Basic Teaching Points
You must have great stick skills to play lacrosse regardless of position. The best way to accomplish this is to practice as much as possible. The axiom you play how you practice applies. I recommend you spend time daily working on various skills including passing, catching, ground balls, and shooting, repetition is the key to mastering stick skills. While you should be cognizant of the fundamentals, you will also develop your own style within these parameters. In baseball, a batters swing differs from player to player as does the swing of a golfer. The same holds true for a lacrosse player, learn the basics and then find which motion feels natural to you. In my opinion the greatest asset any player can acquire is in their ability to use both hands equally. Although it may be awkward at first, learning to use your weak hand will prove to be crucial to your continued development. If you can only use one hand then you are only half as good as you should be! Be as diligent in practicing your lacrosse skills as you are in your strength training. Committing to both will ensure you transcend average player status, making you the consummate lacrosse player.
The first step in passing is to appropriate hand positions on the shaft. Your bottom hand should be at the butt end while the top hand is approximately the distance between your elbow and hand, above. Start by finding a comfortable and natural throwing motion without a ball. Once you establish your hand position, mark the top hand position with a ring of tape around the shaft. One of the most effective ways to practice passing is playing wall ball. A brick wall or re-bounder can be your best practice tool in learning how to pass, catch, and react. Your goal here should be to throw accurate, sharp passes. Be careful not to push the ball, follow through and pay attention to how the ball releases from your stick. Make adjustments to the pocket and shooting strings as needed. The depth as well as the tightness and placement of the shooting strings will be your personal preference. Experiment with different pockets to determine which works best for your particular throwing motion. In game situations being a prolific passer is equally as important as being a great shooter. While passing to a teammate you should always make it as easy as possible for them to catch the ball. This will involve adjusting the placement and velocity of your passes for each given situation. Keep in mind, the ball will always move faster than a defense can slide. Your ability to move the ball will make you an asset to any offense.
Catching the ball requires soft hands. Having soft hands means you will give by allowing your wrists to relax as the ball enters the head of your stick. This allows you to absorb the momentum of the ball, preventing it from bouncing out of your pocket. An example I use to teach this is to pretend that you are catching an egg or a water balloon. Having a soft, supple pocket will make catching the ball much easier. However, having too much depth in the pocket will cause a whip in the shooting strings. Experiment with different pockets to make catching as easy as possible without compromising the release of your passes and shots.
Cradling can be compared to the dribble in basketball, except it is not a rule in order to transition the ball up-field. The purpose of the cradle in lacrosse is to create centrifugal force to keep the ball in the pocket while moving. When cradling with two hands, your top hand should be slightly higher than the passing position. You should be proficient with both left and right hands. Cradling with one hand allows your free arm to be up in a position to guard and protect your stick from a defenders check. When cradling with one hand, your hand should be at the top of the shaft just beneath the head, while your stick remains parallel to your body to assure maximum control. While engaged with an opponent, never time your cradle. This means your arm movements should be sporadic and not rhythmic. If your cradle is predictable a defensemen will be able to assert when to throw a take away check. Always keep your body between your stick and the defender.
Ground balls win games, period. It is well know that the team who wins the ground ball war, wins the game. The most important factor in being a human vacuum is heart. Whoever wants the ball more usually gets it! The key to picking up ground balls is getting as low and parallel to the ground as possible. Your bottom hand must be low with your arm extended. This will give you the best angle on the ball, while keeping your opponent from lifting your back hand from behind. Always use two hands, drive through the ball bringing the stick close to your chest as you make your way to daylight. Every ground ball is a possession, give 100% effort and never give up on the ball.
A great face off midfielder is invaluable to any team. Successful face off middies use a low center of gravity, with quick, explosive movements. Learn as many moves as possible, then practice anticipating and reacting to the whistle. Communication is a major factor in winning face offs‘. As a wing midfielder you should know where the ball is intended to be. The man-ball strategy is often used to gain possession of the ball during the face off. This is when one midfielder calls man and sets a screen while his teammate calls ball and scoops up the loose ball.
You must move without the ball. Keeping tabs on your opponent is very difficult when they are never where you expect them to be. Every time your defenseman turns his head, you should move. Look for open alleys or gaps in the defense, being prepared for a pass at any time. Opportunities to set or have screens set for you can only be accomplished through movement. Learn the tendencies of your teammates and communicate. Many of my goals were scored from back door cuts and constant movement. The easiest players to defend are the ones who stand still. When the entire offense is in motion the defense is bound to make a mistake. Stay active and create your own opportunities.
Shooting in lacrosse can be compared to a golf swing. It requires a rapid rotation through the core of your body demanding both power and accuracy. Again, experiment with different arm and hand positions to determine which is best for you. Once you find a natural shooting motion, I recommend spending as much as 90% of your practice time shooting on the run. Shooting on the run is an absolute necessity in order to score in game situations. The best players in the game only need a step to get their hands free to shoot. Practice shooting from all positions on the field, aiming for different areas in the goal. The most successful shots are placed off the goalies hips, shooting from low to high, and bounce shots as they tend to be unpredictable. Your top hand should be positioned just below the passing tape to allow for greater velocity.
This is certainly one of the most important skills for the offensive player. There are several considerations in executing any dodge. First you must change speeds. Run at 3/4 speed, then explode into your change of direction. Always dodge past the defensemen in the direction of the goal, your movement should be precise and deliberate. Keep your head up and make sure you are in a position to either shoot or pass while coming out of the dodge. The two most common dodges are the roll and the split. The roll dodge is most often done from behind the goal. In performing this move, get as close to the defender as possible trying to jam his hands, limiting his ability to throw a check. Next, get your butt low, open your hips, and begin to accelerate through the turn. Your stick should remain close to your body through the transition. The split dodge can be done from any field position. Allow space between you and the defender. This dodge requires a quick change of speed while bringing the stick across your body and changing hands. Remember to tuck your stick after completing the dodge.
To be a defensemen footwork is critical. You should shuffle your feet in an athletic stance, never crossing your legs. Learning the dominant hand of your opponent will allow you to force him to his weak side giving you a significant advantage. The most difficult defensemen to play against are position defensemen. This type of defensemen maintains position first, never lunging for a take away. The objective is to cause a pass rather than taking the ball away. This player is disciplined and patient usually frustrating their opponent. In my opinion, the most effective check is the poke, especially when placed off the hip or on the bottom hand, disrupting passes and shots. My greatest success was against take away defensemen. Throwing an over head check on goal line extended should never be done under any circumstance. Don‘t give up, if you get beat follow the play looking for a back check or loose ball. Listen to your goalies directives and keep your head on a swivel you should know were you are on the field at all times. Ultimately, discipline, communication, and composure is what will make you a great defensemen. Keep yourself between your opponent and the goal, refuse to get beat!
The goalie is the heart, soul, eyes, and voice of the defense. All the best goalies are great at taking away angles. The first objective is to expose as little of the goal as possible. This is usually done by staying on the pipes as long as possible, forcing the offensive player to shoot for one side. A goalie must follow the ball giving directives to his defense. Composure is key, as the goalie is the leader of the defense. Be patient, don‘t be fooled by stick fakes, stand your ground and react. Goalies need to play with a high level of intensity; they should remain on the balls of their feet, always stepping to the ball. The most successful goalies don‘t guess, they react.