Yesterday, I wrote about how shooting was not a fundamental skill of lacrosse. That might have angered a few offensive minded individuals, but don’t worry, now I’m turning to playing defense. I stated that there are four fundamental lacrosse skills:
- Picking up a ground ball
- Running and dodging while cradling
- Passing on the run
- Catching on the run
If you can’t perform all four of the above skills well it does not matter how awesome your shots or checks are. When I coach young defensive players I generally follow two rules. One, I put a short stick in their hands because if they get beat in practice while holding a short stick they come to understand that their footwork needs work. Two, I get every player bending their knees. I notice that as players move from one age level to the next, individual defense almost always declines for a period of time. The players tend to throw the correct checks, and their footwork doesn’t change drastically, but they don’t get low enough to compensate for playing against taller, on average, players.
I see the new U15 player setting up to approach an older U15 player and he does not break down into his stance deep enough. The result is an off-balance hold or check and the offensive player easily dodges around. The player cannot figure out why their defensive skills are failing them and turns to throwing harder checks, which throws them more off balance.
To encourage players to bend their knees on defense coach them to get eye level with the shoulders of their opponent at least. That is a good start, but I prefer to get my players to over exaggerate their knee bend. To that end, I coach my youth players to bend their knees until their eyes are level with their opponent’s sternum or bellybutton. This ensures that my defensive players bend low enough that their center of gravity is lower than their opponent, giving them greater leverage to push and maneuver the offensive player attempting a dodge.
If you can coach your players to get low, especially as they move up to an older age level, you’ll notice fewer off balance checks and better drop steps, which leads to much better individual defense.
Here is a great video by US Lacrosse on how to properly break down on defense:
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