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The Pros and Cons of Traditional Line Drills

Editor’s Note: Mark Schindler is the head lacrosse coach at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania. In the past, Mark has covered how to use Tennis Balls as an effective training tool, how fall ball can be a difference maker, and how you can practice effectively with limited time.

Today Coach Schindler is delivering the Pros and Cons of Traditional Line Drills.  It’s something a lot of people use in practice, but is it the best use of your time?

I vividly remember my high school lacrosse days at St. Paul’s in Baltimore; each one almost always beginning with traditional line drills – 30 minutes focusing on accuracy and skill development.  I also vividly remember sucking wind at the beginning of those cold February practices, and hoping my stick wouldn’t break like the guy’s next to me just had.

They weren’t always fun, but traditional line drills were simply a part of the practice landscape for us.

Big City Classic Hopkins UNC lacrosse Cuse warm up
After stretching, most teams go into line drills.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, “line drills” are two lines of players facing one another (about 30 yards apart), running back and forth and passing the ball between the first player in each line as they sprint to the back of the other line.  The rotation often goes righty inside, lefty outside, right-to-left (which, depending on where you played, could mean catch-right-throw-left or a right-handed pass to a left-handed catch), over-the-shoulder… the list goes on.

Coaches used line drills to disguise conditioning, get lots of skill reps, and gauge the consistency of individual players.

So of course, when I started coaching 6 years ago in Virginia, I was against doing line drills. Why? Because they’re unrealistic. How often do you pass to a guy who is running straight towards you, then follow the ball and run by him? There are countless other drills that accomplish the same goals – conditioning, reps, skill development – and these drills are much more realistic.

MLL Game Chesepeake Bayhawks Denver Outlaws Navy Stadium
Do these guys do line drills? Sometimes.

We also weren’t very good those first few years, so there would have been lots of dropped passes. Over the last few years though, even after we became successful again and had developed the skill to do line drills well, we still never did them. We had a whole repertoire of other warm-up/skill drills that we did instead.

Recently, however, I’ve reconsidered my stance on traditional line drills.  For a team like our current one, a squad that struggles with consistency in our stick skills, I think that line drills can be helpful if conducted in a certain way.

The debate over line drills is by no means over, and I am certainly thinking about things in a new way now.  So I came up with a list of PROS and CONS for implementing traditional line drills into your practice, as well as a series of suggestions for when you use them.

I hope this “argument with myself” helps you consider how line drills may fit into your practice plan, and how they can possibly help, or hurt, your team.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts on traditional line drills in the comments section below!

5 PROS of Line Drills:

– Lots of repetitions in a short amount of time: catching, throwing, scooping

– Player-to-player (and often position-specific) interaction and coordination between teammates. “Got your help!”

– A good warm-up that provides routine and continuity within your program

– Solid and disguised conditioning (SEE SUGGESTIONS)

– Lots of variations to implement for pre-game vs. practice days

5 CONS of Line Drills:

– Unrealistic (not game-like) choreography of passing/running

– The flow can get bogged down with too many dropped passes, which sacrifices conditioning and high number of reps

– Incredibly frustrating and discouraging for developing players

– If it’s too routine (aka: no variation), it can get boring for players and they may lose motivation to work hard

– A coach might better spend their time doing another (more realistic) stick skill drill instead

5 SUGGESTIONS for Implementing Line Drills:

– Players must sprint through the end of the line after they have passed. Not jog, not run, but SPRINT.

– No more than 6 players (3 on each side) per group – this increases the number of reps per player and reduces rest time

– Start with groundballs – it’s a good warm-up and helps developing players gain more confidence in the drill

– Make sure there are lots (>10) of lacrosse balls per group. Players in the back of the line should “back-up” the players to reduce the time it takes to chase dropped passes

– Limit the amount of total time.  Don’t let line drills drag on.  Work hard, work fast.

Oh, and one more suggestion, which is perhaps the most important, and for good measure: Make sure that the players maintain good fundamentals throughout the entire drill.

Good fundamentals include passing, catching, scooping, rolling the correct direction after scooping, etc.  It’s easy for players to get lazy in line drills, but the only way to make the drill worth the time is to push the kids hard!  Lazy or “baby” passes, not running through a GB, stick twirling… all of these things can kill good line drills.  Do it right or don’t do it at all!

What do you think? Are traditional line drills worth the time? Or are you better served by doing something else?