7 Fundamental Skills that You Need to Play Lacrosse

With every sport, there is a certain set of skills that players must learn at all costs. Lacrosse is no exception to this rule. There are several skills that players must become proficient at in order to be successful in the game of lacrosse.

In the subsequent paragraphs, we will investigate 7 particular skills that lacrosse players need to adopt in depth. Each skill description will be comprised of a general overview, a justification of its fundamental importance, and a how to instructional lesson.

If you are new to the sport of lacrosse, take the time to absorb this invaluable knowledge and hone in on these fundamental skills. Trust me, learning these skills is well worth your time.

1.) Cradling Without Even Having to Think About It

General Overview of Cradling

The term ‘cradling’ refers to the method by which players retain possession of the ball. The purpose of cradling is to minimize the likelihood of a player dropping the ball and to protect the ball from defensive checks. It is much more probable that a player will turn over possession of the ball to the opposition if they refuse to cradle, especially while moving around the field.

The premise behind cradling in lacrosse is centripetal force. When players utilize their wrist and arms to rotate the ball back and forth, the ball stays inside the pocket far better.

This concept is equivalent to taking a bucket of water and rapidly rotating it in a circular motion. The water does not fall out of the bucket at the top of the motion due to the centripetal force, even in the face of the external force of gravity. When players cradle the lacrosse ball, the ball remains inside the pocket in spite of the external force of defensive checks.

The movement or cradling is not so much of a spin or a twirl. Rather, it is a curling of the stick back and forth with the wrists and the arms in one fluid motion.

Importance of Cradling to Lacrosse

Players need to learn to cradle the ball so that they do not give up any unforced turnovers during the game. Lacrosse players move around a whole lot during games. To safely transport the ball to wherever it is that the player needs to go, cradling is a must.

Running around the field while simply just balancing the ball in the pocket invites on ball pressure from defenders. Plus, this balancing act forces ball carriers to focus their attention on the whereabouts of the ball rather than the game around them.

To be the most effective ball carrier that you can be, cradling is absolutely essential.

How to Properly Cradle

  • Take your dominant hand and place it near where the shaft meets the plastic of the lacrosse head.
  • The lacrosse shaft should fall at the base of your fingers rather than your palm.
  • For your dominant hand, lightly grip the lacrosse stick with your palm facing outward in a supinated fashion.
  • Take your non-dominant hand and place it at the very bottom of the lacrosse shaft.
  • For your non-dominant hand, lightly grip the lacrosse stick with your palm facing toward you in an overhand fashion.
  • Keep your non-dominant hand fixated in space as a guide hand.
  • Use your dominant hand to curl the lacrosse stick toward you and then back again.
  • Rotate the stick about the elbow while simultaneously involving the wrists to add additional rotation.

These ideas are summarized in the following video:

Beginner Cradling Tips

Ensure that Your Pocket Is Deep Enough for Cradling: One aspect that will severely hinder your ability to cradle is inadequate lacrosse pocked depth.

If the pocket is too shallow, the ball will have an exceedingly difficult time staying within the pocket. The pocket needs to have sufficient depth so the ball can conveniently remain in the pocket and not flounder around.

Ask a coach or teammate to help deepen your lacrosse pocket if it is too shallow. You do not want to deepen the pocket excessively and cause your stick to become illegal.

Begin Cradling in a Stationary Position and Work Your Way Up: To grasp the fundamentals of cradling, it helps to start from a stationary position. Learning how to cradle on the move adds another layer of complication that is unnecessary at the start.

First, work on the isolated cradling movements of your wrist. Once you have mastered the wrist rotation required for cradling, start to integrate the movement of your arm. If you are confident in your ability to cradle from a stationary position, begin to cradle and move at the same time.

Cradle at a 45 Degree Angle Toward the Ground: Most players develop a habit of cradling with their lacrosse stick parallel to the ground. This is fine to do during the learning process. However, it is imperative that you develop the habit of cradling a 45 degree angle toward the ground sooner rather than later.

By cradling with the stick parallel to the ground at your hips, you leave your stick exposed to checks from defenders. Cradling at an angle with the lacrosse pocket inches away from your helmet safeguards your stick from defenders.

