There is a heavy emphasis around the topic of speed in lacrosse. Although speed is an important aspect of a lot of sports, speed is particularly crucial in the game of lacrosse for a multitude of reasons.
Why is speed important in lacrosse? Today, we will be covering this question in great depth to uncover the explicit reasoning why faster lacrosse players tend to see the most success.
1.) Superior Ability to Dodge Past Defenders Regardless of Size Mismatch
Like it or not, lacrosse offenses are built around dodging. In a 6v6 situation, the ball carrier has to beat their on ball defender sooner or later in order to grant the offense some momentum.
Being that the dodge is what initiates an offensive set, it is crucial that a team offense is fitted with capable dodgers. The most important attribute to dodging is not size or finesse or even fundamentals up to a point… it is speed.
This is not to say that size, finesse, fundamentals, and other dodging aspects are negligible. They are definitely important. However, they pale in comparison to speed because speed is the very centerpiece of dodging. As the old adage goes, speed kills. Lacrosse is no exception.
2015 Cascade Rookie of the Year Joey Sankey is the epitome of how speed trumps all when it comes to dodging. Sankey is not the biggest guy in the world, but he has the speed to gain a half step on his defender just about whenever he wants. Check out the video below to see what I’m talking about!
Keep in mind that I am not just detailing speed in the linear sense here. Although a top end linear speed does carry significance, it must be combined with a speedy change of direction in order to attain success in the realm of dodging.
A dodger that has a wickedly fast change of direction can easily gain a half step on a defender through one juke alone. With a superior top end speed, the dodger can lengthen, or at least maintain, this half step separation and force a defensive rotation by drawing a slide.
For those of you that do knot know, the lacrosse term ‘slide’ refers to the support that another defender provides by shifting to the ball carrier, particularly after the on ball defender has been beat.
If you would like to learn more about the topic of sliding, check out my article What is a Slide in Lacrosse? – Definition & Examples.
Once the slide has been drawn, havoc breaks loose on the defensive side. Defenders have to coordinate their efforts to fill and replace various defensive assignments to ensure that every offensive player is covered.
The root of all these problems lies with the speed of the dodger. If they lacked the necessary speed to get by the on ball defender, the likelihood of a defensive breakdown occurring would be minimal.
2.) Greater Potential for a High Percentage Shot Opportunity as a Ball Carrier
The space created through dodging speedily directly translates into higher percentage shots as a ball carrier.
Think about it. Your first priority as a dodger is to create space and take the open shot if the defense is giving it to you. If you have the speed to dodge past defenders nearly every time you get the ball, your shot percentage will skyrocket as well.
It is a lot tougher for slower ball carriers to generate high percentage shots because they have to physically bully their way to their desired spot on the field or utilize deceptive gimmicks to fool defenders.
Dodging speedsters can just blow past defenders by turning on the jets. Offensive players have the luxury of a vast, spacious field to work with when they are in possession of the ball. There is a tremendous amount of room to run. This favors shot creators that rely purely on speed to get to where they need to go.
If done correctly, the on ball defender will be a step or two behind the ball carrier as they wind up for a shot. By then, it is too late for the defense to contest a shot on the run.
Ball carriers salivate like a rabid dog when opportunities like these present themselves. It is every offensive player’s dream to get in a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper from 8 yards out. More often than not, the shooter will win out against the goalkeeper when this scenario pops up in a game.
3.) More Capable of Matching Feet with Ball Carriers
Let’s take a break from the offensive end of the spectrum and briefly turn our heads to the defense. Speed is undoubtedly an important aspect of the offense as we just saw, but it is of equal importance to the defensive side of the ball.
For one, speed can offer on ball defenders the tools necessary to keep up with ball carriers. Matching feet with ball carriers is a challenging endeavor, mostly because lacrosse players have so much space on the field to work with. Speed is a key element for on ball defenders to not lose their defensive assignment, both in the linear sense and change of direction.
As aforementioned, dodges are what initiate the offense. If an on ball defender is able to keep with a ball carrier and shut down a dodge, they not only shut down the opposing player, they shut down the entire scheme of the offense itself.
In the absence of speed, it is hard for a defender to even stand a chance against a quick opponent. The only real way for them to keep them at bay is to deliver forceful checks on a frequent basis. The drawback with this plan is that the referees might grow wise to this strategy and start issuing slashing penalties.
