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In this week’s chalk talk segment, we’ll break down key offensive principles for high scoring attacks. Follow along as Virginia associate head coach and offensive coordinator Marc Van Arsdale runs through essential team principles, individual responsibilities, and off-ball responsibilities for an overall effective offense. By incorporating these tips and techniques, you’ll be able to put your players in the best position possible to be successful on the offensive end.
When we talk about team offense, we start with team principles. It doesn’t matter what set your team runs. These principles can be applied from the youth level and all the way up to the college game.
You want the entire field to be covered by the defense. For this example, we’ll attack out of a 2-3-1 set from the top. We’ve got two midfielders up top, a midfielder on the crease, and attackman on both wings, and one attackman behind the cage. This set up is balanced, spreads out the field, and allows you to maintain proper spacing on the field.
Note: With younger players, they have the tendency to crowd the ball. But we don’t want too many guys in one area. This makes it too easy for the defense to double team or prevent you from throwing passes to teammates.
We want to get the ball across the middle of the field and essentially use all four quadrants of the field. Every time the ball crosses a quadrant line, it changes which side is ballside and which side is weakside for defense, so it makes everything more complicated for defenses in terms of sliding. When it does cross that line, it’s a great time for re-dodges, cuts, seals, and feeds to the inside.
For instance, if the ball starts in the top left quadrant, the shot may generate somewhere on the bottom left side. We like the ball moving from the front to back and back to front. This makes defenders turn their heads. In lacrosse, there’s a fair amount of area behind the net to attack, so we want to occupy that space by moving the ball front to back and across the middle of the field. There are many ways to do that and hopefully find the weakside for a high-percentage scoring chance.
The key is that we want to be able to get the ball through to the backside.
This puts the short sticks into a sliding position and it reduces one of the long sticks that may be in one of the passing lanes. This means you are also putting the ball into the hands of your best players.
Within all of these concepts, there are many responsibilities for the individual.
The ball carrier has two options. First, they can make a hard penetrating move to the goal. Or second, they can move their feet to make a pass. With younger players, it’s important to remember to run while you are looking and look while you are running. Don’t stand still. Also, don’t catch the ball and then put your head down and charge. If you do this, you aren’t seeing the field. Remember, you are a dodger and passer at the same time.
First, you can prepare to clear space. Don’t crowd the ball carrier. Move your feet and create some space for the new ball carrier. Second, make a simple cut or prepare to make one, like a give and go. Third, pick away. If you are a midfielder up top, you can pick away for another midfielder. It creates space for teammates to move into. You can also pick for the crease man and create a chance for him.
Fourth, although it’s not recommended for younger players, you can pass the ball and be in a position to go pick for the ball. This way, you can work more of a two-man game (and this is becoming far more prevalent today as well). However, to do this, players need to have very good stick skills, otherwise it’s a bit dangerous to run at a younger level due to high turnover rates.
The first responsibility of an off-ball player is to make space for the ball carrier (like a backdoor cut). Don’t just stand there and call for the ball. Create some space so your teammate has the chance to attack the cage. It also forces the defense to make decisions as well.
Second, you can V-cut to receive the ball. Read the body language of the ball carrier. This will determine where to go from there.
For the crease player, his job is to maintain a relationship where he is away from the ball. This creates lanes for cutters and makes slides a bit longer. You can lengthen those slides as much as possible. Each time the ball moves, the crease player moves. It gives him the opportunity to read a slide. Look to find an open area and move away from where the slide is. Then back away into the open space to receive a pass and finish on the inside.
Pick up two effective full-field team warm-up drills designed to get your entire squad involved early in practice. University of Virginia head men’s lacrosse coach Dom Starsia first walks you through the drills using whiteboard illustrations before moving to the field for live simulations. The drills can be performed at any level of lacrosse and should make for great additions to your team practices this season.
Start with a number of lacrosse balls down on one end with a goalie. Get three attackers inside the box on one end and three more on the other end of the field. Also, assemble a good amount of balls on the GLE on the opposite end with another goalie. Eveyone else is lined up on the three corners (opposite boxes and the midfield line) on both sides of the field (six spots total).
Goal: This drill is about getting players moving early in practice and improving full-field stick handling, especially while running. This is an opportunity to look high and away and diagonally up the field and to get attackmen a lot of extra shooting.
The first defender or midfielder gets the pass from the goalie and passes diagonally to the opposite midfielder or defender. He then throws to the next defender or midfielder diagonally. Like before, the receiver then throws to the highest attackman before all three attackers touch the ball. The last attackman shoots on net. Meanwhile, you should be going in the opposite direction at the same exact time.
Variations of the Drill: The midfielders and defenders stay in same line after each pass. Or try “Two steps with the ball.” This is when you know where you’re throwing the ball, so throw it without carrying it to improve the quickness of the exchanges. Look to get two or perhaps three balls going at once.
Start with two goalies behind the cage at one end, four defensemen in front of the cage, a group of middies or LSM at the midfield line, and then four attackmen down at the opposite end and in front of the cage.