If they attempt to check the ball from your stick, it is likely that they will draw a penalty for slashing you on the helmet. This may not be the most attractive thing for you, but it at least gives your team an advantage.

2.) Throwing Pinpoint Passes on a Whim

General Overview of Passing

Passing is another fundamental skill in the game of lacrosse not just for offensive players, but for every position. Even goalkeepers need to know how to pass.

The prospect of passing can be an intimidating task to comprehend at first. This is because passing in lacrosse is unlike any passing in any other sport. Although there is a bit of a learning curve, it is not that tough of an undertaking to master.

Passing is based around a simultaneous pushing and pulling mechanism with both hands to snap the ball out of the lacrosse pocket. The top hand should be your dominant hand while the bottom hand should be your non-dominant hand. The top hand pushes the shaft toward the target while the bottom hand simultaneously pulls the shaft toward you.

Importance of Passing to Lacrosse

Passing is the primary means of moving the ball from one teammate for another. One player cannot shoulder the load of offensive possession. For this reason, the skill of throwing accurate passes is imperative to overall player performance.

Players need to have the capacity to throw passes in an urgent manner while still maintaining accuracy. Once defensive pressure arrives, it typically comes in full force. Ball carriers that do not fully trust in their passing capabilities will inevitably pay the price in the form of bruises from checks.

In the sport of lacrosse, you can only afford to hold onto the ball for so long before the stick checks come raining in.

How to Properly Pass

  • Place your dominant hand just below the middle of the lacrosse shaft.
  • Place your non-dominant hand at the bottom of the lacrosse shaft.
  • Position your body sideways so that the shoulder on your non-dominant side is facing the target.
  • Aim the bottom end of the lacrosse stick toward the target. Take care not to overextend the stick and drop the ball.
  • Begin pushing the stick toward the target with your top hand while simultaneously pulling the stick toward you with your bottom hand.
  • As soon as you begin this push-pull mechanism, begin to step with your opposite leg (on the non-dominant side of your body).
  • Follow through toward the target.

These ideas are summarized in the video below:

Beginner Passing Tips

Pass in a Completely Overhand Motion: Many novice lacrosse players make the mistake of not developing the habit of passing completely overhand right from the beginning. The passing motion should come straight over the top. It should not be a three quarters or sidearm motion.

I emphasize passing with an overhand motion because it maximizes accuracy. Passing motions that minimize sidearm activity reduce the likelihood of the ball throwing erroneously off to the side. Moreover, the overhand passing motion allows players to follow through straight toward the target.

Snap Your Wrists Toward the Target: Many beginner lacrosse players overlook the importance of the wrists to the passing motion. Although the arms do most of the pushing and pulling, the wrists are what guide the ball to the target.

When you start to grasp the basics of the passing motion, make a concerted effort to physically snap your wrists toward the target. The snapping of your wrists accentuates your follow through and further directs the flight path of the ball. Not to mention it adds a bit of zip to your passes.

3.) Catching Passes Anywhere and Everywhere

General Overview of Catching

If passing is a fundamental aspect of lacrosse, you can bet that catching is just as crucial.

This skill harps on reaction speed and hand eye coordination. Unlike other sports, you are not performing the physical act of catching with your hands. Rather, you are indirectly catching the ball through the lacrosse stick. This makes things a bit complicated when it comes down to absorbing the power of an oncoming pass.

Dialing in the catching motion can be frustrating at the onset, but it is important that you stick with it. It does take a bit of time to learn, but it becomes second nature once you get the hang of it.

The catching motion also involves a push-pull motion, just in the reverse order of passing. Instead of pushing with your top hand and pulling with your bottom hand, you pull with your top hand and push with your bottom hand.

Importance of Catching to Lacrosse

Learning how to cradle and pass will not matter much if you do not properly learn how to receive the ball into your lacrosse stick. This is why it is so imperative that you work on your catching skills from the beginning. Plus, your teammates will likely not pass you the ball if you do not know how to catch on a consistent basis.

The bottom line is that in order to become a valid threat on the lacrosse field as a ball carrier, learning how to catch is of paramount importance.

