How To Speed Up Lacrosse: Stop Crosschecking

Towson Hopkins Lacrosse crosscheck
Crosschecks are no good.

There is so much talk about speeding up the game of lacrosse, and making sure that the sport remains the fastest game on two feet. Proposed solutions have included adding a shot clock, changing sideline horn rules, changing the stall warning, and I’ve even come up with some interesting rule change propositions myself! Then there’s some people who think the game is just fine the way it is.

Today we’re going to take a look at another option, and in this case it’s simply enforcing a rule that already exists: Crosschecking.

Towson Hopkins Lacrosse crosscheck
Crosschecks are no good.

Some longsticks crosscheck quite a bit, but the biggest offenders are usually short stick defensive middies.  I’ve noticed it before, and I continue to notice it this year while watching lacrosse on ESPNU or in person. Of course, the fact that they do it so much makes a lot of sense to me.

First, we’ll talk about WHY it’s done so much, and then I’ll explain the actual legal alternative when playing defense with a short stick.

The Reason for So Much Crosschecking

The first reason that defensive midfielders crosscheck so much is that they are often the guys that are being isolated and dodged on.  They have to play as physically as possible, trying to intimidate their opponent at all times. The cross check fits into this mentality perfectly.

As a middie playing defense, you can be more physical by moving your hands apart because this gives you a wider impact area to use.  This means you can be less accurate, and focus more on power.  The guys dodging on you are going hard, and you’ve want to do everything you can not to get burned.

The second reason that defensive middies crosscheck is much more simple.  It’s because the refs let the players get away with it, and not just off the dodge, but ALL OVER THE FIELD.  If a ref won’t call a crosscheck when a guy isn’t even dodging, but just carrying the ball, why would that same ref call it on a dodge?

The crosscheck has become popular amongst college lacrosse players because it works and because it is rarely called.

What Players Did Before the Crosscheck

As the sticks have become more advanced, I have wonder, has the art of the short stick poke check been lost?  Admittedly, it is a less effective tool than the crosscheck, but unlike the crosscheck, it is actually legal.  It is the type of play that we need to get back to promoting in the game.  It would speed things up, create more transition play, and allow for more dodge and dump, quick-passing lacrosse.

The poke check was disruptive, but it also took real skill and timing to throw correctly.  The poke check took time to master, while the crosscheck can be done by anyone who likes to bench press.

Why Crosschecking is Lame

Right now, the approach is to make the offensive dodging player or ball carrier pick a side.  Once they go to the side you want them to, you crosscheck them in the side or back.  It is not hard enough to knock the offensive player over usually, but it does throw them off their trajectory and slow them down.  It prevents the blow by dodge, AND the roll back, and most offensive players need a step or two (or more) to recover.  Like I said, it’s an incredibly effective tool.  Is it good for the game?

Two crosschecks, right in front of a ref, not called.  Devastating penalties?  No.  Disruptive game slowers?  Yes.

The crosscheck disrupts the flow of the offense, and slows down the game every single time it is used.  Add on to the fact that, according to the rules, you can not move your hands apart and hit someone with your stick, and it should be called every time for good reason.  It’s bad for the game AND illegal.

Furthermore, it allows coaches to have their teams play even more conservatively on defense, and with college lacrosse begin such a “coaches’ game” right now, taking away some of this power might be a really good thing.

The Return of the Poke Check

The poke check approach will have some people here up in arms.  You’ll say offensive players are too good, or too fast, or that the ball just doesn’t come out like it used to, but to that I say “so what?”  The poke check can still help players out here, even if the chance for a takeaways is diminished in the modern game.

When a player dodges on you, and you use the poke check technique, you can really take one of two approaches:

1) play the guy straight up and time his move.  When he tries to make the move, you poke check him in the chest as hard as you can, trying to dislodge the ball on a split dodge, or slow him down with your stick.

2) play the guy on an angle and drive him down the side, throwing a poke check to the chest if the offensive tries to cut back.  On the roll dodge, you have to drop step and recover with a push.  Not a crosscheck.

What if Zebras Called Every Crosscheck?

