MLS Stick Work Guide
All Moorestown coaches should not advance a player to the next level with improper mechanics concerning all aspects of stick work. Any flaws in the mechanical motion of shooting, catching, scooping, or throwing may have a negative impact on their play and inhibit the players’ success. These mechanical deficiencies become more problematic as the player progresses to the high school and collegiate levels.
Please review the following stick work guide and as coaches make sure the players adhere to these fundamentals during practices and games.
Please contact Curran with any questions.
The size of the stick depends on (1) the size of the player, and (2) the position for which the stick is being used. As a guideline though, an attack stick should be no shorter than 40 inches nor should any defense stick be taller than the player’s mouth when the player is standing. If the attack stick is any shorter, the attackman will not be able to scoop or ride properly; conversely, if the defense stick is any longer, the defenseman will not be able to clear the ball properly. Midfield sticks usually are anywhere from 40 inches to 43 inches, again depending on the size of the player. The size of the goalie stick is an individual matter, but usually should be the length of a long midfield stick. Third and fourth graders may go down to 38” sticks. Defensemen from 3rd-5th grades should play with midfield length sticks. This will help them learn to play proper defense with their feet also ease the stick work learning curve.
HOLDING THE STICK
Stick-handling cannot be properly executed unless the player holds the stick correctly. On a right-handed player, the left hand grasps the bottom of the stick with the palm of the hand facing downward. The right hand has the palm facing upward grasping the stick approximately 12-16 inches from the bottom hand. A good guide to check for the proper hand width is to have the player hold the stick parallel to the ground with his hands in front of him. If his hands are properly placed, they will rest slightly outside of his hips. Further, the hands should grasp the stick loosely enough so as to avoid a “hammer grip”, but tightly enough to keep the stick stable when throwing.
The “Box Area” is a term which will be emphasized here and should be emphasized with all players. This term refers to the imaginary box which is created by the space if the shoulders are extended out two feet each way and then approximately two feet above the head. For purposes of efficiency and consistency, all throwing, catching, cradling and most shooting should take place with the box area.
Throwing a lacrosse ball is no different than throwing a football or a baseball. The player stands with the toes of his feet perpendicular to the other player or goal with his feet approximately shoulders width apart on the balls of his feet.
Envision a clock around the player’s body: the head of the player represents 12:00, the feet 6:00 and the arms held straight out 3:00 and 9:00 respectively. On a right hander the throwing motion should take place in the 2:00 to 2:30 area with the follow- through occurring at 6:30 to 7:00 (for a left-handed player the throwing motion occurs from 10:30 to 11:00 with the follow-through occurring at 4:30 to 5:00). The upper hand, or the right hand on a right-handed player, is approximately ear level and this hand cocks back as if throwing a baseball or football. The actual throwing motion involves the following steps as the player stands sideways to his target:
1. The player’s weight rests on the back leg and is transferred to the front as he throws. The hip turn starts the throwing process.
2. The shoulders whip through as the player throws.
3. The upper hand cocks back and then follows through with a snapping motion. This snapping motion is important because it provides accuracy and power.
4. The lower hand is bent at the elbow, snaps the stick down and comes across the player’s body right below the chest almost touching the body. This hand is the guide hand and as it pulls down while the top hand snaps. The follow-through should never extend much beyond the off hip.
5. The ball should leave the stick from the center of the pocket where the player can feel it and the stick points in the direction of the target.
6. The ball is aimed and thrown to the other player’s box area.
7. As the player follows through, the back foot also follows through and moves forward.
When demonstrating the throwing motion, it is a good idea to throw the first couple of times with only the top hand on the stick to emphasize the importance of the wrist snap of the top hand. This emphasis is necessary due to the tendency of the beginner to be tentative about throwing the ball and to push the ball instead of snapping it. This tendency many times shows up on more advanced players when the player uses his weak hand or off hand.
There is a lot of technique in catching a lacrosse ball. First, the body is not turned sideways as in the throwing motion, but is open and is directly facing the thrower. The arms are in front of the body and off the body. The hands are apart as in the throwing motion, but many times they should be slid up the stick near the throat to obtain bette3r control. The head of the stick is open to allow the greatest surface area of the stick to be exposed to the ball.
