Dec. 1, 2006
The following article appears in the "Lacrosse Classroom" section of the December issue of Lacrosse magazine, a member benefit of US Lacrosse. Become a member by Dec. 5 to receive your January issue and complmentary subscription to LM, now a monthly publication.
People say that the best offense is actually a good defense. I couldn't agree more. Solid defense, limited possessions and good clearing will truly enhance your team's offensive performance. But sometimes it helps to blur that distinction, by becoming an offensive threat with longpole in hand.
Most people will agree that it is one of the more exciting plays in lacrosse, when a longpole clears the ball, pushes the break, and then lets one rip on the cage. I thoroughly encourage this behavior anytime I ever teach defense at the youth level.
Keep in mind, however, that a defensive player -- be he a defensive middie, close defenseman, or long-stick middie -- can contribute to the fast break and transition game whether he shoots, passes or does not even touch the ball. Sound stupid? It might, but any college coach will tell you the importance of understanding the transition game from the fast break to the slow break and all other odd-man situations.
First and foremost, it is imperative as a defensive player that you work on your stick skills equally as much as an offensive player. Just because you are a close defenseman that loves to chop away on attackmen does not mean you are exempt from wall-ball drills. Higher levels of lacrosse feature defensemen who can not only take the ball away and shut down an attackman, but who can also push the rock in transition and rip rope at the other end.
Watch game tape from college games and the MLL. This will help you better understand the right (and wrong) times to cross the midline. Some observations you may make:
• LSMs should cross over the midline regardless of whether they have the ball or not. Because most opponents don't expect long poles who are not ball carriers to take part in offensive transition, this will often create an odd-man rush -- 5-on-4, 4-on-3, and so forth.
• LSMs should stay spread in a fast-break situation and fill the lanes and open spaces on the offensive end. If a teammate is pushing the ball down the right side of the field, fill the backside lane, which will become vacant once the defense rotates in its slide package.
• LSMs can create offensive mismatches with some well-timed off-ball movement. Even if you don't get the ball, KEEP MOVING. Cutting through will draw attention to you and, most likely, cause a slide. This opens up shooting spaces and passing lanes through which the attackmen can feed and dodge.
When shooting, I was always taught that I better score or miss the net so an attackman can back up the shot. The last thing you want to do as a defenseman or LSM is push the break and shoot right into the goalie's stick. It's a surefire fast break in the other direction.
Shoot for the extremities and corners. Aim it low corner, high corner, wherever you want -- just don't dump it in the goalie's stick or chest.
Longpoles are 6 feet long for a reason -- use that leverage to your advantage. Shooting sidearm keeps the ball on the same plane the whole time, from release point to target, and allows the goalie to react without having to worry about the height of the shot, because he can see its release and trajectory. Shooting overhand or from a three-quarter angle releases the ball from 6 feet (plus wingspan) over your head. The goalie has to guess whether or not you are shooting straight down at is feet or releasing the high heater. A more vertical shot angle offers greater leverage, ultimately resulting in a more powerful shot.
Feel free to ask your coach if you can join some of the offensive shooting drills every now and then. Also, stay after practice with a bag of balls and work on shooting on the run. It is very important to work on different shooting motions and situations. It is very rare that any player, let alone a defenseman or LSM, gets to camp at point-blank territory and unload on a goalie.
A more realistic shot occurs on the run, down the side with a lesser angle shooting for the far pipe. Try to create "game-like" situations. You'll find there's more than one way in which the best offense is a good defense.
Kyle Sweeney plays defense for the Philadelphia Barrage (MLL), Philadelphia Wings (NLL) and was a member of the 2006 U.S. men's team. He was a three-time All-American at Georgetown University from 2000-03. Sweeney, who resides in New York, N.Y., is the director of operations for Maverik Lacrosse. For more information, visit www.maveriklacrosse.com.
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