The “ABCD’s” of Individual Defense
Good 1-on-1 Defense is a key skill for every lacrosse player to have, no matter what position. These four basic steps make it easy to teach this critical concept to shut down your opponents, and win more games!
"Offense wins Games, Defense wins Championships!" College coaches spend lots of time on very small defensive details like Approach and Pursuit Angles. Tough, physical, athletic Defenders can frustrate opponents, turn away scoring opportunities, and create Turnovers. Defense doesn't always make the newspapers, but it is an essential ingredient in your team's success. This is true for both Individual and Team Defense.
Stopping the Ball is Job #1! Your Opponents can't score if they can't get to the Goal! Win more defensive 1-on-1 Match-Ups, and you will see your opponents scores go down week by week. This requires all of your Defenders to follow these simple steps every single time they cover the man with the ball.
Simple fixes for small things with individual Defenders will make your whole Defense stronger! We see these common mistakes and bad habits with younger and inexperienced players all over the country: "Chasing the Stick," and "Over-Committing" on Defense, letting the man with the ball run right by.
Playing tough 1-on-1 Defense means your team won't have to Slide as early, or as often. You won't give up so many easy goals while your Defense is disorganized during Slides and Recovery. Make your opponents work hard for their goals. Force them to Dodge hard and take some punishment to draw Slides.
Use these 4 easy steps to turn all your players into solid On-Ball Defenders. Just like learning the alphabet, your players need to know and practice these basic techniques step-by-step. Spend time on Individual, 1-on-1 Defense in practice a few times per week for 15 minutes, and give your Defenders some real confidence to stop their man on Game Day!
Approach is how your players approach the man when he gets the ball. It sounds simple, but it can be very complex. A good Defender has to approach his man at the right time, from the right angle, to the right position on the field, at the right speed, and be ready to change directions with the Ball Carrier if he Dodges. Good offensive players will quickly capitalize on a bad defensive approach with a goal or an assist.
Approach quickly, but under control! Approach up field, inside, to take away the middle. Stick up and out in front, ready to knock down passes or shots. Be ready to check the stick and hands when you get in range. Poke and Lift!
"No Top Side!" This is rule #1 for everyone. Do NOT let the man with the ball into the middle of the field. Take away the middle from the beginning with a good Approach. Hips and Toes should face the Sideline, making the Defender's Stick and Body a Wall. Keep the ball in the Alley, down the side of the field.
If you're approaching at X, be careful not to get blocked or hung up by the goal. Attackers are very good at using the goal as an obstacle for Defenders.
Time the Approach so that the Defender is in position behind the goal, ready to cover the man when the ball gets to him. Not after.
B.) "BREAK DOWN"
"Break down into a good, athletic body position" when your Defenders reach the man with the Ball. Low center of gravity, weight evenly distributed on both legs, slightly on the toes. Break down position allows your players to be strong and fast, ready to turn and run with the Dodger.
Footwork is very important for Defense! A Break Down is a quick deceleration. Your players must get out to the ball quickly, and stop quickly. This requires faster, smaller steps.
This is the fun part! Lacrosse is a physical sport. Your players wear equipment to make contact. Physically push and turn the man with the ball away from the goal. Your players don't even need a stick to play good Defense. All it takes is Good Old-Fashioned Hard Work and Determination!
Teach all your players good Body Defense. Stay in between their man and the goal at all times. Take away the middle of the field and force the ball down the sides and behind the goal. Good Defense starts with the Feet, then the Hips, push with the Hands. Stick Checks are the last thing your players should be thinking about when they are guarding the ball.
"Whoever gets lowest, wins!" We've heard college coaches saying this for year. Defenders must get lower than their attacker to maintain a strong center of gravity, a good base to push from. Control the Dodgers HIPS, and he isn't going anywhere.
"Drop Step and Pursue!" Just like Basketball Defense, your Defenders must move their feet and maintain contact for longer than a few seconds. Once they take away the middle of the field ("No Top Side!"), they can Direct the Dodger down the sides of the field and back behind the goal, where they can't score.
Drop Step and open the Hips. Stay low and strong when you turn to push and pursue. Don't cross your feet. Footwork, footwork, footwork!
You will hear college Coaches and especially Goalies using lots of talk for this.
- "Turn Him!" Step up field and physically push and turn the Dodger back below Goal Line Extended. This is not the time for stick checks.
- "Drive!" your man out to the wing, away from the Goal, when he gets to a dangerous position.
- "Watch the Roll Back!" Don't pursue your man too low, and let him Roll back into the middle. Keep him down the sides. "No Top Side!"
It's OKAY to get beat down the sides or down low. This is what Slides and Help are for. This is why we play Team Defense. The Slide needs to know which side of the On-Ball Defender to Slide to. Direct the Dodger down the sides, away from the Goal, into the Double Team. This is when you start creating really nice Turnovers and Fast Breaks to the other end!
Have fun with 1-on-1 Individual Defense with your players. See their determination and confidence grow as they learn to become hard-working, tough Defenders. Defense! Defense! Defense!
Six Drills All Lacrosse Defensemen Must Be Doing
Being big and strong as a defenseman certainly helps when playing the game of lacrosse. However the one skill that is mandatory for excellence as lacrosse defensemen is footwork.
Parents often ask me what skills young defensemen should be working on to improve? Just like any other player on the lacrosse field, the higher the lacrosse IQ and the better the defenseman’s stick skills, the easier it will be for them to perform at a high level.
However, when it comes to defense, there is NOTHING that is more important than footwork and positioning.
Ignoring the Obvious
The key to good on ball defense is being able to dictate where the offensive player is going to go. This can only be done well if your footwork and technique are good.
As a coach, I am amazed at how many young players actually ignore this part of playing defense. I see a lot of young players who work really hard at getting stronger, play wall ball constantly, and watch lacrosse every chance they get.
Those things are all great areas of the game to work on, but nothing should come before trying to perfect your footwork.
Analyzing the Position
When playing defense in lacrosse, you will spend a lot of time in a breakdown position, with your stick out, trying to force your man to a predetermined area of the field. Why would you not practice this?
How can you possibly expect to master the drop step, sideways run, or top side approach if you do not practice it? That would be similar to a wide receiver not practicing his routes? Sounds silly doesn’t it.
You need to understand angles of pursuit and body position to succeed at this position. This is a skill that needs to be practiced, just like everything else.
6 Footwork Drills for Lacrosse Defensemen
Zig Zag 1 on 1
Hawk Drill (Sideways Variation)
Drop Step Drill
Consider adding each of these drills to your workout and be amazed how your footwork will improve. Also try using a weighted stick to improve your muscle memory, endurance and strength!
I always enjoy hearing your feedback in the comments section below. Ask me any questions and be sure to let me know how your game as a lacrosse defensemen has improved using these drills.