We would see more scoring.  Offensive middies could get free much easier, and teams would be forced to slide hard.  This would result in required ball movement, a premium placed on skill and a lot of action.  The pack it in defense (at least when it came to the shorties) would have to change, and defenses would have to press AND help more to keep easy shots off dodges from developing.

And defensively more transition would be generated.  You RARELY see a turnover result from a crosscheck.  All it does is throw the offensive player off of their current route.  They keep the ball, move it on, and set up again.  It doesn’t result in good opportunities, and it’s boring to watch.  It’s also not that fun to play.  When you beat your guy but get crosschecked at the last moment, and it isn’t called, it feels like you got cheated, right?  The crosscheck is skill-less defense.

With a poke check, you might actually put the ball on ground.  It won’t happen all the time, but it will definitely happen more than with your average crosscheck.  If you don’t throw a good poke, the offensive player might get a clean look at goal, and to me that’s a lot better than watching a team cycle the ball around again.

For this rule to have a HUGE impact, the only thing that would have to change is the crosscheck actually being called.  It’s already illegal, and I don’t think it’s helping the game.

So, what do you think? Should the Crosscheck stay or go? Is it a necessary evil or are we making life too easy for defensive players right now?

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  1. Connor,
    Great article, i coach youth and constantly tell them defense is played with your feet not with your stick. I also hear myself saying to them an awful lot that you can teach a monkey to play defense if you are allowed to play with your hands 18″s apart.
    It always astounds me that every ref will tell you it is illegal to use the cross check but that same ref will watch it happen all game long.
    That is certainly not a dig at any ref as i believe that reffing is the hardest job in sports. i always thank the refs in my games for doing their job regardless of how well i thought they did it.
    keep up with the interesting thoughts on how to speed this great game up

    • Hey RPS66,
      great response to a great article! You and I sound like we coach the same. Connor, I had not thought about how much the cross-check does slow down the game until just now. Dead on again!!
      To add to your poke check, what I tell ALL of my defenders to do is poke into the cuff of the glove. It is a timing issue and something that has to be learned, but extremely effective AND can dislodge the ball…and is not a blatant attempt to spear someone in the chest with the stick.
      Now I will admit that I have pointed out what can happen (and what can be hit) by a solid poke check that winds up off target for one reason or another.  I make the kids focus on the bottom hand, and make sure that they are wearing a cup even at practice, because if the ball carrier pulls their hands back behind their body, the cup check becomes the next defensive move…and is not an intent to injure.
      This may your clearest article yet about speeding up the game without really having to change anything.

      • with a pole I’m more of a cuff guy, and with you for the most part! 
        Slightly different approaches, and yours is probably much more appropriate for your age group, as opposed to the D1 guys I’m talking about!

        I’m certainly not advocating for intent to injure either.  Just good, hard lacrosse!

        • The poke to the cuff is also what I had to do to eliminate or at least cut down on the number of slap checks, especially as refs started to call the slash on them. I equated the slap check to ‘opening a gate’ for the offensive player every time they wound up to slap.
          I also admit that the poke to the glove could wind up in the chest if they were playing someone straight up, so your point is well taken…and I had one of my poles do just that this past weekend. The second time the same kid tried the same move on my defender, he actually poked the stick right out of the kid’s hand

  2. part of me agrees with you 100%. great response comment!

    For me it’s not about losing toughness or babying players.  It’s just about being able to dodge.  But maybe the issue is that players aren’t good enough at that in general and they should just be able to deal with a good crosscheck.  Then again, any sort of crosschecking IS technically illegal, right?

    • That is correct. It is also illegal to HOLD with the area of the handle between the hands. That is what I would have called on the checks in the video – a 30 sec technical hold. I would not have called the PF cross check. If this is to be enforced more closely, most CCs would likely be technical foul holds.

  3. The other thing I just realized is that this may be part of the evolution of the game. When the college game is going to great lengths to bring in Box players, you are going to see more and more cross-checks, because they are legal in box.
    For the same reason, you may begin to start to see more moving picks, like professional basketball.

  4. I think this is an unenforceable change because of how dramatic the change would be and the fact that it would render defenders, even longpoles, incapable of denying offensive players from running where they want to unless they take the ball away. What you call a crosscheck is not a technique limited to SSDM’s and is used by poles to deny position to attackmen.

