There are a considerable amount of fundamental terms and phrases associated with the sport of lacrosse. One call that is often echoed across the lacrosse sidelines is “Ride! Ride!” But what exactly does ride mean in lacrosse?
In lacrosse, riding is the act of putting heavy defensive pressure on the opponent as they try to advance the ball from their defensive zone to their offensive zone. Teams implement this defensive technique immediately after they lose possession of the ball in their own offensive area.
Riding is a bit of a tricky concept to understand at first if you are new to lacrosse. It can be hard to differentiate strategic riding versus normal defense. This article provides a comprehensive outline of what riding is and why it is so important to the game of lacrosse.
The Meaning Behind Ride in Lacrosse
The fundamental concept of riding can be broken down into three broad components: its definition, its objective, and the players in charge. All of these sections are scrutinized in greater detail below.
Riding is defined as the defensive pressure that a lacrosse team uses to prevent the other team from successfully reaching their offensive end.
As soon as a team commits a turnover or the opposing goalkeeper makes a save, the team that just lost the ball transitions into their ride. What this means is that players promptly match up against the opposition off ball and on ball.
Players that are off ball cover opposing players that are streaking down the field. The central mission of these off ball players is to block any passing lanes where the ball can reach the opponents running downfield. This way, there is no easy outlet for the opposing team to deliver the ball to the other end of the field.
Certain players are also committed to defending on ball. This forces the ball carrier to make hastier decisions, which increases the chances of the other team turning the ball right back over. On ball defenders harass the opposing ball carrier by chasing them around and throwing stick checks and body checks wherever possible.
The primary mission of the opposing team that just acquired possession is to clear the ball to their offensive zone as quickly as possible. For this reason, teams are always searching for fast break opportunities to get the ball over to the other side of the field. This is why it is so imperative that the team that just lost the ball set up in their ride in an urgent manner. Otherwise, they will be left vulnerable to potential fast breaks from the opponent.
Riding in lacrosse is the equivalent of the full court press in basketball. A basketball team that gives up possession to the other team may enter into a full court process to minimize the likelihood of any fast break opportunities and get the ball back quickly. Lacrosse teams set up in a ride for these same exact reasons. Although the specific details may vary between these two sports, the general premise remains the same.
The objective of the ride may vary depending on the circumstances of the game.
In most cases, the primary objective of the ride is to counteract the clearing effort of the other team and prohibit the fast break. However, if the game is winding down and a team desperately needs the ball to make up some ground, their primary objective may change to getting the ball back at all costs.
The objectives of counteracting the clearing effort and causing turnovers may seem synonymous, but they are not. This is because these two objectives are extremely different in terms of how teams go about executing their ride.
If a team simply wants to impede the clearing effort of the other team, they do not need to be nearly as aggressive. They can back off of the opposing ball carrier and do their best to cover any rival players that are trying to get open. There is not a tremendous amount of risk involved with carrying out this objective.
A team that needs to get the ball back at all costs approaches the ride in an altogether separate fashion. When a team has reached this sort of desperation mode, they typically devote multiple players to pressuring the ball carrier. Furthermore, the other defensive players on the field stick to their assignments like glue. This aggressive approach is a lot more taxing relative to other riding strategies.
With all of this information, it is evident that the objective of riding varies with the situation of the game.
Players Who Are In Charge of the Ride
The typical players that man the helm when it comes to riding are attackers and midfielders.
This is because it is the offensive personnel that is present on the field when the other team regains possession of the ball. Standard offensive personnel is comprised of attackers and midfielders. Once an offense loses possession of the ball, the roles flip. Offense becomes defense and defense becomes offense.
Consequently, it is very possible that you see attackers guarding against defensemen that are attempting to bring the ball up to the offensive zone. The ride is the one time where attackers are able to showcase their defensive prowess on the lacrosse field.
Examples of a Fundamental Lacrosse Ride
If this is a bit challenging to picture in your head, check out the video below! This video provides an abundance of examples of what an aggressive ride looks like in the game of lacrosse.
Riding is a Team Effort
Notice how the ride is not just a one man effort. The entire team must buy in and defend the opponent aggressively. From the attackers all the way down to the defenders positioned on the other end of the field, everyone must contribute.
If there is one weak link in the chain, it is extraordinarily difficult to stop the clearing effort and force eventual turnovers. All it really takes is one open man to negate all of the hard work put into the riding effort.