How to Properly Catch

  • Place your dominant hand where the shaft meets the plastic of the lacrosse head.
  • Place your non-dominant hand at the bottom of the lacrosse shaft.
  • Position the lacrosse stick so that it is vertical to the ground.
  • Face the lacrosse head directly toward the oncoming pass to maximize catching surface area.
  • Angle the top of the lacrosse stick slightly forward in the direction of the oncoming pass.
  • Gently pull with the top hand and push with the bottom hand as the ball hits the lacrosse pocket.
  • Be sure to keep a loose grip on the lacrosse stick throughout the entirety of this catching process.

These ideas are summarized in the video below:

Beginner Catching Tips

Start with a Wider Lacrosse Head: One little known tip to improve your catching skills is to use a wider lacrosse head.

Wider lacrosse heads optimize the surface area that the ball can enter during the process of catching. Narrower lacrosse heads help to improve throwing accuracy, however, these slight advantages will be useless if you cannot get the ball in your stick in the first place.

Treat the Ball Like a Water Balloon: Another mental cue that I like to use when catching lacrosse balls is to treat the ball like a water balloon.

When you mentally picture the ball as a water balloon, you subconsciously soften up your grip on the lacrosse stick and make a concerted effort to give with the ball as it hits the pocket. This little mental cue will help to prevent the development of bad habits, like attempting to snatch up the ball from the air.

4.) Scooping Up Ground Balls in a Hurry

General Overview of Scooping Up Ground Balls

The next fundamental lacrosse component we will discuss is scooping up ground balls.

For those of you that do not know, a ‘ground ball’ is a loose ball on the field that is not possessed by either team. It is an opportunity for players to earn an extra possession for their team. To learn more about the exact nature of ground balls, check out my article What Does Ground Ball Mean in Lacrosse?

The process of scooping up ground balls entails that players get low and rake their lacrosse head on the ground to gather possession. Relative to the other items on this list, this skill is the easiest to learn. All players have to do is bring their lacrosse stick down to the ground and scoop. Not a whole to it.

Importance of Scooping Up Ground Balls to Lacrosse

Although scooping up ground balls is a simple task, it is an integral part of winning lacrosse games. A sports analogy that I like to use is that ground balls are the equivalent of rebounds in basketball. In both situations, teams have an chance to fight for an extra possession and secure another opportunity to potentially score.

Mastering the art of scooping up ground balls is also the easiest way for beginners to earn playing time during games. Scooping up loose balls does not demand a high degree of technical stick skills. For this reason, almost any player can be a proficient ground ball scrapper.

The most important thing that a player needs in order to be skilled at scooping up ground balls is an iron will. The player with the most fight almost aways comes out of a ground ball scrum with possession.

How to Properly Scoop Up Ground Balls

  • Place your dominant hand where the shaft meets the plastic of the lacrosse head.
  • Place your non-dominant hand at the bottom end of the lacrosse shaft.
  • Run toward the ground ball.
  • Bend at the knees.
  • Bring your stick low and parallel to the ground.
  • Step directly next to the ground ball so that the inside of your foot is closest to the ball.
  • Scoop through the ground ball without stopping your running momentum.
  • Bring the lacrosse head inches away from your helmet.
  • Stand back up and continue running.

Beginner Scooping Tips

Run Through the Ground Ball: The majority of novice lacrosse players run to a ground ball, stop their momentum to pick up the loose ball, and then continue to run again.

This is not the most efficient way to scoop up ground balls. If you stop your momentum, it is likely that you will draw additional defensive checks and turn the ball back over to the opposition.

Running through the ground ball will help you to better evade the opposition. Not to mention it will also help you to avoid waking up with extra bruises in the morning by keeping you away from hard defensive checks.

Remember that the Low Man Wins: Another tip that will help you have better success with scooping up ground balls is to get low.

The closer that you get to the loose ground ball, the better the likelihood that you will scoop it up. Many lacrosse players are too lazy to bend their knees and stick their nose to the ground. Making this small extra effort will help you to outcompete 90% of the other lacrosse players out there and earn some playing time on the field.

5.) Shooting Quickly and Accurately

General Overview of Shooting

The fundamental skill of shooting is a favorite among lacrosse players. There are not many times in life where you get the chance to whip a hard rubber ball as hard as you can, especially with a person in the way!

