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:

Never Pass to a Covered Player

Never make a pass to a man who is covered just to get rid of the ball.

Don’t Force it

Never try to force in, with the ball or by a pass, if the defense is drawn in. Pull them out first.

Feed Passes

All feed passes must be thrown crsiply and accurately. If it's a bad pass, do your best and make a great catch to help your buddy out.

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.

Circle Away From Pressure

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

Take Quality Shots

Shoot plenty, but only if you feel you have a good shot. Shoot to get hot, shoot to stay hot.

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.

Never Stand Still

When you have the ball, never stand still - keep moving all the time - if necessary run backwards and forwards - but keep moving. When you are ready to make a pass, take one step back quickly and move. If you are standing still, you're wrong.

Try Some Dodges

Every man on the attack should try at least two dodges every game. Learn at least three different types of dodges.

Move to Meet the Pass

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

Time Your Cuts

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

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.

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.

Crease Play

On every screen shot the crease man should check-up on the defense man's stick, and immediately face the goalie, so that he is ready to bat in a rebound.

Make Him Play You

Make your defenseman play you and you alone every second you are in the game. Keep moving all the time so that he must center his attention on you an not be in position to help out his fellow defensemen.

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.

Ride Hard

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

Make Good Passes

Take pains to make every pass a good pass.

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.

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!