All in all, speed is pivotal to on ball defenders because it is the primary contributor to how well they are able to stay in front of their assignment.
4.) Improved Capacity to Evade Defensive Pressure
At certain points during a lacrosse game, it makes sense for a defense to apply heavy defensive pressure on the ball. Whether it be because regulation time is expiring or the opposing offense is stalling, defenders must sprint out and play suffocating defense.
As an offensive player, I dreaded these moments. I actually remember when our defense first experimented with a heavy defensive pressure scheme at practice. I had the ball and was running through our normal set when all of a sudden everyone on our defense shouted, “Code Red! Code Red!”
Two defenders swarmed me and it felt like I was running for my life! It was only a hop and a skip and a couple bruises later when I found out that Code Red was the name for our all in, last resort defense for late game situations.
Fortunately, I was somewhat speedy back in high school so I was able to avoid the brunt of the stick checks. However, some of my teammates were not so lucky.
The main takeaway from that little story is that speed is the best weapon for trying to ward off disruptive defenses. You can try all the little ruses you want with pass fakes and jukes, but ultimately the best option in these sorts of scenarios is just outrunning the competition.
This is meaningful in the game of lacrosse because it helps to minimize potential turnovers. The longer that a team can hold on to the ball, the better the chance they have at coming out with the victory.
5.) Better Ability to Cut Off-Ball and Catch the Defense Unaware
Although speed and deception can be considered distinct from one another in lacrosse, they can also work extraordinarily well together.
One of the most deceptive methods to thrive on offense is to cut off-ball and score a goal right on the crease before the defense can react. A large part of this method involves precisely timing the cut, but the element of speed cannot be overlooked here.
A successful off-ball cut has a lot to do with reaching an open spot on the field within the span of a few seconds so that the defense doesn’t have any time to recover. To beat the defense to that open spot, you need to have a great deal of speed.
This is why the best offensive talent in lacrosse sprint to the ball as soon as they see an opening. They don’t want to squander their speed and give the defense the slightest chance at stopping them.
To see how speed impacts the success of off-ball cuts, check out this short MLL clip of Joe Cummings below.
You’ll notice that as soon as he sees the crack in the defense, he turns his speed up a notch to beat the defense to the spot. Without this speed boost, that small window of opportunity would’ve been closed.
6.) More Equipped to Clear the Ball Successfully and Spark a Fast Break
In addition, speed plays a substantial role in clearing success in the sport of lacrosse.
If you need a refresher on what clearing is, this is the term used to describe the effort of the defense to get the ball back to their offense on the other end of the field.
Ideally, the defense wants to get the ball back to their offense as quickly as possible. Sometimes this happens, sometimes it doesn’t. It all depends on the circumstances of the play.
The best way for a defense to clear the ball as fast as they can is to deliver the ball to a midfielder that is out ahead of the pack. From there, the midfielder can use their wheels to outrun the opposition and jumpstart a fast break opportunity.
The only issue with this plan is that the midfielder needs to have wheels! If they are lacking in the department of speed, you can forget about the prospect of a fast break. The other team will just catch up to them and steal the ball right back.
Exploiting transitional opportunities is a vital part of winning lacrosse games. It isn’t called “The Fastest Sport on Two Feet” for nothing!
This yet another case where speed is of the utmost importance. Without speed, executing successful clears and fast breaks will prove to be a troublesome undertaking to say the least.
7.) Able to Slide to the Ball More Quickly
Furthermore, the importance of speed is also reflected in the ability of defenders to slide to the ball more quickly and put a stop to the impending danger. For those of you that don’t know, sliding is a lacrosse term used to describe the action of the defender shifting to the ball carrier in order to thwart any potential shot attempt they might have.
To learn more about the concept of defensive sliding, check out my article What is a Slide in Lacrosse – Definition & Examples.
A defensive slide most commonly occurs when the on ball defender has been beat. Once the on ball defenders has been left in the dust, the ball carrier essentially has a free shot on goal unless another defender slides to them.
The defender that slides to the ball only has a couple seconds to cover the distance between them and the ball carrier before an uncontested shot attempt is made. If the slide late, the ball carrier will be able to get off a high percentage, unguarded shot. For this reason, the sliding defender needs to have a bit of hop in their step to close out on the ball carrier in time.
