The lacrosse ball signifies action, which is why everyone loves knowing where the ball is. While focusing on the ball is great for a fan, ball watching is one of the worst habits for any player.
The two goalies are the only players on the field who regularly watch the ball. The other eighteen players must divide their attention. Half of it watches the ball, and the other half watches their opponent. Ball watching happens when players get complacent or tired. The complacent players do not feel the need to know exactly where the ball and their opponent is. These players stand around as if they are wearing concrete cleats while the entire game moves along without them. Complacency cannot be tolerated on the lacrosse field, but tiredness is a consequence of the game.
Tired players become complacent. Even the very best conditioned midfielder will get lazy after four quarters of hard running. Eventually, a player will slip, forget to watch his man, and get burned off a quick pass. This happens all of the time, and it is important for youth coaches to realize when their players are getting lazy because they are out of gas. Call for a horn or a time out and get the tired players off the field before they make the path to the goal as wide as a four lane highway.
So how do coaches reduce ball watching? Two methods and one drill.
Method One: One Check Man / One Check Ball
- During practice make your players turn their heads. This is called “Keeping Your Head on a Swivel.” Beyond good communication and solid footwork, this is a cornerstone of competitive defense. Players must watch the ball for one second, then swivel to find their man for another second. Then repeat that for the entire game.
- Pair up your players, one defenseman to one attackman, inside the box. Have the extra players pass the ball around the entire box. The attackmen must be constantly moving so the defenseman can focus on locating the ball and staying close to their opponent.
- A little trick – If you are having trouble knowing where your opponent is, place the head of your lacrosse stick on his shoulder. Don’t whack him with it, just leave it there lightly. When your opponent moves your stick will drop. Then you know you need to find him.
Method Two: Get Numbers
- In a settled situation practices, require your defensive players to call out their opponent’s numbers. This is such a simple technique, but it pays off huge dividends during games. Because if your defensive players are required to know their attackman’s number they will work to find their man.
- A little trick – If you completely lose your man get to the help line. Do not stand out by the restraining lines twiddling your thumbs.
- Set up four to six cones in a zig-zag pattern. Players must shuffle or sprint to each cone, changing direction after every cone. While going through the cones they must yell out the number of fingers that the coach is holding up on the far end of the drill. This teaches players to do two critical things: think while running, and keep their eyes up.
- If you want to get really creative, write simple addition/subtraction problems on a whiteboard and hold them up. Now the players really need to think to get through the drill!
A week ago, we were treated to the ultimate consequence for ball watching. The Maryland vs. UNC game was a stellar tilt, but the craziest part of the game happened at the end of the third quarter. Two Maryland players faked tossing the ball. One went one way and the other faked like he had possession. Leading to a virtually uncontested goal for Maryland. The bigger problem than ball watching? A total lack of communication by the defense. In the video below, the fake starts at the 18-second mark. At the 21-second mark, a UNC midfielder realizes the fake and starts playing the man who actually has the ball, but he never said “I’ve got ball, the ball is here, look at me!”
Learn two lessons from UNC. One, always know where the ball is. Two, if you are the only person who knows where the ball is get really, really, really loud. Hopefully, everyone else will wake up and come to your aid.