Learning to play transition defense is the key to understanding general defensive concepts. It is vital to a team’s success learn to play defense as a unit, as well as individually. Defense is one aspect of lacrosse where the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Transition drills and practice reinforce these skills like nothing else.
Learning transition defense comes with time, repetition and progression. At the intermediate level, players should learn transition defense from two-on-ones, three-on-twos, and four-on-threes. This will give defensive players a feel for the game and will provide them with many of the skills necessary for playing six-on-six defense.
In two versus one, the most important thing that defensive players learn is to “slow-play” the ball and not slide up field. Many times at the youth level, defensive players run up and meet the ball-carrier even if there is a wide open offensive player by the goal. In two-on-ones, the defensive player needs to get back in the hole and split both men. Playing defense alone against two offensive players is very challenging. Although the defender can get away with attacking the ball at an early age when stick skills are less developed, it is a very bad habit to develop and a hard one to break. Encouraging a disciplined approach to defense is crucial.
In two-on-ones, the defensive player needs to get back in the hole and split both men. The defensive player’s goal is to make them take a bad shot or throw a bad pass. As two offensive players run towards the goal, the defensive player should be in the middle of the field at about eight yards in front of the goal. When the offensive players get to this point, the defender can begin to play games with them.
The defender’s first option is to slide to the ball carrier and make him throw a pass. The defender’s second option is to fake slide to the ball carrier by taking a quick couple steps toward him and then drop-stepping back to the middle. The best thing that can happen here is the ball carrier can throw the ball across to the other offensive player and the defender can pick off the ball. The third option for the defenseman is to split the two players and continue to drop back. This sometimes confuses the ball carrier and makes him take a bad shot. This is a good option for the defenseman to use if the ball carrier is a weak offensive player. This type of defensive play is called a “slow-play” as the defenseman does not make a quick slide and makes the offense take some time to make a decision.
Two-on-ones teach defensive players three valuable concepts. The first concept they learn is to not slide up field too far. The highest that they slide to the ball carrier in this drill is about eight yards. The second concept they learn is to fake slide. They make the movement that looks like they are sliding towards the ball carrier and then they drop back. This move is used a great deal in six on six and it is utilized by the best defensemen in the world. Finally, the last concept they learn is to slow-play the ball and make the offense take time to make a decision, “buying” time for the defense. Hopefully, by the time they make a decision, another defensive player gets back or the attack makes a bad choice.
The next transitional situation that defensive players must learn is three offensive players against two defensive players. In this situation, the two defensive players want to start off in an “I” formation. The top defenseman or the “point” defenseman is in the middle of the field about 10 yards in front of the goal. The bottom defenseman is right in the middle of the field, just about a yard in front of the crease. As the three offensive players bring the ball down field, the point defenseman picks up the ball carrier at ten yards and makes him throw a pass or take an outside shot. The bottom defender slides to the player who receives the first pass.
As soon as the first pass is made, the point defender turns his body towards where the ball was passed and drops back toward the crease with his stick in the passing lane, essentially replacing the empty spot where the bottom defenseman started. If the player who has the ball throws another pass, then the same progression happens. The defenseman who is now on the crease slides out to meet the ball and the defenseman who was covering the ball slides back to the crease. It is important for the defensemen to drop step and open their body towards the direction where the ball was thrown when they are going back to the crease so that they can get their stick in the passing lane between the ball and the most dangerous defender.
The goal of the defense in a three-on-two is to make the offense take an outside shot, throw a bad pass, or buy enough time so that another defender can get back in the hole. The key concept that defensemen learn in this drill for six on six situations is that they are connected on a string. When one defenseman slides out to cover the ball carrier, the other defenseman is pulled back in the hole in front of the crease. In every situation in lacrosse, defensemen are always connected on a string and work together. Learning to be connected with a single other defenseman first is obviously the easiest way to learn this concept.
3v2 Defense: D1 stops ball at roughly 10 yards. D2 plays the man with the ball after first pass. D1 turns inside with stick in the passing lane and gets down the backside to split O2 and O1 (favoring the offensive player closest to the goal). If pass goes back up to O1, D2 must get back up to defend against shot, while D1 splits O3 and O2. The object of the defense is to have the offense make as many passes as possible until help comes.
The final defensive transition situation that intermediate players must learn to handle is four-on-threes. In this situation, the defense forms a triangle with the point man at about ten yards above the goal in the middle of the field. The two “base” (forming the base of the triangle) defensemen are each about three yards up and one yard out from each pipe on the goal. Just like two-on-ones, the defensemen are all connected on a string.
The offense will usually play this situation out of a box. As the ball carrier brings the ball down, the point defenseman picks him up at about ten yards. (For this situation we will say that the ball carrier brought the ball in from the top left in the goalie’s perspective). Thus, as the point defenseman slides to the top left, the base right defenseman will get pulled towards the top right, and the base left defenseman will get pulled to the middle right above the crease. Notice now that they are still in a perfect triangle, but that it is now upside down. If the ball now gets passed to the bottom right attackman the bottom left defenseman gets all the way over and the point defenseman is now pulled down to the base left to replace him. The rotation is opposite the direction of the ball.
Whenever a defenseman slides, they should always make their first step towards the middle of the field so the triangle stays tight and so that they take a good angle towards the ball carrier. Also, whenever their man dishes the ball off, the defenseman should open their body towards where the ball was passed and slide back to the hole with their stick in the passing lane, just like in three-on-twos. It is important to understand that defensemen should always be connected by an eight-yard string and always stay in a triangle. If either of these rules is broken, then the offense is likely to score. If they follow these rules, then they should be able to make the offense take an outside shot, take a bad shot, make a bad pass, or give a midfielder enough time to get back on defense.
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