It is easy to feel overwhelmed as a lacrosse novice when initially trying to break into the sport. There is an assortment of different fundamental aspects that lacrosse beginners must familiarize themselves with in order to progress to the next level.
Even the best players in the lacrosse community started from somewhere. I distinctly remember having the restless desire to improve my lacrosse skills as a newcomer to the sport, but not having the slightest clue as where to even start this journey of self progression.
It is for this reason that I compiled 20 of the most practical tips that I found to be the most helpful in developing my game as a lacrosse beginner. It is crucial that you not only read the ensuing recommendations, but take them and apply them to your game. These tips accelerate player development exponentially, which ultimately translates into you earning more time on the playing field.
1.) Scrap as Hard as You Can for Every 50/50 Loose Ball
The easiest way to earn significantly more playing time is to fight as hard as you can for every 50/50 loose ball on the field.
The Importance of Ground Balls
Loose balls that are not possessed by either team are commonly referred to as ‘ground balls’ in lacrosse. Coaches routinely harp about the tremendous importance of ground balls to winning lacrosse games for good reason. Possession time is a key deciding factor that determines which team will suffer defeat and which team will reign victorious.
Why Everyone Can Become a Ground Ball Scrapper
As a lacrosse novice, learning the more technical aspects of the sport, such as throwing and catching, may take a bit of time to learn. However, fighting tooth and nail for ground balls is something that stresses the power of grit more than anything else. It is for this reason that even a novice lacrosse player can be the most tenacious ground ball scrapper on the team.
No prior experience is required for this invaluable skill. The player that is the most willing to stick themselves in the scrum and put their body on the line almost always come out with possession of the ground ball.
Players that are willing to put their body on the line to earn their team an extra possession is exactly what coaches are looking for. Unfortunately, the majority of lacrosse players fail to realize the importance of the ground ball and simply gloss over this aspect of their game.
Use their mistake to your advantage. Every time there is a ground ball loose on the field, train yourself to attack the ball with everything you got. All lacrosse teams have an open spot on the field for a ground ball scrapper.
2.) Carry Your Stick with You Everywhere You Go
This next tip may seem a bit unorthodox, but it is extremely effective. Wherever you go, take your lacrosse stick with you and practice getting comfortable with cradling.
Meaning of Cradling
For those of you that are not familiar with the term ‘cradling,’ it just refers to the technique that players use to retain possession of the ball in their lacrosse pocket. Players use their wrist and arms to move the stick in a fluid motion to better safeguard the ball against defensive pressure.
Importance of Cradling
The cradling technique is essential to the game of lacrosse because this sport is heavily based around player movement. Ball carriers need to be able to cradle efficiently in order to move freely around the field without having to worry about the ball abruptly flying out. Players that refuse to cradle run the risk of dropping the ball and giving up an unforced turnover.
This is why it so imperative that you master the technique of cradling as soon as you can. If you cannot cradle, you cannot fully take advantage of your athleticism in game situations.
Cradling in lacrosse is the equivalent to dribbling in basketball. Basketball players that cannot dribble effectively typically have a tough time on the court. This same concept applies to lacrosse cradling. It will be difficult to take your game to the next level if this skill is lagging.
Cradle Anywhere and Everywhere
So take your lacrosse stick and cradle a ball on the way to school. Practice cradling on the walk to practice. Cradle around the house. Fitting this extra time in with your lacrosse stick may seem unnecessary, but it will do wonders for your overall feel of the game.
When you step onto the lacrosse field, cradling should be second nature. These extra cradling repetitions will take you well on your way towards acquiring this natural feel for your lacrosse stick.
3.) Always Train with Your Helmet and Gloves On
Moreover, it is essential that you train with helmet and gloves on at the very least.
Downside to Training Without Gear
Most lacrosse newcomers make the mistake of practicing without their helmet and gloves when they train on their own. As a result, they grow used to playing lacrosse without any gear. When they finally take the field for a game, the connection with their lacrosse stick is not quite there because of how different the game play feels with helmet and gloves.
