LSM is a common term thrown around the lacrosse community. This three letter abbreviation goes right above the head of novice lacrosse players simply because they are new to the sport.
LSM is an abbreviation for long stick midfielder. The LSM is tasked chiefly with shutting down opposing midfielders on defense and coordinating the other short stick defenders up top. The LSM substitutes onto the field for specialized circumstances, particularly defense and the face-off.
That is just a brief summary of what the long stick midfielder does in lacrosse. To fully understand the position of the LSM, you need to understand their primary responsibilities, their commonly overlooked responsibilities, and their general location on the field. You will also want to have a thorough understanding of what qualities make a good LSM.
Why Do Players and Coaches Use the Term LSM?
Nearly every lacrosse player and coach says LSM instead of long stick midfielder. This is not coincidental. There are actually several deliberate advantages to using the abbreviation as opposed to saying the full technical term.
A Lot Easier to Communicate on the Field
For one, LSM is much more convenient for the defense to communicate on the field.
Communication is a cornerstone of any solid defense. Every time that the ball moves, a player cuts, or the opposing team changes offensive sets, the defense needs to react appropriately. The only way that a defense can stay on the same page is through constant communication.
If the defense had to repeat the full term “long stick midfielder” every time that the LSM needed to adjust, precious time would be wasted. Opposing offenses thrive on exploiting any possible jump that they can get on the defense. Even a half second communication delay can make the difference between a goal and a stop.
For example, if the LSM is in the most favorable position to provide defensive support, the defense needs to ensure that the LSM knows that. The goalkeeper and close defenders need to yell “LSM! Get ready to slide!” to get the defense in the most optimal position to rotate to the ball.
By the time the defense yells “Long stick midfielder! Get ready to…” the on ball defender may already be beat. As a result, the defense will be left in an extremely vulnerable position due to a half second delay in communication.
Differentiates Them from the Close Defenders
The term LSM is also a convenient way for players and coaches to differentiate the long stick midfielder from the other long poles on the team.
It is standard for a lacrosse team to have one LSM on the field at a time. In contrast, there are typically three close defenders on the defensive half at any given moment.
To the untrained eye, it is extremely challenging to differentiate any of the defenders carrying long poles on the field. Knowing the difference between an LSM and close defenders is imperative to overall defensive strategy given the completely different assignments that these positions have.
Players and coaches need to be able to identify and call out to the LSM on the field for the purposes of substitution, clearing, and defensive matchups without confusing the close defenders. We will take a look at the specific details of the main responsibilities of the LSM next.
Primary Positional Responsibilities of the LSM
There are a couple of central positional duties that exclusively fall on the shoulders of a LSM. These positional responsibilities mainly have to do with defensive strategy and ensuring everything is running smoothly up top.
Shutting Down the Opposing Midfield Threats
The major duty of the LSM is to match up against the most skilled offensive midfielder on the opposing team. The other long pole defenders are too busy guarding the opposing attackers to match up against any of the opposing midfielders. Without the presence of a LSM on the field, midfielders would only ever have to dodge against short stick defenders.
Short stick midfielders are at an inherent disadvantage on defense because they are unable to keep pressure on the ball carrier from a comfortable distance. The only way they are able to keep the ball carrier at bay is through stick checks and body checks at close proximity.
Since the LSM has the advantage of a lengthier lacrosse stick, they have the capability of throwing stick checks from afar. This forces dodgers to initiate their point of attack from farther away, which allows the LSM more time and room to react to their movements. Furthermore, just the mere possibility of a hard stick check can be enough to scare a dodge away.
These distinct advantages make the LSM a much more formidable threat to opposing midfielders. This helps the defense to negate the talent and skill of the midfield opposition without having to shift the assignment of one of the close defenders.
Keeping the Other Short Stick Defenders on the Same Page
Another responsibility of the LSM is to coordinate the short stick defenders and provide them with support when necessary.
