Without a doubt, lacrosse demands a certain level of aggression due to its emphasis on physical contact. For newer lacrosse players, it may not be so clear exactly how to get more aggressive without putting their team in a precarious situation or increasing the risk of drawing a personal foul.
Here is a list of 10 ways to be more aggressive in lacrosse:
- Go after every ground ball.
- Initiate first contact when dodging.
- Throw the skip pass.
- Cut off ball.
- Push the fast break.
- Throw poke checks.
- Make defensive callouts.
- Put pressure on indecisive ball carriers.
- Fully commit to the slide.
- Don’t slack off during the ride.
If you apply even just a couple of these items to your game, I can guarantee that you will be a more aggressive lacrosse player. Each of the lacrosse specific items listed above will be discussed in greater detail in the latter portions of the article. But before we get into all that, I want to touch on some general tips on how to adopt a more aggressive mindset.
How to Adopt a More Aggressive Mindset on the Lacrosse Field
During the beginning stages of lacrosse, it is difficult to glean how to best nurture an aggressive mindset. Since you are unfamiliar with the rules and play style, there are many trials and tribulations that you must go through before you can pinpoint at which points in the game to get aggressive.
The only way to learn how and where to best use aggression in lacrosse is to get as much game experience under your belt as possible. Whether it be pick up, intramural, practice, or formal game play, it is imperative that you get the repetitions in.
At times, playing aggressively doesn’t pay off. In fact, playing aggressively may end up doing more harm than good in certain situations.
For example, if the officials issued a controversial slashing penalty on your teammate and sent him to the penalty box, your emotions might be running hot. It may be tempting for you to aggressively push out on the opposing ball carrier, even though your team is a man down.
Pushing out aggressively and trying to get retribution on the other team while in a man down situation is not a smart play. It is far more likely that you will cost your team a goal rather than generate a turnover.
Hypothetical scenario aside, you need to learn to pick your spots. As you accrue more and more experience, you will gradually increase your lacrosse IQ and develop more confidence in your lacrosse skill set. This combination of situational awareness and self assurance will allow you to take calculated risks and ultimately be more aggressive.
With that being said, the items below outline an assortment of tangible strategies to become more aggressive in lacrosse. Although this is not a substitute for actual game experience, it will certainly help to accelerate your overall learning curve.
The #1 Way to Be More Aggressive in Lacrosse: Go After Every Ground Ball
First and foremost, the number one method of honing in on your aggression in lacrosse is to fight for every ground ball.
If you still have yet to learn the lacrosse lingo, a ground ball is a loose ball that is not possessed by either team. Essentially, it’s a ball bouncing around on the ground that’s up for grabs.
For a more detailed explanation on what ground balls are, check out my article What Does Ground Ball Mean in Lacrosse?
Ground balls are an integral part of the game of lacrosse. Practically every face-off, knocked down pass, ball strip, and errant throw results in a ground ball. Despite its frequency, ground balls are often overlooked in terms of their significance.
I put this item at the top of the list for a reason. Fighting for ground balls is the easiest way to get more aggressive in lacrosse because any offensive or defensive player can do it, regardless of their experience level. There is not much prerequisite skill involved with becoming a menacing ground ball scrapper. Think about it. All you need to do is locate the ground ball, outmaneuver the other players, and scoop it up into your stick. That’s all there is to it.
Even so, the majority of lacrosse players are lacking in the department of ground balls because they’re unwilling to put their body on the line. They rationalize their laziness by telling themselves they are more valuable elsewhere or that they could make up for it the next play. I know these things because I found myself tempted by these thoughts when I had a couple years of experience to my name.
As a novice player, the worst possible thing you can do is be passive when it comes to ground balls. You’re missing a valuable opportunity to earn playing time out on the field. Coaches are always on the hunt for athletes that are willing to fight tooth and nail for any 50/50 loose ball out on the field.
Sticking your nose into the middle of a ground ball scrum will result in some extra bruises. There’s no doubt about that. But in the end, it is well worth it.
