Position Specific Concepts
In lacrosse, there are four different positions: attack, midfield, defense, and goalie. In a game, there are three attackmen, three midfielders, three defensemen, and one goalie on the field for each team. It is important for beginners to try out all positions to see which one they like the best. This will also give them a well-rounded perspective of the game.
Too many coaches stick kids at one position at an early age, but they often grow up to be better suited athletically for another position. It is important to teach beginners all aspects of the game. They can decide what position they prefer later. Coaches of young players or beginners should take their whole team through drills that go over general concepts at each position. Furthermore, much of the practice time should be spent teaching kids fundamentals that apply to ALL positions. Games and scrimmages can be set up to allow everyone to play the whole field, work at all skills, and learn all of the positions.
Although it is important for beginning players to learn generalized concepts of the game, positions should be taught in their most basic form so the players know what to do in games. While these are some general guidelines of where to put kids, they cannot be emphasized enough to allow your players to participate in all positions. At any age, it is a mistake to be overly concerned with winning and losing. Restricting a child to a position that he does not like may turn him off from the game entirely. The main goal in teaching beginners lacrosse should be to show players how much fun the game is. This will hopefully start them off on the right foot, and inspire them to work hard at it in the future.
Clearly, teaching position-specific skills at an early age is not the most important thing for a coach to do. The most important things for youth lacrosse players to learn are basic fundamental stick skills, general concepts, and how to have fun with the game. A great way to achieve these goals is to allow everyone to play every position. The most important objective for beginners is that the game of lacrosse gets more fun as they get better with their stick skills. Encourage them to cradle around their house and yard. Find them a neighborhood brick wall for them to throw against where they won’t get in trouble. They will quickly learn that the game is much more fun when the ball is in the air and in their sticks rather than being on the ground the whole time. They will also have the opportunity to pick whatever position they want when they get older because they will have a solid foundation of fundamental stick skills. The good thing about lacrosse is that you do not have to be 6’4”, weigh 235 pounds, and run a 4.4-second forty-yard dash to be a great player. However, you do need polished stick skills to be a standout player.
The attack position is best explained as the scoring position. In a lacrosse game, there are three attackmen on each team. The attackmen are the offensive players on the field and, as such, they must always stay on their offensive end of the field. The Attack position gets all the glory and a lot of the stats, but it also takes the most skill. Emphasize to young aspiring attackmen that they must work extremely hard at their stick skills. They must also spend a great deal of time watching high-level lacrosse in order to gain the greatest feel for and knowledge of the game. The ball is going to be in their sticks for a high percentage of the game, and they need to know what to do with it.
Many young attackmen feel that their only job is to score goals. It is our job as coaches to help them realize that they are quarterbacks of the offense and that assists and ground balls are as important as goals. The greatest skill that you could teach young attackmen is to dodge his defenseman, draw the slide, then move the ball onto his open teammate. Discourage players (even though it may be effective at younger age levels) from dodging through an entire team. This will make them much better prepared for advanced play and will allow them to mature rapidly as a lacrosse player.
Beginning midfielders should be taught that they are the horses of the team. There are three midfielders per team in a lacrosse game. They must run up and down the entire field and play both offense and defense. For this reason, midfielders are usually the most athletic players on the lacrosse field. Young midfielders must learn all the fundamentals of playing lacrosse because they are all over the field. For this reason, it is not a bad idea to look at everyone on a beginning-level lacrosse team as a midfielder. The job of the midfielder is to get the ball downfield and to the attack. This is why, just like the attack, they must learn to dodge their defender, draw a slide, and move the ball on.
On the defensive side of the field, it is very important for young midfielders to learn the importance of getting back in “the hole.” This means that when the other team gets the ball, the midfielder’s first objective should be to get back to his defensive side of the field, within the restraining box, and let the offense come to them. Too many young lacrosse players consistently slide upfield. For example, say Team A takes the ball away from Team B. A Team A player has the ball in the defensive end and starts running upfield toward Team B’s goal. At most beginner levels, Team B’s midfielders will run at the Team A player and try to take the ball. This is called sliding upfield and is the biggest mistake that a beginner lacrosse player makes. Team B’s midfielders should just run back to their goal, pack in tight, break down, and get ready to defend. With the way lacrosse is played now, sliding upfield rarely gets the ball back from the other team, and usually ends up in transition situations and scoring for the other team. A great lesson for young middies to learn is as soon as the other team gets the ball, get back on defense. It will help your team, and it will give your midfielders a good foundation for playing solid defense.
Many times at the youth level, the defensive position is given to the worst athletes or the worst stick handlers. This is inconsistent with high levels of lacrosse, where some of the best athletes and players are on the defensive side of the field. The most important thing with young or beginning defensemen is to not put a long stick in their hands right away. They should first learn to play with a short stick, for a number of reasons. The first is that it will be easier for them to learn the fundamental stick skills with a short stick. Many young players simply are not big or strong enough to handle a long stick, yet they feel it is necessary to learn how to be a defenseman. Actually, the long stick only hampers their growth as lacrosse players. Once a young player can handle the ball, throw, and catch consistently, then he can start working on those skills with a long stick.
Another reason that it is good for young defensemen to learn how to play with a short stick is that they should be taught to play defense with their feet, not with their stick. Many young defensemen feel the need to wield their long pole like a light-saber when they first start playing. Young defensemen have the notion that their goal is to check the ball away from the other player. However, the most important aspect of playing defense is simply being able to stay and run with the player that is being guarded. In other words, footwork is the most important part of playing defense in lacrosse, just like in basketball, football, and many other sports. Many times at high levels of lacrosse, coaches will have their defensemen use short sticks or no sticks at all to practice their footwork. Having a young defenseman start off with a short stick is putting him ahead of the game.
The final position that must be filled on a team is the goalie. A lot of times coaches will stick their absolute worst player or athlete in goal. This is okay as long as that young player wants to be in the net. This is the most important quality of a young goalie – the “want to.” They have to want to get in the way of shots and they have to think it is fun. If a young goalie is deathly scared of the ball or cries every time that he gets hit, it is probably time for him to try another position. A young goalie, like a beginner defenseman, should learn to catch and throw with a short stick. Many young players try goalie when they find that they are having trouble catching and passing. If a player cannot catch a ball that is being thrown softly to him right at his stick, how is he going to catch a ball that is being fired down by his legs?
JUST PUT THE CRAZY KID IN THE NET.
Although it is important for young goalies to get some work in the goal with a good warm-up and drills, it is also important for them to learn the game of lacrosse. In any drills that do not absolutely need a goalie in the net, make them get their short stick and participate with the other players. This is a good way for the young goalie to develop his stick work and will also keep him from getting burned out at the goalie position. (Make sure he wears full padding and not just goalie equipment when he participates in field drills.)