The Clear: A Youth Coach’s Guide
"Clearing" can be the ultimate test of a team's stick skills, communication, and lacrosse IQ. Just getting the ball away from your own goal is one of the most common challenges that coaches at every level will see. But Clearing doesn't have to be a frustrating scenario to teach players new to the sport. No matter what level you coach, it's critical you teach all your players to understand this common game situation.
From youth to pro lacrosse, the most successful teams are usually the ones that Clear the ball the best--usually over 80 percent of the time. If your team can't Clear well, chances are you are spending most of your games on Defense, and your players aren't getting very many chances to score. It can be a disappointing downward spiral when your players start giving the ball back to the other team every time.
What's a Clear?
The Clear--moving the ball from the defensive to the offensive end--is unique to men's or boys' lacrosse because of the setup of the game and the field. Usually started with a save by the Goalie, a defender chasing a shot out of bounds, or a bad pass by the opposing team, a typical Clear will begin from deep inside the defensive half of the field. Lacrosse is like coming up against a Full-Court Press in basketball every time you get the ball, except it only lasts until midfield. It can take some coaches years to really understand the Clear.
To put it simply: Clearing determines how many chances your team gets to score vs how many the other team gets. Broken Clears and turnovers can be a nail in the coffin for players that are already exhausted after playing hard, physical Defense for several minutes. On the other hand, a quick Clear after a great save by the Goalie can result in 4-on-3 Fast Breaks at the other end of the field and swing the momentum of the game if your team can cash in.
Here's the Secret: Clearing is a 7-on-6 game! With six (6) Blue Defenders plus the Goalie (6+1=7) against the six (6) Red Attackers in the play, any time your team gets the ball, you have the numbers advantage. This is why college teams usually look so calm when they are Clearing--they know they have an open man. Make sure your team understands how to work this numbers advantage so they can get the ball down the field to score!
"Play Fast": With sideline horns gone and quick restarts making their way into youth and high school rules this year, Lacrosse is getting faster all the time. There isn't time to setup a well-scripted Clear anymore. "Play between the whistles." Every player on your team needs to know how to pick the ball up and be ready to go. More kids are growing up playing Box or Indoor Lacrosse these days and really understand how to turn a quick Clear into a goal-scoring opportunity down at the other end.
Here are THE BASICS:
Figure 1. Look down field first! It's the midfielders' responsibility to break out as soon as the Defense gets possession. Get to space and get open. If the other team is not in the correct position in between your players and the goal, or if they are ball-watching, get the ball to the "Head Man" and start the Fast Break!
The three Midfielders will break down field to the middle. If one of them is open, pass it early!
The two Wing Defenders will move out to the sidelines to give the Goalie an easy outlet pass. The third Defender should "Float" around the top of the box to make sure nothing goes wrong in the middle. Don't run away with your back to your Goalie!
Figure 2. Avoid the middle of the field. A dropped ball in the middle can quickly turn into a Fast Break right back to your goal. Teach your players to "Work the Ladder" and clear up the sidelines to give your Defense time to recover in these situations.
This is a very common 2-on-1 here on the sideline. When you see an Attackman jump the Goalie, just move the ball to the open Defender on the wing. The Blue Midfielder on the same side should move down field to create space for the Blue Defender to keep running with the ball. The Riding Midfielder (Red) has to decide to stay with his man or slide to the ball. If the Red Midfielder jumps the ball, the Blue Midfielder is open on his way to the goal!
If the Defender crosses the midfield line with the ball, it is always the Midfielder on the opposite side of the field's responsibility to stay on-sides. The "Middie Back!" should hold his stick up in the air to let his teammates know he is staying on sides.
Figure 3. "Redirect!" the ball "Over!" to the 2-on-1 on the other side of the field. We can't stress this enough: the Clearing team almost always has the 7-on-6 advantage in the defensive side of the field. There are many times where the open man is "Over!" on the other side, forcing your players to throw 40- or 50-yard passes. If the man with the ball is covered, Roll Away from pressure to move it to the open man.
Make sure you practice these "Redirect!" or "Over!" passes so your players can get the ball all the way there. Your wing Defenders should know to call for the ball if they are the open man. Now work this 2-on-1 up the other sideline before the Ride can shift back over.
Again, it is the responsibility of the Midfielder away from the ball to stay back on-sides if one of the Defenders carries the ball over the midfield line. The Midfielder in front of the ball should be worried about taking his man down field create space for the ball-carrier and to get open.
Figure 4. Come back for the ball to get open. Sometimes Goalies and Defenders need extra help. Midfielders and even Attackmen can come back toward the ball to open themselves up for a pass.
If the Goalie draws man-on-man coverage, then one of the Midfielders or the third Defender should be open farther down field. Come back to the ball to get open. The open Midfielder in the middle should "hunt the ball" t0 give the Goalie or the Defenders an easy target to pass to.
Figure 5. Run the ball down field the old-fashioned way. This is the old "43 Clear" or "Punt Return" from back in the old days (the 90's). If one of the Midfielders comes back far enough for an easy short pass from the Goalie, he can run it up the field. We still see this Clear used all the time by top college teams today.
All your midfielders should be comfortable carrying the ball against 1-on-1 coverage. If the Blue Midfielder draws any extra Defenders, there should be an open teammate in front of him somewhere. Otherwise, run the ball down, get it to the Attack, and get off the field for a sub with fresh legs. Job well done.
Figure 6. Substitute players through the box for transition opportunities. The substitution box is a great place to create a Fast Break during a Clear. Midfielders coming on and off the field can get open at any time. Move your feet to space and call for the ball.
Give the "Downtown Clear" a try: Pull your third Defender off the field and send a Midfielder on all the way at the other end of the sub box. That's a 20-yard head start now that the box is bigger with the new rules!
- Be Loud- Everyone on Defense needs to communicate which positions they're taking and who the open man is.
- If all else fails- "Gilman!" We think this play is named for the famed Gilman School (MD). Like a Hail Mary or a full-court shot, throw the ball to the other end of the field and let your Attackmen run to get it. It's better to get rid of the ball than risk a quick goal by your opponent.
RELATED PRACTICE DRILLS:
- "Over!" Redirect Clearing Passing Drill- Teach your players to move the ball all the way across the field, away from pressure on the Clear with this simple passing drill.
- 5-Pass Clearing Drill- Keep it simple and give your players plenty of reps to work the ball down the field.
- "43" Clear: Practice running the ball down the old-fashioned way against 1-on-1 pressure.
- Short Stick Sideline Clear: We see one of the top college teams using the Punt Return Clear up the sideline instead of in the middle so they always know where the pressure is coming from. Genius!
- Face-Off Clearing Drill: Practice face-offs and then Clear the ball right away starting the ball all the way back with the Goalie.
- 5-on-4 Clearing Drill: Practice this simplified version of Clearing to teach your players how it works.
- Numbers Clearing Game: This variation teaches your players to recognize the numbers advantage and find the open man in a variety of scenarios, all of which imitate game situations.
We definitely want to hear if you have any good Clearing strategies you use with your teams!