Lacrosse Dodging: 6 Ways to Get Past Defenders in Lacrosse

Knowing how to dodge past defenders is a key element to success in lacrosse, particularly for offensive players. There are six broad categories of dodges that many high caliber lacrosse players use to beat defenders in one on one situations.

This article will provide a comprehensive overview of these six universal lacrosse dodges, as well as information on how to physically perform these dodges against an actual defender. Keep reading to learn the key ingredients on how to successfully leave beat defenders time and time again.

1.) Bull Dodge

General Overview

The bull dodge is the simplest dodge out of all the items on this list in terms of footwork and agility. However, it is certainly the most physically demanding of the six dodges.

The bull dodge is the choice dodge of lacrosse players that do not shy away from contact. Rather than relying on speed, lacrosse players rely on their size and strength to outmuscle the competition. It is a means for players to bully their way towards the goal.

Essentially, the bull dodge is a north-south dodge with very minimal juking.

Players power through the on ball defender and create separation by initiating contact. There is not much deception with this dodge. It is simply a test of whether or not the on ball defender can withstand the maximal force generated by the ball carrier.

The ball carrier lowers their shoulder and uses their body as leverage to force the defender to backpedal. As the defender is backpedaling, the ball carrier then has sufficient separation to get off an uncontested shot or pass.

The Legality of the Bull Dodge

The bull dodge is one of the more controversial dodges with respect to legality.

At the highest competitive tiers of lacrosse, the majority of referees allow offensive players to lower their shoulder into defenders to force them out of their way. In contrast, many referees at the youth and high school level deem this dodge illegal.

If you choose to make this your primary dodge, be sure to check with the referee prior to the game to verify their opinion on the subject. Some referees believe the bull dodge is a ward or a push with possession, while other referees believe it is perfectly legal.

How to Perform a Bull Dodge

  • Power cradle the ball near your helmet.
  • Run at your defender from 3-5 yards out.
  • Initiate contact into the defender while forcing your way to the goal.
  • Drive the defender backward by churning your legs.
  • Bump the defender near the goal to create the necessary separation to catch or throw.

One player who has perfected the bull dodge at the collegiate level is Dylan Molloy. To understand the art of the becoming a human battering ram, check out the video below!

Keys to Success

Emphasis on Physicality: A major component to success with the bull dodge is being the first to initiate contact with the defender.

Players that rely on speed rather than brawn should stray away from this dodge. This dodge is meant for more sizable players that have the capacity to steamroll defenders backward through sheer force. If you have a matchup against a defender that is much smaller in size, this is an effective technique to create a high percentage shot opportunity.

Avoid Warding: Another key to success is to avoid drawing the warding call from the referee.

Out of all the dodges on this list, the bull dodge draws the most offensive penalties. This is because many players do not know how to properly use their body to their advantage in a lacrosse setting.

Extension of the arm to push the defender away almost always elicits a warding penalty from the referee. This specific action is an important thing to refrain from while performing the bull dodge.

To minimize the likelihood of attracting a warding penalty, form an ‘L shape’ with your other arm if you choose to only cradle with one hand. This way, the referee will not mistake the use of your free arm as an illegal push off.

2.) Split Dodge

General Overview

The split dodge is the most common technique that offensive players use to get by defenders in lacrosse.

This dodge combines the elements of speed and deception, which is why it so effective at manipulating defenders into going the wrong way. Whereas the bull dodge requires a size advantage to properly execute, the split dodge has no underlying stipulations other than a basic understanding of stick skills.

With this lacrosse movement, the ball carrier sprints at full speed toward the on ball defender and attacks their top foot. This is important because it forces the on ball defender to commit to a backpedal, which opens up their hips and leaves them in a precarious position defensively.

Once the ball carrier is within close proximity to the defender, they quickly jab in the direction of whatever hand that they are currently cradling with. Next, they plant their foot into the ground and ‘split’ the other direction.

While the ball carrier is executing the directional change, they are also transitioning their hands on the lacrosse stick. Their top hand shifts to the bottom end of the shaft while the bottom hand simultaneously shifts to the top of the shaft. This way, the stick is protected from any potential desperation checks even after the on ball defender is beat.

