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.
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!
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.
Photo courtesy Lax.com
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.