Tag Archives: Atlanta Lacrosse

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

Position Spotlight – Goalie Play

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Now that the Fall Lacrosse Season has come to an end and College Football is coming to it’s crescendo,  I thought it would be a good idea to highlight each position before the start of the Spring season.

This weeks Spotlight is – Goalie Play

Now there are many different ways to coach goalies and to actually play the position.  Understand that this is the toughest position to play in our beloved-ed game.  It takes a special athlete to play this position and it is this coaches belief “that your best athlete should be in the cage” or as I like to call it the RACK.  Goalies are different.  Some are cerebral, some are high strung and some are on another planet.  No matter who you have in goal you should always respect anyone that plays or at lease gives it a try.

Former World Team Goalie Brian “Doc” Dougherty recently was interviewed by Lacrosse Magazine.  I had the pleasure of introducing Coach Dougherty at the 2012 US Lacrosse Convention as well we served on a panel discussion together regarding college recruiting.  Coach Doc is a great teacher of the position as well as is no non sense approach.  He takes it all very seriously.

Below is the interview:

“I can talk; you take notes,” Doc says.

I’ve lost control of the interview.

“You’re doing a lot of [things] in a short amount of time,” he later says. “But if I break it down and you think about it, it’s not that difficult. If I threw nuclear physics out there, and you never studied it before, you’d say `Oh my God.’ [Goalie play] sounds really overwhelming, but it’s not.”

Dougherty, the 2006 MLL Goalie of the Year for the champion Philadelphia Barrage, breaks down into 10 movements the secrets to his shot-stopping success. Take a deep breath.

1. Locate the ball.
Facing the shooter, find the ball in his stick as early as you can in his shooting motion.

2. Choose your arc.
Doc defines three types of arcs you can choose, based on the shooter’s position.

A flat arc is a three-step arc, and is the one most commonly used by Dougherty. Draw an imaginary line from pipe to pipe with your stick and plant your feet at the midpoint, fashioning a semicircle in between you and the outer fringes of the crease. From this position, you can step at 45-, 90- and 135-degree angles to approach the shooter.

“The advantage of a flat arc is you have the most time to react to a shot. The disadvantage is you’re giving up most the angles,” Doc says, adding that it’s best to use a flat arc when shooters are forced down the alleys or behind the cage. “The farther it goes down the alleys or the sides, that’s where I’m going to get creative. That’s where the shooter has less of an angle and I kind of become on the offensive.”

A five-step arc gives you more options, and is useful when shooters are in point-blank range. Again, your feet are set at the midpoint of the imaginary semicircle you’ve drawn, but your stepping points have expanded to include five angles of 30, 60, 90, 120 and 150 degrees.

“Picture a three-point shootout in basketball, where the stacks of balls are, and take five steps in those directions from the center of goal line extended. That’s how you establish a regular, five-step arc,” Dougherty says. “When the shooter is directly in front of me, that’s when I’m playing a regular arc, when the ball’s in that paint and the shooter has the advantage.”

A high arc is high risk. You have to be convinced the shooter is going to shoot. It’s an aggressive angle-cutting stride that has just one step, and that’s squarely in the direction of the shooter. While it can be useful in stopping bounce shots, Doc says, “I don’t play a high arc anymore. Any fake or side-to-side movement and you’re left completely out of position.”

3. Position your body and stick.
Your feet are in place and you’ve determined the angle of your step. Now you need to minimize the exposure, specifically if you’ve got a shooter in the alley. At this point, Dougherty says: “I take away the near side of the goal by putting my leg, shoulder and hip on the post. It’s stupid for you to shoot to that side of the goal. Now I know where you’re gonna shoot; now I’m on the offense. If you bait me, you might score every once in a while. But one time I won’t bait, and you’ll shoot right into my stick. Then one time I will bait.

“As soon as I get you thinking while running full speed as a middie cross checks your arms, I win. You shoot 20 yards above the goal.”

You get the point.

4. Draw a line to the shooter.
For practice purposes, put a lacrosse ball on the ground in front of you to mimic the shot’s path. It should be in your peripheral view as you spot the ball in the shooter’s stick. Draw an imaginary line from the ball to the shooter.

5. Step wide with your lead foot.
If the ball is released to the left of that line, step with your left foot. If released to the right of that line, step with your right foot. While practicing this movement, step wide of the ball placed on the ground. When a real-time shot hits that spot, you’ll be in position to intercept it in motion.

6. Drag your trail foot.
As when a pitcher drags his hind leg, this movement offers stability and balance. (Notice that movements 2 through 5 all pertain to your feet. Practice these so that they are second nature. If possible, set up cones at the various points on your chosen arc, and practice rapid stepping and recovery.)

7. Punch your top hand.
Whether you are a lefty or a righty, your top hand should move in accordance with your lead foot, a simultaneous motion. “They take me to the shot,” Dougherty says.

8. Lift your bottom hand.
As a goalie, you want to catch every ball, minimizing the opportunities for a rebound or put-back. By lifting your bottom hand as you punch your top hand, you’re creating a basket for the ball to land in, with your stick parallel to the ground.

Dougherty suggests the “Doc Drill” to practice this movement. It’s a 20-minute wall-ball variation in which you use a short stick. Throw the ball low, so it ricochets off the wall and the ground, and returns like a shot. The focus is catching the ball as you would with a goalie stick, lifting your bottom hand. It’ll be easier to do, then, with a larger goalie pocket.

9. See the ball into your stick.
“I over-exaggerate it and watch it completely into my stick,” Dougherty says. “That’s called being in my zone. I can see the little lines on the lacrosse ball moving in slow motion.”

10. Sweep both hands away from your body.
Practicing this last movement, while trite, will do for goalies what Huggies do for infants – it will help insure against any embarrassing trickles.

As I stated above there are so many different ways to teach and play the Goalie Position but anytime you can learn from a master it will help you’re overall play.

See ya on the field!

Coach Lou