“Ride For Life.”
When a lacrosse team on offense loses possession of the ball in the offensive area of the field their players need to immediately switch to The Ride. Riding is pressuring the other team’s players when they are trying to clear the ball out of the defensive zone to the offensive zone. A good ride can cause many turnovers and lead to extra possessions for your team; a great ride can lead to unsettled, uneven, dramatic scoring situations and goals.
A “settled ride” occurs when one team gets the ball in their defensive half of the field after a stoppage in play. Most often this is after an errant pass out of bounds, after the defense wins a chase to the line following a shot, and other examples can include restarts after certain minor fouls or a timeout.
When the defense gets the ball in an unsettled situation during live play, such as a defensive player picking up a ground ball, intercepting a pass, or the goalie making a save and their opponent is now trying to get the ball back we refer to that as an “unsettled ride.”
“Ride Like Maniacs!!!”
One of the easiest ways to evaluate how much heart a lacrosse team is playing with is to see how hard the players are working at the ride.
Sometimes individual players are stronger at offense or have an offense-centric mentality that prevents them from fully committing to a ride. In lacrosse the ride often involves hard work and if someone doesn’t like to play defense or maybe even thinks they don’t need to play defense the coach should remind them that as soon as the ball goes to the other team that player is on defense.
There are some bright spots about the situation that should be motivational — an offense-minded player who is “all about scoring” needs to have the ball, and even better, usually in the early part of the ride the ball is very close to the goal the player is trying to score on, so why not try to keep that offensive series going? If a team can get the ball back right away it essentially “erases” the turnover. Particularly for attackmen, a lacrosse player should keep an offensive mentality during a ride and should feel a keen excitement about getting the ball back to be a threat to score.
Practically speaking, a lacrosse coach who sees a player commit to the ride relentlessly and without hesitation will often reward them with more playing time than other players who might even be more effective on offense. If a team has possession a coach can substitute a stronger offense player in on the fly, and a coach might also reason that the player who hustles to get the ball back on the ride is going to have more time with the ball on offense and will give themself more chances to “gel” on offense with their teammates and to improve.
Strategically and to the team as a whole, having the ball in a lacrosse game is far more important than almost anything else — it is a lesson of the game. With a view of the big picture a well-rounded lacrosse player understands that there needs to be a frantic, urgent, aggressive effort to keep that ball away from the team’s defensive area. Once the ball goes across half field the offsides rules mean that three players have to watch and can not help defend the goal, so the ride on their offensive side might be their only chance to help the team during that series.
How the turnover occurred — which teammate’s fault it was, how frustrating it was that the goalie made a great save or that a shot didn’t go as planned — does not matter; there is no time for emotional displays of anguish because a strong opponent will make the team pay for those lost moments. Players have emotions and need to play with emotion, in this case to “get on their horses” right away and fix the problem immediately, which is another meaningful life lesson of lacrosse.
While urgently, franticly, relentlessly working hard the riding team should also remember to work smart, because in lacrosse a team on their defensive side usually has a one man advantage. This is because the clearing team can bring their goalie out of the goal. There is not always a one man advantage, for example when a penalty is being served, and a clearing team can deplete themselves if they try to do substitutions during a clear, but usually a team has a 7v6 advantage on their defensive side of the field, so is in a good situation to set up a press for the goal.
There is also much ground to cover for the riding team, and one danger is that if a riding team gets out of position the clearing team might create a fast break transition situation with a numbers advantage and a possible transition goal.
For this reason, rides in lacrosse are full field defensive slide schemes with some nuances that should be practiced and coached. Before teaching any set riding schemes to your players it is important that you reinforce and demonstrate the fundamental principles of riding, which can be narrowed down to a few team objectives and individual fundamentals. The list below includes standard riding advice though your strategic objectives may change based upon your opponent’s weaknesses and strengths.
Fundamentals of The Ride
General Team Objectives For The Ride:
- Force the clearing team to make the longest pass possible, especially across field.
- Leave farthest person from the ball open and look to slide so that everyone else is covered.
- Maintain position to prevent fast breaks.
- Let the goalie bring the ball up — the best way to make a team uncomfortable is to force them to be out of position, so the farther away from the goal a goalie is the more uncomfortable they and their team will usually be.
- Use the sideline as another defender by choosing angles of pursuit to force the clearing player out of bounds.
Individual Fundamentals For The Ride:
- Remember basic defensive athletic stance: Players should keep their knees bent wtih the stick in the defense ready position.
- Keep proper angles and drop step to direct the clearing player towards desired areas on the field or towards the sidelines.
- Use proper approaches to the ball. This is the same concept as in teaching sliding with your team defense. This must be practiced and can be done in drills or game-like activities.
- Use sound checks and footwork, never giving up body position. Often just running with the player is most effective.
- Throw fewer checks in general and try for the right moments. For example a good time to throw a check is if the ball carrying player stops running, and if an opponent lifts his stick to pass the ball he usually exposes his lower hand for a well-placed lift check. Check only on stick side (avoid the back check). A good offensive player is trying to trick the rider into getting out of position, so will show “bait” to get the rider to try for a back check. It is more important that a clearing player does not get by a rider than it is to take the ball away. In attempting to take the ball away a rider may over commit himself and allow the clearing player to get by.
- Attackmen and Midfielders: Give ground and don’t let an opposing player get behind you.
- Defensemen: Stay topside and don’t let an opponent get in front of you.
- Riding Goalies: Call the position of the ball all the way down the field. The defensive stand starts the moment the other team gets the ball.
- Move when the ball is released, anticipating the pass.
- Communication is key. Communicate For Victory.
- Backside or off-ball players from the far side of the field must be able to split areas in ways very similar to team defensive concepts. There will usually be at least one riding player guarding two opponents.
Guidelines For Teaching The Ride:
- Riding concepts must be developed in a series of progressions and taught in steps. Just as you would build up a team defense, start first with the fundamentals of individual defense and then add by progressions to build the complete team riding package.
- Novice riding players tend to stand flat-footed or overcommit, so teach the players to run with opponents and “Turn Them Around” to force a redirection.
- Emphasize to your players that rather than throwing risky checks, if they make the clearing team throw additional passes it increases the chances of a mistaken pass or an opportunity for your team to get the ball.
- Remind your team that a great ride leads to chances to score and a good ride leads to opportunity to get the ball back, but also acknowledge that a successful ride prevents fast breaks. Run drills where players give ground to maintain position because if you “lose” the clear you still can play settled defense, but if you lose position the clearing team might get a scoring chance.
- The clearing team has the ball and usually for half of the way a man-up advantage, but the pressure is actually on them because the clearing team also faces a time limit. When installing and drilling your ride package use a stopwatch or timer so that your team gets a sense of the timeframe. If your opponent does not clear the ball both across the half field line and into their offensive restraining box in time the riding team will be awarded the ball.
Guidelines For Choosing Which Ride To Use:
As a coach, you will want to identify where the weakness is on the clearing team.
- Do they only have two good ball handlers?
- Do they have trouble making long passes?
- Do the defensemen panic when they get near the midfield line?
- Does the goalie simply stay in the crease and eliminate their extra man opportunity?
You will also need to honestly identify the riding weaknesses of your own team.
- Does the clearing team have faster footspeed at one or maybe more of the positions?
- Are your players still learning or slow at identifying their riding assignments
Having imbalances in the matchups does not mean you need to concede the clear, it just means you need to run the right strategy. Call the play to exploit weaknesses to your team’s advantage and strengths.