Throwing, catching, and shooting all feel entirely different when a helmet and gloves are thrown into the mix.
Why You Should Train With Your Helmet and Gloves
At first, you will be highly conscious of the presence of this equipment as you make the transition to implementing your gear into practice. This feeling soon fades as you steadily grow more and more comfortable with your gear. This natural feel will translate over into games, which will help you to feel more at home on the lacrosse field.
Learn from My Mistakes
I admit that I was guilty of making this mistake myself for the first couple months that I trained on my own.
I was extremely confused as to why there was such a night and day difference between my lacrosse shot during the games and during my practice sessions. It was only when I started to practice with my helmet and gloves on that I saw a marked improvement in my overall game play.
So take my mistakes and learn from them. You will get a lot better a lot faster if you apply this insider knowledge.
4.) Keep Your Top Hand Close to the Lacrosse Head When Catching
One practical tip that will help tremendously with your overall catching ability is to keep your top hand close to the throat of the lacrosse head when receiving passes.
The throat of the lacrosse head is the location where the plastic of the head meets the shaft of the stick. The closer you place the top hand to the lacrosse head, the more control you will have over where the lacrosse head moves in space. This way, you will be able to better equipped to react to an oncoming ball and make adjustments if the pass is off kilter.
Be careful that you are not touching the plastic of the lacrosse head itself, as this is a violation of the rules. I tape my lacrosse stick just before the shaft meets the plastic of the lacrosse head to prevent this very problem.
Developing this catching habit also eases the transition into cradling since your top hand will already be in optimal position near the plastic of the head. This will help you to evade immediate pressure and properly protect your stick from oncoming defenders.
It may seem like a bit of a hassle to constantly keep moving the top hand from the middle of the shaft for throwing to the top of the shaft for catching. However, the benefits of implementing this tip far outweigh this petty annoyance. It is better for you and your teammates for you to take the proper measures to avoid unforced turnovers whenever possible.
5.) Never Stay in One Place for More than 5 Seconds on Offense
On offense, you should always be moving as a lacrosse player, regardless of whether you have the ball or not.
It is common for novice lacrosse players to get lazy off-ball and remain fixated in one spot. Not only does this hurt the creation of your own offensive opportunities, it detracts from any possible opportunities that your teammates can create.
Creating movement by cutting through with a purpose and setting off-ball picks to open up your teammates helps to confuse the defense. This additional confusion that you create increases the likelihood of a defensive breakdown. More defensive breakdowns for the opposition equate to more goals for your team.
Keep an Internal Clock in Your Head
There should always be an internal clock ticking in your head. As soon as that timer is up, you should be looking to move to a vulnerable position on the field. Always search for weak areas in the defense that you can use to your advantage.
For instance, if you see that the defender that is guarding you is focused entirely on watching the ball instead of you, cut to the goal! Even if you do not receive the ball, it will force the defense to respect your presence and open up room for the offense to operate.
6.) Communicate Like Your Life Depends On It
This is another change that you can implement in your game today to make yourself a better lacrosse player.
When you are out on the field, it is your duty to communicate as much as possible with your teammates. Making communication a habit will keep your team on the same page and allow you to work as one cohesive unit.
The concept of communication is not limited to one side of the ball. Whether you are on the offensive half or defensive half, you should be talking with your teammates.
Proper Communication on Offense
For instance, let’s say the defender that is supposed to be guarding you loses track of your whereabouts on the field and leaves you open. In this situation, you should absolutely be communicating this to the rest of the offense.
You should be yelling “One more! One more!” and waving your stick around to grab the attention of your teammate. There is a whole lot of moving parts to an offense, so it can be challenging for a ball carrier to spot open teammates amidst the chaos. Communicating loudly and clearly establishes yourself as an open target amongst all of the turmoil.
