high risk passes overall. 3-on-2's are the most common form of a fast-break and the rule in that situation is to get the ball to the player in the middle as early as possible, with the players in the outside lanes running hard to get ahead of the play.

Should an “odd-player break” already be in progress, a fourth or fifth player need not “join the rush” to make a 3-on-2, a 4-on-2. These trailers should stay back near half-floor (with line changes discouraged) to guard against “reverse transition,” or to pick up a loose ball (safety).

Players must run at full speed and "push the ball" up-floor wherever possible. Opponents are usually in pursuit trying to even up the numbers potentially relinquishing the opportunity to a "partial fast-break," but if there is time it is sometimes possible (and a better decision) to slow up (hesitate) in order to maintain adequate spacing.

Good lacrosse players also recognize when they have "numbers" in other situations as well, such as during scrums or defensively, perhaps utilizing the opportunity to double-team during a slow-break by the opponent.

  • Taking “Inventory”/Identify Personnel (See Transition Drill #8C):  Taking inventory can refer to generally assessing a situation during a game, or otherwise having an understanding of exactly who you are playing against in a given situation.  Marquee players deserve a little bit more attention in certain situations, including transition (especially fast-breaks), which is a concept that coaches should address at practice and before games, and/or when discussing match-ups.

The lanes themselves stretch either from a few metres off of the side-boards to a few metres outside of the goal posts (“outside lanes”), or from a few metres outside of the goal posts to the middle of the net (“inside lanes”).

Ideally players will all be on their “proper floor side;” trying to run their lanes as best as possible, criss-crossing from inside to outside (or vice-versa) if needed on a fast-break, while making every effort to get the ball to the inside lane. If two players are on a 2-on-1 and “same-handed” in terms of right or left (also on a 3-on-2), getting the ball to a player in an inside lane is vital.

Players running in the outside lanes during a fast-break should run as hard as they can to the same-side goal post on a 45° angle, as a general team rule. Inside lane players should be trailing the play, at least slightly (i.e. not in a straight line across, relative to players in the outside lanes), and will sometimes have to “slow up” in order to maintain proper spacing.

  • Lob Pass/Long Pass/Deep Pass/“On A Rope”/"Lasers" (See Loose Ball Drill #7A):  A lob pass is an arching pass normally used in transition to throw the ball over top, instead of around or through a defender.  This pass can also be thrown deep to into a specific area to lead a teammate on to a breakaway. 

A long, straight, hard, pass (“on a rope”), where no opponents are in the way, is generally the preferred option (if it’s open) when trying to create fast-break opportunities. A "laser" is a pass that is so hard that it becomes very difficult to catch; whereas a pass with more "touch" is usually more effective.

  • Bounce Pass/Bounce Shot:  A “bounce pass” is directed off of the floor and into a teammate’s stick, usually made in transition, at times to pass around a defender who is in the passing lane. 

Bounce passes are considered “low percentage” and should be avoided if possible, especially on concrete playing surfaces where the ball tends to "spin" away from the receiver, causing a senseless turnover.

"Bounce shots” are always a good option and particularly effective in transition (“along the pipes”) when goalies are forced to move east-west; also for scoring in the top corners on goalies who have a bad habit of dropping (flop) on outside shots; or otherwise when the goalie is playing very deep in their net.

Should a player ever have a wide open net on quick stick opportunity (east-west pass), they should use a bounce shot off the goal-line, in order to avoid the goalies desperation stick swing across the centre of the net (says John Tavares).

  • Lead Pass/“Leading”/Passing “To A Spot”/Passing “Behind” A Player/"Pushing" The Ball (See Warm Up Drill #7B):  To "push" the ball is to pass the ball to the player furthest up the floor in transition.  A lead pass means to pass the ball a few metres ahead of a player; timing it to allow for them to run into/onto the ball, and used mainly in transition but also in the offensive zone while in motion. 

Lead passes in transition can also include lob passes or passes that bounce once in front of the receiver ("passing to a spot"), giving a fast teammate an extra step on a defender who may or may not have the passing lane covered. In certain situations, bounce passes which are lead passes, can also be effective.

On offense, lead passes are often utilized as a teammate comes around a pick, passing to a player who is popping out, passing to a cutter or as a flip/dump pass during a pick & roll. In these sorts of situations, players are throwing the ball to where a player is going to be, not where they currently are (“behind them”), which can be a cause for turnovers and wasted opportunities if not adequately “timed.”

