Lacrosse coaches have a habit of throwing around lacrosse terms that new incoming lacrosse players have yet to learn. The term alley is one of the them. It took me a good couple months before I was able to finally grasp what the alley actually meant in lacrosse.
Officials refer to the alley as the slim lane that lies outside the restraining box, spanning from end line to restraining line. Dodgers refer to the alley as the lateral area just within the restraining box that is not centered in front of the goal, spanning from midline to goal line extended.
Thus, the location of the alley really depends on the context of who is referring to it. At first, it can be a bit tricky to understand why this is. I will lay out all of the knowledge I’ve gathered about the alley over the years to help you thoroughly master all the specifics behind this fundamental concept in lacrosse.
The Meaning of Alley in Lacrosse
To fully grasp the notion of the alley in lacrosse, we will break down its meaning step by step by categorizing its definition into parts. We will first look at how referees interpret the alley. Then, we will pit this meaning against how dodgers interpret the alley.
The Meaning of the Alley in Terms of Officiating
As aforementioned, officials interpret the alley as the slender lane that lies laterally outside the restraining box. This section runs from the end line to the restraining line. To help you better visualize what this looks like, I have provided the diagram below showing exactly how lacrosse referees interpret the alley.
Referees make use of the alley when they are restarting play. Rather than handing the ball over to a player within the restraining box, they grant possession in the alley. This is done to prevent the offense from having a quick path to the goal.
Could you imagine what would happen if the referees restarted play with the ball carrier just a couple yards away from the goal? It would be chaos! Ball carriers would just try to whip in a shot as soon as the whistle was blown.
The alley is positioned far away from the goal, so ball carriers would have minimal opportunity of pulling a fast one on the defense. Referees deliberately reset play out in the alley to level the playing field between the offense and the defense.
In addition, officials monitor the alley to ensure that offenses successfully establish possession following a clear. At the youth and high school level, teams that are transitioning from defense to offense must get a touch in their restraining box to establish possession. Getting a touch requires that the ball carrier physically step inside the restraining box.
Teams only have a fixed time to clear the ball. If they fail to clear the ball within the allotted time by getting a touch in the restraining box, the team will have to forfeit possession.
Keep in mind that the alley is not part of the restraining box. If a team is in the middle of a clear and the ball carrier runs to the alley, they have yet to formally establish possession. Although the alley is positioned near the restraining box, they still have yet to physically get a touch to constitute possession.
Novice players frequently run into problems with establishing possession because they are unaware of the difference between the alley and the restraining box. Now that you know the difference, you won’t have this issue.
The Meaning of the Alley in Terms of Dodging
Congratulations on accruing all of that knowledge about how officials interpret the alley. But now that we’re turning our heads to the meaning of the alley in the context of dodging, you’re going to have to push that information to the back of your mind. The definition of the alley in dodging is vastly different from the definition of the alley in officiating.
Dodgers label the alley as the section of the field that is not directly located in front of the goal. Rather, it is slightly offset, roughly extending from the lateral edge of the crease to the lateral edge of the restraining line. In terms of length, the dodging alley runs from the midline to GLE (goal line extended).
I know this can be challenging to visualize in your head, so I designed the diagram below so that you could see what I’m talking about.
Comparing the dodging alley to the officiating alley, you can tell that there is a blatant difference in these field areas. Where the officiating alley was confined and narrow, the dodging alley is expansive and broad. These key characteristics of the dodging alley will come into play later when we discuss its importance to offensive strategy.
Dodgers reference the alley separately from officials because they use the alley in an altogether different manner. The purpose of the alley for them is not to restart plays fairly or monitor the establishment of possession. For them, the purpose of the alley is to take advantage of an optimal area on the field to create scoring opportunities.
Which Field Area Does the Alley More Commonly Label?
Sometimes, it can be a hard task to decipher which area of the field is being referenced when the word alley pops up.
As a general rule of thumb, the officiating alley only really deals with restarts and constitution of possession. Aside from these two scenarios, the officiating alley is not alluded to a whole lot.
The primary reason for this is that the dodging alley holds a greater degree of importance in offensive and defensive strategy. Teams could care less about the technicalities behind how a play is restarted. What players and coaches yearn to know is how to create the best chance possible to earn themselves a victory.
Absorbing knowledge about the alley accomplishes this goal. How you may ask? We will discuss this topic next.
The Importance of the Alley to Offensive Strategy
Earlier, I mentioned that the dodging alley is the ideal location for teams to initiate their offense. That statement likely confused you a bit. Players have the best shooting angle when they are centered in front of the goal, don’t they?
