What Does Mark-Up Mean in Lacrosse?


There are several call-outs on the field that are exclusive to the sport of lacrosse, like mark-up for example. As a beginning lacrosse player, the only way to really learn the meaning of these call-out is to analyze them one at a time.

In lacrosse, the term mark-up is a call-out to get everyone on a man-to-man defense to communicate who their matchup is. This way, no two defenders will be covering the same player on the opposing offense. It minimizes the likelihood of an open man being left out on the field.

To be successful on the defensive side of the ball, it is imperative that you nail down the concept of marking up. In the sections below, we will dive into the details about the technique of marking up as well as some useful tips on how to mark-up effectively.

A Comprehensive Overview of What Mark-Up Means in Lacrosse

Generally, the term mark-up is used during unsettled situations when the defense is just beginning to set up shop. It is best for players to mark-up following the transition from offense to defense.

Matching Up in Basketball is Extremely Similar to Marking Up in Lacrosse

A comparative analogy for marking up in lacrosse is settling into a man to man defense in basketball. After a missed shot, the other team needs to hustle back down the court to establish themselves into their defensive set. To clear up any potential confusion, players on the defense immediately point out who their matchup is to be as ready as they can be for the oncoming possession.

This same concept applies to lacrosse. As soon as a team has positioned themselves in their defensive half set, each player identifies who they’re guarding. Often times, players get lost in the shuffle during the shift from offense to defense because of all the commotion happening on the field. Players are subbing on and off the field, running at a dead sprint to beat an opponent to a spot, trying to avoid going offsides… you get the point. It’s a lot of information to take in all at once.

The Reasons Why Defenses Mark-Up in the First Place

Marking up when all of the appropriate personnel has reached the defensive end brings back order. Often times, teams find that two defenders were intent on covering on the same opponent. Obviously, this is not an ideal situation for the defense because that means another player on the offense has been left uncovered. By communicating efficiently, the defense is able to resolve this issue before it even has the chance to manifest itself.

It is standard for players to mark-up by calling out the number of the player they are guarding. They say things like “I got 23! I got 11!” However, the first priority of marking up is to firmly establish who is on ball. If no one is matched up on the ball carrier, they will have a free, easy path to the goal. For this reason, the very first response to the mark-up call should always be “I got ball! I got ball!” Once that has been taken care of, the rest of the defense should rattle off who they’re guarding. Until the issue of who is matched up on the ball carrier has been resolved, everything else should take a backseat.

Ideal Times to Mark-Up in Lacrosse

Although the most common time to mark-up is when the defense is first settling in, it’s not the only time when the mark-up call is used. The mark-up call can be utilized any time that a man-to-man defense is in disarray.

For example, a prime time for the defense to mark-up is after the defense has rotated to help out a teammate who’s been beat. Since the entire defense has switched around who they were initially guarding, it is a smart practice to mark-up again to recalibrate the defense accordingly.

Another good time to mark-up is after the offense has backed up a shot and the officials are about to reset play. As a reminder to beginning lacrosse players, the out of bounds rules in lacrosse are a bit strange in that an offense is able to retain possession of the ball after a shot. The only stipulation is that an offensive player must be the one closest to where the shot sailed out of bounds.

To learn more about this unconventional out of bounds rule, click over to my article What Happens When the Ball Goes Out of Bounds in Lacrosse?

Thus, if the offense backs up an errant shot, they earn the right to possession yet again. It is standard for defenses to mark-up while the offense is in the middle of snagging a new ball from the sidelines. By doing so, the defense seals up any cracks and is fully prepared to squash any potential scoring opportunity.

The Importance of Marking Up to Defensive Strategy

The importance of marking up on defense cannot be overstated. This ties back to the overall theme of effective team communication. Teams that refuse to communicate are far more likely to crumble under pressure compared to a team that talks with one another constantly on the field.

A defense that doesn’t get into the habit of marking up typically leaves wide open men on the field that go completely unaccounted for. It’s extremely tough to shut down an offense when opposing players repetitively pepper the goal with uncontested shots.

I have yet to find a successful lacrosse defense that is lacking in the communication department.