Meanwhile on a different team, get four defensemen down where the four attackmen are, four middies at the midline, and then four attackmen down at the opposite end (lined up with the opposing defenders). According to Coach Starsia, “This drill is the essence of how we want to play in a full-field setting.”
The goal is that when we receive the ball, we want to move it up the field quickly while under pressure and make good passes. This drill really helps with fine-tuning these areas. Go 3-4 minutes in one direction and then 3-4 minutes in the other direction. Look to get two balls going at once.
The goalie will receive a pass behind the net and the near defender will break out and receive the ball from the goalie. The riding attackman will go with that defender and play him. We want some pressure here, but we’re not looking for checks. We want to have the guys be able to catch the ball under pressure. The skill for the defenders is to plant and turn. There should be no jogging to the side. Always be moving to the pass you’re throwing.
Next, there’s a midfielder breaking out, with a defending middie mirroring him with some pressure. Then it moves to the attackman with a defender on his back. That attackman passes it to the goalie. Then on the opposite side, we are doing the same exact thing. All the players in similar colors are working together. If players are first catching a pass, the next they will become chasers on defense.
Goals: Work to get open and catch and throw under pressure while moving up the field.
Tip: After three minutes, reverse the ball and work the left-hand side.
The previous clips can be seen on Championship Productions’ DVD “Practice Organization and Drills for Lacrosse” with Dom Starsia. To check out more videos featuring drills and practice tips, visit our lacrosse library.
Check out these two team drills used by the Virginia men’s lacrosse team. Head coach Dom Starsia walks you through the drills using whiteboard illustrations before taking his team to the field for live simulations. The drills can be performed at any level of lacrosse and will make for great additions to your team practices this season.
Coach Starsia’s teams have moved away from line drills. Line drills typically don’t simulate things that happen often on a lacrosse field. For Virginia lacrosse, they are better off with this effective stick drill early on in practice.
Offensive players will be at one end of the field and defensive players are at the other end. This drill will be outlined for just the offensive players, but you can use this drill in different shapes and with different groups of players.
The goal here is to pass the ball hard around the perimeter of the field. We can do a variety of things with this. First, we can pass the ball right-handed. Be sure to throw the ball hard and stay in your own lines. One guy will pass the ball and then step to the end of the line.
Then if you want to fly through the drill, you add a second ball to hard corners. Now, you simulate the passes thrown in a 1-4-1 offense. Then you can turn it around and have the guys throw it left-handed.
We talk about throwing the ball as hard as you can. One of the biggest challenges that players face from high school to college is learning to exchange the ball hard. The tendency is to float the ball, but it gets you in trouble more often then not.
Next, players can follow their pass. Also, we can practice V-cuts, cutting in and cutting out, or we can have guys catch the ball right-handed and then throw left-handed. You could do a dodging run. Overall with this, we get a chance to replicate basic stick handling skills that are very important in order for us to run our offense successfully.
Next, we move to full-field drills. Coach Starsia picked this one up from legendary coach Richie Moran in 1978. We will divide the field in half length-wise. Start with three attackers and a goalie on one end. We will then have a line of middies and defenders at the midline. And then we will have another line of middies and defenders at the other end of the field. The goalie will start below the GLE. All of these players will be on the right half of the field length-wise.
We will have two balls going in the drill at the same time. The sequence is as follows: The first middie breaks out and the goalie throws to him, and then he throws to the next middie at the midfield. This players carries up the field. Then there’s a give or carry to the upfield attackman and the ball goes to that attackman.
All three attackers will touch the ball before it moves to the goalie. The ball then immediately heads up the other end of the field like before. Ultimately, we’ll have two balls going on one side of the field and two balls going on the other side of the field – all at once.
It’s important to emphasize for the attackmen to spread out as much as possible. We are looking to stretch out the field. We have a lot of balls going and get a ton of guys handling. All the middies and defenders are handling as they move up the field. We wind up with a lot of stickwork with guys in motion. The drill is also helpful because it gets everyone moving and making realistic movements and passes.
Virginia head men’s lacrosse coach and Championship Productions’ contributor Dom Starsia guided the Cavaliers to the 2011 NCAA National Championship! Virginia outscored the University of Maryland 9-7 in the NCAA Division I National Championship. With Starsia at the helm, the Cavaliers have won four national titles and reached 14 NCAA Final Fours.
Starsia is now officially in a league of his own. Thanks to Virginia’s 13-9 win over Cornell in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse tournament on May 21, Starsia earned career win No. 327 to pass Jack Emmer for the most victories at the Div. I level. Starsia is also one of only three coaches in the history of the sport to earn 100-plus wins with two different programs. The longtime coach won 101 games with Brown from 1983-92.
Check out our entire Dom Starsia lacrosse DVD library, which includes All-Access Virginia Lacrosse, Practice Organization & Drills for Lacrosse, and High Scoring Team Offense, among many others.
Also, be sure to check out video clips and feature articles featuring Coach Starsia from previous Inside the Crease lacrosse newsletters, including a breakdown of key defensive techniques, plus a behind-the-scenes look inside a Virginia lacrosse practice.