This is an awesome lacrosse drill, and it did not come from me. At a recent free clinic by North Carolina coach Breschi, I learned some great practice ideas. However, this one really stood out, striking me as a great drill for players of all ages and talent levels.
We often write about drills that directly emulate game scenarios, are fast-paced, and focus on a number of fundamentals simultaneously for players who are used to multi-tasking in every activity. Here we focus on competition, ground balls, ball movement, all rides and clears, all in one drill.
It begins as a 2v2 ground ball drill, but one with a purpose. Rather than running three player man-ball ground ball drills anywhere on the field or the ball rolling 50 yards away while 18 players stand bored to tears watching, this drill is much more true-to-life, as it initiates a game scenario, multiple fundamentals, and begins in the alley.
A few years back, we learned this key concept from the college coaches we interview on the site. We started running many more of our drills (3v2, 4v3, 2v2) beginning in the alley. It is kind of amazing just how many times during a game the ball goes down, either offensively or defensively, in or around the outside of the box, yet so many coaches keep running their drills more 'vertically' top to bottom or bottom to top. I know, and our players have come to realize, how much the varying of locations to begin or initiate drills is more realistic of true game scenarios.
So, in the alley between the sideline and the box, we have two offensive and two defensive players lined up, a coach behind them with balls, and a goalie in the cage. The coach gently rolls out the ground ball from behind the players, for which the four players now compete. If an offensive player gains control, he immediately breaks to the cage, and we play live to a shot. One of the keys is to vary the location of the ground ball without rolling it 45 yards away. Also, we want to get the offensive players sprinting to the cage, and, for most of us coaches, we want both players to stay in front of the cage, not behind, to capitalize on the moment and facilitate a quick opportunity in front of the net.
If one of the two defensive players gets possession, then he, his defensive teammate, and the goalie begin to clear the ball past the midfield line. And the offensive players are now in a full aggressive ride scenario, cutting off the clear, trying to force the clearing players to roll back to the defensive zone and pass the ball back to the goalie or clear under real pressure. So each repetition of the drill with each group can be different.
Regardless of a team's skill level, this is such an effective drill for players of all ages. But remember to keep up the pace. Each repetition needs to go quickly to keep the others in line from going to sleep. You can run this on half the field involving half of the players with the other half of the team on the far side of the field. Or run another drill simultaneously on the other half of the field and then switch groups. Keeping players from standing around is paramount, and there are only five players in this drill at a time.
Critical Teaching Point – We Need to Improve
As a coach, the real teaching point here is that not only is it a competition for a ground ball with your teammate, but perhaps even more critical is what happens immediately after a loose ball pick-up. We probably need to do a better job of joining the two scenarios together, and this drill goes a long way to preparing players to take advantage of the situation.
For most of us, when we focus on competitive ground balls, we end in a look-up pass to a player or the coach, and that repetition of the drill is over, when in fact we should focus as coaches on what happens next. The two need to be coached together. On any loose ball pick-up, what we really have is either an opportunity to score in transition to the cage or the opportunity to get in a defense-initiated transition and break across the midfield line and down to our attack.
Of course, we want to run this drill from both sides of the field and not always in the same alley. But a nice variation is a simple 'add one' feature. From varying points around the field, once the ball is picked up by either group, add an additional defensive and offensive player to the drill. I hope you try it and e-mail me your thoughts.