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A lacrosse team will hold a major advantage if they can shut down opposing offenses from operating effectively behind the goal. In this week’s player development feature, Johns Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala — one of lacrosse’s most respected and knowledgeable defensive minds — walks you through the “Address Drill,” an influential and useful defensive drill that teaches players about proper technique, stick positioning, communication and strategy, all designed to give you an edge against your opponent behind the net.
According to Pietramala, it’s very important on defense for players to address the ball the appropriate way. How a defender addresses a ball carrier could be the difference in a goal or even the outcome of an entire game.
Dictating to the Offense
The first key is to constantly dictate to the offense where we want them to go. Don’t let the offense dictate to you, and it starts with practicing individual technique on how to address the ball carrier.
Most players are right-handed, so defenders should overplay their opponents’ strong-hand side. It’s important to always force the dodger back behind the goal because he can’t score from there, he can only feed. If you force the offensive player to the outside, now he has the chance to feed AND score a goal.
Proper Form is Critical
Defenders can take away the outside part of the field by a specific foot technique. The outside foot should be positioned out in front and the inside foot should be back, also known as “heel to toe.” If a dodger is right-handed, this technique will force him to have his left foot forward and should hedge him further behind the goal.
Meanwhile, the defender is balanced with knees bent, but not bent at the waist. The defender is also relaxed with legs shoulder-width apart. Altogether, the defender is in a comfortable, athletic position.
In terms of stick positioning, a defender’s stick should be out in front and pointed forward at the offensive player. The stick is considered our margin of error and provides a six-foot cushion to make a mistake. A defender is now fully able to handle an initial move of the offensive player.
Far too often, defenders will play with their stick at the hip, and this is a problem. The extra space this creates gives a dodger the ability to make his initial move closer to the defender, which in turn, gives him a greater chance of succeeding.
The first segment of this drill starts with two defenders. One will act as the offensive player and the other player will act as the defensive on-ball player, simulating 1-on-1 defense. Players should be about seven yards apart and facing each other like in a game situation, but the defender should start out in a help-defense position. The defensive player will pretend the ball is on the opposite side of the field and at the sound of the whistle, will simply sprint up to the offensive player and address him using proper technique, stickwork and footwork as if his man now has possession. The drill stops at the next sound of the whistle and players rotate through.
Note: It’s important for short sticks to practice this drill, too. When addressing the ball with a short stick, the stick should be pointed to the outside of the field to take away the “top side” and funnel the dodger back behind the goal. Long sticks will not switch hands in this scenario, but short-sticks will so the body and stick are taking away the top side route to the goal.
In this segment, we’ll put two defenders in with two offensive players to simulate moving the ball back and forth behind the net and addressing the ball carrier on both sides of the goal. The drill begins with the ball on one side with one of the offensive players. The on-ball defender will begin by addressing his man with the ball before dropping into team defense positioning when the ball is moved to the other side of the field.
The drill continues as the two offensive players pass the ball back and forth to each other and the defensive players keep switching from on-ball defense to off-ball team defense.
Keys to remember about on-ball defense
*Teams do not need any offensive players to execute this drill. By having four defensive players run the drill, you’re getting more players involved at the same time.
*Teams need just one coach to run these drills.
*Move the ball quickly to really work the defense and move at game speeds.
*Stress constant communication between players. This area is critical in order for defenses to be successful. No matter the situation, there’s always a place for communication in lacrosse.
Click here to see more on-ball defensive drills from the Championship Productions DVD “Developing On-Ball Defenders Behind the Net.” Check out more exclusive Championship Production videos featuring Dave Pietramala and effective defensive drills here.