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In this week’s player development feature, we’ll focus on individual defensive technique, a crucial area that defenders must be proficient at in order to stop the opposition. Duke assistant coach Chris Gabrielli breaks down key defensive concepts like trailing, angles, and footwork before revealing a key defensive drill to help your defenders take that next step.
A complete defender has terrific individual technique on the ball. You must be able to deter an opponent and stop them from accomplishing what they are trying to do, all while playing within your own team system. The better we can defend the ball, the easier it will be for our off-ball teammates and goalie. Focus on being aware on the field, take a great approach, and put yourself in a good spot to be successful.
Trailing is a term used to describe areas where the ball carrier is going that aren’t threatening to us. For instance, if he’s running toward X, this isn’t threatening to us and we have accomplished something. So the goal is to trail our opponent and keep him over there.
Once a ball carrier decides he wants to become a threat and tries to get to an area that we may be vulnerable, we need to take a proper angle to deter him from getting to that spot. If we beat him to that spot, we then want to hold him. This is where it becomes a strength competition between two opponents. If you are in the proper spot and use the proper technique of holding, you should be in good shape.
We also believe there is a certain progression in defending one-on-one. It all begins with your feet. A good defenseman in our sport is similar to a basketball player. He wants to move his feet and get himself in front of that ball carrier. Our advantage is that we can foul and use our hands and stick to push and hold people.
Next, we emphasize the hands. If we get to the spot with our feet, we can put ourselves in a good position where our hands will be there. Now we can apply some pressure and get our hands on the ball carrier and push them around.
Finally, it’s key to use the stick effectively, sometimes a last resort to throw a check or get the stick in there and lift to force a turnover.
Behind the cage, the goal for the ball carrier is to get to 5 & 5, an area five yards off the pipe and five yards off the GLE. If he gets to this area of the field, he’s a threat. The offensive player could inside roll his man and get to the front of the cage easily, he can also step away and shoot, step away and feed, or come up with many other options in this area. Being an aware defender, we don’t want our man getting to that area of the field at all.
So how do we force a player out of this area? It starts with footwork. If the defender can beat his man to his spot with great footwork, he’s thinking of turning him back and not getting to 5 and 5, plus he’s putting himself in a great position to be successful through great footwork. The goal is to turn the defender at a 45-degree point behind the cage. If he doesn’t do that, and say cuts him at the GLE, by the time he stops the goal carrier’s momentum, very often the offensive player will still end up at 5 and 5.
Therefore, we want to beat our man topside by the time he gets to that 45-degree mark behind the net and apply our hands. Play with your feet first, and then with the hands. Do not lunge with the hands. Instead, bring your hands to the correct spot through proper footwork and team speed.
For this drill, get the guys to drop the sticks, grab an 8-lb. med ball, and focus on moving their feet quickly, all while having their hands away from their body to apply hands and push opponents out. Once a ball carrier gets into your chest, you will get pushed back and moved around. Defensively, we want to do the pushing and move people around.
This drill gets players to squat with their hands away from the body and moving the feet. Simply, we set out two cones at the 45-degree marks behind the cage. Defenders one at a time go back and forth between the cones moving their feet quickly and holding out the med balls with proper technique. Pretend you are cutting angles as if going against an offensive player.
One way to build a great team defense is to have a group of excellent all-around defenders. By teaching and enforcing vital individual skills, coaches can build a complete team of defenders and ultimately, put together a formidable defensive unit that will pay dividends for the program.
An all-around defender is skilled, aware, has a high IQ, has pride in his approach, is fundamentally sound on technique, takes pride in his team position, and can react properly to specific situations (like recognizing a pick or making a slide, etc.).
This week’s feature will be geared towards the key skill work aspects that a defender needs to be proficient in to become elite at his/her position. According to Chris Gabrielli, assistant coach at Duke University, defenders must be good at picking up ground balls off the ground, receiving the ball over their shoulder, and passing quickly.
Scooping Through the Ball
This drill helps players scoop up ground balls and distribute to a teammate quickly. It features two feeders and one “scooper.” One at a time, the feeders will toss out a ground ball toward the scooper. The player will then pick up the ball and pass it back to the feeder on the opposite side. That same feeder will then toss a ground ball out towards the player in the middle, and the drill continues like before. Simulate the drill with the right hand AND left hand before rotating through players.
Key: The scooper should always quickly pick the ground ball up and move it fast. Remember to snap the chin up and then find the next open guy to move the ball fast. The less the ball is in the stick, the better.
Catching the Ball Over the Shoulder
This drill is similar to the first one above, but now players will catch the ball over their shoulder, which happens quite often when defenders receive a pass from their goalie. The player should give the passer a target out in front every time and catch the ball with their hips pointing toward the direction they are headed. Remember, each participant should practice the drill with their right and left hand.
Now, instead of ground balls or over the shoulder passes, players will work on quick, hard passes. Players will cut quickly to the ball before turning and finding the open man and moving it quickly. Aim to keep the hands up high before throwing the ball hard back to the feeders and be sure to spend time with both the strong and weak hands, too.
Over the Shoulder Drill With Goalie
Here, we’ll have a goalie in the cage with a ball and then a line of players on the right crease area. One at a time, players will run forward and away from the cage before receiving a pass from the goalie over the shoulder. Remember, try to have the pass so that the player doesn’t have to reach back to get it. This will only slow him down and make for a shaky clearing attempt.
Change of Possession
A change of possession can happen by picking up a ground ball, making a save, knocking down a pass, or picking-off a pass. When the defense has the ball and we pick it up off the ground on a change of possession, the defense now has an extra player (7 vs. 6 with the goalie now in the equation) and an advantage. If we have proper spacing and use proper skill work, we should be able to clear the ball every time.
To get that extra spacing, we need to simply run to empty areas on the field, like toward the end line, sideline or just up the field. They key here is to spread out the riding team.
Running to Space
Here we will emphasize picking up a ground ball and then running to space (the area in front of the cage is vulnerable). The coach will toss out a ball parallel to the cage. Meanwhile, one at a time, players will then run out and pick it up before running toward the end line or sideline to create space.
Banana Out Move
This drill focuses on the “banana out” movement to get open and clear the ball. The player’s vision should always be on the goalie with stick low to the ground. Once outside the box, the player can back pedal with his butt toward the sideline, which will help spread out the riding team. After making the banana move, the player will receive a pass and then move to space.
The previous drills can be found in the Championship Productions DVD “Becoming a Champion: The Defenseman” featuring Chris Gabrielli and Duke Lacrosse. Check out the complete Becoming a Champion Series, which also includes breakdowns for midfielders and attackers.