Shooting a lacrosse ball is certainly one of the more fun things to practice in lacrosse. This attractiveness is definitely a tremendous benefit because learning how to shoot with the force of your entire body requires repetition.

There are a couple of broad forms of shooting in lacrosse. These shooting forms include time and room shooting, shooting on the run, and finishing on the crease.

Time and room shooting affords players the opportunity to wind up with maximal extension and fire the ball at the net from distance. Shooting on the run is exactly as it sounds and is the most common way that players shoot in game situations. Finishing on the crease involves shooting a few yards away from the goal. This method of shooting places a heavy emphasis on precision rather than velocity.

Importance of Shooting to Lacrosse

Obviously, shooting is a critical element of lacrosse. How else would teams be able to score?

In terms of the importance of shooting to beginners, this skill is more catered to offensively minded players. However, defenders do occasionally get the opportunity to shoot from time to time.

Learning how to shoot quickly and accurately is absolutely necessary if you are going to sneak the ball past the goalkeeper. Although the net seems large at first glance, these open shooting areas seem to diminish drastically during the game. Instilling the basics of shooting fundamentals into your game will help you to overcome this obstacle and bury the ball in the back of the net.

How to Properly Shoot

  • Place your dominant hand just below the middle of the lacrosse shaft.
  • Place your non-dominant hand at the bottom end of your lacrosse stick.
  • Position yourself sideways so that the shoulder on your non-dominant side is facing toward the goal.
  • Widen your base so that your feet lie beyond shoulder width apart.
  • Extend your arms out and away from your body.
  • Face your head toward the goal and tuck your chin into your shoulder.
  • Crow hop toward the goal.
  • Rapidly rotate your hips and upper torso in the direction that you want to shoot.
  • Bring your arms straight over the top.
  • Follow through in the direction of the goal.

Beginner Shooting Tips

Thrust Your Hands Out and Away: Extending your hands back in preparation for a shot maximizes the amount of power that your arms are able to generate.

Too many times novices keep their arms too close to their body when shooting. This is so common that many lacrosse coaches have come up with a name of ‘t-rex arms’ for this bad habit.

At first, it may feel uncomfortable and unnatural to thrust your lacrosse stick so far away from your body. As you strap more and more repetitions under your belt, this feeling of strangeness will soon begin to fade.

Follow Through with Your Legs and Hips: Another practical tip is to not only follow through with your upper body, but with your lower body as well.

Shooting a lacrosse ball demands the use of all the muscles in your entire body. In fact, you should be out of breath after taking a quick flurry of lacrosse shots.

Many players overlook the use of their legs in their lacrosse shot. Although you may occasionally be able to get away with solely utilizing your upper body, you are missing out on a ton of potential shot power. Be sure to pivot with your legs and violently throw your hips toward the goal to increase shot speed.

6.) Checking Opposing Ball Carriers

General Overview of Checking

The skill of checking is a fundamental aspect of on ball defense in lacrosse.

There are two main kinds of checks in lacrosse: body checks and stick checks. Body checks involve physical body to body contact between the defender and the ball carrier. Stick checks are based around technical slashes on the stick of the opposing ball carrier in an attempt to dislodge the ball.

Each type of check has its own distinct set of advantages and disadvantages. It is important to learn the game circumstances where it is advantageous to use one specific type of check as opposed to the other.

Importance of Checking to Lacrosse

Defensive checking is what hinders the stick handling ability of the ball carrier. It is also the most effective approach to force turnovers and give the ball back to the offense.

The skills of checking is a remarkable means to shut down opposing offenses. It prevents them from even landing the opportunity to get off a shot on goal. This is an extremely valuable prospect to lacrosse teams because if they opposing team cannot score, they cannot win.

It is important to note that although defensive checks do cause turnovers, they are not the most crucial element to defense. Proper body positioning and footwork is far more important to on ball defense compared to checking. Body positioning and footwork block the path of the ball carrier to the goal, which squashes any thoughts they may have of taking a shot on goal.