Proper Communication on Defense
On the defensive end, you should be verbally singling out who you are guarding on defense, especially during unsettled situations like a fast break. This minimizes the likelihood of the defense leaving a man open. Leaving players open on offense is the easiest way to let up goals in rapid fashion.
You should also be calling out any backdoor cutters and oncoming picks. The more information that you are able to provide your teammates, the better equipped they will be to extinguish any potential offensive threats.
7.) Move Toward Your Teammate When Preparing to Pass or Catch
Physically closing the distance between you and and your teammate for a pass or catch is another method to improve the chances of a completed pass.
The Pitfall of Staying In One Spot
For whatever reason, many novice lacrosse players tend to remain stationary when preparing to throw a pass or catch an oncoming ball. Standing on the field like a statue makes the job of the defender much easier. In this stationary stance, all that your defender has to do is wait patiently and throw a check as soon as you bring up your lacrosse stick.
The Advantages to Moving Toward Your Teammate
Forcing yourself to move while passing or catching keeps your defender on his toes. It will discourage your defender from playing up aggressively, which will grant you more room to work with.
In addition, moving toward your teammate shortens the pass distance. Throwing an accurate pass from distance can be a challenging undertaking, regardless of whether it is you or your teammate throwing the ball.
Cutting down on this separation eases the burden of having to heave the ball a longer distance. It makes throwing a precise pass right on the head of the lacrosse stick a much more feasible task.
8.) Position Yourself Sideways When Throwing the Ball
Another practical habit that you should establish as early as possible is positioning yourself sideways when throwing the ball.
Staggering your stance sideways will help with your throwing accuracy and throwing power. If you square your shoulders toward your target when throwing the ball, your torso is unable to rotate. Furthermore, all of your throwing power is stemming from your arms rather than your core.
The rotation of the torso helps to snap the ball out of your stick in a direct line to the target. It is considerably easier to throw an accurate ball on a hard line than an arcing lob. Not to mention, it moves the ball notably quicker when the ball is thrown with some force behind it.
This is the rationale behind why high caliber collegiate and professional lacrosse players stagger themselves sideways when delivering throws. They want to throw the ball with precision and speed, so they incorporate the entire body into the motion as opposed to just their arms.
As a side note, it is important to use the shoulder opposite your top hand as a throwing guide. This shoulder should directly align in the direction that you want the ball to be thrown. It is only when you actually begin the throwing motion and your upper torso rotates that your shoulder should break alignment with the intended target.
9.) Cradle with the Top Hand, Not the Bottom Hand
One prevailing issue that lacrosse novices make is cradling predominantly with their bottom hand as opposed to their top hand.
This is not the most effective means of cradling. The top hand should always be the primary driver of the cradling movement. The bottom hand should simply serve as a guide hand to keep the bottom end of the lacrosse stick from wildly flailing around.
The primary reason for this is that the top hand offers the most control when cradling. This is because the top hand inherently lies closer to where the ball sits in the lacrosse pocket. The bottom hand lies much farther from the point where the ball sits, which makes the cradling movement much harder to control with the bottom hand alone.
Once a bad lacrosse habit has been branded into your game, it is extremely challenging to break. So instill this habit as soon as you learn the technique of cradling so you do not fall victim to this bad habit.
10.) Lock Your Eyes on the Hips Defensively
Another tip that will help you to up your on ball defensive skills is to concentrate on the hips of the opponent.
The hips are a telltale indicator of the direction that the ball carrier intends to move. Unlike other areas of the body, the hips cannot be manipulated into deceiving the defender.
Novice lacrosse players struggle to focus all of their attention on the hips defensively. Instead, they fall for the sneaky tactics that offensive players use to dodge past defenders.
The Problem with Banking on Stick Checks
For instance, one common pitfall for lacrosse beginners is centering their attention on the lacrosse stick of the opponent. Novice defenseman grow impatient quickly. Consequently, these defenders elect to go for risky stick checks instead of playing the body of the ball carrier.
