The Two-Man Lacrosse Offense Attacking from Up Top
By John Foley, Lacrosse Coach, Cold Spring Harbor District, Long Island, NY
In creating an offense in lacrosse, what you do when you don't have a breakdown player?
Coaches from the youth league level, right through the NCAA Division I level struggle with this critical problem.
At the lowest and highest level of lacrosse, generating offense can be a struggle. The youth level coach will often start giving the ball to his best and biggest player and have him steam-roll the opposition.
At the highest level of collegiate and high school lacrosse, great athletes and sophisticated defensive schemes have brought this once great offensive game to a screeching halt.
We all wish we had a couple of studs!
To that end, I developed a very simplistic, yet productive, offense strategy that coaches at every level can implement with minimal difficulty during regular practice time.
We all wish we had players like former UVA midfielder Drew Thompson or Duke attackman Matt Danowski.
As Long Island high school players, each was surrounded by supporting casts that enabled them to dominate Long Island Lacrosse for four years. Their speed, strength, skill, and tenacity made them virtually unstoppable.
Few teams have studs like these to rely on year in and year out. Those that do are fortunate and score without much effort or direction. For those that don't have threats of that caliber, creating offense becomes a great challenge.
The most complete offensive machine I ever saw in my 20 years of coaching was the Class B, New York State Champion, Huntington Blue Devils. During their undefeated two-season stretch (2005-6), they scored in every imaginable fashion and destroyed the best teams in New York State along the way.
Huntington had nine offensive players that were capable of creating offense for others or scoring on their own.
Team and individual defense has improved more then any other aspect of lacrosse during the last 20 years!
Defensive play has changed, the days of the slow-footed defenseman and sluggish midfielders are history. Coaches at all levels spend time developing and improving the speed and agility of defensive players. They spend equal time practicing and honing a variety of 6-on-6 base defenses.
Odd-man situations, the traditional fast break, man-up, and other scramble situations, are what we play for as offensive coaches. Scoring in the half field, all even-settled offense has become impossible at times.
The traditional 4 vs 3 fast break is also an occasional highlight that is rarely seen. Switching from different defensive schemes and styles happens frequently and are confusing and often stifling to team offense. These changes have produced great lulls in the scoring action and the traditional excitement of lacrosse.
For all of the above reasons, it becomes critical to design a simplistic, yet effective offense. Many of the principles can be applied to any sport that has a ball and goal, and has been adapted all over the sports world.
Why and how to apply this offense?
Coaches like the offense because it relies on two key players as opposed to one or six. Team-motion offenses can be effective, provided all the players are similarly skilled.
Over the course of a complete game, it is far too demanding to have just one player be your only offensive catalyst.
Syracuse sophomore middie Pat Perritt was unable to finish his junior or senior high school seasons because he was a marked man and the defenses were lining up to take him down.
Our version of the two-man game is not always directed at the two short sticks. Through scouting and first-quarter game observation, we try to find the best possible match-up vs. two defenders short or long stick.
We look for defensive players who struggle when playing within the team concept. Some of the best one-on-one defenders falter when asked to pair up with a teammate and play together.
Key: Don't put defensive players in situations that will take them away from their comfort zone. Examples: Taking base defenders up top, taking middies to X, and putting them together at the wings or side of the cage where all defenders seem uncomfortable.
The emphasis in one-on-one defense is preventing the offense from getting free for high-quality scoring chances.
In today's game, stud goalies catch almost anything they see. What they cannot defend is a free-running offensive player who draws a double and dumps the ball to a teammate on the doorstep to shoot into an open net.
Through a series of simplistic two-man plays we can generate offense even when we lack studs like Drew and Matt.
What do you do if you're not one of the two men?
The key to the two-man game is what the off-ball players are doing. If they are standing still or not putting themselves in shooting positions, your offense will become predictable and easy to stop.
Like most offenses, field balance and having a player at X are critical. So is the task of keeping someone up top to avoid the fast break after a turn-over or poor shot.
Off-ball players must have the field sense and vision to find the lanes and holes in the defense while moving to support their teammate with the ball. Cutting, running, and screening for the sake of it only causes havoc for your offense. Developing timing, consistency, and continuity will take time and a lot of fine tuning.
Game sense is the most difficult aspect to coach in any sport. Players who have field sense look smart and natural on the field. The players who lack it, look awkward and out of place. They must understand that their play without the ball will almost certainly produce a quality team scoring chance.
If one of these plays creates separation or a slide, they will most likely be the recipient of a quality feed or possession-saving outlet pass.
Quality team offense requires all the players to make sacrifices and know how to move with and without the ball.
Making your players believe
We are always trying to build total team concepts. Players who become focused on statistics or point totals work against our philosophy.
Getting them to buy into this program is not easy. Some players find it insulting when their coaches start discouraging their one-on-one offensive breakdown ability.
During my first season at Farmingdale (NY) State U., I found player resistance. Through repetition and production, they slowly bought into the system and started to flourish.
With this simple offense, we increased their confidence and scoring chances.
The by-product was a vast improvement in our one-on-one play and the ability to see the whole field. By the mid-point of the season, we had some brilliant goal-scoring stretches and were able to control the tempo of some games.
Winning and scoring in bunches is the best way to get a team to adopt a new philosophy.
Having been a high school coach for the past 20 years, I was delighted with the jump to the collegiate ranks. Head coach Steve D'Argenio believes that lacrosse should remain the player's game with a wide-open offense, and punishing physical defense without the coaches controlling and choreographing every situation-the way the game was meant to be played. Men's lacrosse, at the highest level, has become very predictable. Travel outside the top 20 and you'll see the game the way it used to be played.