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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.
This week’s player development feature focuses on man-down defense and three key drills that can help boost your team’s overall defensive play. Led by Brown University head men’s lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany, the drills featured in this segment will also help coaches evaluate which players have the intelligence and stick skills to knock down crucial passes in 6 v 5 situations. They also simulate game-like situations, make players go at full speed and are easy to implement in practice.
In this drill, a coach will stand about 10 yards in front of the crease and face the cage while one defender stands off to the left side of the cage. There’s also a goalie in net.
The coach will then fire a pass at the net as hard as he can. Meanwhile, as soon as coach winds up for his pass, the defender will sprint in from the left side with his stick in the middle of the passing line to try and catch, tip or knock the ball down. If the ball goes through to the goalie, or if the defender catches it, they will throw back to the coach immediately after. The defender continues on, moves to the right and clears out of the play. Next, another defender steps in and the drill continues on as the coach winds up and fires on net.
The key to this drill is that the defender looks to knock down the pass and disrupt the offensive flow. Also, coaches should be sure to change the direction of the drill and work from the right side. Right-handed defenders will now have to reach across their body with the stick in order to disrupt a pass.
In this drill, defenders will now use a drop-step and open up to anticipate a pass. The drill begins with the goalie who has possession of the ball. The goalie throws a pass to an outlet player on the left-side wing, about 10-15 yards away. The defender, who started out facing the goalie with the ball, must now open up to the pass and see the outlet and then approach that player as he would in a normal situation with his stick out and backside down.
Next, the outlet player will pass across to the coach, who is standing in front of the cage about 10 yards away (similar to our previous drill). When this pass occurs, the defender will now drop-step and open up towards the ball/coach — never turning his back on ball — and then sprint into the middle region above the crease. The coach then fires the ball at the goalie and it’s the job of the defender to disrupt the pass like the drill before. When the simulation is finished, the next defender immediately jumps in and is ready to carry on with the drill. Be sure to change directions and use the opposite side of the field, too.
In this scenario, A, B, C, and D are the offensive players and are spread out in a box formation in front of the net. There are two defenders (D1 and D2). D1 starts out covering A with the ball and D2 is in the middle of the box.
The A player then throws a pass over to B. At this time, the D2 defender then moves from his off-ball position to on-ball and approaches B. D1 now opens up, drop-steps and sprints into the middle of the box in order to get into the skip lane between B and C.
This drill can continue if B doesn’t force the skip pass to C and decides to pass to D on the side. D1, who was in the middle of the field, now flies out and approaches D with the ball. D2 must now drop-step and get to the middle and anticipate the skip pass. The defenders are essentially always switching here from being on-ball to being off-ball.
Remember, always be aware of that skip pass. Coaches should also encourage offensive players to force the ball a lot, Plus, put plenty of balls behind each offensive player to keep up a fast pace and then rotate personnel in accordingly.
The drills featured in this article can be found in the Championship Productions DVD “Man-Down Defense: A Catalog of Drills” featuring Lars Tiffany. For more defensive-oriented videos featuring Coach Tiffany, click here.