These aggressive stick checks leave defenders in a vulnerable position defensively, which allows offensive players to dodge past defenders with one quick change of direction.
This unnecessary focus on the lacrosse stick of the opponent also leaves defenders vulnerable to pass fakes and shot fakes.
You can avoid leaving yourself susceptible to quick jukes and deceptive stick fakes by concentrating all of your effort on the hips of the ball carrier. As you progress, you can begin to diversify your defensive stratagems. For now, just play the hips and hone in on the defensive fundamentals.
11.) Show Your Back to the Goal During the Shooting Motion
One handy mental cue that you can use to draw the most power and velocity out of your shot is to consciously show your back to the goal.
Often times, newer lacrosse players are not used to fully winding up and throwing their entire body into the shooting motion. They exclusively rely on their arms to generate any sort of tangible power behind their shot.
There is so much untapped potential that is gone to waste if you only rely on your arms for shot power. Consciously thinking of showing your back to the goal improves your shot immediately in two practical ways.
Incorporates the Core Muscles
One, this movement primes your core muscles for the shooting motion. Properly utilizing the core muscles throughout the shot motion will produce noticeable results in your overall shot velocity immediately.
The more muscles that you activate during your shot motion, the better.
Hides Your Stick from the Goalie
Knowingly showing your back to the goal also hides your stick from the goalie behind your body. This way, the goalie is only able to see the ball releasing out of your lacrosse stick at the very last second.
Speed definitely comes in handy with shooting, but the effect of deception cannot be underestimated. The deliberate masking of your stick during your shot motion will keep goalkeepers reeling on their heels. By the time they finally locate the ball, it will already be in the back of the net.
12.) Practice for One Week Only Using Your Offhand
In addition, you should make the effort to work on your offhand right away to avoid pigeonholing your game in the future.
The Downside to Only Using Your Dominant Hand
So many lacrosse players lack the capacity to play with their non-dominant hand, from the beginner level to the advanced level. They only place confidence in their dominant hand and it shows. Their throwing, catching, and shooting motions are exclusively performed by their dominant hand.
This presents major problems down the line, particularly for offensive players. It makes their style of play extremely predictable. On ball defenders have a knack for identifying players that only utilize their dominant awfully quick.
The Benefits of Strengthening Your Offhand
Practicing with your offhand opens up the field for you as as dodger. It forces on ball defenders to respect your ability to go both ways, forcing them to play you straight up. This will make accelerating past defenders much easier in the long run.
Trusting your offhand also puts even more offensive weapons at your disposal to create opportunities for yourself and your teammates. The entire offense benefits from having a player that has a multi-dimensional style of play.
Take a week and train strictly with your offhand only. That means passing, shooting, catching, and even scooping up ground balls.
This will be frustrating at first, but just know that the light is at the end of the tunnel. Trust me, these small sacrifices will pay off big time in the long run.
13.) Try Out Different Lacrosse Positions
If you are just trying out the sport of lacrosse for the first time, it is best to sample each position before making a formal decision on which lacrosse role you would like to assume.
Discover Which Position Suits You Best
Many lacrosse beginners enter the sport with preconceived notions of which position they would like to pursue. They assume positional roles without the benefit of perspective.
The only way to truly know which lacrosse position is best suited for your individual strengths and motives is through trial and error. To get a better handle on the rundown of each specific lacrosse position, I would recommend checking out my article The 4 Major Lacrosse Positions: A Beginner’s Guide where I outline the constitutional details of every lacrosse role in depth.
Gain Invaluable Insight About the Opposition
Experimenting with different lacrosse positions also provides invaluable insight into the mechanics of the other side of lacrosse.
For example, if you are a predominantly an offensive player, learning about basic defensive strategy will help you to better identify and exploit the weaknesses of your opponent in game.
Knowing explicitly where an open teammate will likely be or where the defensive support is coming from can take your game to the next level.
