The Right Way To Play Lacrosse – ALL YOU NEED IS ONE RULE

Justin TUma Roanoke Lacrosse lax
Tuma for Roanoke is a beast. Love how he plays!

After watching a number of college lacrosse games, at a number of different levels this weekend, I think I’ve nailed down the right way to play lax.  Obviously, there are wrong ways.  Throwing the ball out of bounds intentionally on every possession will get you no where.  But no one here is arguing for that approach.  Don’t be silly.  I’m talking general philosophy in this post and while there are surely exceptions to my “rules”, I think you’ll find that, for the most part, they’re pretty darn good.

I’ll start with one simple key and I won’t verge too far from it:  Don’t create or encourage specialists.  If you have a fogo… great, use him.  If you don’t, then maybe recruit one.  But to try to turn a kid into a fogo might not pay the dividends you think it will.  I no longer think that, on average, specialists are better than all-around players.  Because guys who can do it all are extremely valuable, and maybe even more than you think.


Joel White Lacrosse Syracuse Maryland lax
Who will be your Joel White?

A fogo is a great asset when they win, but can turn into a total liability if they lose the face off.  Some fogos are so limited that they’re a liability even if they WIN the face off!  So unless you have a guy who can dominate, you’re probably making a mistake.  The same holds true for D-middies.  If you have a d-mid who plays lights out defense, but can’t clear the ball effectively, you’re in trouble.  And even if your guy can clear the ball, if he can’t take advantage of transition, dodge in unsettled situations and play a bit of solid O, you’re short-changing yourself and your team.

Justin Tuma of Roanoke, Jeremy Thompson of Syracuse, Chris LaPierre of Virginia and Chris DeLuca of Cortland ALL come to mind as guys who can face-off AND score AND play D and basically do-it-all.  Yes, these guys are rare.  But any of them are far more valuable than any FoGo in their respective divisions.  When coaching your players up, what kind of kids would you want?  I’d take these four any day.  Do we need to make a big stand on D?  I want these guys in.  Do we need a goal?  I want these guys in.  They’re gamers, not specialists.  Since lacrosse is a constantly changing game, unlike football where plays are set, you NEED diversity of ability at all times.  Let me repeat that.  You need players who can do many things well because the situation can change in a heartbeat.  KNOW a player’s TRUE value!

Justin TUma Roanoke Lacrosse lax
Tuma for Roanoke is a beast. Love how he plays!

Photo courtesy Roanoke College Flickr

This is true in almost every position.  Defense is no exception.  For example, Hopkins has a number of excellent and athletic 1 on 1 defenders on their team, but I haven’t seen a guy who can go takeaway that well.  Their game against Princeton is clear evidence of that.  Down 6-1 and not throwing a lot of checks?  Um, ok.  I also haven’t seen a pole on that team with great handle, so when their poles bring the ball over, you KNOW it’s going to be settled down for eventual 6 on 6 bore-ball.

Now, when Brian Farrell of Maryland or Tom Montelli of Duke bring the ball over, you might very well see some offensive action and this keeps opponents on their heels.  They are well-rounded players, and because of that, they give their teams an advantage on every clear.  I’d take that over 4 top cover guys any day.  Same goes for Joel White of Syracuse.  He was a middie, they gave him a pole and now he’s a complete “defensive” player.  Smart move from Cuse!  The body position beasts are great for beating Siena.  It doesn’t work against good teams.  You need more.

Jeremy Thomspon Syracuse lacrosse
Thompson (#4) is my top rated college player right now.

Photo courtesy

Syracuse is the number one team in NCAA Division 1 lax right now.  Jovan Miller, Jeremy Thompson, Josh Amidon, Joel White (and he’s an LSM!) and others get runs on O, on the wings and on D.  Yes, Joel White takes runs on O, for all intents and purposes anyway.  They push transition.  They are ALWAYS dangerous.  Another example?  Sure.  Tufts benefited greatly in the DIII National Championship game from “d-mids” staying on the field, dodging Salisbury’s Offensive trapped players and scoring.  Everyone on Michigan can get up and down and score.  They run drills in practice where the poles play offense.  This is NOT a coincidence.

Now to be fair, I do think there is one position where players today can be considered specialists without hurting a team too much, and that position is that of the attackman.  Now, don’t read me wrong… I’d love a guy like Pannell of Cornell, Marasco out of Cuse, Hessler from Tufts, Dailey out of Stevenson, or a number of other guys who can do it all, but I wouldn’t be as averse to having a guy like Kyle Wharton of Hopkins on my team either.  He’s a shooter.  Plain and simple.  He doesn’t dodge that well and his feeds are iffy at times, but he moves the ball through x nicely, knows his role (for the most part) and shoots the freaking lights out.  I’ve got room for him.