If the ball is thrown to the player on his stick side, he reaches out with the head of his stick; much like a first baseman would do in baseball. Then, as the ball hits the pocket, the player gives with his top hand and slightly cradles the stick to control the ball.
If the ball is thrown off-stick side, the player then reaches across his body with both his top hand and his bottom hand and steps across with his right foot, if right-handed, for purposes of balance and extension. This catching motion is the same; except now, when the player has control of the ball, he returns his stick to the box area on his stick side.
An over-the-shoulder catch is executed in a similar manner as a football end catching a long bomb. The hands are apart with the top hand right at the throat of the stick; the player looks over his shoulder as he runs; the stick is slightly in front of the body; and the top hand gives with the stick as the ball hits the stick.
Even w hen the best college or club teams play, the ball is on the ground a great deal; consequently, the team which controls the ground ball more often than not will win the game.
It is imperative that the player bends his knees when attacking a ground ball – the words “attacking the ball” are appropriate because the player must be determined and aggressive on ground balls and actually attack them. The waist is also bent over the ball and the shoulders are open and facing the ball with the right foot forward. Both hands are on the stick, which should be parallel to the ground – a player should never scoop one-handed! The back hand rests on the left hip or slightly in front of the hip, but away from the body so, in case the head of the stick becomes imbedded in the ground, the butt end will not stick in his stomach.
The back hand should cover the butt end of the stick to avoid being checked from behind by an opponent. The back hand should also be as low to the ground as possible because this will force the scooper to bend his knees. As the player steps forward to scoop with his right foot, he “scoops through the ball”. This means that he keeps moving as he runs and immediately brings his stick in the box area. The player should never be allowed to “rake” the ball – this means stopping and pulling the ball towards him and then scooping. Lacrosse is a contact sport and you are a welcome target if you scoop in this manner.
When a ground ball is rolling towards the player, he must alter his approach somewhat to avoid a bad hop. This is accomplished by placing the body in the path of the ball and holding the stick on an angle of about 60 degrees with the head of the stick touching the ground and open and with the top hand near the throat for increased maneuverability. Now, if the ball takes a bad hop, the scooper will: 1. have an opportunity for the ball to hit the head to the stick because it is open and more surface area is exposed; 2. since the top hand is closer to the head, he will have a greater chance of moving the stick at the last moment to play the bad hop and 3. if the first two fail, the ball should hit his body giving him an opportunity to kick the ball forward and still be able to play the ball.
Cradling is the motion which keeps the ball in the stick as the player runs. The motion is a natural one which, to a great extent, is caused by the pumping action of the arms which occurs as the player runs. All that needs to be added is a light curl of the top hand’s wrist as the player moves. The bottom hand acts as a guide and should grip the stick very loosely in order to let the stick turn in the hand. A common mistake with inexperienced players is to over cradle with both hands, swinging the stick back and forth wildly. Further, the cradling should take place in the box area so when the player wants to throw; his stick is already in the proper position.
A variation of the two-hand cradling motion described above is the one-hand cradle which is used by attackmen or middies. The stick and wrist action are still the same, but now the lower hand is placed in front of the body with the elbow bent at a 45-degree angle to protect against a defenseman’s check. Again, the tendency to guard against is to over cradle.
Another variation is the snake-cradle which defensemen sometimes choose to use when clearing the ball. The snake-cradle finds the defenseman with his stick horizontal and parallel to the ground with the bottom hand covering the butt end of the stick and the arm extended in front of the body about shoulder level. Since the stick is in front of the body, attackmen cannot check the defensemen from behind, which often times happens because of the long defense poles. As the defenseman runs up the sidelines, he rotates his wrists slightly to maintain ball control.
It is important for players to learn proficiency in both left and right hands. Thus being able to transfer the stick from the left hand to right and right to left while on the run is imperative. The transfer comes when both hands are on the stick and usually out of a cradling motion. If the stick is in a right handed cradling position the stick is moved across the players’ face and lowered slightly moving the head of the stick from the box position to a plain that tracks the top of the head at about the level of the players’ nose. As the stick comes across the face and lowers by the top hand sliding the stick down into the bottom hand much like sheathing a sword. The bottom hand moves up to meet the top hand. The top hand releases and the bottom hand now becomes the top hand of the now left handed player. When this transfer takes place the top hand was the only hand to release the stick. The bottom hand never comes off the stick. This skill must be used by every player on the field. Goalies and defensemen must clear the ball using this skill and middies and attackmen will utilize this move as part of offensive dodging.
