The Importance of the Mini-Huddle for a Lacrosse Defense
When I was growing up I played a lot of basketball. I also watched a lot of basketball on TV with my Dad and one of my favorite college teams was Coach Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils.
These were the Grant Hill and Christian Laettner days to really date myself.
One of the things I remember vividly from Duke basketball is after every foul the team would come together arm and arm for a quick huddle. They were the first team that I saw do this and they still do it today.
Coach K is a coaching a mentor of mine and there are many of his teachings that I’ve attempted to work into my own philosophy as a lacrosse goalie coach.
This huddle is one of them.
I believe that every lacrosse defense should incorporate a quick huddle after every goal given up and after every offensive goal scored.
In this post, I’ll discuss the importance of this quick huddle for lax D and also cover topics that can be discussed.
I’m a firm believer that a defense should always huddle after a goal given up and after your team scores a goal.
Recently Yale defeated Duke’s lacrosse team to win the 2018 national championship. Each time Yale’s Jack Starr got scored on, his D huddled around him for a brief mini-huddle. And each time the Yale offense put one in the back of the net, they again huddled to keep the momentum going.
Starr discussed that mini-huddle in podcast episode 10.
While there are many reasons Yale won the game, I can’t help but think their strong defensive cohesion was one.
Instead of middies immediately running off the field to sub out, I think it’s important to take just a few seconds to come together as a team. Make this a habit.
I also think it’s a good idea for defenses to huddle to celebrate successes. You don’t the mini-huddles to only happen after goals are given up as only coming together in moments of defeat can get exhausting.
Defender makes a great takeaway check and now your team has the ball on offense. Huddle for 5 seconds.
Your offense scores a goal. Huddle for 5 seconds.
I’ll discuss what types of communication need to happen during the huddle in a second, but my first point is that I think the mini-huddle should be mandatory for teams.
Lacrosse games can get chaotic at times and so as a coach you’ll need to train your defense to develop the habit of the mini-huddle after giving up a goal. But it will be worth it.
This huddle is quick out of necessity. Sometimes just 5 seconds. But its importance is tremendous.
The Huddle Communication
There are basically two types of communication that can happen in this huddle: emotional and strategic.
For this huddle to effectively work, you need a team leader to run it. You don’t want everyone talking at once since you only have a few seconds. On the flip side, you don’t want everyone staring sheepishly waiting for someone to take the lead and speak up.
I’m a goalie and I feel strongly that goalies should work to become leaders of the team, but that doesn’t mean this communication needs to originate from the goalie.
If you have a goalie who is really young or inexperienced and isn’t yet the team’s leader, then you should rely on someone else to lead the huddle.
If you have a defenseman who is the clear leader, commands the respect of the team, and can inspire the troops, the messages and inspiration can come from them.
But regardless of experience or leadership level, the goalie is uniquely positioned to provide strategic feedback based on our view of seeing the whole field.
Sometimes what is needed is a good old-fashioned kick in the rear-end as motivation. Or a “rah-rah” to continue to ride the momentum train even higher.
If the team is playing sluggish or overthinking things, or simply not having fun, a genuine pep talk can sometimes be the motivation the defense needs to turn things around.
As a coach, you’d love to be able to call timeout and deliver this message to the team after every goal. But with a half-game allotment of just 3 timeouts, it’s not feasible. Thus the huddle.
Whether you decide to use a “carrot” or a “stick” type of motivation depends on the scenario.
The other emotional message that sometimes needs to be delivered is just calming the team down.
As a defense, you’re going to give up goals. We all know that. We all read that sentence and nod our heads accordingly. But in the moment, in the instant of giving up a goal, many teams forget that sentence.
You can sometimes sense a little panic amongst the team after a goal is given up. So sometimes a passionate, heartfelt “HEY GUYS, WE GOOD” is the calming message the team needs to hear.
Part of great team leadership amongst players is sensing the mood of the team and knowing the exact emotional encouragement to deliver in the moment.
After an offensive goal is scored by your team, that’s a great time to share an emotional win. As the defense shouldn’t only be coming together in moments of defeat, but also moments of glory to continue to fuel the momentum of your team.
Finally, an individual player may need an emotional pick-me-up after making an error. This is especially true of the goalie but can be equally true of a defender who just got torched.
For example. the goalie lets in a really easy shot. Poor lacrosse defenses won’t huddle. Each player will go about his own thing, sometimes even silently cursing the goalie.
Meanwhile, great lacrosse teams will come together and the defensive leader will sense the goalie’s frustration and make sure he knows the team has his back, that play is in the past, and its time to move onto the next one.
The other type of message that can get delivered in the huddle is a strategic one.
Reminding the team of the scouting report. For example, #30 is scouted to be all LEFT and your team just gave up a goal to his left hand.
Reminding the team of the defensive strategy. For example, we’re sliding early on #25 but sliding late on #11.
Reminding the team of basic fundamentals that need to be repeated throughout practices and games. Sticks up in the passing lanes, for example.
Strategic messages are where the goalie can speak up even if he/she is young and not yet one of the team leaders. The goalie’s unique vantage point on the field gives insight into the play that no other player has.
Perhaps the defense is giving up shots too close for comfort. Or on the flip side they’re extending out too far, making slides hard, and opening up passing lanes. Let them know what you’re seeing.
After a goal do your defensive middies immediately sprint off off the field? Or does the defense wander about each doing their own thing?
I’m a firm believer that every goal given up and after every team goal scored the defense should huddle. It’s something I learned from Coach K’s Duke Blue Devils and something I think every team should incorporate into their routine.
It builds defensive camaraderie but apart from that its a great time to deliver either an emotional message or a strategic one. Defensive communication is an important element of the game and this mini-huddle continues that flow of communication.
Until next time! Coach Damon
Does your team use a post-goal huddle? What sort of things do you discuss?