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.
See ya on the field,