    The other problem is this: will it actually speed up the game? If by speed up the game you mean increase scoring, then yes. Lacrosse will resemble the NBA after they instuted rules outlawing handchecking in that players will become close to unguardable on the perimeter. But does this really speed up the game? Will it stop the subbing of specialists every possession? Obviously not. Does it do anything to curtail stalling? It actually makes it easier for offenses to stall because it takes away an effective defensive tool. Will it make it easier/force the defense to go out and create turnovers? NO! Every team will pack it in and slide super early because you can’t go out and pressure guys if you can’t physically deny them from getting to a position that forces you to slide. You would have to assume you are going to need to slide on every dodge, which means the defense would have to be tight in order to support the slide and recover the man who was on ball. Finally, can a poke check from a SSDM actually be a defensive tool? Again, no. It will have virtually no ability to slow down a dodger, and represents a minimal chance of forcing a turnover. Here’s how I’d coach SSDM’s in a non-crosschecking environment: I’d have them incredibly overplay their guy to one hand, to the point that it guarantees that that player will get a step on them. They’d just trail the guy down the lane (slide is coming anyways) and try to catch the guy trailing his stick. If he doesn’t, so what? Slide comes, he recovers inside and the defense lives to fight another day. Bottom line is that banning crosschecking does nothing to actually speed up the game and allows the things that actually slow the game down to persist, hidden behind a veil of increased scoring, not a faster pace.

    • man, these are some super solid points.

      And you’re right, it wouldn’t speed up the game by itself.  But I do believe that it would allow fast teams to play fast, meaning a good shot could come much earlier in the possession than will all the crosschecking we see now.

      And if someone used your approach to non-crosschecking defense, a team would really only have to develop good passing skills and the ability to cut and score… but isn’t that a great aspect of the game?  I’d take less dodge, move it around again, dodge, repeat and more of that any day.

      It doesn’t stop it from happening, but it opens the door for fast teams to play fast if they want to.  And I’m all for that.

      • Sure, the shot would come sooner in the possession, but that’s only because you couldn’t defend with the same effectiveness that you do now. You’re still going to have substitutions of specialists, which means waiting 30-60 seconds for offensive players to get on. I’m tired of watching substitutions. Here’s a good rule change for you: only allow on the fly substitutions to occur during the 30 second count during a clear. Once you touch the ball into the box and the count ends, teams can no longer sub. That actually addresses a problem that slows down the game.

  5. I am going to have to slightly disagree. I play defensive mid and think there is a big difference between what we do, trying to just simply push you down the alley, than a crease or a coma slide coming to take your head off with a cross check. Yes, by the letter of the law both are equally legally, but if a cop writes lots of speeding tickets to going 3 miles over the speed limit and then gives a ticket for the same amount to a go going 45 miles over, that is a pretty bad cop. No ref can call all the cross checking or even most of it, it’s about controlling the game and having context. Who wants to watch a game with half the time spent on man up/man down?

  6.  Right on.  Ultimately, cross checking is a SYMPTOM not the ILLNESS.  Why don’t players poke check anymore?  Against any relatively decent player with a pinched stick, it does NOTHING.  A big reason why box players don’t poke check to take the ball away is that box players are often better at shielding their hands and stick with their body.  There’s nothing to poke at as the guy is dodging.  So again, it’s a symptom, not the illness.

    The only hopeful outcome in terms of slowing or deterring a dodger with a poke check is to poke him in the stomach and knock the wind out of him or maybe get a piece of wrist.  In either case, the result is still not a takeaway, just causing enough physical hurt to slow the guy down (gee, the same as a cross check). 
    Offset heads, pinched sticks, waxy mesh, crackdowns on big hits to prevent concussions… rules have evolved to make defense increasingly more difficult.  Now we want to re-emphasize hands together to give defenders less stability and leverage when hitting?  Just like in women’s lacrosse, any rule changes or points-of-emphasis we discuss should be with an eye toward both promoting finesse over physical play that could potentially injure and not continuing to make life increasingly difficult for just the defense.