Lax Coach Mike: The Army 'Nugget' Lacrosse Drill

By Mike Muetzel, LaxCoachMike.com

When I talk to Army head coach Joe Alberici, I am impressed with his unique way of putting a spin on lacrosse drills. It usually leaves me wondering why I didn't try the drills years ago, as they just make so much sense.

Here he puts a unique spin on an old lacrosse drill almost every coach runs with defensive players. Let me begin with a few comments. A well-executed skip pass in transition or a man-up situation can lead to an easy look from the backside pipe or a step-in-and-rip-it shot from "time and space." Conversely, a pole who knocks down or deflects a skip pass can be an unsung hero at a very critical moment. Although I think about it when watching film and beginning to plan practices, I usually run only drills that feature these opportunities a few times a week or when we practice man-up/man-down. Regardless, it's not nearly enough.

At Army, they call the skip passes that are deflected or even intercepted "nuggets." And they talk about them every day. Over my 30+ years coaching, I've come to think that some defensive players just seem to have a knack for it. But maybe we could improve the amount of nuggets in each game with a renewed focus in our practice plans.

Coaches are always looking for additional defensive drills to keep it interesting as our offense shoots or runs skeleton offense in practice. One drill we seem to run every day is a four corner box. We have three players handling the ball, often rotating to three of the four corners of the box, marked with cones, and passing the ball. At the same time, two players are focusing on defensive slides. One defensive player is on the ball, and one is "splitting" the other two ball handlers, positioned in the middle of the box. On a pass, he goes directly to the new ball carrier while his defensive teammate now splits the other two and so on.

This is a long proven drill to emphasize the fundamentals of slide, recovery, and most importantly communication. Does all this sound familiar?

At Army, they added a twist. Many days, rather than have the three ball handlers (even if they are poles or D-mids) remain outside the box, they have to stay inside. In the "Nugget Drill," all five players are now inside the box. However, the principles remain the same. But now we have a totally different dynamic, as everything and everybody is moving. Even though it looks like moving pieces, or even confusion, the fundamentals remain. One player covers the ball defensively, while his teammate is splitting the other two ball handlers, and they reverse roles on each and every pass, all the while looking to get a nugget.

I started the article as a reference to the standard defensive drill. But at Army, they often divide players into two groups who play offense and defense regardless of position. To introduce this drill, I recommend expanding the box to 20 yards square and giving players room to work and learn the drill. As they become more proficient, reducing the size to 15 yards will increase the speed of passes and really tighten the space. At Army, they use the hash marks and yard lines.

I was anxious to try the drill with my team, and, honestly, the initial response was not good. But after three or four minutes, the light bulb seemed to go on. Obviously there are a lot of great things going on here.

Ball handlers need to dart or V cut in and out to establish more defined passing lanes. Defenders need to communicate as well as move their feet at a whole new level and focus on opening their hips (always to the inside) while keeping an eye on the ball (to see where it will go) as well as on the open men (to see where they will need to slide to next). Whether you like "head on a swivel" or even "big eyelittle eye" as your mantra, the reinforcement of additional fundamentals in this drill is really effective. Remember, the primary focus is a "nugget" even with everything else going on.

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2015-04-21



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