4 Concrete Ways to Be More Aggressive on Offense
These next four tips are geared toward offensively minded players that want to take their aggressiveness to the next level. Incorporate these elements into your game and you are sure to leave your passive play style behind.
Initiate First Contact with the On Ball Defender When Dodging
As a ball carrier in lacrosse, you cannot afford to shy away from contact. Defenders pounce on ball carriers that refuse to put up a fight, especially if you’re an attackman. The best way to initiate contact with a defender and show that you are willing to hold your ground is to drive into their body during a dodge.
Driving into the body of the on ball defender is a useful tactic because you dictate the terms of the physical engagement. Contact will happen throughout the dodge anyway, so you might as well take it upon yourself to establish how the contact is going to play out.
Mind you, powering into the body of the defender should only be used if the defender is matching you hip for hip. If you have a step or two on the on ball defender after the initial jab step, just keep running. Don’t let up on your speed for the sole purpose of initiating contact.
The best time to initiate contact with the defender is when you want to create separation for a shot. Attackmen utilize this tactic all the time when they are a few yards away from the goal but they are stifled by the on ball defenseman in close quarters.
To create separation, they lean their bodyweight into the defender and drive them back on their heels. Then, they rapidly bounce out and take a quick shot. This strategy of first initiating contact and then bouncing out for a quick shot is commonly referred to as a question mark dodge.
If this is hard to visualize, I provided some film of lacrosse superstar, Rob Pannell, performing this maneuver below.
His aggressive initiation of contact is the primary reason why he is able to get off a high percentage shot every time that he gets within five yards of the goal. Although speed does reign supreme in lacrosse, aggressive physical contact is not something to scoff at either.
Throw the Skip Pass When the Opportunity Presents Itself
Another way to get aggressive on offense is to throw the skip pass every so often to keep the defense on their toes. The skip pass is exactly as it sounds. Rather than throwing the ball to the teammate nearest to you, you skip them and throw it to a teammate that is farther away.
Throwing a successful skip pass takes time to build up to. It’s definitely something that unexperienced players have trouble coming to terms with. This is largely due to the fact that a skip pass usually entails that the ball travels over the heads of multiple defenders before reaching its intended target.
The midfielders and attackmen that rack up the most assists don’t get there by being passive. They reach that point by taking chances and threading the ball through the defense when they least expect it.
This is not to say that you should try and whip the ball across the field every time you touch the ball. All I’m saying is that if the defense has come to anticipate that you’re going to toss the ball to the player adjacent to you for the fifth time in a row, throw a skip pass!
Your teammates will be completely fine with this because it puts them in a better position to score. There will be times where you turn the ball over, but this comes with the territory of being aggressive on offense. All you can do is learn from it and focus on the next play.
Mix in Some Spontaneous Off-Ball Cuts to the Ball
To be aggressive on offense, you don’t need to have the ball. You can be just as much of a threat off-ball as on-ball. It is simply a matter of putting forth the effort.
Every organized lacrosse team has some sort of offensive setup and general playbook that they want to run. However, this should not discourage you from being spontaneous out on the field. If you see an opportunity that your coach doesn’t, be aggressive and take advantage!
One of the best ways to do this is to cut backdoor on your defender. Every lacrosse player is guilty of ball watching from time to time. Rather than concentrating on the whereabouts of the ball like everyone else on the field, take a glance at where your defender is looking every once in a while. If you see the back of his helmet and an open lane to the goal, do a quick backdoor cut.
This is one of the easiest strategies to notch in a goal virtually every game. You don’t have to juke out your defender, outrun them, or bully your way past the entire defense. If you time up the cut correctly, you’ll get the ball right on the doorstep of the goal for an easy score.
Most players don’t implement this strategy because they’re conditioned to strictly follow the playbook, never deviating from the norm. This might allow you to be a good lacrosse player, but never a great one. Put simply, overcome your fear of straying from the standard and cut to the ball. This sort of subtle aggression will earn you a great deal of extra goals over the course of your lacrosse career.
Push the Fast Break
The last item I will discuss for getting aggressive on the offensive side of the ball is exploiting transitional opportunities.
