As an educator for US Lacrosse, I have noticed a big trend in both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse when it comes to zone defenses. Many coaches from the U9 to U19 age levels are trying to run a zone or considering running a zone.
To me, it is almost an epidemic of players doing nothing but standing still on a certain small plot of land in front of the cage. Players are not focused on the primary responsibility of defense, stopping the ball carrier, because they don’t want their coach to see them leave their zone. That’s followed by a lot of finger pointing once the offense figures out how to score.
Here are some key points that should help you get in the zone with your team:
- You can’t play zone if you don’t know man.
Body defense or 1-on-1 defense is required in lacrosse to stop the ball carrier. No matter if you run man-to-man or zone defense—you must stop the ball. Step one of coaching defense is to teach your players how to play man-to-man and stop the ball. Before you zone it up, be sure your players can play man-to-man on the ball.
- Zones move more than man.
A solid zone defense will require your entire defensive unit to communicate and move each time the ball is passed. We see too many 3-3 zones in boys’ lacrosse or 8-meter zones in girls’ lacrosse that have players stand in one place and only play the ball if it comes their way. In order to run the zone, be sure your players move to reset the zone and communicate their locations each time the ball moves. If done right, your players will move like crazy.
- Sticks up, score down.
Half the job of a zone is to take away passing lanes so that the offense can’t dump the ball in to the middle. This method forces outside shooting. If your defense doesn’t keep its sticks up and in the passing lanes, you will find your opponent feeding inside for success. Play for blocks and knockdowns, and the score will stay in control.
- Cutters kill.
If silver bullets kill werewolves, then cutters make zones look like Swiss cheese. If you want to keep your zone intact, then you need to call cutters when they happen and try to break through. Be sure your players follow the cutters from top-to-bottom and side-to-side, exchanging players as they cross from zone to zone. If your team can communicate where the movement needs attention, you can stop the attack.
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