Penalties are a part of lacrosse. In the youth game, penalties are usually a big part of the game for two reasons. One, young players mature at different rates. U13 is always the worst grade for me to officiate because half of the kids are Davids, the other half are Goliaths, and the Davids do not have throwing stones. Because of some kids are bigger and faster they will, fairly or not, get the majority of the fouls. Second, youth players do not always remember the best way to check, which often results in big swings, cross-checks, and pushes. Over the years, I accumulated different methods of avoiding penalties, and I share a few here.
Slafkosky - Defensive Wizard
In tenth grade I attended a camp that Dave Slafkosky, a legendary defensive coach from Maryland, was teaching at. I inhaled his lessons about defense. He spoke about positioning, communication, and hard sliding, but he gave one nugget of information that I will forever remember. He said, “Gordon. Your first check should always be a poke check right to the guy’s stomach.” In the context of a youth game, this is very good advice. Typically, young players cradle with both hands. As a result, their stick runs diagonally across their body, which makes aiming a poke check at the stomach area a very high percentage check.
The other reason for throwing the first check at the center of your opponent is a mind game with the official. I usually remind our AYL coaches that my hand goes to my flag when I see a player wind up for a big check, since, more often than not, the stick is coming down hard on the helmet, shoulder, or back. When I see a wind up I profile that player as someone I need to watch, but when I see a player throw a hard poke check towards his opponent’s stick I profile that player as a safe/smart individual. Often, my first observation on a player’s behavior prove correct. So coaches, remind your player’s that officials pay attention to the high, wind up swings, and will focus on players who repeat that checking motion.
Now let’s talk about the “I’m Beat,” or desperation check. Here’s the situation:
- Red player gets burned by Blue player on a roll dodge. Blue player spins around and chases Red player with his stick outstretched behind him with one arm. Red goes to shoot, and in the process of shooting, Blue swings his stick overhead. He hits Red’s stick and then ricochets hard into Red’s helmet, drawing a one-minute slash penalty.
^ Think This is a Cross-Check?
I defy any coach to comment that none of their players have ever committed the above infraction. The problem here is the nature of youth players. They get beat so they panic. They know they cannot let the other player score, so a gigantic wind-up check might redeem them for getting beat. Honestly, I might as well throw the flag when I see the wind up because nothing good is coming from it.
For the coaches, there is a method of teaching the desperation check that will almost always prevent a flag, and there are three parts to it:
- When your player gets beat the first thing they need to do is run as hard as they can to catch up to their opponent. The distance has to get picked up before a check can be applied.
- Do not worry about getting in front of a shooter. Why? Because the shooter is going to do one thing, and that is draw his stick behind his body in preparation for a shot. Drawing that stick back turns it into a huge target for your defensive player.
- Swing the final check up to the sky, not down to the ground. It is very difficult for a player to hit his opponent’s helmet checking from below the helmet. Nearly all slash calls result in the stick coming down on top on the helmet, not the other way around. In all of my private instruction sessions, I teach players to swing up on the desperation check because the chance of hitting the helmet hard enough to draw a flag is miniscule.
I have gotten beat more times than I care to remember, but learning how to properly do a desperation check saved many goals from hitting the net. Remember, the only way to eliminate the panic from getting beat is to teach effective methods of dealing with it. If coaches do not do this, the first thing a player will do is wind up and swing down wildly. So teach them the better method, and you should see your team’s penalties decrease over time.
*Note – There will be future posts expanding on this topic.
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