Off-Ball Defense

Off-ball defense or covering a man who does not have the ball, is one of the least understood aspects in youth lacrosse. Youth defensemen either stay right on their man and pay no attention to team defense or they stare at the ball and pay no attention to the man that they are covering. They need to learn that playing off-ball defense is a combination of both.

They have to learn the rule that is taught to youth basketball players: keep your big eye on your man and your little eye on the ball. This means that most of the time, the defenseman should know exactly where their man is, but they should keep their head on a swivel and listen to their goalie to know where the ball is.

At the youth level, defenses should always play “soft” man-to-man, which means they are packed in. If the defense is playing “hard”, then the adjacent defensemen would be pressuring their men off-ball. When playing soft, the defenseman sloughs towards the crease when their man does not have the ball. When they are covering a man who is adjacent to the ball carrier, they should be about five yards off their man and ready to pick him up. For example, if the ball carrier is top right, and Defenseman A is covering the man who is top left, then Defenseman A is adjacent to the ball. This means he wants to be five yards off his man and ready to pick him up if he gets the ball passed to him. If a defenseman is not adjacent to the ball then he wants to be sloughed in towards the crease. The farther off the player is from the ball, the farther the defender can be from his man.

For practice, coaches should make an extra crease right on top of the crease that surrounds the goal. If a defenseman is not on-ball or is not adjacent to the ball then he should be able to touch this crease with his stick or be in it. If a defenseman is off-ball and is in this imaginary crease then he should also be looking at his man or “looking away”. Looking away from the ball is very important for off-ball defenseman. If they stare at the ball, they are likely to lose track of the man they are covering and be prone to getting beat back-door unknowingly.

Playing soft and sloughed is a safe defense to run because it puts pressure on the offense to make good plays and lulls them into making mistakes. As a coach, you can teach your defense where to be on the field by having them scream their position. If they are on-ball, they call out “BALL!” and they should be right on their man with the ball. If they are adjacent to ball they call out either, “HELP LEFT!” or “HELP RIGHT!” and they should be five yards away from their man, ready to play him if he gets the ball. If they are covering the man on the crease, have them call out “CREASE!” and they are right on their man on the crease, not letting him get a feed. If they are in any other position on the field, they should call out “AWAY!” and be sloughed in towards the imaginary crease that lies on top of the real crease. The “away” defensemen should be looking away from ball and keeping an eye on their man. This is something that coaches have to walk through first and then slowly make them understand in faster-paced game situations. Teaching intermediate defenseman these concepts puts them way ahead of the game when it comes to understanding team defense.

Some great tips to get you going:

Make Passes Hard

Make feed passes hard.

Possessing the Ball

When in possession of ball, make the defense man play your stick - watch his stick - the position of it will determine the direction of your feed and the type of dodge you might try.

Dodging

Never try to dodge when men are in position to back up.

Circle Away From Pressure

Always move to meet every pass, and circle away from your defenseman.

Move the Ball

Don't dodge if there is an open man. Don't hold the ball long unless you are planning a dodge. Keep it moving with quick, short passes.

Outside Shooting

On all long shots, a man must be on the crease.

Move to Meet the Pass

Always move to meet every pass, and circle away from your defenseman.

Be an Outlet

If an attack man is being ridden hard and can't dodge or get away - the nearest man on each side goes to help him.

After the Clear

After the ball has been cleared, if you have a wide open opportunity to dodge, do it. If you are sure a man is open, pass to him, otherwise settle the ball down and let your attack get set up. Remember, after a clear the midfielders will need time to catch their breath. Middies rest on offense, not defense, Control The Ball!

Don’t Rush at Him

Don't rush at a man when riding - particularly behind the goal. Force him to pass - force him in the direction where there is help. Talk all the time and run hard. The success of an attack depends on their riding ability and their desire to have the ball.

Away From the Defense

In moving the ball around the circle, make all passes sharp, short, and to the outside, away from the defense man.

Ride Hard

When you lose the ball, ride it. The close attack must ride and ride hard until the ball is past midfield.

Time Your Cuts

Time your cuts, don't cut if the man with the ball is not watching or not in position to pass.

Pick a Corner

Place all shots, usually for a far corner, and shoot hard. When within five yards of the goal, the shot should be for a top corner.

Give and Go

After receiving a pass, as the ball moves around the outside, look first at the man who threw you the ball to see what he is doing, then at the crease.

Cut Hard and Fast

Make full cuts - go through and out - don't cut at half speed or hang around the crease after your cut.

Keep Proper Spacing

Never stand so close together that one defense can cover two offense.

Loose Ball on the Ground

When there is a loose ball on the ground, go after it fast and hard, you must have the ball!

Back Up shots

Always have one, preferably two, men behind the goal to back up shots.

Zigs and Zags

Zig your cuts, fake left - go right, fake right - go left. Don't always run at the same speed, change of pace is a very effective method of getting open.