At the intermediate level, the best athletes should be used at the midfield. The key qualities of good midfielders are the abilities to run up and down the field, to pick up groundballs, to shoot from the outside, and to play strong man-to-man defense. The athlete that plays midfield is strong, fast, and has good endurance. This player wants to do everything he can to help his team win.
There are many different types of midfielders that can make a team complete. There can be the big outside shooter who can rip the net from anywhere, the dangerous dodger who wreaks havoc for the defense, the workhorse that gets every ground ball or the defensive specialist who shuts the other teams’ middies down. This is why midfield is the favorite position of many youth players. It gives pretty much everyone a role to fill, no matter what type of player you are or what your skills are like.
The one main dodge that midfielders should concentrate on is the split dodge. They can use any of the four split dodges – right to right, right to left, left to right, and left to left (see attack section for details). A midfielder at this level should be able to go to his weak hand well enough that he is able to throw a pass adequately. With his strong hand, he should be able to get off a good feed or shot.
Midfielders make split-dodges the same way as attackmen. They attack their defenders “top” or “outside” foot, make them change direction, and then go to the goal. Midfielders will make split dodges from up top or from the wing but should avoid dodging east-west. Their main job is to get to the goal or to draw a slide.
Surprisingly, at this level, the split dodge is all a midfielder needs to use. It is actually better to have midfielders concentrate on this dodge because it makes them go north-south. Too often at the youth level you see midfielders trying to go back and forth across the field as they slowly back their way to the goal. They either use a million face or roll dodges, and they are lucky they get to the goal in a one-on-one situation. This is not an effective way to get to the goal in a game, and it is not something that any player would use at a more advanced level because he would get destroyed.
Coaches need to encourage their midfielders to make one hard move (a split dodge) and go to the goal. This way, they can either get a shot or draw a slide and pass the ball off. It is that easy. Making midfielders understand this concept at an intermediate level will make them much better than their competition.
Shooting on the Run
Since they are learning to make one hard move and go the goal, intermediate midfielders must also learn to shoot on the run. This is something that takes a great deal of practice and repetition. Even some of the best players in the world struggle to shoot on the run. The ability to shoot well on the run really rests on the skills of snapping the wrists over and twisting the upper body.
Some players find it more effective to bring their hands closer together when shooting on the run because it gives them more torque on their shot. Some players also find that jumping while shooting on the run gives them more power as it allows them to twist their body more as they are in the air. This is a very difficult skill to learn and is more suitable for stronger, more advanced players. The main things to watch for as a coach is to make sure the midfielders get their hands away from their bodies, snap their sticks over the top with their wrists, turn their upper bodies, and drive with their front shoulder towards the goal. If they are fading away from the goal, shooting off their back foot, or not turning and shooting in stride, walk them through the right technique and break these bad habits early. A young midfielder who can learn to shoot on the run effectively will have a very bright future as a lacrosse player.
Time and Room Shooting
To learn to shoot with time and room from the outside, young midfielders need to learn a few different techniques. The first is to catch the ball behind them, as discussed before. If the midfielder can learn to catch the ball with his arms extended, his hands away from his body, and his stick behind him, then this will set him up for a great outside shot.
As he catches the ball, the midfielder wants to push off his back foot and step with his front foot, take a small cradle, and let the ball go. Just having a quick shot at this level will catch goalies off guard.
Much like shooting on the run, catching and shooting with time and room is learned through a great deal of repetition. The more it is practiced, the greater the level of muscle-memory will come into play. Things to watch out for are:
- the player letting his hands get to close to his body
- letting the head of his stick drop
- using his arms instead of his wrists
- stepping with the wrong foot
- and attacking the ball when catching instead of receiving it behind him
Have your players pick different spots in the net or use goal targets to help them become more advanced shooters.
Man to Man Defense
Intermediate level midfielders have to start to learn how to play effective one-on-one defense. Midfielders at the intermediate level should pick up or cover their man with the ball at about 15 yards away from the goal. Very few players at this level will be able to score from any further out. The main goal of a midfielder playing defense from up top is to keep his man down the side, or going down the alleys. The defensive-midfielder does not want to allow his man to get to the top side or to the middle of the field. Defenders accomplish this by drawing a line down the middle of the field and keeping the offensive player from crossing it.
If the middie with the ball starts on the right side of the field, then the defensive midfielder wants to get his left foot up field and have his hips facing the right sideline on a 45 degree angle. This way if the offensive midfielder tries to dodge towards the middle of the field, he has to run through the d-middie. If the ball carrier is in the middle of the field the defensive midfielder must also pick a side and force the ball carrier there. In most cases, d-middies point their left foot towards the sideline and make middies go to their left as that is the weak hand of many players at the youth level.
The d-middie wants to guide his man down the side of the field for three reasons.
- the further the offensive midfielder goes down the side, the less of an angle that he will have for a shot
- the further he goes down the side, the fewer options he will have for a feed
- the defender that is sliding to the ball carrier will know exactly where he needs to slide if the d-middie gets beat by a few steps
The defensive midfielder keeps the ball carrier going down the side by using a cross check (which is gently pushing the ball carrier out with the shaft of his stick and his hands about six inches apart on the stick (if his hands are two wide or he jolts the ball carrier with his stick, then a penalty will be called).
Defensive midfielders should be taught never to chase after the ball carriers stick to try and take the ball away. Whenever this happens, the defensive midfielder gets beat towards the top side. Furthermore, the d-middie should never lunge at the offensive player or the same thing will happen. If an intermediate level midfielder can learn to keep his man down the side, then he is way ahead of the game. Coaches must stay patient while teaching this as it takes some time to learn. As simple as it sounds, it takes a great deal of practice for youth players to grasp. Once they learn it though, it makes them a great defensive player as a midfielder. Concentrate on this as a coach at this level, and you have done a great deal in advancing their defensive play.
It is evident that midfielders have a great deal to learn and practice at the intermediate level. As midfielders, they have to be overall good lacrosse players and have diverse skill sets. The skills discussed are those that are most important to give them the ability to continue advancing as players.