Tag Archives: Atlanta Lacrosse

Position Spotlight – Midfield

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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:

  1. You will dictate the situation
  2. What are his strengths offensively
  3. Force him into uncomfortable spots and moves.  Make him go to his weak hand.
  4. Keep moving your feet and watch for a re-dodge
  5. Use stick checks as your last resort
  6. 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.

Frank Urso 1976 NCAA Championship – Cornell 14 – Maryland 12




Position Spotlight – Defense

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This weeks position spotlight is DEFENSE:

Over the years of coaching I have seen a lot of great defensive players and all of them have a few traits that I believe are important.

1. They are smart

2. Relentless on ball

3. Always looking around the field (keeping head on a swivel)

4. Have great stick skills

5. Great stance and posture

While there are many other traits a defense-men needs to excel at the position these are some that always stand out.  Some teams are lucky to have one standout defense-men on their team if you have three or four you will have a pretty good team.  I always go back to my son Gordon when I think of defense-men and players that play as a unit.  Gordon was blessed to have played for Coach Mike Gannon at Pace Academy.  Coach Gannon played at Brown University for Legendary Coach Dom Starsia (now at powerhouse Virginia).  Coach was relentless on his defensive unit and while Gordon was not the biggest player on the field he was smart, relentless, head on swivel, great stick, and had a great stance and posture.

My friend John Gagliardi, who was on two World Teams and played at Hopkins was this type of player and you would never confuse John with a large dominant player nor would you put this moniker on Defense-men or former Syracuse player Joel White.  I had a conversation with Joel this summer and he was recruited to Syracuse as an offensive player.  During fall ball they needed some players to transition to defense and Joel became a dominate force in a short time.  Playing ability is not solely decided by one’s physical stature.  Both John and Joel worked and trained on the little things that have helped them become some of the best players in the world.

Gordon trained and continues to train in the martial arts and I truly believe that is why he was able to find his way on the field for coach Gannon.  He constantly trained and and listened to what his coaches were asking him to do.  Coach Gannon made the defense use cut off broom handles to instill in each player the importance of playing defense with your feet first.  They were not allowed to pick-up there regular sticks until they mastered this technique.

1) Footwork And Training

A good defense-man plays defense with his feet more than anything else. As a pole, being able to get your body between the offensive player you are covering and the goal is priority number one.  Defense-men have a number of tools at their disposal to get this done, but without good footwork you will just be pushing a rope.

The key to good one-on-one defense is dictating play, and remaining one step ahead of the attacking player at all times by maintaining good body position.  Against a skilled opponent, staying in front of your man is almost impossible if you can’t move your feet effectively.   Having a great approach when breaking down on an offensive player is a must.  The drop step, side shuffle and a lateral change of direction are all excellent defense-men’s tools.  Getting low with your stick in a passing lane will also help you excel.

While it is important to be strong as an athlete,  having the highest bench press on the team will not keep you on the field.  As a defense-men you’ll want to work out your legs as much as possible.  Using a speed ladder can be great for quickness and body control, and plyometrics can certainly help with speed and power.  The focus should be on getting faster and quicker, and also on the ability to play a full game at 100%.

When you are playing in the defensive end of the field you should be relentless in your approach, using your feet always and check as a last resort.  Playing good defense for 1 minute is easy, but stopping a 3-5 minute offensive possession is difficult.  Prepare for those difficult situations so you can dominate on the field!

2) Stick Work

As a defensive player, you want to always be in control of your stick. It is the biggest tool in your toolbox, and when you’re in full control it can fix any situation. Having a great stick is about comfort, confidence and ability, and the only way to develop these three things is practice.

Gordon filled a spare pole with cement and practiced making long passes with that stick to build up his wrists and forearms.  Using a long pole takes strong forearms and wrists and allows you to throw devastating checks when you need too.

Wall Ball is a huge component of practice. The passing, catching, shooting and ground ball benefits are extremely obvious, yet many players do not use the wall to their full advantage.  As I have said before Wall Ball is the magic pill to your success.

By hitting the wall, you will also see an improvement in your ability to time checks and control your stick, simply because wall ball builds up your strength and eye-hand coordination.

3) Lacrosse IQ – Know The Game!

This one is simple, easy and fun and I have said it in previous posts as well  thousands of times to many players.  Watch as much lacrosse as you possibly can.

When you’re watching lacrosse game on TV, pick out a defensive player on the field that you want to play like, and watch him religiously throughout the game. Don’t focus on the ball, or the “action”, but focus on the one guy you think is the best defender.

  • – Where does he position himself when he’s defending off-ball?
  • – How does he set up and manipulate the motion of his dodging opponent?
  • – Can you hear him and his teammates communicating on the field?
  • – How does he set up his stick checks?
  • – When does he pressure out, when does he sit back and/or move in toward the crease?
  • – Where does he go during clears? How comfortable is he with the ball in his stick?

4) Learn to shoot!

