As goalies we are the last line of defense. However defense is a team game and the stronger your lacrosse team defense operates as a unit the less the team will need to rely on the goalie making hero save after hero save.
As a leader of the defense the goalie has the responsibly to always understand what the opposing offense is doing and how the defense needs to react given the offensive set, position of the ball, and all the other factors going on in the game.
In a sense, goalies need to know where every defenseman should be and when. You can’t be the quarterback of the defense without knowing the plays.
Today’s post is everything a lacrosse goalie needs to know about how to play team defense. This guide covers a basic man-to-man, slide and recover defense. This does not cover zone defense which I can cover in another post if you’re interested.
Do Not Get Beat Over The Top
First rule of lacrosse team defense: Do not get beat over the top when playing on-ball defense.
The slide packages that I’m going to describe in a little bit are all based on this one premise: that the on-ball defender does not get beat over the top.
Defenders should cheat and position themselves such that they never get beat top side.
D-men should also position their sticks top side to persuade the attackman or middie to dodge where they want them to.
Here’s what that looks like for dodges from different points on the field.
We never want to get beat top side:
For ally dodges, this means forcing the attack man down the side of the field, not towards the center.
For wing dodges, this means forcing the attack man towards goal line extended.
As a goalie you’ll have a better view of whether a defender is setup in the right position on the field to force his attackman down the side and avoid getting beat over the top.
If you notice a defender is out of position, speak up! Or if he’s in fine position, speak up! Either way, speak up.
SHIFT LEFT or SHIFT RIGHT – Will let defenseman know he needs to move his position left or right.
YOU’RE GOOD – Will let defenseman know his positioning is perfect.
And as you’re going through practice and drills with your team always remind defenders – thou shalt not get beat top side.
Slide from the Crease
Guarding an attackman or middie 1×1 in the sport of lacrosse is a hard task. So we’re going to assume that defenders will get beat and will need help. That’s a basic principle of lacrosse team defense.
This help comes in the form of a slide.
If a defender is in the crease area, the primary slide will come from the crease, appropriately called a “Crease Slide”.
You’ll want to imagine a circular area directly in front of the goal (dark green in image below) that is also the size of the crease. If a defender is in this area covering an attackman, the slide will come from the crease.
In practice you can setup cones to simulate this area and help the defense get accustomed to it.
Same idea applies to wing dodges and dodges from X. If a defender is in the dark green area, the slide comes from the crease.
As a goalie, it is your responsibility to recognize where the slide should be coming from and ensure the responsible defender is aware he is the slide.
The goalie will also want to understand the matchup to determine when to send the slide. If its a strong attackman vs. a rookie defender, the slides comes earlier. And the slide can wait just a second longer if its a All-Star defenseman on a rookie attackman.
If there is no defender in that designated area, sending a slide from the crease is too difficult as the defender doing the slide will have to travel a long distance to arrive at the right spot before a shot is taken.
In this case, the defense will use another strategy.
Near Man Slide
So what if there is no crease defender? How does this effect our slide package?
In the absence of a crease defender, the slide will come from an adjacent defender, also called an “Adjacent” or “Near Man” slide.
It is the defense’s responsibility, and especially the goalie’s, to understand what slide package the team will use. That package should be clearly and loudly called out so that every defender knows his role.
In the case of a wing dodge, the defense has a few options depending on where defenders are setup when guarding their assigned attackman.
Again, this is why defensive communication is so important. The team must be communicating as to who will be the slide.
During an offensive set, a defender could start out as the primary slide but then be moved out of position when his attackman moves to another spot on the field.
He should yell – “I’m off”. The teammate with the new responsibility should yell “I’ve got the go” (or whatever defensive terminology your team uses).
This way the defense communicates immediately as who then is the primary and secondary slides.
In the image below, the slide could come from a player below the crease (righthand side) or above the crease (lefthand side).
In the case of a dodge from X the near man typically comes in the from of a coma slide where the defender sprints in front of the goal to stop the attackman and provide help.
Notice that the defender who is responsible for the coma slide must cheat off of his assigned man to be properly positioned to arrive on time.
Cheating in this way is perfectly fine because as the ball carrier starts to drive that attackman isn’t really a threat. If the driving attackman stops and moves back towards X the primary slide can recover and get closer to the player he’s guarding.
2nd slide in Lacrosse Team Defense
So far we’ve covered the primary or 1st slide. Another important element of team defense is the “second slide” or the 2.
The primary slide will leave an open attackman and thus we need another slide to pickup this open man or fill the open space. This is called the 2nd slide.