How to Properly Check

  • Assume a proper defensive stance with a low center of gravity and wide base.
  • Position yourself in close proximity to the ball carrier.
  • Shuffle your feet to stay in front of the ball carrier.
  • Keep your feet shoulder width apart to quickly react to the movements of the ball carrier.
  • Throw a stick check on the same side as where the opponent is cradling.
  • Aim for the bottom hand of the opposing ball carrier if they are cradling with two hands.

Beginner Checking Tips

Concentrate on the Hips of the Opposing Ball Carrier: One helpful tip to maintain proper defensive positioning while checking is to focus your attention exclusively on the hips of the ball carrier.

Offensive players constantly use their head, shoulders, and lacrosse stick to manipulate the positioning of defenders. Ball carriers can use their head, shoulders, and lacrosse stick to make a defender assume they are committing to one direction. Dodgers feed off of these false assumptions and exploit this advantage to beat them.

The one anatomical aspect that ball carriers cannot fool defenders with is their hips. In the words of Shakira, “the hips don’t lie.”

Do Not Get Caught Chasing the Stick: Another key to successful checking is to stray away from chasing the stick of the ball carrier.

The number one way that novice defenders get drawn out of position is by chasing the stick of the ball carrier. Young defenders get googly eyes every time that they see a lacrosse stick exposed. The temptation is too much for them to bear and they end up overextending themselves to have a crack at dislodging the ball.

Nine times out of ten these risky checks do not pan out. Rather than chasing the elusive stick of the ball carrier, focus on sound fundamental body positioning and footwork. When it makes sense to throw a technical stick check, go for it! If it comes at the expense of your defensive positioning, however, I would resist the urge.

7.) Dodging Past Defenders with Ease

General Overview of Dodging

Dodging is another principal lacrosse skill geared toward the offensive end. The fundamentals of dodging are a lot more open to interpretation compared to the rest of the items on this list. This is because there is no one true way to dodge that applies to every lacrosse player.

Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely some core dodging concepts. However, every premier lacrosse dodger has a subtle nuance to the way they approach dodging that differs from every other lacrosse dodger.

It could be an emphasis on a head fake. Or prioritizing speed dodging over simply just bulldozing the defender out of the way. Some dodgers rely on short, choppy stutter steps whereas other dodgers rely on one long jab step. There is really no right and wrong in the world of dodging.

Importance of Dodging to Lacrosse

The skill of dodging is important to lacrosse because it is what teams depend on to initiate the offense.

Lacrosse offenses thrive on defensive rotation. In order for a defense to rotate, the ball carrier must beat the on ball defender in a one-on-one matchup. If a dodger cannot beat their defender, there will be no defensive movement, and thus no opportunities for the offense to exploit.

Every offense needs a solid dodger to create scoring opportunities. This is why it so crucial that you develop this skill early. In order to be a viable piece to the offense, you need to learn how to dodge efficiently.

How to Properly Dodge

To learn more about how to properly dodge, check out my article Lacrosse Dodging: 6 Ways to Get Past Defenders in Lacrosse. There I outline every major dodge that lacrosse players use to blow by defenders and get to the cage.

Beginner Dodging Tips

Sell the Jab Step: A crucial element of dodging effectively is selling the jab step. If the on ball defender does not fall for your misdirection, you will have a troublesome time accelerating past them.

Taking a short little jab step will not fool good on ball defenders. They are too smart for that. To sell the jab step, you should extend your leg out as far as you can to convince the defender that you have committed to that direction.

It certainly helps to get some other bodily elements involved as well. If you throw in an additional head and shoulder fake, this will further bait the defender out of position. Once you see this vulnerability, pounce on this weakness and immediately change direction.

Attack the Top Foot of the Defender: In addition, you should focus your dodging assault on the top foot of the defender.

The top foot of the defender is a key pressure point for dodgers because it forces them to open up their hips. When an on ball defender opens up their hips, their shoulders are squared toward the dodger. This opens up the opportunity for a dodger to feasibly attack right or left.

This directional uncertainty leaves the defender in a precarious spot. The loss of a defender is a gain to a dodger. Take advantage of this defensive vulnerability to make your dodges less predictable and get by defenders at a more successful rate.

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of Lacrosse Pack. I enjoy hitting the local lacrosse fields and honing in on the craft in my free time.

Recent Posts