As with most lacrosse positions, defenders come in all shapes and sizes, a players ability is not solely determined by his/her physical stature but there are characteristics that make a player a better defender and that we look for when placing players in positions.
The first thing we look for is good footwork. The key to good defense is getting and remaining one step ahead of the offensive player. The ability to execute a drop step, shuffle side to side, and change direction quickly are all footwork issues that can be improved with a number of agility drills, however, like most things, some players will have a natural affinity for these things and when we see good footwork we think defender.
A player who wants to improve his defensive skills should be working on his legs first. Speed ladders are good for quickness and control. Plyometrics (box jumps) are good for speed and power. Cardio is important as well. Defensive units sometimes have to play “slide and recover” defense for 3-5 minutes at a time and the legs can freeze up pretty quickly. Jumping rope for 4 sets of 3 minutes each with 1 minute breaks is a good start and as it gets easier, you can add sets or shorten breaks or both. Also interval running where you sprint 50 yards and then jog 50 yards and repeat for 20 minutes is a good start to help you get your legs fit and ready to defend
The second thing we look for is good stick work. Being in control of your stick and using it effectively can help minimize the amount of time you have to be physical with the offensive player. When you are able to get your stick down and on the hands of the offensive player you take away one of his biggest assets. Defenders who approach the offensive player with their stick down, under control and on the hands of offensive players will often find they rarely have to get on the body and force them out of the areas of the box where most shots turn into goals.
The problem most defenders have is that working on this skill seems to mean they have to have an offensive player to practice with and nothing could be further from the truth. Wall ball routines are just as effective in building the stick skills defenders need as they are at helping offensive players develop their stick skills. When you work on the wall you are building hand and eye coordination and that coordination is what you need to control your stick and the attacker coming at you. There are other drills like the “W” & “M” drill that can help you with stick control as well but in lieu of that, spending 20-30 minutes a day on the wall with your stick and a ball (gloves and helmets on please) will help immensely. If you really want to get position specific check out the Dennison Men’s Lacrosse video located here. It has some very good drills you can do on your own that don’t require more than 1 ball and your stick.
The third thing we look for in defenders is a good lacrosse IQ. Defensive players must be able to see what the offense is trying to accomplish so they can be at the right place at the right time to make the stop. Simply watching lacrosse games on TV can be a great way to do this or watching your own team film on whichever service they use to publish it (HUDL or Krossover are popular) and going through each goal against your team in slow motion to see how it happened. Just by watching and visualizing what you might have done differently will greatly increase your lacrosse IQ. If you don’t have a ton of time, go to YouTube and visit “The Lacrosse Film Room” channel and you’ll see breakdowns of top level teams film and gain a greater understanding of how teams try to score and defend against the score.
Things we specifically focus on as coaches are:
- Where does a defender position himself and his stick when he is off-ball
- How does he dictate to the offensive player he is facing, which way he wants him to go.
- How well does he communicate, can he be heard above the field noise.
- How does he set up his stick checks? Does he just whack away hoping to dislodge the ball or does he set up his checks.
- Is he comfortable with the ball in his stick? Can he carry with both hands and pass in transition?
Being a good defender is hard work so you really have to enjoy the results and be ready to put in the work to achieve them. Someone once said; “The best offense is a good defense”, and I’d have to agree, but I’d also add the best defender is the one who follows the advice above and prepares continuously for that moment of glory when he reads the defense, jumps the attacker at just the right time, breaks down with his feet, sets up his check, and then takes the ball away from the attack for a fast break that his team scores on. Its up to you, how bad do you want it!