When a player catches the ball or scoops the ball and needs to turn and throw to someone behind him or beside him, he should always turn properly by protecting his stick with his body. For instance, a right-handed player, after scooping or catching, who wants to throw to another player who is to his right, should turn as he runs with his stick to the outside making a circle with his body with his left foot being on the inside. This prevents being checked from the backside because now the opponent must check through the body, thus giving the attacker a chance to protect himself. If players have developed their off-hands, then switching hands will accomplish the same important stick position. The rule of thumb here is to always keep your body between your stick and the opposing player.
MOVING TO MEET THE BALL
The player should never stand still when he is scooping the ball or getting ready to receive a pass; he should always move into the ball. Moving into the ball decreases the opponent’s chances of getting to the ball first and increases the chances of the player for whom the ball is intended to successfully negotiate either the catch or the scoop.
A MUCH NEGLECTED ASPECT OF LACROSSE FUNDAMENTALS IS SHOOTING. Many times a player will successfully dodge his opponent only to take a poor shot, often missing the goal completely.
Important points to remember when shooting:
1. Always look at the goalie, note his position and pick out the best spot to shoot before shooting.
2. Shoot for a spot; don’t just heave the ball towards the goal.
3. The shooting motion should be similar to the throwing motion. Often players shoot underhand from 3:30 to 4:00 because they feel they will generate more power. Not true. The little bit of power which may be gained is not worth the accuracy which is lost by shooting underhand – it’s not how hard you shoot that counts, but where. Shoot from 1:00 to 2:30.
4. Always step to the goal when shooting. Power is generated by the shoulders and body weight moving towards the goal, therefore, don’t step sideways but directly at the goal and be sure to follow through. Shoot on the run. By standing still and winding up, the goalie has a much easier time lining up the shot and making the easy save. As the shooter moves, so must the goalie which makes his job tougher.
5. A player need only free his stick to shoot, not his whole body.
6. A player should shoot with a screen whenever possible.
7. From 12 yards and out, the shooter should bounce the ball right in the center of the goal directly inside the head of the crease. This shot, due to the bounce, will usually move the ball to the left or right by a foot or so. Every crease area causes a ball to bounce differently. If at all possible, shooters should familiarize themselves with both creases before the game to determine the bounce of the ball.
8. Most shots inside 12 yards are in the air. Although the balls that stick in the upper corners get the “ohs and ahs” from the crowd, those shots are not the most effective. The best place to shoot inside 12 yards is on the goalie’s off-stick side between his knees and hips. This is the hardest place for a goalie to place his stick or body to make a save. Please remember that a goalie is expecting all shots inside 12 yards to be high. Maintaining a 1:00-2:00 shooting motion, the shooter may go high or low. A low shot, in tight, also has a very high scoring percentage as goalies anticipate the high shots in tight. This requires practice, as low shots, in tight, are not easy and require a split second more time to release the ball.
9. Becoming a good scorer in lacrosse does not happen overnight. Whether or not a player scores a goal comes down to split seconds and fractions of an inch. This skill takes many hours of practice. The practice needed to achieve proficiency is not standing in front of the goal at varying distances and winding up but should replicate game situations. The situations to practice shooting are: Shooting on the run; Shooting after coming out of a dodge; Shooting after receiving a pass. Practice should always imitate actual game situations.
Finally it is important to emphasize that to become accomplished with the aforementioned stick skills takes much practice. I always have viewed stick work as a personal pride issue and something that is developed on the players own time not practice time. As coaches we need to pay closer attention to the mechanics of stick work, include drills during practice which allow us to monitor stick work performance, and then take the time to correct any mechanical glitch observed. Insist that the players USE THE WALL. This is the best way to improve stick skills of all aspects. One suggestion is to insist that players make 50 catches on the wall before practice starts. As they get better with their off-hands they should take 50 left and 50 right, switching hands after each catch. The best players in college spend hours on “The Wall”