Lacrosse has been renowned as The Fastest Sport on Two Feet for its up tempo speed and dynamic play style. A large part of this can be attributed to the fast break.
As soon as there is a shot save or a turnover, you should be aggressively streaking downfield to get a head start on the other team. If you’re open, make your presence known by calling for the ball and waving your stick around. Once you get the ball, the stage is set for an incredible scoring opportunity.
The reason that you should aggressively push the fast break is because it is essentially a free man up opportunity. If you’re carrying the ball at a considerable distance ahead of the pack, the fast break simplifies into a 4v3 scenario. The defense will be left reeling trying to do the impossible task of covering two players at once. Obviously, this is an opportune time to strike.
The only way to get to this point, however, is to be aggressive and take the reins yourself. Most other players are too exhausted from their stint on defense to run like a maniac down the field. To get aggressive on offense, you have to be willing to do the little things that other players won’t. Otherwise, your passive play style will put a permanent cap on your potential.
To help better instill this concept, I included a compilation of fast break clips below. Any one of the players that jumpstarted these fast breaks could have pulled the ball out and reset into an organized clear. Instead, they opted to be aggressive and take a chance. A couple of long poles even got in on the action!
5 Concrete Ways to Be More Aggressive on Defense
Now that we have satisfied the offensive side of the ball, it’s time to turn our heads to the defensive end. I went ahead and compiled a list of 5 specific ways to be more aggressive on defense.
Heckle Opposing Ball Carriers with Poke Checks on the Hands
To be aggressive on defense, you have to put constant pressure on opposing ball carriers. When people think of defensive pressure in lacrosse, their thoughts automatically go to repeatedly thwacking defenders and delivering bone rattling body checks. Although these are nice to watch on a highlight tape, these flashy methods fail to work 9 times out of 10.
A far better alternative is to practice solid fundamental defensive positioning above all else and then deliver calculated, precise poke checks on the opposing ball carrier. Many young defenders aimlessly swing their stick at their opponent just hoping to jar the ball loose. Unfortunately, this defensive strategy is more likely to force a flag than a turnover.
Rather than winding up their stick like a baseball bat, they throw forceful pokes that are meant to disrupt, not maim.
They also perfectly time their stick checks to sync up with an opponent’s pass or shot. This is the ideal time to throw a poke check because it will alter the flight path off the throw and likely drive the ball out of bounds. They steal possession without even having to go through the laborious process of scrapping for a ground ball.
In short, being aggressive on defense doesn’t necessarily mean going for the home run check every single time. Staying in front of the ball carrier and throwing stick checks in an accurate and timely fashion supersedes the use for a wild home run check by a mile.
Yell Out Defensive Calls with Authority
Being aggressive is not only limited to the physical realm. You can be aggressive on the lacrosse field in other ways as well.
A prime example of this is aggressively calling out to the defense to make sure everyone is on the same page. This may seem insignificant, but it is absolutely imperative that a defense communicates if they have any desire to be a winning team.
Go to any college lacrosse game and just listen. Every five seconds, someone on the defense is shouting at the top of their lungs, “Who’s hot! Who’s my 2! Cutter! FIRE!” If you’re unfamiliar with basic lacrosse defensive strategy, those callouts probably seemed very strange. Trust me, I didn’t make those up. They’re universal lacrosse terms.
But if you’re curious about learning what these different defensive callouts mean, I highly recommend you check out my article What Does Hot Mean in Lacrosse?
This continuous stream of information that the defense shares with one another keeps everyone prepped and ready to provide support when the time comes. It is inevitable that a defender will get beat eventually. No on ball defender is perfect. However, the defense should be ready to offer backup as soon as a defender gets beat to buy time for them to recover.
In the absence of communication, help defense is a difficult task to accomplish because nobody knows where to rotate. By taking leadership and talking your teammates through the process, you can act as the glue that holds the defense together.
The main takeaway here is to be aggressive with your communication. Don’t mutter the callouts under your breath, yell them out! This will not only benefit you as a defender, but the entire team as well.
