Practice Tips: Teaching Defense Without Sticks
Youth coaches are constantly struggling with players that lunge or over-commit on Defense, letting the man with the ball run right past them. "Stubbies" can be a quick and inexpensive fix to this problem, helping to keep players' feet, hips and hands moving in the right direction.
If you are a youth or high school coach just about anywhere, you are probably working on lots of basic Individual Defense in practice. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.
MAKE "STUBBIES" OUT OF OLD SHAFTS
Any time you or one of your players breaks a shaft in practice or a game, keep the pieces to make hip-width lengths for your players to use in practice. Put a butt-end and some grip tape at both ends and use these for your players to hold when they play Defense.
Here are some tips to help every player on the field learn solid 1-on-1 defense:
DEFENSE IS AN INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY FIRST
Stopping the ball carrier is Job #1. You can't play good Team Defense if your guys can't play good Individual 1-on-1 Man Defense. Any good coach will tell you--you definitely "can't play Zone [Defense] if you don't know Man" (US Lacrosse). So where can you go from here?
GOOD DEFENSE STARTS WITH THE FEET!
Feet, Hips, Hands first. Stick checks are last. Taking away your Defenders' sticks at practice is a great idea for younger players. Without a stick, they have no choice but to play Body Defense- using their body to stay in between their man and the goal at all times, pushing away with just the hands, like a Football Lineman would do.
Points of emphasis to focus on with your Defenders:
- Be in a good, athletic body position: Be ready to move your feet to stay in front of your man and push him away from the Goal.
- Be in the correct position on the field: Force the Dodger down the Alleys or behind Goal Line Extended (GLE). Take away the middle of the field so they can't get to good shooting positions in front of the Goal.
- "Whoever gets lowest wins": Stay low and strong on your feet so you can push. Keep your hands low on the Dodger's hips. Don't ride up on the shoulders or back and "over-commit". Don't give up the inside body position (ie closer to the goal)!
At this point you might be asking, but isn't that Cross-Checking? Well, not really. That's why the Stubbies should be hip-width for your players. Then you're really pushing and playing Defense with the hands, not the actual stick. This also keeps your players' arms in tight and strong, like a football lineman, so they can push away while also keeping their body in between the man and the goal.
When you extend out with the hands, and only the shaft in between the hands hits the guy, especially if you extend up into the shoulders and head, that is definitely cross-checking. Not the same thing as staying low on the hips and pushing the guy away from the Goal.
Most Referees understand that this is good Defense. Staying in front of the guy and pushing him away is good Defense. "Push," don't "Punch." Stay off the back, stay off the head. We know lots of Officials who would rather see this kind of Defense than all the wild Poke Checks and Slap Checks and Rusty Gates and Kayaks you kids throw these days.
Make sure you work with all your players on Defense. Your Attackmen need to know how to Ride just as much as your D-Poles need to know this to keep their man away from the goal. Every coach wants players that can at the very least play good Individual Defense. Especially at the youth level, and even in high-school, developing well-rounded athletes is one of the most important things you do as a coach.
Try playing the ol' Bucket Game some time to let your players really battle it out with Body Defense. Or try using Stubbies in some of our other Dodging and Carrying Drills.
Remember to time your drills for your players' age and attention span, and you can always keep score if you need to inject some intensity. You could say one point for a goal and two points for the Defender for a turn over or if the Attacker can't get buy him in 20 or 30 seconds. Find out who the really good individual Defenders are on your team and get them started on a Win Streak at practice!
Try it out at your next practice and let us know how it goes!