I’d also have room for a guy like Tim Desko, who is a gifted and flashy finisher.  Or even a guy like Dickson from Delaware.  These guys are slightly limited players.  But they can do one thing that definitely matters: score.  And since the team with the most goals usually wins, I want guys who can score with the best of them out there on the field.  I’ll take 90% good at everything for my poles, my middies and 1 or two attackmen, but I also want guys who just put the biscuit in the basket.  Some people have scorer’s mentality and some people don’t.  Even at the D1 level, if you gave me a player like John Mason (Roanoke back in 2004-7), I’d take him because he just scores.  A LOT. And every team needs that punch.

Out of all the positions, who would have thought attackmen would be my least well-rounded players?  Even my goalie should be able to do more than just stop the ball.  He would need to be able to clear the ball effectively, have a great outlet and be a real, vocal leader.  He would need to know how the defense operates to guide them, and how an offense operates so that he could plan for it.  He’d need to have good stick skills to know what others players were capable of.  I’d even want him to be able to run down the field and score a goal if he needed to.  I’d take all of that over the best stopper in the world who was lacking in other areas.

Players are going to have strengths and weaknesses.  It’s expected.  A coach’s job is to find the weaknesses and make them strengths while turning already strong points into unbreakable skills.  A coach’s job is NOT to just pick one aspect of the game and force it on a player.  It won’t be good for the player, and it won’t be good for the team.  I still dream of a day where teams run 3-4 lines of middies and outside of an LSM or dedicated SSDM for man-down, these guys do it all.  Transition results in some of the best chances in a lacrosse game and if you have kids who can’t take advantage of it, you’re probably not going to do very well.

The right way to play lacrosse is to fill your team with lacrosse players, not FoGos, O-Mids, LSMs and D-mids.  The more guys you have who can run, gun, play tough D and push transition, the more opportunities your team will have, especially if you are a coach who can deal with well-intentioned mistakes and is willing to let his players play.  And then it’s just a matter of finishing.  And that just comes with practice.


  1. If you can find more Tuma’s/Deluca’s/Thompsons to get rid of specialization then by all means lets boot specialization.

    Fact is that the 2 way middi went out a long time ago. They are a rare sight to the game now. Even rarer to find one who can face off well too.

    • the next one is somewhere playing on a HS or college field right now being told to “focus on man up” or forget wall ball, just lift and get faster.

      The reason we don’t see more 2-way guys is that we don’t coach it, we don’t preach it. We just want to win at whatever level we’re at. When I see HS teams that specialize, I laugh. Seriously guys? Even for teams like Haverford or Delbarton, that is a joke. For anyone younger to be teaching that… JV, middle school… YOUTH! they are making a huge mistake. I can still see the value of a GOOD fogo, but to have a fogo just to have one is dumb. Just put the best lacrosse players out there, you’ll do better.

      I really think Tufts might be the best example of this. yes, they have a “fogo”, yes, they have d-mids. However, the guys who fill those roles (I don’t love that approach but I’m not going to question the National Champs yet) are complete players. And THAT is what is important. Everyone can play and do it all. No one is a one trick pony. THAT is the kind of stuff that absolutley hurts teams. And it makes the game less fun. But that’s a whole different story.

  2. I feel like this is a “duh” statement. Every coach wishes every player could do everything well. Fact of the matter is, most players just can’t do everything at a high level. If a middie plays great d and can’t clear or shoot there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it.

    • If this were a duh statement, I wouldn’t have to say it, because Coaches would actually be doing it. As evidenced by all the confusion and backlash, a lot of coaches are NOT doing it. So maybe not as “duh” as I would have hoped!
      “If a middie plays great d and can’t clear or shoot there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it.”

      I would argue, that as a coach, there is actually a LOT you can do about it. Perhaps coaching the kid would be a good start.
      Give him wall ball assignments do to out of practice, ask him to come early to shoot before practice, go over proper mechanics with him, etc. You just did something right there!

      Most today would just say ok son, you’re my d-middie! try not to screw up the clear! I’d say you better start playing wall ball because next week you’re playing attack. You’re 12, you’ll be fine!

  3. Here you have it coaches! Teach young players all aspects of the game!

    But really, I don’t believe using players where they’re most effective, even at lower levels, is that negative of an approach. You want to put players into situations where they can be successful. If that means letting an inexperienced, athletic kid play a lot of defense, then so be it. Coach kids in practice to be proficient in all aspects of the game, but games can be different.

    Why bash Siena? They’ve taken great strides forward over the last 5 years or so.

