The fundamentals of lacrosse include: basic defense, scooping (loose balls), cradling/ball protection, basic transition, passing, catching, shooting & basic offense (appearing hypothetically in that order). You play good defense, knock the ball loose, pick it up, protect it and/or cradle it forward, pass the ball to any open players ahead of you, catch the pass and then shoot it if you are undefended and in the middle of the defense; otherwise creating a shot with basic offensive maneuvers.
This is the order of operations in lacrosse, and this is the order we introduce the fundamentals in our first 3 (free) one-hour practices for beginners, requiring only helmets & gloves, nets & balls. One of the beauties of our game is in it’s accessibility! I always ask people new to the game, have you ever played defense in any other sport? Yes? You’ve shadowed a check? Yes? Okay, so we will teach you how to pick up a loose ball, protect it, make a short outlet pass, and we will turn you into a pro. Really?
The most relevant example of this (outside of my own) is that of NLL Ironman Paul Dawson. He was drafted as a goaltender in the first round of the 2006 NLL Draft, and wasn’t content with his role as a 3rd string goaltender after his first season. So, he decides, I’m going to step out and play defense and go win multiple Mann Cups with the Brampton Excelsiors and multiple NLL Championships with the Rochester Knighthawks…...
Of course, not everyone is 6’4” 220 lbs, and the point of these blogs doesn't have to do with winning in lacrosse, it has more to do with winning in life. It has to do with engaging people new to the sport and showing them all of the fun and experience that comes along with participating in indigenous culture, team sports and having fun with your friends.
The most important part of teaching fundamentals to kids is keeping it fun. This is accomplished via games & positive interactions.
In the series of articles to come we will give you 3-5 complimentary drills for each of the fundamentals, which we feel offers a beginner lacrosse player the quickest and most efficient means to improving their lacrosse skills. It is also assumed that players have already gone through our progressions in our first 3 Basic Fundamental Practices.
We are actually going to start where, in our opinion, most coaches go wrong in teaching first-timers, and that’s passing and catching! Usually we would start with defense, loose balls, then cradling/ball protection.
However!!! Given the Covid-19 situation, which inhibits the close contact that is required when playing defense against an opponent, instead we will look at passing & catching, which will hopefully be useful for parents who are keen to work with their kids in the backyard.
This first warm-up drill is a great starting point for continuing to build on the dynamic aspects of catching. In its most simplest form, our Laxlife Fundamentals Practice #1 broke Catching down to a coach or teammate underhand passing the ball with their hand into the player’s stick (above their shoulder in “the box”); where required. In this drill we are essentially doing the same thing except the player is now in motion, yet the ball remains relatively stable.
The coaches are at centre-floor (by the side-boards) with a pile of balls and as a player approaches, the coach throws the ball straight up into the air for the player to then run underneath and catch (ideally over their shoulder). Players then go in for a breakaway shot on the goalie (from mid-range - put a pylon down for a marker), being sure to get to their proper side where necessary. In that respect, coaches should also switch which corner the line they are throwing to is coming from, in that way players will have the chance to catch the ball with their stick towards the boards, and also with their stick towards the middle.
This drill is also one of the drills we use to track the dynamic catching skills of players, in our Fundamental Skills Tracking Sheet.
Players have likely done these partner passing variations before, but many coaches forget to emphasize passers moving their feet each rep.
Here it is assumed that players have already gone through a series of drills for the fundamentals of passing and catching, and have likely already done the partner passing drills to follow. However, the difference is that this time coaches will be adamant that passers are always moving their feet (performing several changes of direction while running forward, back-pedaling or side-shuffling), before passing and catching.
People can typically only remember 2-3 pieces of information maximum in any given scenario, so the first time through partner passing, as in our Laxlife Fundamentals Practice #2, we had players focus on basic footwork for instance, stepping with the opposite-side leg from the hand with which they throw. That was combined with remembering to reach their arms when they prepare to pass, and transferring their weight from their back foot to their front foot. We are now asking players to pass while slightly off balance, maintaining the triple threat position (“shopping") and focusing more on their follow through. This is a further example of the horizontal integration required to efficiently build up a stabilized fundamental skill.
The drill variations remain the same as in the basic fundamentals practices, beginning with stationary catching (regular & “facing away”), except this time with a dynamic passer. Then players repeat the same actions with both a dynamic passer, and later a dynamic receiver. At that point, players are now getting the opportunity to explore the concept of “lead” passing; throwing the ball to where the player is headed, not where they currently are.
Players should start on their wrong floor side (stick "leading") the first few times through the drill, gradually increasing their speed & distance apart. Later switching to their proper-floor side (stick "trailing").
The previous drill increased the movement of the passer, yet still within a confined space. In this drill players are now asked to pass and catch on-the-run, while running in the open floor. Starting with two parallel lines at the top of one of the creases, and players on their wrong floor-side (which may seem counterintuitive at first), players must make lead passes to each other while running from one end to the other; finishing with a quality shot on net. Players may need to “soften up” their pass when they are this close together.
Start slow, around 50% of maximum speed and move players progressively further apart. After a few reps this way (which is generally easier), players now switch to starting on their proper floor side, which is a bit more challenging of a pass to gauge, as the receiver’s stick is now trailing behind their body as they run forward. The passer as well, needs to consciously reach their stick back, and open their hips to make a successful pass. No side-shuffling is allowed; players should always be running straight forward, side-by-side, separated by gradually increased distances.
Don’t Do It!
It may be hypocritical that we say not to start with passing and catching when teaching the fundamentals to first time lacrosse players, and then go and do our first fundamentals blog on passing and catching progressions. The truth is, there are always exceptions, and this case, practical considerations (Covid-19).
Originally we had intended to release next week’s blog first, “Basic Defensive Skill Progressions,” but we had to stay flexible and adaptable given the situation, which is a big part of coaching (and life). Players as well, perhaps don’t always have all of the tools available to their peers; it’s important to be versatile! Use your imagination. Stay safe, and continue to spread the medicine game to those in need!