As the 2011 lacrosse season approaches, thousands of players and coaches will hit the field once again from California to New York and everywhere in between. Whether you have a few seasons under your belt or are just learning the fundamentals of the game, mastering these basic stick skills will make a big difference in improving your overall play. And with legendary lacrosse player and coach Gary Gait leading the way, you’ll be in good hands when it comes to learning about proper grip, catching the ball, throwing the ball and controlling the ball.
Before we can do anything in lacrosse, it’s crucial that we know how to hold the stick and use it in our hands. First, the stick should be held at the base of the fingers. This allows you to control the stick and develop a cradle. Meanwhile, your bottom hand should be placed at the bottom of the stick shaft. This hand controls the stick. Grip it at the base of the fingers while using the thumb.
Now, start on developing a cradle without the ball. Take the stick and develop a flat cradle by rolling the hand up and moving the arm. The elbow will go back and forth as well as rolling up the hand.
Remember, the bottom hand doesn’t have to turn (even though some players are taught this). It can sit over the stick and be loose. Then you can really let the stick spin within the hand. This way, if you are ever bumped or draw contact in a game, you still have the ability to maintain control and possession. Key: the top hand really controls the cradle.
As you start cradling with the ball, maintain a nice fluid swinging motion. You really want to be able to move the stick around and cradle in a variety of positions.
Next, it’s also important that we develop the ability to switch hands while cradling. To do this, drop the stick down a little bit and let your bottom hand slide up, then release, before pulling the stick back to the opposite hand. A good way to do this is to bend your knees and practice turning your body and keeping the stick to one side. Then bring the stick down, across and out the other way.
Catching the Ball
When it comes to catching the ball, it’s critical to make sure you always have a target up so teammates have somewhere to pass the ball. To do this, get your stick out in front at about eye level. Take your top hand and slide it down so you have some reach and can make adjustments on the ball.
Meanwhile, the bottom hand comes in a bit so that as the ball comes, we can absorb it. The number one key to catching in women’s lacrosse is as we absorb the ball, instead of just balancing it back, we should take the stick in to a side-to-side motion. So, as you catch it, turn the stick out. This helps create your cradling motion and also allows you to keep the ball in the stick. And even if there’s a bad pass, just that little turn will help you keep the ball inside the pocket and not bouncing out.
Throwing the Ball
When it comes to a basic throwing motion, it’s important to always get the stick up. Next, flatten the stick over your shoulder to provide some leverage. Really utilize the bottom arm here to get a good pull.
Next, you want to turn and have a pull to your strong side. Meanwhile, your throws should be a little bit diagonal as this will allow you to utilize the power of both arms. On a good throw, the stick is out, there’s a push-pull motion and you get a good throwing motion. Remember to bring that opposite shoulder out on a throw so the other shoulder comes forward on the follow-through as this will add power to the shot.
Controlling the Ball
Finally, to take our stick skills to the next level, we want to develop controlling the ball at the top of the stick. Many players let the ball sit at the base of the head, but passing and shooting become predictable from here because it’s mostly using top arm and this telegraphs our passes and shots.
However, with the ball in the middle of the head, or the soft spot, we can now move the stick a lot more and be much more deceptive. You can learn this by having the ball sit in the spot and develop a little cradle at the top of the stick. Then move the stick across and side to side with the ball in this spot — this develops a little pocket out front. Now, you can bring the stick back flat and it gives you more power, quickness and overall range of motion.
These segments — along with many others — can be found on Championship Productions’ DVD “Gary Gait: Coaching Girls Lacrosse – Basic Stick Skills & Drills.” To check out other videos in the Gary Gait library, click here.