  • Breakaway (See Goaltending Drill #4A):  One-on-one (shooter on goalie) scoring opportunities, where players are running uncontested toward the opponents net, are otherwise known as “breakaways” or “naked” opportunities.  Offensive players should utilize a "banana curl" while approaching the net in this scenario, where possible.

Players on a partial breakaway need to avoid (flee) the chaser, being sure to protect the ball in order to not get stripped by an opponent on a trail check. Should players be unable to free-up their hands or are otherwise forced to their wrong-side of the floor, it is smarter to pull it out and give the ball to the offense for a lengthy possession.

When a 3-on-2 approaches from centre-floor the high defender is responsible for the first slide as the ball carrier becomes a threat, and if 3-on-2 approaches from the side the "low defender" is responsible for the first slide (also see taking inventory and goalie communication). An advanced tactic some high defenders will employ is to hitch (fake the pressure), ideally forcing the ball carrier to pass across their body, then recovering to the back-side post. The unoccupied defender then “splits” the remaining two players, with both defenders keeping their stick up and finishing their checks (as a general team rule). In doing this, the other team is forced to string together two or sometimes three passes in a row (while under pressure), in order to get a quality shot.

The only exceptions to this rule are when the ball-carrier is running in the Middle Lane and passes the ball early before a slide is initiated or off of a “fake slide” by the high defender; in both cases, the high defender has the option to finish the check or try and recover to the back-side of the play, with the low defender now committed to splitting between the remaining two players.

  • Splitting (See Offense Drill #8):  When a defender attempts to play in between two offensive players while at a numerical disadvantage (sticks up), most notably during a fast-break against or while short-handed.  Splitting can be accomplished by two defenders playing beside each other horizontally (i.e. “zone defense”), or in a vertical line as in the I-formation (i.e. defending against a 3-on-2 fast-break). 

In transition, defenders who are splitting should initially give more attention to the players who are closest to the net, eventually forcing a pass from the ball carrier as they become a threat, or allowing the ball carrier to shoot based on inventory and goalie communication.

When splitting horizontally in a “box” zone defense, the two high defenders should only take “3 steps” toward either the shooter or point player, relative to their starting position. If the point player becomes a threat, the two high defenders should “pinch” together at the point in order to stop an outside shot from that player; otherwise they are both also responsible for the shooter on their side of the box.

  • Reverse Transition/Re-Transition (See Transition Drill #11B):  A transition opportunity stemming from a failed fast-break opportunity by the opponent is known as “re-transition.”  Teams should be wary of sending too many players on a fast-break and should also have team rules for defending against “reverse transition” as a whole.  

A team’s offense must recognize when the opposing defense has a potential “odd-player” advantage (fast-break) if they were to change, versus running back and playing defense; in which case they would still need to stay on the floor and defend against reverse transition.

Most teams also use the "rule" that the shooter on the opposite side from where the shot is taken has the first responsibility in defending against reverse transition, taking away the home-run pass to a player potentially cheating for a breakaway. When chasing an opponent who is “breaking” for that sort of pass, the best bet is to avoid looking for the ball and concentrate on chasing the player (defending their stick).

Lastly, beware of the 4th and 5th player coming off of the bench, who can also become a threat late in transition (see “trailers”).

  • Rover/Safety:  A rover generally refers to the last player back (closest to the net) on defense.  Should a fast-break already be in progress, a fourth or fifth player need not “join the rush” to make a 3-on-2, a 4-on-2, for instance.  These trailers should stay back near half-floor (with line changes discouraged) to guard against reverse transition (as a "safety") or to pick up a loose ball.  A classic transition scenario in box lacrosse is when a shot on a fast-break misses the net and rebounds directly to the other team, who then runs back and scores in reverse transition. 

Otherwise utilized during a 2-player advantage on the power-play, a rover usually stands (runs) near the face-off circle at centre-floor to collect loose balls, while the rest of the offense plays 4-against-3. There are set-plays for 5-on-3 power-plays (see Playbook) however, and depending on the situation teams may choose to experiment playing with all five players (no rover).

Other situations where an offensive player might act as a rover are in the last 5 seconds during a “red” call on offense, during a Full-Floor Press, or when the goalie is “pulled” on a “Sneak” Play.

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