A Well Executed Ride Leads to Easy Offense
Also observe how a successful ride almost always leads to easy offense. When a team forces a turnover and regains possession of the ball through a ride, the defense is left in a precarious position. Often times, the other team is so concentrated on the clearing effort that the goal is virtually unguarded.
Players are scattered all over the field in a standard clearing setup. Midfielders hover around the half field mark, defenders are flanked out wide and away from the goal, and even the goalkeeper must venture out of the crease. This is because teams want to have the most amount of room on the field possible to work with when advancing the ball to the offensive zone.
The major drawback with this dispersing of players is that it is awfully challenging to recover back to the goal if the ball is lost. A team that reacquires the ball via a well executed ride catches the other team unprepared. Consequently, offenses are easily able to take advantage of these unsettled situations and create a high percentage scoring opportunity.
The Importance of Riding to Lacrosse
Most players like to focus on flashy goals or explosive defensive hits. A tactical riding effort, on the other hand, does not receive nearly as much attention. Although goal scoring and body checking are significant elements in lacrosse, the art of the ride is just as important.
Ask any top tier lacrosse player or coach. They always preach about the importance of riding. And for good reason!
A string of successful rides can easily turn the tide of a lacrosse game. One of the fundamental keys to victory in the sport of lacrosse is possession time. Teams that have mastered the art of riding strategy earn a couple of extra possessions with each and every game.
Riding is a lot like ground balls in this respect. It is a means of fighting tooth and nail to get the ball back to the offensive zone. These extra possessions equate to additional scoring opportunities and ultimately more goals.
This may not seem like much of a difference from an outside perspective, but every little edge counts. Games routinely come down to the wire where the outcome is decided by a one or two goal margin. A successful ride here or there can be the determining factor that grants a team the win.
How Riding Reveals the Tenacity of a Team
In addition, it is important to note that a successful ride really boils down to one thing… effort. Nearly any lacrosse team can develop a knack for hard-nosed riding if they are willing to put forth the effort.
Players regularly neglect this aspect of the game due to pure laziness. Whether it be exhaustion or ego, the last thing that these offensively oriented players want to do is commit themselves to the riding effort.
They do not wander around the field in a lackadaisical manner and allow the other team to strut down the field. Rather, they look alive and eagerly seek out the opposing ball carrier to place some hard defensive pressure on the other team.
During my early playing days, my coach placed such emphasis on the importance of riding effort that he would bench any player that he felt was not putting forth their due diligence. It did not matter whether it was an unskilled attacker or the star of the team. He taught us that skill is of little importance if the work ethic is not there on the field.
This is why some of the best lacrosse teams in the world are masterful at strategic riding. There is no single player on the team that lags behind. Each player wants to get the ball back just as badly as the next. It is hard to sneak the ball past a team that is willing to put their mind and body on the line just to earn an extra possession.
Unsettled Ride versus Settled Ride
It is typical to group the circumstances of riding into two different general categories: the unsettled ride and the settled ride.
The unsettled ride is the more common of the two game situations. A ride is considered unsettled if it happens during live game play. When the opposing team picks off a pass, scoops up a ground ball, or makes a save on a shot, a team must drop back into their ride setup immediately.
Players on the field have no time whatsoever to gather themselves and assess the situation. They cannot afford to sit around and let their mind wander. These players have to pick up their assigned man or run to their assigned zone as soon as possible.
The settled ride takes place after a stoppage in play. There are a few situations where a settled ride takes place. A settled ride occurs after the other team wins the end line race following a shot, after a wayward pass sails out of bounds, after a team calls timeout, or after a penalty has been issued.
In this type of ride, a team has a bit of extra time to organize themselves and get into position. The dead ball stoppage affords teams some leeway to establish themselves on the field.
Types of Lacrosse Riding Strategies
Depending on how aggressive the riding effort is, players may defend their assignment very closely or very loosely. Players may even swarm the ball carrier to cause havoc in the clearing effort of the other team.
Generally, aggressive riding strategies demand that players match up extremely tight to their opponent. If a team is extremely desperate to get the ball back, they may even commit two players to double teaming the ball carrier. This increases the likelihood of causing a turnover, but leaves the door open for transitional opportunities at the same time. The more aggressive the ride, the greater the risk.
Man to Man
When a team sets up into a man to man ride, players match up and cover their defensive assignment. Generally, attackers guard against opposing defenders and midfielders guard against opposing midfielders.