You can see why speed is so essential to slides. In order for a defense to remain rock solid, they all have to be remarkably fast. Otherwise, their defense will let up a bevy of goals simply because their slides are a fraction of a second too late.
8.) Can Rapidly Close the Distance on Ground Balls
The underlying importance of ground balls cannot be understated. They are quite literally loose balls that are just ripe for the taking. At the end of day, these extra possessions can make a tremendous difference in whether a team wins or loses.
Although anyone can be a tenacious ground ball scrapper, speed certainly helps with coming out of the chaotic scrum with the loose ball. Quick lacrosse players can beat their opponents to the punch simply because they will be the first ones to reach the loose ball.
This is particularly true for the wing players on face-offs. In this scenario, it is practically a race to see who can reach centerfield if the face-off turns into a 50/50 ground ball.
Just a little bit of an extra edge in speed can help you come up with considerably more ground balls in the long run.
9.) Get Back to the Hole Promptly to Set Up Shop Defensively
Lacrosse is a back and forth game. As soon as there is a turnover or a save, players are barreling back the other way to prepare for the next possession.
Earlier, we discussed how speed impacts transitional opportunities in the clearing effort. Now, we will investigate how speed helps teams to counter successful fast breaks and clears.
A team that is ready and able to get back to the hole quickly will thwart any potential transitional opportunities before they even have time to transpire. The only thing is that the hole, or the defensive area in front of the goal, is all the way on the other side of the field. After an exhausting offensive possession, it can be challenging for a midfielder to retain the discipline to sprint to the other end of the field.
If a midfielder is slow by nature, reaching the hole in a timely manner can be quite the challenge. A midfielder with natural speed, however, will rarely have any issues beating the other team back to the hole and coordinating the defensive effort.
This is because midfielders with natural quickness don’t have to run full out to keep pace with the ball. Their speed allows them the perk of taking their foot off the gas pedal just a tad to catch their breath.
10.) Improved Ability to Deceive the Offense
In addition, speed offers defenses a greater chance at manipulating the opposing offense and causing turnovers.
For example, there is a defensive tactic in lacrosse called hedging. It is a defensive tactic used in other sports as well, such as basketball and soccer, where a defender lays off of their defensive assignment slightly to creep toward the ball just in case the on ball defender needs additional support.
It all has to do with recovery time. If the ball carrier passes the ball to their teammate that the defender is hedging off of, the defender that is hedging needs to be able to quickly get back into position. Otherwise, the new ball carrier will have a nice convenient path to the goal.
Speed is a decisive asset to recovery time. The faster a defender is, the less time that they need to recover. This minimal recovery time allows them to take greater risks on defense that may result in a couple of extra forced turnovers, like picking off an errant pass or committing to a loose double team.
11.) Have a More Aggressive Riding Effort
Lastly, speed is an integral part of the riding effort in lacrosse. Riding is yet another lacrosse specific term that describes a team effort to prevent the opposing team from clearing the ball to the other end of the field.
To learn more about the specifics of riding in lacrosse, read through my article What Does Ride Mean in Lacrosse (Definition & Examples).
In order for a lacrosse team to pull off a successful ride, there needs to be a whole lot of activity on their part to pressure the opposing team into making a mistake. This aggressive activity requires speed in order to work.
Much of the riding effort lies on the shoulders of the attackers. They are the ones who have to run around endlessly to force the opposing ball carriers into making a decision. If they are too slow to act, the opposing team will have all the time in the world to clear the ball and make the right play.
For this reason, the attackers have to use speed to their advantage to corner the opposing team. As soon as an attacker commits to a dead sprint, they cannot let their foot off the gas pedal (sorry for the car analogy again!). They need to run full force and keep their motor running in order to have any chance at forcing an error.
A successful ride can turn the tide of a lacrosse game and provide the spark that a team desperately needs to get back into the game. Although a successful ride has a lot to do with effort, speed is an underlying element that carries a hefty degree of importance as well.
The sport of lacrosse is founded upon speed. Without speed, it will be hard to make it into this game because of how many different facets of the game rely upon this single attribute. So do what you can to get faster! Trust me, your future self will thank you for it.