How to Perform a Split Dodge

  • Run at full speed with your shoulders square toward the defender.
  • Attack the top foot of the defender to force them into a backpedal.
  • Step hard in the direction of the hand you are cradling with.
  • Plant your foot and change direction.
  • Switch your hands while changing direction.
  • Accelerate past the defender.
  • Cradle your stick close to your body to avoid trail checks.

Sergio Salcido thrived at the split dodge at the D1 collegiate level. Notice how he uses speed and deception to his advantage in the following video!

Keys to Success

Sell the Jab Step: It is absolutely vital that you have a convincing jab step to freeze the defender in place.

In the absence of a powerful jab step, the defender will easily be able to stay in front of you and stop your momentum. The on ball defender must fall for the juke in order for the split dodge to work.

The best way to really sell your jab step is to extend your leg out as far as possible. The longer the extension of your juke, the more the on ball defender will have to respect the bait.

Throw in a Head and Shoulder Fake: Another way to elevate the quality of your split dodge is to implement a head and shoulder fake.

The head and shoulder fake combined with a persuasive jab step will really sell the defender on the false narrative that you have committed to one direction. At that time, you can pounce on the opportunity to split and accelerate the other way.

In order to perfect a solid fake, you need to over exaggerate where your eyes are pointing. Your head needs to be craned in the direction that you are trying to bait the defender.

As far as the shoulder fake goes, it is imperative that you do not restrict the dodging movement solely to your arms. Square your shoulders in the decoy direction to grab the attention of the defender. Once the trap has been laid, quickly direct your momentum back the opposite way.

3.) Face Dodge

General Overview

The face dodge is another effective means to move past defenders.

This dodge places a heavy emphasis on deception. As soon as the offensive player receives a pass from a teammate, they assume an athletic shooting stance to bait the defender into thinking they are about to shoot an outside shot. Consequently, the defender sprints at the ball carrier in an effort to throw a last second desperation check to contest the shot.

As soon as the ball carrier recognizes that the defender is closing out too wildly, they pull the shot back and quickly glide their lacrosse head across their face. Hence why this dodge is called the face dodge.

Since the defender is not in a position to break down and regather themselves, they will typically run past the ball carrier.

Unlike the split dodge, the face dodge does not require the ball carrier to change hands. All of these dodging movements, from executing the shot fake to shifting the stick across their body, is done with the hands in the same position on the stick.

Once the dodger has definitively beat the defender, they can pull their stick back across their body for a much more high percentage shot that is closer to the goal.

The Toe Drag

You may have also heard of a dodge called the toe drag. The toe drag is essentially a glorified face dodge in that it also involves baiting the defender with a shot fake and taking advantage of a reckless defensive close out.

The general principles remain the same, however, there is one glaring difference. Instead of bringing the lacrosse stick across your face away from the defender, you slyly maneuver your stick under the stick of the defender.

The flashiness of the toe drag draws a lot more ooh’s and ahh’s from the crowd than the face dodge. Though, the toe drag leaves your lacrosse stick much more exposed to the possibility of a stick check.

So take extreme care when implementing this flashy dodge in actual games. Turning the ball over with one failed toe drag can earn you a quick spot on the bench.

How to Perform a Face Dodge

  • Assume a shooting stance upon receiving the ball.
  • Recognize that the oncoming defender is closing out recklessly.
  • Sell the shot fake.
  • Pull your lacrosse stick from the shooting position across your body.
  • Do not change hands.
  • Keep your lacrosse stick on the other side of your body until the defender has run past.
  • Bring the lacrosse stick back across your body for an easier shot.

Below is a compilation of several model examples of how face dodges and toe drags should be used in game situations.

Keys to Success

Draw the Defender In with the Shot Fake: It is critical that you force the defender to commit by drawing them in with a shot fake.

The success of the face dodge is founded on the wild close out of the defender. In order to compel the defender to slide to the ball in an uncontrolled manner, throwing your hands out and away from your body and positioning yourself sideways is vital. The defender will not assume you are about to shoot if you catch the ball flat-footed.

A way to ensure that the shot fake will look convincing is to position yourself in the shooting stance prior to receiving the pass. This way, you will appear as much more of an immediate threat to the defense.

Be Weary of the Trail Check: The success of the face dodge is also contingent on whether you are able to safeguard the ball after you have blown past the defender.

The majority of defenders that get beat by the face dodge will attempt to trail check your stick as a last ditch effort. They chase you down from behind and wait patiently for you to extend the stick back for the shot. As soon as they see that the stick is out in the open, they throw the trail check and dislodge the ball.

