This weeks Position Spotlight is Midfield:
Since being a midfielder involves several different skills both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. This week will will focus on defense.
Midfielders have to do it all. They are the cornerstones of every lacrosse team. They have to play offense and defense, ride and clear and most importantly pickup and retain ground balls.
As a midfielder in High School I relished the idea of being able to play defense as it allows a player to be two dimensional. Also when you are having a hard time on offense playing good defense can balance out an off day. Being a solid defender prepared me to be a great rider when I moved to attack in college.
I truly believe anyone can play defense as it is mostly about desire and determination. If you have those traits you can be successful.
Players who consistently play tough defense will more often than not find their way onto the field ahead of offensively-oriented players who ignore the other side of the ball.
One of most important aspect of becoming a better individual defender is to have a excellent understanding of team defense. Every team employs particular slide packages and uses its own terminology to communicate on the field. Some teams also incorporate a zone defense. It’s important to know how, when, and where to position yourself and help defensively on a dodging/driving offensive player.
Defensive positioning when your man does not have the ball (OFF BALL) is crucial to being able to slide or properly protect your defensive zone. When playing off the ball, you should drift in towards the hole where off-ball offensive players are most dangerous.
The ability to mark/cover your man and ensure that he isn’t capable of scoring on you while playing good team defense. I always try and let young players know that if your man passed the ball, you did your job. Making your opponent uncomfortable while playing defense is paramount to your success. I think it all starts with your stance and attitude. If you are in a proper defensive/athletic stance and you look like you mean business the likelihood of someone dodging you goes way down. As for your attitude you must have a mean/confident approach to playing defense where you opponent just wants to give up the ball and does not even want to try and dodge on you.
Covering your man is equally important whether he has the ball or is playing off the ball. When your man doesn’t have the ball, be sure to keep an eye on him and the ball (head on swivel). Your stick should always be up and on the inside of the offense, in the passing lanes as much as possible. Never try and turn your back on the player you are covering as you will open yourself up to back door cuts and give and go’s.
When you are covering the man with the ball you need to remember and execute a few things:
- You will dictate the situation
- What are his strengths offensively
- Force him into uncomfortable spots and moves. Make him go to his weak hand.
- Keep moving your feet and watch for a re-dodge
- Use stick checks as your last resort
- Be physical
Sometimes players can be held back defensively by a tendency to not be physical enough. A good hard jam to the players hips will take him off of his dodge and change his angle. You don’t have to be the most physically imposing player on the field but you can jam someone and move your feet.
Depending on the level of lacrosse you are playing (youth or High School) will determine how physical you can be. The sport of lacrosse is getting serious about the take-out check. I good hip check or jam is just as effective as knocking the player to the ground. I find when players try and knock someone on the ground they are no in position to find the ball or help as a recovering defender. This typically occurs around the crease. Better to box someone out and get a ground ball then whiffing on the big check and giving up a goal. Always position yourself between your man and the ball, and do whatever you can to keep it that way. Don’t be shy about pushing him out of position to give yourself the best chance at defending him.
Worrying about getting a penalty can seriously alter the way you play defense. As a coach I would prefer to get a technical push foul and play man-down defense then give up an easy goal on the crease. If is important to play physical yet under control at all times, understanding that you may draw a penalty from time to time.
If your offensive game is lacking right now think hard about playing better fundamental defense. If will give you and opportunity to stay on the field and you might surprise your coaches that you can score when given the chance.
The game has changed since I played High School lacrosse with more specialization with offensive midfielders, defensive midfielders and FOGO’s. As a youngster growing up we used to go watch one of the best lacrosse players I have ever seen, Frank Urso from Brentwood, High School on Long Island. Urso went on to be the first four-time All-American at Maryland and won two national championships.
As I said in the beginning of this article Midfielders have to do it all and Frank Urso never disappointed as be played by sides of the field with desire and determination.