14.) Keep Your Hands Out and Away When Shooting
Another tip that will add some serious power to your shot is to consciously extend your hands out and away from your body when shooting.
The Issue with ‘T-Rex’ Arms
A lot of newer lacrosse players do not optimize their arm leverage during their shooting motion. Instead, they shoot with what lacrosse coaches commonly refer to as ‘t-rex arms.’ This is a term used to describe players that shoot with their arms tucked excessively close to their body.
Much of shot velocity originates from the shooting windup. The more you extend your lacrosse stick back, the more power that you will be able to generate. However, if you cuff your hands too close to your body, you will never be able to unlock your true shooting potential.
Monitor Your Shot Mechanics
Next time you decide to shoot around, be vigilant of where you keep your hands in relation to your body. Better yet, ask a teammate or a friend to give you their unbiased perspective.
Most of the time a problem like this can easily go undetected since we are physically incapable of seeing ourselves when we shoot. For this reason, I would highly recommend taking a video of a couple of your shots early on to ensure that your shooting form is top notch.
The earlier you attack this problem, the better off you will be down the line.
15.) Watch Lacrosse Game Film Religously
Moreover, lacrosse game film is an invaluable tool to take your lacrosse IQ to new heights. There are a couple of ways that watching game film does this. The most prominent of these ways are discussed below.
Teaches Basic Lacrosse Stratagems
Lacrosse game film introduces beginners to the basic concepts of lacrosse strategy.
There is a considerable amount of underlying offensive and defensive concepts that lacrosse coaches put into effect during games. Many casual spectators are completely unaware of these basic stratagems, but I can definitively tell you that they are there.
Game film reveals the ideal blueprint to success in the sport of lacrosse. It shows how and why teams do the things they do. As you begin to learn these elementary tactics, you will have a better understanding of what your exact role on the field is and how you fit into the system.
Helps to Mold Your Own Unique Play Style
Furthermore, game film provides novices with prime examples of players that compete at the highest level.
As you watch more and more lacrosse film, you will inevitably gravitate toward certain players and play styles more than others. You can then take bits and pieces of techniques from these players and experiment to see what works best for you.
This trial and error will allow you to handcraft your own original style of play that best suits your individual strengths.
16.) Keep Your Head on a Swivel when Defending Off Ball
Moreover, it is crucial that you keep your head on a swivel on the defensive end.
Pay Attention to Your Defensive Priorities
Unfortunately, it is extremely tempting to focus all of your attention on the ball carrier, even when you are defending off ball. This leaves the door wide open for offensive players to backdoor cut and gain easy access to the soft spots in the defense.
It is imperative that you deny the urge to concentrate on the ball carrier and prioritize your defensive assignment above all else.
This is not to say that you should neglect the ball carrier. There is a certain degree of importance to being aware of where the ball is on the field. However, this should not be your main priority.
Your first duty as a defensemen is to ensure that the man that you are guarding is not an immediate threat. From there, then you can begin to expand your horizons and look to help your teammates out defensively.
Do these steps out of order and the defense will pay dearly for it.
One Little Known Trick
There is actually one trick that comes in handy for this very situation. Many high IQ defenseman lightly press their lacrosse stick against their matchup when ball watching. This way, the defenseman will be able to feel as soon as their matchup decides to move.
17.) Make Your Shot on the Run Deadlier than Your Time and Room Shot
The majority of new lacrosse players are obsessed with perfecting their time and room shot as opposed to their shot on the run.
Shooting on the Run Outweighs the Time and Room Shot
Don’t get me wrong, players definitely have opportunities for time and room shots during the game. However, these opportunities are few and far in between relative to the amount of opportunities players have to shoot on the run.
Lacrosse has been called ‘The Fastest Sport on Two Feet‘ time and time again. It did not get this nickname for no reason. The sport of lacrosse earned this nickname because its players are always moving at a fast pace.
Shooting is no exception to this rule. It is much more likely that you will free up shooting space by running, not staying fixated in one spot.