You would be correct in saying so. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like it would make rational sense for ball carriers to deliberately stray away from the center track of the goal. But hear me out. There are a few reasons why ball carriers dodge down the alley as opposed to heading right down main street, if you will.
The Strength of the Defense Lies at the Heart of the Offensive Zone
For one, defenses are well aware that the most dangerous spot on the field is the center lane toward the goal. Consequently, this areas is almost always swarming with defenders to dissuade the offense from attacking the middle. Any dodgers that do attempt to dodge toward the middle typically get swallowed up into the teeth of the defense.
Even if a dodger does manage to get their hands free in this center track, there is so much commotion around that it is hard to find a direct shooting path toward the goal. Put simply, there is an overabundance of opposing defenders and offensive teammates milling about, not to mention the goalkeeper. Firing off a shot from this area of the field is more likely to do collateral damage rather than find its way to the back of the net.
The Dodging Alley Offers Ball Carriers a Way to Evade the Teeth of the Defense
To avoid all these problems, dodgers alter their point of attack to take advantage of the right or left alley. There is a whole lot of running room within this area for ball carriers to take advantage of. Plus, if a dodger commits to dodging the alley, they can pull out of the dodge whenever they feel like it. Since there is open space either to the left or the right, they can simply reset the play.
There is no such luxury with dodging down the middle. The defensive walls close in on a dodger from either side until they are quite literally trapped amidst the congestion.
This does not mean that ball carriers have to execute their dodges extremely far away from the goal. Rather, they should still attack the alley, but push in toward the center as much as they can afford to increase their shooting angle and make themselves more of an offensive threat.
Walking the line between maximizing your shooting angle and evading defensive pressure is more of an art than a science. The only true way to hone in on this area of lacrosse is through repetition. But once you perfect this craft, it is well worth it.
Real Examples of Teams Initiating the Offense with Alley Dodges
Once you get a feel for where the dodging alley is located, you will find that virtually every premier lacrosse team takes advantage of the alley to jumpstart the offense.
A model example of a team that exploits the dodging alley is Syracuse. Every time their midfielders are looking to make plays on offense, their origin of attack almost always comes from the dodging alley. To see for yourself, click on the clip below!
The Importance of the Alley to Defensive Strategy
The alley is also an imperative piece of defensive strategy. As aforementioned, the vast majority of the defense hedges in toward the goal to provide support where necessary. It is the first priority of defensemen to protect the middle. They want the offense to attack the dodging alley.
Defensive strategy is based around the fundamental concept of forcing dodges that originate from up top toward the alley because it is difficult to get off a high percentage shot from this field area. On ball defenders that are able to stick with the ball carrier and keep them on the lateral edge of the alley put their team in a solid spot defensively. In summary, ball carriers that are contested on the lateral edge of the alley are not a threat.
However, defenses know that on ball defenders will inevitably get beat every so often, so they take the necessary precautions to prepare for this eventuality. Their main precautionary strategy against dodges down the alley is the slide.
For those of you that would like to learn more about the mechanics of the defensive slide, check out my article What is a Slide in Lacrosse? – Definition & Examples.
Essentially, a slide is defined as the defensive support that another defender provides when the on ball defender has been beat. When a ball carrier dodges past the on ball defender and runs down the alley, another defender needs to step up to prevent them from having a free shot on goal. The defense wants to push dodgers into the alley as opposed to the middle, however, the defense does not want the offense to have an uncontested shot attempt.
The slide is what squashes this danger. The sliding defender leaves their assignment to take care of the immediate threat in the dodging alley. The rest of the defense rotates to fill in the defensive gaps left by the slide until the only offensive player open is the man farthest away from the ball.
This is an effective way to put a stop to the offense because even if the ball carrier does manage to get off a shot, it will be contested and at a low shooting angle.
Without adequate slide preparations, it would not be ideal for the defense to push the ball carriers to the alley because there would be no one to back them up. The presence of the slide makes all the difference in the effectiveness of forcing ball carriers to the alley.
Real Example of a Defense Forcing the Ball Carrier to the Alley
There was a whole lot of information to process in the section above. Sometimes, actually seeing the play unfold is a far more effective teaching tool than reading. Click on the video clip below to see all of the defensive tactics surrounding the alley put into practice.
The confusion of understanding what the alley is can be traced back to its dual meaning. Officials refer to the alley as something entirely different from dodgers. Of the two meanings, the dodging alley is the more universal term due to its significance in offensive and defensive strategy.
My parting advice to you is to take the knowledge you learned today and apply it on the lacrosse field. This information isn’t worth anything unless you actually put it into practice.