As aforementioned, short stick defenders are typically the weakest link on the defense. For this reason, offenses deliberately pick on the short stick defenders in order to have the best chance at creating scoring opportunities.
The LSM needs to try to keep the offense from isolating a short stick defender in a one-on-one situation at all costs. To accomplish this, the LSM typically switches on to the ball carrier when they are preparing to initiate a dodge. This way, the short stick defender is not put into a precarious position and the defense is better able to ward off the impending danger.
If the LSM is unable to switch onto the ball, they need to communicate with the rest of the defense who is in the most suitable position to provide defensive support. They also need to coordinate how the short stick defenders will rotate if the on ball defender gets beat.
One minor lapse in judgment can result in a goal for the opposition. This is why it is so imperative that the LSM stays on red alert at all times, continually reacts to the schemes of the offense, and ensures that the short stick defenders are up to speed defensively.
Substituting On for Short Stick Midfielders for Defense
The LSM is also tasked with the job of calling off the short stick defenders for substitution shifts.
Lacrosse games are very chaotic. When the ball is transitioning from one end of the field to the other, it is easy for short stick midfielders to lose track of when to substitute off and when to remain on the field.
They cannot do this if they do not substitute onto the field for someone else. The LSM needs to pay constant attention to the game in order to keep tabs on which teammate to take off and when.
For example, the LSM needs to identify which midfielder looks the most exhausted on the field. Midfielders do a whole lot of running during lacrosse games. It is not uncommon for midfielders to grow extremely tired within a short span of playing time. Ideally, the LSM should substitute on for the most depleted midfielder to keep the team as fresh as possible.
In addition, the LSM needs to recognize which situations warrant a substitution and which situations do not. The ball moves quickly down the field in lacrosse. Sometimes, there is not enough time for the LSM to substitute onto the field without potentially putting the defense in a precarious position.
For example, in the event that the LSM calls off a midfielder for a substitution on the opposite end of the field, a player on the opposing team is left unguarded for a prolonged period of time. This can obviously come back to bite the defense. It is for this reason that the LSM must identify substitution opportunities that will not ultimately leave the defense in a precarious position.
Commonly Overlooked Positional Responsibilities of the LSM
The LSM is also tasked with subtle responsibilities as well. These tasks may not be so obvious at first glance. However, they are still imperative to the overall success of team strategy.
Fighting for Ground Balls
Lacrosse teams look to the LSM to come with up loose balls whenever the opportunity presents itself.
The LSM has the benefit of a lengthier lacrosse stick. Consequently, players at this position have a slight edge when it comes to ground balls because they have a greater reach compared to players with shorter lacrosse sticks. Rather than having to sprint until they are hovering right above the ground ball, the LSM can pick up the loose ball from distance.
The lengthier lacrosse stick also comes in handy for preventing the opposition from acquiring possession. As soon as a rival player bends down to scoop up the ground ball, the LSM can utilize the extensive reach of their lacrosse stick to stick check the opposition.
Due to these slight advantages, the responsibilities of the LSM expand beyond the scope of just defense. They are also relied upon to be a solid ground ball scrapper.
This is the predominant reason why there is always a LSM on the wing during face-offs. Teams want to put their best ground ball players out on the field for these 50/50 loose ball scenarios.
Jumpstarting the Fast Break
Taking advantage of transition opportunities is another little known task for long stick midfielders.
Every time there is a turnover or save by the goalkeeper, teams are constantly looking to push the fast break. The more often lacrosse teams are able to catch the opposition unprepared, the better chance they have at creating viable scoring opportunities.
The only way to start the fast break is by carrying the ball downfield quickly. For this reason, midfielders need to do whatever they can to get open and get the ball in their stick. This includes long stick midfielders.
The LSM should not be running to the substitution box as soon as there is a turnover or save. First, they should take a look around and see if there are any opposing defenders nearby. If not, the LSM should call for the ball. It does not matter who brings the downfield, as long as the ball gets there quickly.