Go to any D1 collegiate lacrosse game and listen for yourself. Every time that an opposing offense is marching down the field, the defense is calling out who their matchup is three times over. They make sure that everybody is on the same page so that they don’t let up any easy goals.

Not to mention that when they do mark-up, they do so loudly so that the entire defense can hear. On the lacrosse field, there is no such thing as a quiet defender. Defenders have to yell and shout with a booming voice to get their message across. It’s simply too important not to do. At the most competitive tiers of lacrosse, defenses cannot afford to let up doorstep goals due to a sluggish lack of communication.

Can You Mark-Up in a Zone Defense?

Many novice lacrosse players wonder if the concept of marking up can be applied to a zone defense. Since defenders are designated a specific area of the field to cover rather than a man in this kind of defense, there is no need to mark-up.

Rather than marking up, players in a zone defense communicate which area of the field they’re going to protect. Ideally, you want to have players at distinct spots on the field for each and every play. But unfortunately, everything does not always go according to plan in lacrosse. For this reason, it is necessary for defenders to improvise periodically and announce which defensive territory is theirs.

For example, defenders in a standard 3-3 zone might sound off and say “I got bottom right!” or “I got top middle!” These zone defense call-outs are the equivalent of marking up in a man-to-man defense. Every defender should be on a string. When one man moves, the rest of the defense should step up and replace. The only way to realistically accomplish this is by talking everyone through the entire defensive rotation.

Put simply, a defense should be communicating no matter what defense they choose to implement.

Tips on How to Mark-Up Effectively

Now that you know what marking up is, you likely want to know how to actually apply this knowledge out on the field. Below, I included a couple of tips to help you mark up in an efficient and timely manner.

Call Out Your Matchup and Pack In

When one of your teammates tells the defense to mark-up, you should find an opponent that’s in close proximity and identify him as your matchup. Once you have clearly identified who you’re guarding, you may be tempted to venture out and face guard your matchup to signify to the rest of the defense that you’ve got your man covered.

If you’re positioned far away from the ball, this is not a smart play. As a general rule of thumb, the farther away you are from the ball, the more you should hedge off your defensive assignment. Mind you, this doesn’t mean to completely let your matchup off the leash. It simply means that you should position yourself slightly away from your man and closer to the ball.

Although this does somewhat free up your defensive assignment, it is of little importance because they are a negligible scoring threat. Since they’re located so far away from the ball, the likelihood of them receiving the ball before you’re able to scramble back in front of them is slim at best.

It benefits the defense more if you slough in closer to the ball carrier. This way, you will be in a better position to offer help if the on ball defender gets beat. Although you may only be able to slough in a few yards, this could shed a couple seconds off of your defensive rotation.

In lacrosse, a matter of seconds is all an offensive player needs to put the ball in the back of the net. If you can consistently rotate to the ball a couple of seconds early by hedging in, this can save your team a great deal of goals over time.

Use Your Lacrosse Stick to Monitor Your Matchup’s Movements

Offensive players thrive on deception. Whenever their defender turns their head for a split second, they’re looking to backdoor cut and find open space on the field.

This can definitely result in some headaches for defensemen. It can be extremely challenging to track the whereabouts of the ball and your defensive assignment simultaneously, especially when you have to guard a particularly shifty player.

In order to mark up more effectively, one strategy you can implement is lightly laying your lacrosse stick on the player that you’re guarding. This way, you can survey the field while still monitoring the movements of your matchup. This is especially useful if you have a long pole. As soon as your defensive assignment decides to move, your lacrosse stick will give away their position.

As an offensive midfielder myself, I have to admit that I absolutely despised when defenders used this tactic on me. A large part of my game was centered around sneaky off ball cuts to notch in a couple easy goals every game. I always encountered the most trouble playing off-ball when I was pitted against defenders who trusted their sense of touch over their vision.

It is important to note that this strategy is not meant to be a hold. If you’re holding your matchup back from freely moving about the field, the official is bound to throw out the yellow flag. With this strategy, you merely have to set your lacrosse stick lightly on your opponent. No holding necessary.

Final Thoughts

If you find yourself on the defensive side of the ball, you’re destined to hear the term mark-up at some point. Now that you are intimately familiar with this concept, take the knowledge above and put it to good use!

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