The need to be aware of your surroundings is necessary for playing lacrosse well, but to what degree are we defining this awareness? I would like to point out a few ways in which this awareness can be amplified and opened to gain an advantage for you and your team.
Whether on offense or defense, it is wise to be aware of the other players around you; I’ve found the best way to do so is to constantly run through a quick awareness checklist. This checklist comes so naturally to certain players that they hardly note they are doing it, but this is something we can all improve; this checklist becomes easier and easier until it happens almost subconsciously while you’re playing.
When you’re not being aware on defense, this will immediately become apparent to your teammates, coaches and, most likely, the scoreboard. Defense demands that you pay attention to what the other team is doing at all times and coordinate with your team to stop them in the most effective manner. Let’s go over a scenario of an awareness checklist that may apply while you’re playing defense:
Defensive Scenario: midfielder playing defense against opposing midfielder on crease; opposing team is in a 2-3-1 set (from up top).
- What is my role, right now, in our team defense, fundamentally? This is where you’ll need to be aware of what kind of slide package you’re in and determine your role.
- Who is this player that I am on? What do I know about them? Being aware of certain players strengths and weaknesses (whether you’ve just picked this up from this game or you have a history with said player) will greatly improve your chances of guarding them effectively.
- Who has the ball? Regardless of your slide package, the person who has the ball on the opposing team has a major affect on what you’re doing to defend; how quickly do we need to slide, if at all?
- Now that you’ve got your priorities as an off-ball defender, how can you help your team? Now this can get a bit complicated: determining how you can best help your team is based on your team’s players’ abilities when matched up to those of the opponents. Does someone need an early slide (your teammate plays bad 1v1 defense or the other player is really good at dodging) or should we have a late slide or none at all (your teammates plays good or great 1v1 defense or the other player is not great at dodging)? Is one of your teammates the slide and doesn’t know it? Is one of your teammates getting back cut? Does one of your teammates think his mark is a lefty when he is a righty?
I could probably continue to come up with different questions to ask, due to the numerous factors that play into every situation on the field. Whether this type of thinking is defined into “checklist” form is irrelevant, what is relevant is that good players do this, and really focus on it, every second while they are on the field. You’ll find that, once you engage in this type of thinking, it becomes more a natural part of your thinking rather than forced.
When I originally thought of writing this post, I began with thinking about the various roles of off-ball offensive players. Converse to defense, when a player does not do this type of checklist on offense, it might not be as noticeable, except to the keen eye. On offense, players can “hide” behind a set offense and be lazy; while defense forces us to work together as players, offense, for some, can conjure selfishness, especially for off-ball players – hard to be lazy when as a defender doing his true duty. Let’s go over the same scenario as above, except, this time, we will do our checklist from the viewpoint of the midfielder on offense:
Offensive Scenario: midfielder playing offense on crease with opposing midfielder defending you; your team is in a 2-3-1 set (from up top).
- What is my role, right now, in our offense, fundamentally? This is when you’ll need to note what set offense you’re in, if any, and note what your role is in that system. If there is no system, skip this one and go carry on.
- Who is playing me? What kind of defender is this midfielder? Is he focusing more on the ball or on me or does he do a good job of both? Is he the slide? Depending on the type of defense being played and the opponent’s role, you can determine how to use this to your advantage. If the opponent is the slide, but is focusing more on you than the ball and being the slide, this is a good time to keep him distracted and far away from the ball.
- Who has the ball? What kind of player is he? Feeder? Dodger? Fish? Depending on the answer to these questions, you must act accordingly. Should I be working to get into an open position for a shot or is it more important that I get as far away as possible to allow for ample dodging space? (I would argue for being able to do both in balance, though.)
- Who is playing the ball? Is the best defender on the opposing team on the ball? How can I create the toughest situation for the opposing player while providing options for your teammate? An on-ball pic, an off-ball pic and creating more space are all valid options.
- Barring the instant you are in at that moment, how can I help my team create a shot and, ultimately, score a goal? This is where you’ll need some foresight, based on your team and the opponents strengths and weaknesses, to determine your best course of action. What happens if the player who has the ball beats his defender? Passes to me? Passes to his left? Passes to his right? Skip passes? Where will I want to be if and when one of those things happens? Thinking about how the ball might move based on dodges and passes, especially 2 or 3 passes away, can really play a vital role in your effectiveness as this off-ball player.
I’d like to stress the importance of your off-ball activities and presence; there are 6 offensive players and 6 defensive players, but only 1 player can have or play the ball, respectively, at one time. This means that most of the time, unless you are the team’s only dodger on offense, you will be an off-ball player, from both an offensive and defensive perspective.
Obviously, both of these scenarios cannot obtain all the possible instances that may occur; they are meant to encourage a type of thinking that is focused on the task at hand, rather than just going with the flow.
This is about being the best you can be given your current circumstances. Over time, this type of thinking will become less and less important as you open yourself to being aware of your surroundings; at some point, you’ll be so aware of the game around you that you will just being noting things as they occur and reacting to them more subconsciously through feeling out the game.
Remember that every second that you are on the field, you have a chance to affect the game and your team in a positive way; be a part of that positive advancement by remaining focused and aware of you and your surroundings in each moment on the field.