This article really stems from my recent interview with a great young Coach, Jake Coons, and Head Coach at RIT. He really made me re-think how we coach defense lacrosse drills in lacrosse practice. I want to hit on his key points of how many of us as coaches focus on team defense, or slides, or transition defense but perhaps not as much on individual defensive skills. Especially in the critical areas of coaching Checks vs. Position, Recovery, Angles, and coaching how to react to picks even with ‘match-ups’ in mind.
I cringe when I am refereeing games with young players all the way up through good high school varsity teams and I hear coaches screaming ‘poke check!!’ OK, here you go, the facts are: that very few if any great lacrosse coaches are coaching checks on a regular basis anymore. The simple truth is that with a big step on a check, the defensive player is out of position, and more importantly, even with hard contact on the check, the ball does not come out. We first discussed this with Coach Bill Tierney and his comment that “The best check, — might be a no check.” Coach Shriver at Boys Latin suggested to us that “Even a good check goes unrewarded.”
Position, angles, the attack position for defenders are so much more important. The goal is to keep them from scoring, not to take away the ball, when it usually does not come out of the stick anyway. “Don’t get Beat,” is so much better than “Take it Away.” More and more coaches focus on position, pushing, and a small lift on the bottom hand when the offensive player goes to shoot or pass.
I loved Coach Coon’s philosophy and coaching points, “Back Pedal, Drop Step then Squeeze…” And get physical in the ‘War Zone’ his description of a parallel line from GLE to the top of the crease, going across the offensive zone in tight to the cage.
Slides and Recovery
I know at least for me we spend a lot of time in practice on transition drills in practice. It is a fun way to practice, fast paced, and helps to intuitively teach players to slide. What I am learning from all the great coaches we interview is that the majority of the focus needs to shift from the actual slide itself to the slide and recovery. In the words of Coach Coon, calling slides is easy, recovery is critical.
We have a couple of great drills to reinforce this, check out the Garber 1-2-3 Drill in the article section, or run more 3V2 in practice to teach the fundamentals. In drills that are 3V2 there is no confusion for the players, we either are sliding to the ball, or recovering to the hole, when the player we were covering then passes the ball. The focus here is effort, the recovery is critical, footwork, open to the inside and get your stick in the passing lane.
Angles and Position
If we want to begin to really reinforce positioning as a defensive fundamental, then we need to talk first about attack position. Many of our players want to slide hard, and then either lunge at the ball, or try and run over somebody. Coach a balance, and keeping the pole out front for the cushion position after we have slide hard for five yards is the key. For drills, running skeleton (no offense) slide drills concentrating on a 1) hard slide, 2) balanced strong attack position upon arrival, and 3) quick recovery on and off ball will help build these skills. These can be found in our articles or samples from Coach Daly, (Tufts) and Coach Sowell (when he was at Stony Brook) in our site.
Coach also described a great drill where we play 1V1 on the side of the field in the alley, running north and south. The lines from the box and the sideline are the borders, and we start at one end as the offensive player advances and we are really focusing the defensive players on foot position, stick position, and angles.
Coach Defense Through Picks
Stronger offensive teams at all levels are becoming enamored with the advent of the popular 2-Man games found so popular at the NCAA level in 2010 and 2011. Coaching our kids how to deal with the increase in picks and especially the ‘Pick and Slip’ are now critical. And at least for me, I have not stressed nearly enough in my practice plans.
Coach Coon recommends focusing first on teaching the player guarding the pick to step back and allow the defensive player on ball to go through. This makes so much sense to all of us, but do we run it in drills and make it a priority. It is especially critical if you have scouted specific match-ups that we want to maintain. If our kids are always in the ‘Switch’ mode, it is easy to get out of the match-ups we want defensively as a coach. It also opens the door to potentially get a ‘little’ on an attack player, where we really want one of our poles, or a specific pole. Coach suggests that we really want to make ‘Going Through’ a priority rather than a switch with one possible exception.
Defend the Pick and Slip
Especially against quality teams we are beginning to see the ‘Pick and Slip’ so much more and frankly, it is giving us problems. In the Pick and Slip, the offensive player who sets the pick, actually slips away from the set up, before the player with the ball gets there. Teams do this primarily at ‘X’ but if you watched Syracuse, it can also be effective up top with middies. And often, against even the best defenders can be open to drive or force a slide. With good offensive teams, and the advent of the Canadian offensive philosophies, and teams that can make four to five yard quick accurate passes it can be a challenge.
Coach Coon suggested that first we need to drill it, and really get our defenders accustomed to the new wrinkle on picks, but in this case he is more likely top have his defenders, switch. They might back off, and then recover.
Again, I guess that maybe it is not really new at all. It is just a renewed focus on the smaller bits that make up the whole team defense. We have to drill it in practice, rather than constantly just discuss it. And as always a real focus on the little fundamentals, will put the kids in a much better place o be successful, and that is what it is all about!!