    • “put players in places where they can be successful” at what age?
      If you’re doing this before varsity HS lax you may be doing it WAY too early and by “putting players where they can be successful” you actually may be “holding them back from becoming all around lacrosse players” because a coach wants to win a youth or middle school game.

      The goal for the youth teams I coach is NOT to win as many games as possible or make the kids feel effective. My goal is to teach the kids to be good lacrosse players and good people. The good people part is another story for another day, but the good lacrosse players part means kids plays attack, D AND middie in every game. I would continue this through the JV level in fact.

      • You’re putting words in my mouth. I never said my goal as a youth coach is to win as many games as possible. But by not setting your team up to be successful, you’re risking losing kids.

        I also highly doubt I’m “holding kids back from becoming all around lacrosse players” by having them play a particular position during a game. (Like I said, we practice all aspects of the game…did you miss that part?) You even contradict your own philosophy by saying you want a “flashy finisher” on attack, despite being “limited”. What a groundbreaking idea! Gifted playmakers and finishers on attack, solid athletes who play hard and smart on defense, and well rounded players on midfield.

        Your philosophy is great in theory, but I’m not sure the “play everywhere every game” approach works that well when you actually apply it. All athletes have different strengths and weaknesses, and recognizing these are part of being a good coach. If you don’t try to put players in a position to succeed in games, then what are you trying to do?

        I would also throw in that there is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way to coach a team. Every team is different, and a good coach should try to play to his teams strengths.

        • I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth but please look at what you’re saying: “if your team isn’t successful, you risk losing kids” you equate winning with success above all else, it seems. Same is true in your first comment. Sentence after sentence illustrates that. It’s why I pick up on it and then go on to rephrase what you’re actually saying. But the point stands that for me, coaching kids is not about winning and losing. That rarely enters the equation. It’s about fun. And if you tie fun to winning and losing, in my HUMBLE opinion, you’re doing the kids a disservice. They already want to win, it’s natural. Do we need to “work” on that?

          Maybe I’m still reading what you wrote wrong, but you did write it, and it does come across as winning matters most to me. I could be way off…. totally possible! But it seems that way to me anyway…

          I said I wanted well rounded kids ALL OVER THE FIELD, but would take one flashy finisher if they were on the team as an acceptable specialized player. That isn’t contradictory, it’s just detailed. I also allow for exceptions with this clause… I understand every team is different… I’m just talking general philosophy.

          I guess my main point is that you seem to be dismissing my play kids all over the field approach because it affects YOUR team, this year. I’m more concerned with improving my players so that they can continue to be successful as their lacrosse careers move along. A kid is better on D than he is on attack? Great, he’s 11. Let’s give him a chance to play both, no? You seem to be focusing on wins and losses and developing specialized players from an early age.

          As you say, there are CERTAINLY different philosophies out there and mine certainly isn’t the only right one. There probably isn’t a right one.

          I just think youth coaches get so caught up in winning games that they often look past the fact that they might not be doing the best by their kids. Youth teams don’t have to be college teams, it’s why they’re youth teams!

          Love the back and forth! It’s been EXTREMELY informative and enjoyable! Thanks for taking the time out to continue this conversation!

    • I have actually played in a men’s league where each team was limited to 15 players down in Perth, Australia.
      The quality of play was still very high, the games were fun to watch ( actually didn’t notice a huge difference) and guys like Matt Schomburg not only took face offs, but they also played a lot of O and D. This style of play probably helped Schomburg become and all-american at Adelphi because he was well rounded. Now the guy teaches fogo camps to HS kids because there is such a specific skill set for taking face offs. But you can bet your bottom dollar he teaches other aspects of the game too, because he knows pure specialists are a liability.

      I just don’t see how this would ruin lacrosse as we know it. Not a lot to back that statement up!

  4. great article Connor. I’ll add that as a HS Varsity Offensive Coach, i have a unique situation this season. After graduating 12 seniors last season, I have to replace our entire offensive unit. A lot of questions about “where are we going to get our goals this season” came about and we have a 3.5 attackmen, and 1.5 lines of solid midfielders on offense. We’re not deep by any means. Looking at the bigger picture, we have to limit the touch’s for players that are lesser threats when we are on offense. These players are still good players, but more suiting for a defensive midfielder role, which I think will be a specialty position that will excel for us this season. It keeps our offensive midfielders fresh and I think we will be strong on both sides of the ball because of it.

    • Artjom,
      If they are going to expect you to play defense the Germans are in trouble. I’ve seen you play defense. And you sir are no defensemen, but you can score the rock. Good luck.
      Matt Rowley