This is why it is pivotal that you do not overexpose your lacrosse stick when you bring it back for the shot. Rather than engaging in a full wind-up, get off a quick accurate shot on goal.

A successful face dodge will likely bring you in close quarters to the goal. Shots near the crease do not demand a lot of power to sneak past the goalkeeper. It is far better to keep your stick tight and land a quick shot on goal rather than extend your stick back and risk the peril of a trail check.

4.) Roll Dodge

General Overview

Another method of getting past defenders in lacrosse is the roll dodge.

The purpose of the roll dodge is to maximize stick protection by placing your body between the defender and the ball. This prevents defensemen from being able to land any sort of stick check that could potentially dislodge the ball from your stick. This is especially useful against long pole defensemen that have a prolonged reach to throw a stick check from distance.

It is much more of a rare occurrence for the roll dodge to be used as a north-south dodge, especially when compared to the bull dodge or the split dodge.

Typically, the roll dodge is much more effective for attackers that are able to drive the ball just above goal line extended.

At this position, attackers are capable of implementing what is known as an “inside roll” to increase their shooting angle and get off a high percentage shot on the crease.

Aside from the inside roll, the roll dodge is considered more of a supplemental dodge rather than a primary dodge.

How to Perform a Roll Dodge

  • Sprint at the defender.
  • Drive your body into the defender.
  • Recognize when the defender is playing too aggressively top side.
  • Plant with the foot opposite from the hand that you are cradling with.
  • Pivot so that your body is in between the ball and the defender.
  • Keep the stick tight to your body while performing the roll.
  • Take advantage of the separation to pass or shoot.

Here is a few lacrosse clips showcasing how premier attackers utilize the inside roll to shield the ball from defenders and land a high percentage shot on goal.

Keys to Success

Recognize When the Defender Is Playing Too Aggressively: A major key to success with the roll dodge is identifying when the defender is playing too far top side.

If the defender is anticipating you to continue moving forward and is leaving room for you to attack the middle of the field, this is the opportune time to execute a roll dodge.

Many defenders are just preoccupied with trying to stay one step ahead of the ball carrier so they can contest any potential shot. By trying to stay one step ahead of the ball carrier, they actually invite the dodger to roll back to the middle of the field and become more of an offensive threat.

So once you see that the on ball defender is not respecting your ability to move back to the center of the field, plant your foot into the ground and roll.

Plant Your Foot and Immediately Pivot: Another critical component to the success of the roll dodge is committing to the roll itself.

Too many times ball carriers plant their foot and take a couple of unnecessary steps back upfield. These steps waste time and take away from the element of surprise.

As soon as you plant your foot into the ground, focus all of your attention toward pivoting past the defender. Do not waste movement with extra steps. Pirouette your body violently toward the goal and allow that momentum to carry you away from the on ball defender.

The point at which you plant your foot is the point of no return. You either pull the ball back out and reassess the situation or complete the roll dodge in its entirety. There is no in between.

5.) Question Mark Dodge

General Overview

The question mark dodge is the preferred dodge of attackers that drive up to the area five yards up and five yards out from the cage.

This dodge is the antithesis to the inside roll. As opposed to pivoting toward the center of the cage, attackers plant their foot and pivot away from the goal for an immediate shot.

The question mark dodge is an effective way to set up a shot with your dominant hand when dodging to the weak side of the field.

Many defenders are under the mistaken impression that your strong hand shot is no longer a threat when you are forced to the weak side of the field. The question mark dodge proves this notion wrong.

With this dodge, the ball carrier drives up to the area five yards up and out from the goal. Once they have reached this position, the dodger leans into the defender, plants their foot, and quickly pivots outward. The pathway of the dodger resembles that of a question mark, which is why it is called the “question mark” dodge.

This rapid movement opens up a small window of opportunity for the ball carrier to launch a shot on goal. Since there is such a small window of opportunity to land a high percentage shot on goal, many attackers perform a jump shot out of their pivot.

The jump shot allows the dodger to pull the trigger on a shot almost instantaneously while still maximizing shot power and accuracy.