However, there are exceptions where teams must stray away from this rule due to extenuating circumstances.
In this type of riding setup, it is especially crucial that every single player picks up a man. Otherwise, one man will be left open and the entire riding effort will crumble with just one accurate pass.
With a zone setup, players are assigned to certain sections of the field and guard anybody who enters their assigned section.
This forces the opposition into crossing a defensive blockade in order to carry the ball to the other side of the field. It can be both problematic and intimidating for ball carriers to find little cracks and crevasses to slip through. It is easy for ball carriers to get caught in a double team with no where to go with the ball.
The issue with the zone ride is that one player is unable to effectively guard against two players that enter their assigned section of the field. Thus, the clearing team can work these 2v1 match-ups by continually passing the ball until they have reached the offensive area.
Tips for Properly Performing a Lacrosse Ride
To execute a successful lacrosse ride, there are several core principles that players should follow. These fundamental guidelines are illustrated in the subsequent paragraphs.
Use the Sideline as an Extra Defender
One overlooked facet of the art of a successful ride is the use of the sideline. The sideline is extremely beneficial since players can essentially use it as an additional defender.
Ball carriers must stay in bounds. If they are pressured near the sideline and are on the cusp of being driven out of bounds, the available room to run is rather limited. Ball carriers have to push into defenders to try and force their way back to the middle of the field or turn backward. Otherwise, they will simply be forced out of bounds and turn over possession.
Either option benefits the ride. If the ball carrier turns backward, the defense is given more time to recover. If the ball carrier pushes toward the middle right into the teeth of the riding effort, it is likely that they will lose possession of the ball due to a flurry of stick checks and body checks. Lastly, if the ball carrier is forced out of bounds, then the riding team accomplishes its objective of causing a turnover.
Play the Body, Not the Stick
Attackers are not the most fundamentally sound defenders in the world. That is why they are specialized for the offensive end. As a result, many attackers tend to opt for the home run stick check rather than playing the body of the ball carrier.
These risky stick checks rarely ever work out in favor of the ride.
For one, it is likely that the referee will call a penalty for slashing. It is obvious when an attacker swings a reckless, one-handed check and only hits the body of the opponent. This blatant disregard for the safety of the other player is not something that referees can just glance over.
In addition, attackers completely miss the home run check nine times out of ten. Even close defensemen that are in possession of the ball are able to see a home run check coming from a mile away. With one swift movement of the lacrosse stick, they can easily evade any hefty oncoming stick check.
A much better alternative for attackers is to force the ball carrier to beat them with their feet. By playing the hips of the defender rather than the stick, it is much more difficult for the ball carrier to run by. This buys time for the ride setup to take form and prevent the fast break.
Implement the Cross Field Rule
Another crucial element of a successful lacrosse ride is forcing the long pass.
If any man is left open on the field, it should be the man farthest away from the ball. The first concern of the riding team should be covering the players closest to the ball.
Throwing an accurate long ball is a very challenging task, even if the player is open. Teams that are clearing the ball are routinely lured in by the silver bullet of delivering the ball to the other side of the field with one extended pass. By compelling the opposition to pass the ball a lengthy distance across the field, there is a considerable chance that the ball will just sail out of bounds.
This is a quick and easy way to get the ball back almost immediately. The best part is that it does not require much additional effort on the part of the riding team. All it takes is a bit of defensive prioritization.
Allow the Goalkeeper to Bring Up the Ball
Lastly, the riding team should allow the goalkeeper to carry the ball up the field.
Generally, goalkeepers are not comfortable with leaving home base. They barely touch the ball and hardly ever venture outside of the crease. The only time that they do so is when the clearing effort demands it.
Forcing the goalkeeper out of the goal benefits the riding team in a number of ways.
For one, it puts the ball in the hands of the least comfortable ball carrier on the field. Goalkeepers tend to panic when they have the ball around the midfield mark. It is at this point that they begin to get desperate and make brash decisions. These brash decisions usually result in quick turnovers and easy scoring opportunities.
Furthermore, it leaves the goal completely unprotected. If the riding team manages to get the ball back, there is quite literally no one covering the goal. All that a player has to do is run the ball within a reasonable proximity to the goal and nonchalantly toss it in to the net. These kinds of goals are the easiest in lacrosse.
So if the goalkeeper has the ball and keeps creeping up field, let him be. The farther that he goes out, the better it is for your team.