Whether the ball carrier is a short stick midfielder or an LSM, players need to take every effort to push the ball when the opposition is not set.
General Location of the LSM on the Field
Given that the LSM is widely considered a defensive position, it comes as no surprise that the LSM is generally located on the defensive half of the field.
The LSM typically does not stray below goal line extended since that area of the field is normally occupied by the close defenders. Instead, the LSM commands the area up top and matches up against the opposing midfielders above goal line extended.
The standard location of the LSM on the field is illustrated in the diagram below:
Comparable Sports Position to the LSM – Central Defensive Midfielder in Soccer
The LSM in lacrosse draws many parallels to the central defensive midfielder in soccer.
Both positions are founded on the premise of reinforcing the strength of the defense. Players at these positions need to have avid footwork, quick change of direction, and relentless speed in order to keep pace with opposing ball carriers.
The LSM and the central defensive midfielder also direct the top half of the field, keeping other defenders from wandering out of position as well as providing support when necessary.
In addition, both positions have responsibilities other than defense. These players do not need to have the best ball possession skills on the team. However, they do need to be somewhat capable of moving the ball up and down the field.
This is because their efforts are occasionally needed to clear the ball to the other half of the field. With both the LSM and the central defensive midfielder, it is imperative that they deliver the ball safely into the hands of the offense. Otherwise, their team will never have the opportunity to score.
I also found it to be sort of a strange coincidence that both of these positions are more commonly referred to by their abbreviated names (LSM and CDM).
Qualities that Make a Good LSM
To be a solid LSM in lacrosse, there are a couple of definitive qualities that you need to have. Some of the more lacrosse specific qualities that an LSM needs to elevate their game are described in the subsequent paragraphs.
Keeps Stick in Passing Lanes
A skilled LSM always makes a conscious effort to keep their lacrosse stick in passing lanes when playing off ball.
This is a true indicator of a knowledgable LSM. It is a subtle move that severely hinders the ability of the offense to generate scoring opportunities.
Ball carriers are constantly looking for opportunities to throw a “skip pass” over the entire defense. What makes the skip pass so effective is that it almost always catches the defense unprepared. It provides a player with time and room to either shoot or move to a more threatening position on the field.
A great way for long stick midfielders to counteract the power of the skip pass is to throw their stick in the throwing lanes. This allows a LSM the opportunity to generate turnovers by intercepting passes. At the very least, it dissuades the opposition from attempting to make any bold moves.
Closes Out on Ball Carriers in a Controlled Manner
Another mark of a high caliber LSM is whether or not they slide to the ball carrier under control.
Often times, the first instinct of a LSM is to recklessly sprint toward the ball carrier if it appears that they have an open lane to the goal. This brash maneuver rarely ever works out in favor of the defense.
Since the LSM lacks control in their approach to the ball carrier, the opposing player can throw a simple juke and watch the LSM fly by. If the LSM does manage to direct their approach at the ball carrier, their momentum usually carries them into the opposing player. Referees do not like when players body check players from a distance of greater than five yards. Thus, these body checks almost always result in a penalty.
A solid LSM breaks down with their feet, slides to the body rather than the stick, and throws a controlled stick check at the gloves of the ball carrier to impede their stick handling ability. These small details can make a tremendous difference in how good of a shot the opposing ball carrier is able to get off.
Refrains from Throwing Wild Stick Checks
Lastly, a talented LSM abstains from throwing ill-advised stick checks.
Although players at the LSM position carry a lengthier lacrosse stick, this should not take away from practicing proper defensive fundamentals. Long stick midfielders should not rely on the prospect of throwing bold stick checks to keep the opposition at bay. Rather, technical stick checks should merely complement the play style of a LSM.
Sound defensive footwork and staying in front of the ball carrier should take precedence over stick checks. It is a slippery slope when defenders start to bank entirely on one hard stick check to prevent the dodger from having a clear path to the goal. With this method, all it takes is one mistake for the defense to pay a heavy toll.