It is hard to watch any of the NCAA games on television without hearing the commentary regarding the infamous "two-man" games.
Now I can offer a lot of good reasons why I have not been a huge proponent of 'picks' or 'screens' in the past. For our teams, they seemed more often than not to result in a moving pick call and rarely created a true scoring opportunity. And I came to realize that the primary reason we were never good at setting picks is that we rarely ever practiced them in scrimmages. But at least I had a good reason for not including them in the practice plans; they are tough to practice. Please stay with me here.
We like to have constant motion in practices with a clear focus of a fast pace for drills. And practicing picks just seemed to slow thing down, or we had many players just stranding around, both of which drive me crazy. Another reason had to do with priorities. If we were to take the 20 or 30 minutes a week needed to get proficient at picking on and off ball and instead focused on stick skills or shooting or manufacturing transition scenarios, which would be a better contributing factor to scoring more goals and winning more games? So I always chose the second option. But I was wrong. If it is good enough for Syracuse, Princeton, and Penn State, it is probably something I should re-consider.
Now I have come to realize there is a way to meet both objectives. Like many college coaches, we run a lot of 4v4 drills in practices, and we now have 14 or 15 variations. But with just a little creativity, we have integrated this increasingly popular offensive philosophy into our 4v4 as well as many other drills.
We can begin a 4v4 drill by insisting that two of the three players off ball need to pick off-ball. Or conversely, we may require that the drill to begin with at least two on-ball picks before we take a shot. The same concepts can be integrated into 6v6, although we rarely run this in practice or in our 10v10 work when not in transition. We found players loved the concepts, as they now had to really think in these drills to facilitate the picks.
In a basic discussion of setting picks, probably the most common mistake is in the angles of the pick. We want to focus on picking the body as opposed to picking air, and angles are better than squaring up. Next, the location of the picks has really changed if you watch a lot of top offensive schemes.
Traditional picks were always up top on some type of sweep from the midfielders or set directly behind the cage at X or in the crease area. These days we are seeing many more on-ball picks set at or slightly above goal line extended or 45 degrees and off ball on the wings or in the corners.
Whatever your preference as a coach, incorporate these teaching fundamentals into other drills and set the low cones in the areas where you think picks will most benefit offensive motion in drills. Remember to start basic with two or three areas and philosophies and then gradually build your picking strategy.
Traditional Picks vs. New Generation Picks
Many of us grew up learning two basic types of on-ball picks, very similar to basketball. We have the traditional pick off of a stationary pick as well as the pick and roll. The pick and roll can be effective, but it really requires practice on five- to seven-yard passing unless your team is made of Canadian box players. So, if this is in your offensive game plan, then incorporate more five- to seven-yard passing drills into the stick work segment of practice and even add another cone to the 4v4 drill where we want the picking player to receive the pass. This also creates a visual learning aide for players.
As you watch the top teams play, you are now seeing a new type of pick, the pick and slip. If you integrate this into your regular practice drills you can give most high school and rec lacrosse teams real fits defensively.
In the pick and slip, we set the pick and then, as the offensive player carrying the ball approaches the pick (but before he arrives), we slip away for an eight- to ten-yard pass. This can be very effective both at X as well as up top at the restraining line. Even good defensive players are usually focused on one of two basic scenarios. Traditionally they communicate to either "switch" or "go through." In either case, they are accustomed to staying in that small area of space around the pick.
In many cases, since they are focused on these two options, the player who is setting the pick can slip away and be open for a great scoring opportunity. As you integrate the slip into your offense, keep the four other offensive players away from the action or overloaded on the far side of the box. This will add yardage and make any potential slide more difficult for the defenders.
But remember, you cannot coach this by standing around with today's players. Start small and then integrate schemes into your drills that emulate game situations. And communicate to players that this is an option when we are 'even' and not in a transition or mini-transition moment, where we want to maintain critical offensive spacing.
Encourage your players as they are taping and watching top NCAA games to keep an eye out and identify the two-man games they see on the field and bring their comments to practice. This technique will really help them gain their own equity in practicing two-man techniques.
Once you have these basics integrated into drills that you run in even scenarios, you can also take it up a notch. In a basic 4v4 drill on a different practice day, you may consider integrating big-little or little-big picks. In these cases, we want to get a shortie on an attackman, usually in the alley, or pick to get the LSM off an offensive shooting middie. The key is recognition by offensive players, and this will not happen using a traditional lecture but by repetition in fast-paced drills with players not standing around. Make them think, keep it changing every day, and make it competitive and make it fun.