Lax Coach Mike: 4v4 Short-Field Games for Conditioning

By Mike Muetzel,

When we interview top NCAA lacrosse coaches, we hear more and more about increasing the levels of actual competition in practice. I love an option we learned from Coach Lars Tiffany at Brown, although Coach Daly at Tufts also uses competition short-field games over a season.

Split the full team into sub-group rosters with teams of four players. At Brown they put six to seven players on a team. We are going to play on a short field, 4v4, for a three- to four-minute game. The total time allocated in practice is 15 minutes, which Tiffany suggests works out best. The result is three to four games in each practice. The hidden conditioning element to all of this is amazing, and it is a lot of fun.

Depending on roster size, you may want three shorties and a pole on each team, or two shorties and two poles, or even have all players use a short stick. If you have only two goalies, they will have to rotate from team to team.

To enhance the competitive element over a period of time at Brown, they break players into pre-designated teams for the season. At the high school level, perhaps we split the team into four-man teams for a period of two or three weeks, your choice, and play these games twice or three times a week. We need to try to make the teams as even as possible to enhance the competition element.

Once you announce the teams, allow players to pick their team names. We used a Star War theme, with names coming from the players. All this sets the tone for competition and fun.

Take a large poster board and set up a round robin schedule for the two days a week we are going to play this out, keep it posted in locker room with the scores and wins, and review with the players before each day they play.

For the final two days, set up a tournament bracket to take this to the next level.

At Brown, they put the cages at the midfield wing lines (so there is room to play behind the cage) although it is basically sideline to sideline with the restraining lines as sideline out of bounds. If you have a larger roster, set up two fields with cages inside the sidelines to allow play from behind.

Play begins with a single face-off. When a team scores, the other team immediately gets the ball, and off they go. It is a fast-paced four minutes. You might want to use a 20- or 30-second timer or shot clock from the time of possession.

The completion element has to be enhanced with a prize or a trophy or T-shirts if you have the budget. I remember at Tufts, they make a "Stanley Cup" out of tin foil, displayed in the locker room. Or the rest of the team needs to carry the winning team's bags to the field for a day. Be creative!

Mayhem Element

Coach Tiffany suggests that, on one day of the competition, put the cages more towards the center of the field but back-to-back, leaving 10 or 15 yards for players to go behind, so goalies can get into the action too. This funky set-up practices coming from behind the cage as well.

OK, I can already hear the traditional coaches saying that is not worth 15 minutes of time integrated into a practice plan when there are so many other fundamental elements we need to be working on.

I asked Coach Tiffany about this. "But I see the benefits." He understood the argument but thought that the element of competing and learning how to compete over a season of 4v4 scheduled games more than overcame the concern. This is an interesting perspective coming from a great coach and great program.

It sounds a little hokey, but the element of competition, fun conditioning, and the fast-paced transition play may surprise you. Our kids love it! is a unique site for lacrosse coaches, offering drills and ideas from the greatest coaches in the country. E-mail your comments to

All of the previous articles on coaching and drills from Lax Coach Mike can be found on the Lacrosse Drills, Instruction, and Training page. His eBook is also available.


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