How to Perform a Question Mark Dodge

  • Set up your dodge from behind the goal.
  • Drive to the area 5 yards up and 5 yards out from the cage.
  • Plant the foot opposite the hand you are cradling with.
  • Lean into the defender to initiate contact.
  • Push off your plant foot and pivot outward.
  • Switch hands on your stick while pivoting outward.
  • Transition into the shooting motion.
  • Use this window of opportunity to land a shot on goal.

The player that made the question mark dodge so prominent in the lacrosse community is Rob Pannell. Click the video below to check out some model examples of how the question mark dodge should be performed.

Keys to Success

Get to 5 Yards Up and 5 Yards Out: It is absolutely key that you fight to get to five yards up and five yards out to set up the question mark dodge.

If you are unable to establish yourself at this location, you will not have the proper angle on the goal to bury the ball in the back of the net. As a dodger, you want to ensure that you see a lot of net when you commit to the shooting motion. The best way to do this is to establish yourself high enough above goal line extended to make yourself a real threat.

Often times, younger players make the mistake of planting their foot too early when attacking from behind the cage. By the time they realize they initiated the question mark dodge too early, it is far too late to stop the shooting motion.

Consequently, the shot is off kilter or the goalkeeper makes an easy save. Do yourself a favor and take the extra few steps to get just a tad higher. These extra few yards can make the difference between a turnover and a goal.

Initiate Contact with the Defender to Create Separation: The next key ingredient to success with the question mark dodge is to lean into the defender just prior to pivoting outward.

This extra bit of contact will disorient the defender and provide the extra momentum you need to quickly roll out for a shot. One subtle thing I used to do is try and step on the cleat of the defender while pivoting outward. This way, they would be left unstable and incapable of effectively closing out on my shot.

In the absence of contact, it is much easier for the defender to recover and shut down any shot possibility. Use your body to your advantage. Every little edge counts in the end.

6.) The Swim Dodge

General Overview

The swim dodge is one of the more advanced dodging techniques on this list. Nonetheless, it is a prolific weapon to get by defenders when performed correctly.

The swim dodge involves much of the same mechanics of the split dodge. It requires a jab step, change of direction, and transition of the hands on the lacrosse shaft.

The predominant difference between the swim dodge and the split dodge is that the ball carrier lifts the stick up and over the defender, mimicking a swimming motion.

This dodge is an effective weapon for taller offensive players that have a long reach. In order to adequately perform this dodge, players need to have an extended reach to bring the stick up and over the opposition.

The primary advantage to this dodge is that it evades any potential poke check that a defender might throw. This move is much more of a rare commodity relative to the other dodging moves on this list. As a result, many defenders never expect the ball carrier to actually attempt to pull the swim dodge off.

High caliber offensive players use this element of surprise to their advantage and utilize this movement to mix up their dodging repertoire. This is considered more of a showy dodge due to its high risk of failure, but if you can pull it off… go for it!

How to Perform the Swim Dodge

  • Run at full speed with your shoulders square toward the defender.
  • Attack the top foot of the defender to force them into a backpedal.
  • Step hard in the direction of the hand you are cradling with.
  • Plant your foot and change direction.
  • Lift your stick up and over the defender with your top hand while changing direction.
  • Accelerate past the defender.
  • Switch hands after the defender has been beat.

Below is a smooth compilation of how the swim dodge should be executed on live defenders.

Keys to Success

Perform This Dodge Against Shorter Defenders: One major key to success with the swim dodge is to measure up the on ball defender beforehand. If the defender is taller than you, it is probably not a good idea to try and lift the stick up and over their head.

This may seem like common sense but many offensive players skip this step and make a fool out of themselves. Not only that, lacrosse coaches hate showy turnovers like these.

Sizing up the defender and ensuring that you have the reach necessary to properly perform this movement can help you to avoid disaster down the road.

Execute this Movement Quickly: Furthermore, it is imperative that you execute the swim dodge with urgency.

The swim dodge may catch the defender unawares, but not for long. If you spend an extra half second performing this movement, it is likely that the on ball defender will dislodge the ball with a stick check.

In addition, elevating your stick up and over the defender exposes your rib cage to checks. A solid stick check on the ribs can easily knock the wind out of you. There is nothing worse than being on the receiving end of a hard check to the rib cage.

Practice this movement and insure that you are able to perform this transition at a rapid speed prior to experimenting with this dodge in game. Trust me, you do not want to wake up with extra bruises in the morning if you can avoid it.

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.

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