Push Out on Indecisive Ball Carriers
As a defender, you should be salivating like a toddler staring at chocolate strawberries when you’re matched up against a weak ball carrier. For whatever reason, most defenders are perfectly content with sitting back and allowing their matchup to pass the ball around uncontested. I hate to say it, but this is just lazy defense.
If you notice that your defensive assignment has mediocre stick skills, push out and pressure them as soon as they get the ball. Allowing them to toss the ball around the perimeter may seem harmless, but it wastes valuable possession time that could be gifted to your offense.
Once you’ve identified the weak link in an offense, do your best to exploit it. Every time they get the ball, you should be bombarding their gloves with hard poke checks, even if they are positioned somewhat far from the goal. The likelihood of them acting as a real scoring threat is slim at best, so you might as well be aggressive and take your chances.
More often than not, you’ll be able to jar the ball loose or force an errant pass a couple times before the offense stops giving your matchup the ball. At that point, you’ll know that you’ve done your job as a defenseman.
Do Not Hesitate When Committing to the Slide
The next way to become a more aggressive lacrosse player is to fully commit to the slide when there is impending danger. To all the lacrosse newcomers out there, a slide is a defensive shift to an opposing ball carrier to prevent them from having a clear path to the goal. A slide is warranted if a ball carrier has dodged past the on ball defender.
Still curious about the mechanics of the defensive slide? Click over to my article What is a Slide in Lacrosse – Definition & Examples to satisfy your curiosity.
Now that you got the basic gist of a slide, know that there is no such thing as a halfway slide in lacrosse. You either go, or you don’t go. Getting caught in no man’s land between your initial defensive assignment and the ball doesn’t do anything for the team. In fact, the only thing it does is make matters worse because you’re no longer covering anybody!
Once you commit to the slide, be aggressive with it. Call out to your defenseman and move quickly. You have to cover the distance between you and the ball in a matter of seconds to squash any potential scoring chance the opposing ball carrier might have. Hesitancy is a surefire way to cost your team goals.
If you do manage to make it to the ball in time before they are able to get off a shot, keep the pressure on. Don’t let up on the aggression after the initial check. Assail them with a flurry of checks until they are well out of shooting range. Not only does this ensure that the potential danger will be thoroughly extinguished, it also dissuades the offense from ever dodging toward the middle again.
Put simply, sliding is not the time to be passive. Be aggressive in your decision making and your checking to give your defense the best possible chance to come out on top.
Use Every Bit of Energy You Got Left in the Tank During the Ride
The last aggressive defensive tip I have for you is to use up everything in the energy reserve on the riding effort. More lacrosse terminology here, so I’ll provide a brief explanation. Riding is a team’s defensive effort to stop the other team from advancing the ball to their offensive zone. A ride typically follows a save or a turnover.
Click over to my article What Does Ride Mean in Lacrosse? (Definition & Examples) if want to learn more about what a ride is and how it works.
For many players, the riding effort is an afterthought. Players are unwilling to battle back to get possession of the ball again after a long spell on offense. They fool themselves into believing that a ride would be a waste of effort.
This rationalization process is rubbish. The players that have the most fight and the most heart spend every ounce of energy they have left to give their team the best chance to win. In my experience, the most talented players I’ve come across always push the hardest during the ride. They run to and fro regardless of where the ball is located on the field and give the other team a run for their money.
In fact, the best player on my team was consistently the most aggressive on our ride. Some might say that this is a coincidence, but I think not.
So if you find yourself toe to toe with an opponent as the last obstacle between them and their offensive zone, don’t make it easy! Throw checks. Give chase. Push them out of bounds. Do whatever it is you can to make it hard on them. This aggression will pay dividends over time.
Like many contact sports, aggression is a key element to success. However, the way you go about handling that aggression on the field is crucial in and of itself.
I would advise you to avoid going for the layout hit or hogging the ball on offense to impose your aggression in the sport. This will get you nowhere. Instead, implement a couple of the items above to use your aggression in the best manner possible. Not only will this allow you to develop as a player, it will also give your team the best opportunity to win.