Perfecting Your Shot on the Run Demands Time
For this reason, developing a deadly shot on the run is critical. It takes time to coordinate the intricacies of proper shooting technique with the movement of running. Rather than unnecessarily devoting hours of your time to the rare occurrence of a time and room shot, why not spend that time developing your shot on the run?
You get a lot more bang for your buck by prioritizing your shot on the run above the time and room shot.
18.) Build Up a Stellar Repertoire of Dodges
If you aim to be an offensive minded player in lacrosse, learning how to dodge is vital.
The Peril of Relying on a Single Dodge
A great deal of lacrosse players are under the mistaken impression that only one type of dodge is needed to find success in the sport of lacrosse. This could not be further from the truth.
Defenders may fall for a specific type of dodge the first go around. The second time, however, they will begin to adapt and make the necessary changes to thwart that one dodge. Once that single dodge becomes ineffective, these one dimensional players are deemed useless with the ball.
Dodging Diversity Provides Leverage Over the Defense
Expanding your skill set to venture above and beyond the norm will remarkably elevate your game. The more offensive weapons you have at your disposal, the more dangerous of an offensive threat you become.
It is for this reason that you should explore all the different types of dodges and hone in on your favorites. Experiment with the bull dodge, the split dodge, the roll dodge, and the face dodge and determine what dodge best fits your play style.
Learning the footwork and stick work of these dodges may be intimidating at first. Earning the privilege of leaving defenders in the dust requires hard work and effort. Once you break through this learning hurdle, you will realize that your training was well worth the time investment.
19.) Stay Low and Run Full Speed Through Ground Balls
As aforementioned, fighting as hard as you can for ground balls is the easiest way to earn time on the playing field. Staying low and sprinting through the ground ball will make a massive difference in whether you successfully scoop up the ground ball or come out of the scrum empty handed.
Many lacrosse players are not willing to make the effort to bend their knees, get their nose to the ground, and run through the ground ball. In their eyes, these additional steps are not worth the extra effort.
Implementing these ground ball techniques into your own game will help the overall success rate of your ground ball scoops tremendously.
Benefits of Staying Low
For one, bending at the knees and lowering your center of gravity brings you closer to the ball. It helps you to better locate and make the necessary adjustments to pick up the ball on your first try.
Benefits of Running Through the Ball
Secondly, it is always a solid idea to keep yourself moving on the lacrosse field, especially when you have the ball. If you remain stationary after scooping up the loose ball in a scrum, it is extremely likely that the opposition will just bombard you with check after check until the ball is loose again.
Sprinting through the ground ball minimizes the likelihood that a defensive check will land on your lacrosse stick. It also frees you up to sprint to open space and reassess the situation.
20.) Wall Ball, Wall Ball, and More Wall Ball
This last and final tip is the most important one of them all. You have probably heard it before from lacrosse coaches and players, but you need to play wall ball as much as possible.
Every Lacrosse Player Does It
There is no better way to improve your stick skills. Lacrosse athletes at every competitive tier play wall ball, from players that just picked up a lacrosse stick to one of the greatest professional lacrosse players ever… Paul Rabil.
Need evidence? Check out his daily wall ball routine below!
If the best players hit the wall on a weekly basis, you should too.
Tips for Wall Ball Success
Make sure you work both your dominant and non-dominant hand equally. Hitting the wall with both hands will help to circumvent the growth of any imbalances in your game.
The best way to ensure that both of your hands receive equal attention is following a wall ball program. You can adopt the daily wall ball routine of Paul Rabil for instance. If that is too advanced, invent your own daily wall ball routine. Once you decide on a wall ball program, follow it religiously!
Furthermore, it is important that you hit the wall with a purpose. Resist the urge to lazily loft the ball at the wall. Instead, snap the ball at the wall hard and challenge yourself to get better.
My Final Tip
As you take the first steps on your lacrosse journey, I will leave you with one final piece of advice to think about.