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.
The ground ball game is a critical aspect of lacrosse. By scooping up more ground balls than your opponent, you’ll retain more possessions, which also translates to increased scoring opportunities. Plus, you never know which ground ball can turn a game or create pivotal momentum in your favor.
Follow along as Duke head men’s lacrosse coach John Danowski discusses the importance of ground balls, provides key tips for winning the ground ball battle, and even highlights an effective drill for practice. Look to give your squad an edge this season by implementing these proven strategies.
Besides the goals for and goals against statistic, ground balls are the second most important stat that Duke follows. In 2010, the team played 20 games and produced a 16-4 overall record. But in the GB war, their record was 18-1-1. The squad places a tremendous value on ground balls starting on Day 1, and it shows.
So why exactly are ground balls so important? Well, because the ball is on the ground quite a lot, whether it’s at the X or on the offensive and defensive ends. Therefore, look to create a mindset that you want to chase groundballs. Why? Because we know that we won’t pick up every one. So develop a mental state that you will go after and fight for every ground ball that you can.
The ultimate goal here is to pick up more GB’s than your opponent. Remember, you never know which ground ball can turn a game, create momentum, or defeat another team.
The first key to winning the ground ball war is effort. At Duke, the coaches never yell at a player for missing a GB. They know the players want to get the ball. However, the coaches will get on them for not giving effort on a ground ball. If you don’t pick it up the first time, then pick it up the second time.
With effort, there’s a certain amount of discipline and structure that we demand in order for us to be successful. A big part of that is picking up ground balls with TWO HANDS. This is playing the percentages. We also don’t want to be undisciplined. When you go after a GB with two hands, determination, and great effort, the majority of the time you will be successful more often than not. At a Duke practice, if a player scoops with one hands, they are immediately on the end line. This is usually quite effective.
We divide ground balls into three phases.
Phase 1: Face-Off Play — It’s a lot different going after GB’s in this phase than in the offensive or defensive zones. Duke will drill it differently with X guys, wing players, and other looks. We look at this as a team event. There are generally eight ways to win a faceoff and many of them are about chasing groundballs.
Phase 2: Offensive End — As soon as you cross that line, it doesn’t matter your position or which hand you have the stick in, you are now an offensive player. We look at the ball on the ground in the offensive end differently than we do in the defensive end.
Phase 3: Defensive End
Tip: Early in the year, drill everything to give you success. Teach everything skeleton, meaning no contact. Teach the fundamental elements first, and then try to do it live. Hopefully everything carries over.
This clip focuses on action between the lines and where we want to recognize a situation. This drill works on draw play and wing play together. The role of the wings are so vital to enable your draw guys to be successful.
Right here, players are concentrating on boxing out on the wings, coordination between the draw guys and the wing players, the ability to feel the defenders, handling the ball under pressure, and getting as many reps as possible, plus spacing, angles, and a little draw technique.
The previous clips can be seen on Championship Productions’ DVD “Aggressive Ground Ball Play” with John Danowski. To check out more skill development videos, head over to our lacrosse library. Got any other ground ball tips to share? What strategies and tactics do you find most effective with your team?