Lax Coach Mike: Using 'Nubs with Heads' to Improve Defense

By Mike Muetzel,

During coaching clinics, I am often asked for more lacrosse drills for defensemen. This conversation often leads to additional tips and ideas featured in practice by top NCAA coaches.

Clearly there are many defensive philosophies out there, and not all coaches agree. Quick double teams versus slower double teams, or a "show" slide, crease or coma slides versus adjacent slides not to mention the new wave of zone or hybrid zone defenses. But the majority of the coaches we have interviewed regarding the way they teach poles to play defense now put a heavy emphasis on positioning, cutting angles, and disrupting a shot or pass by the offensive player rather than a pure take-a-way check.

And rarely do we interview coaches who spend a lot of time on coaching individual take-a-way checks in practice. The fact of the matter is that, with current stick technology, defenders often make great contact with a player's shaft or head ... and the ball just does not come out. And now the defender's feet might be out of position for a roll dodge or quick bust from the offensive player, and we have not only not put the ball on the ground, but we are beat on defense.

Perhaps the best way to coach both new and experienced defensive players is to simply take the traditional long stick out of their hands occasionally during 1v1, 2v2 or even play, or transition drills and focus on the movement of their feet and where the stick is positioned rather than focusing on a take-a-way check.

However, coaches do spend time focusing on the defender's stick positioning during these drills. The goal is to use the stick positioning of the defender (not a check) to encourage the offensive player with the ball to drive or to move in the direction that the defender wants them to go. Regardless of your preferred slide package, it is important to have the defender via the position of their stick encourage the offensive player to drive into the direction where your preferred slide will come from.

For example, if a player drives from up top, almost all coaches will have the defender keep the stick on the back hip of the driving offensive player to encourage or force the player to the outside to greatly reduce the angle of a shot. Many college coaches refer to this as keeping the defenders stick on the "high side." I am not going into a dialog here of a "Backer Zone," where a coach may have the defender keep the stick to the outside, encouraging the player inside to a quick backer zone slide. Please just stay with me.

Many coaches at the high school, youth and rec levels have a supply of short cut off handles, or just a short shaft, roughly 24" long or so, and refer to them as "nubs." The idea is to have the defender focus on positioning and quick foot playing with the nub and without a lacrosse head. But although it is an effective teaching aid for quick feet, anticipating angles, and keeping the defenders hands inside with pressure, we can do more. We can multi-task this fundamental to incorporate stick positioning as well.

Coach Tony Seaman shared this technique with me many years ago, and at least for my teams it really works. In a recent podcast with Coach Nick Myers from Ohio State, he also shared the benefits of a slightly different type of nub. Instead of a short shaft, we use a nub with a head attached. Coach Seaman gave me the idea to gather used sticks I purchased second-hand or even assembled from the old stick inventory from my garage. Now I have a 20" nub with a small head attached.

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