In all the images above I’ve only shown the primary slide. Now let me add a few more players to demonstrate what a 2nd slide should look like.
Here the offense is in a basic 1-3-2 set. D1 is the primary slide and D2 is the second slide.
D2 will cheat off of his assigned man to be in good position to help guard the crease attackman when the slide occurs. This is known as “splitting two”.
When splitting two you’ll keep your head on a swivel and/or use peripheral vision to see both the man you’re responsible for guarding and the man that the primary slide is responsible for.
The dimensions of this picture are off a little but this should give you a general idea of how the second slide fills the space left by the primary slide.
It’s really important that all defenders especially the 2 slide keep their sticks in the passing lanes to intercept or deflect any potential through passes.
As a goalie you want to not only ensure the team knows who is the primary slide, but also knows who is the 2nd slide?
Who’s the 2?
That way when its time to initiate the slide the team is moving as a fluid unit.
For those defenders not involved in the primary or secondary slides and not guarding an attackman adjacent to the ball, they’ll want cheat off of their man towards the crease to help protect the open space left from sliding teammates.
Slide the Right Way
Regardless of where the slide comes from, defenders need to slide the right way.
How many times have you seen an attackman simply blow by a sliding defender and score 1×1 with the goalie? When a defender initiates a slide, he needs to do it using the proper technique.
That proper technique consists of these 5 rules:
Slide to where he’s going, not where he’s been
Defenders should anticipate the path of the driving attackman and slide to where he’s going to cut off his path and engage the ball carrier.
So always slide to where the offensive player is going, not where he’s been.
Breakdown on arrival
When a sliding defender arrives at the ball carrier he needs to “break down” to be ready to play solid defense.
Breaking down means getting into a solid defensive stance that’s taught in 1×1 lacrosse defense — knees bent, back straight, balls of feet.
This technique takes a lot of practice as its very difficult to go from a sprint to this defensive position but its what all elite defenders know how to do.
Stay In Front of the Attacker
Remember that if the on-ball defender is playing defense the right way, he’ll be forcing the ball carrier down the side of the field.
So as a slider its important to consider this as you take your angle of attack.
If you stay in front of the ball carrier, you can often get a double team and a takeaway before the original on-ball defender must peel away and recover.
Slide Man Stays on the Ball
Once a defender initiates the slide, he must go.
And once he goes, he is now responsible for guarding the attackman with the ball.
The original on-ball defender will peel back to the crease and pickup an open offensive player.
Original On-Ball Defender Retreats to the Crease to pickup Open man
If the ball carrier peels away from the slide or passes the ball, the original on-ball defender should retreat back to the crease to pickup the open man.
This is where communication is going to help the defense as his teammates should be helping him find the open man.
Remember as I mentioned above the primary slide stays on the ball carrier. If the opportunity presents itself the original on-ball defender can stay engaged and attempt to double team the ball carrier.
However if this isn’t possible because the attacker peels back or passes the ball to a teammate, the original on-ball defender recovers back to the crease, picks up the open man and the team is right back in the same defensive strategy.
Lead with the stick, follow with the body
In the event that the slide comes very close to the goal, i.e. the coma slide, the defender will want to immediately body check the ball carrier as opposed to breaking down.
When you slide with intent to body check, always lead with your stick. Long poles can reach the ball carrier 6 feet away so use this to your advantage.
After leading with the stick, you’ll follow through with your body lowering the shoulder to make contact.
It’s important to keep your head up and see what you are hitting. This will avoid injury and penalties.
Here’s the guide from US Lacrosse on body checking:
There are of course many different strategies for playing team defense in lacrosse. However the 1×1, slide and recover strategy I outline in this guide is by far the most common.
This is the defensive system that I teach with my youth teams and the one most college teams run today.
If you play summer league where you’ve never played with any of the players, by learning this defense you’ll have a base that everyone can default to and understand.
When executed properly it makes the shots that us goalies have to face a lot easier to save. Also by understanding how to play lacrosse team defense the goalie can feel much more confident and be the leader that lax goalies are supposed to be.
Until next time! Coach Damon
Any questions on how to play lacrosse team defense? Let me know in the comments.
Lacrosse is my passion! The game has given me so much and this blog is my way of giving back to the lax community. Specifically the most bad a$$ part of that community - the goalies! After learning to play goalie from scratch, I wanted to create a site where I could share what I learned with others so they too can become champions in the crease and in life. Learn more about Coach Damon.