One of the best advantages a long pole has is shooing the ball.  Goalies have a hard time picking up a shot from a long pole.  And while some coaches try to to tell the poles to give it to a short stick during transition.   I believe if you can be an offensive threat as well as a dominate defense-men you will have another aspect of your game that will keep you on the field.  Atlanta Youth Lacrosse alum Scott Radliff was a two time All-American at Loyola and won a national championship.  If you watch Scott play you will see that he uses many of these traits we discussed as well of some of his own.

Joel White Highlights

John Gagliardi shooting with a long pole

Scott Ratliff Highlights


See ya on the field,


Coach Lou

Playing Attack – The finer points

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This week we will be talking about the position of attack and some of the nuances to improve as an attack-man.  As a former college attack-man,  I have my views on how the position should be played.  As with any sport,  take in as much as you can by listening to your coaches and watching as many lacrosse games as possible.  Look at players that you admire and try and emulate what they do.  It could be an inside roll, a push-off pass to get your hands free, question mark dodge or a toe drag.

NO, I repeat NO attack-man can do these moves without mastering the fundamentals.

Attack is a position that requires a good deal of time and dedication to improve your game.  Once a player masters the fundamentals of using both their left and right hand skills (cradling, catching, passing, dodging, shooting, moving without the ball, making the exchange and riding).

Attack-men are expected to have the best stick skills on the team. The ability to play with your off-hand is very important. When a defender recognizes that you’re going to same hand every time, he will force you to go to your weak hand, where he can dictate the situation.  By having equal stick skills with both hands you will eliminate this problem.

Work hard to get the off-hand to the same level as the strong hand.  Wall Ball is the magic pill to improve your stick work.  I spent countless hours over the years to get a better stick.  I also used a mirror in my room to see if everything I did looked the same from the both sides of my body.   Lacrosse like basketball is one of the only sports where players must have the ability to play with the non-dominant hand to be an effective player.  Could you imagine Lebron James or Stephen Curry not being able to dribble with both hands.   As a young player I used to dodge trees in my back yard to emulate defensive players.

With the explosion of the Canadian influence in the field game you see more players being one-handed dominate.  As a lacrosse purist  especially attack I believe you should be able to use both hands.

Dedicate as much or more time to your off-hand as to the strong one.  I like to tell young players to use their opposite hand to do simple day to day tasks.  Brush your teeth with your opposite hand, open doors, turn on lights, eat and write.  Using your opposite hand will give you more dexterity and give you confidence.

Okham’s Razor

There is a 14th century Fransician friar William Ockham who came up with a theory (Ockham’s Razor) that holds true today.  What he said was:

when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.”

Many players watch Lyle Thompson or Rob Pannell make  behind-the-back shots, bounce passes, wrap checks and one-handed ground-ball pickups all look easy and they can pull them off.  The same can’t always be said when a youth or high school player attempts those maneuvers in a game and gets a different result.

When finishing around the cage, simpler is better. There’s no need to go faking three or four times. One fake and a shot to the opposite part of the cage should be enough movement to deceive the goalie.

The same should apply to dodges. When dodging from behind or on the wing, it should be one move and go! Use your dodge to create space to get your hands free and either pass or shoot. Doing more than one dodge really only gives the defender a chance to recover from the first one. Unless you’ve been taught how to use one move to immediately set up another, your best bet is to use one dodge and then make your move toward the cage.

Everybody needs a Go-To move.   Like face-off specialists they usually have one or two moves that help them dominate.  Have at least one move that you can go to in a tight spot when the situation calls on you to make a big play for your team.  Analyze your strengths as an attack-man and decide which dodge works for you.  Speed helps and quick feet but you most always go full speed, change speed and keep your head up.  You will play against different types of players. Aggressive checkers, small quick defenders, the guy that does not make mistakes and is always there on your hands.  During the game you will have to probe your defense-men and get a feel for how they will play you.

They call the position Attack for a reason…you are supposed to attack your defender.

When playing attack, there are not many opportunities for longer distance time and room shots.  Since most attack-men handle the ball around goal or behind the cage, most of the shots they take will be from in close and sometimes at odd angles. This places a premium on being able to finish with accuracy around the goal.  Practice inside rolls, question mark and rocker dodges as much as you can.

You should also have a great quick stick and have the ability to make no look passes as well as passing in traffic.

Practice as much as possible (School comes first) and it will take your game up to a higher level, your performances should get better each time out.  Don’t slack on the practice field (take it seriously) and get out and hone the skills necessary to be a go-to-guy on your team.  Remember, the best players practice obsessively, and if you want to get to that level you better be prepared to do the same.  Put in the work, and the results will come.

Over the years before You Tube I watched players like Mike French and Eamon McEneaney and some of the older players on my High School team.  I did not have the luxury of technology but I never missed a day of wall ball and that is why I was able to master the position.

Listed below are some current players,  who by watching may help you improve your game.

Rob Pannell Highlights

Lyle Thompson Highlights

Ryan Boyle Highlights

See ya on the field,

Coach Lou