This is an excerpt from Lacrosse Essentials by Jack B. Kaley & Richard B. Donovan.
Mastering fundamental lacrosse skills is vital to keeping your team in the game. All are skills a team can control and none requires special athletic skills. This chapter covers stick handling and ground balls.
Holding the Stick
The first thing a beginner must learn is how to hold the stick. Right-handed players should hold the stick with the left hand on the butt of the stick and the right hand on the shaft of the stick about the distance of the length from the elbow to the fingertips (see figure 2.1). The left hand on the butt uses a full grasp. The thumb on the right hand stays on the side of the stick, guiding the shaft. From proper stick holding, we can proceed to ball-handling techniques.
Proper stick grip for a right-handed player.
Cradling the Ball
After learning how to hold the stick, the player must learn how to cradle the ball. The object of the cradle is to keep the ball out of the throat of the stick and in the pocket. The easiest way to teach this to a beginner is to demonstrate it. At first you can teach a beginner to get the feel of the cradle by putting the stick in a horizontal position. Then demonstrate the cradle in a vertical position showing how the upper hand controls most of the action. Many beginners have a tendency to overcradle. You only need enough cradle to keep the ball in the pocket of the stick.
Teach beginners to cradle from a stationary position. Once they get the feel and are able to maintain ball control while cradling, let them jog. Once they can jog and maintain control of the ball, they should try running. Every time they jog to the field or around the field as part of their warm-up before practice, have them cradle, switch hands, and roll-dodge while jogging. A roll dodge is discussed in chapter 3. The best way to master the cradling technique is through repetition.
Throwing the Ball
Like cradling, the best way to introduce of the mechanics of throwing is by demonstration. Have the players stand sideways. Right-handed players put the left foot forward. Hold the stick up at about a 60-degree vertical position. To throw the ball, they should step with their left foot and throw the ball with their upper hand. This action is similar to throwing a baseball, but with a lacrosse stick. They throw and aim with the upper hand and pull and follow through with the bottom hand (see figure 2.2). For beginners, emphasize that the lower hand ends up at the elbow of the other arm on the follow-through. We call this cracking the elbow. This ensures that the passes are made overhand. To throw, slightly cradle the ball and then step and follow through during the throwing motion. If the ball comes out low, the player is probably not cradling the ball to get it out of the pocket. When learning the mechanics of throwing, players should start from a stationary position under the supervision of the coach. Once they have mastered the fundamentals of throwing from a stationary position, they can throw from a jog and then while running during drills. Like all skills, this is best learned through repetition. This skill can be learned through individual practice at the wall. For a list of wall drills, see chapter 12, Special Situations.
Follow-through when passing the ball.
Catching the Ball
Catching the ball is somewhat similar to catching a baseball. You reach out with your stick and eye (watch) the ball into your stick. As the ball enters your stick, you give back slightly to receive the ball as you would do with a baseball and glove. In lacrosse, we call this a soft stick so that the ball doesn’t bounce out (figure 2.3). In baseball you do it for the same reason but also to reduce the sting of the catch. It’s important that you catch the ball in front of your body so that you can better eye it into your stick. If your stick is out to the side, it is difficult to catch the ball.
Using a soft stick to catch the ball.
When beginners catch and throw in pairs, players should be 10 to 15 yards apart, and each pair should have its own ball. Coaches should diligently observe and correct fundamental errors in catching, throwing, and stick handling. It is important that beginners learn the correct technique from the start.
Scooping Ground Balls
The skill of scooping is simple, but it must be performed correctly every day to master it. The amount of time spent in practice depends on the level and ability of the players. The younger and less experienced they are, the more time they should spend perfecting scooping. Even high-level teams should drill it every day for a short period.
Scooping is by far the most important skill beginners must learn. The more inexperienced the player and the team, the more the ball will be on the ground. Before a player is able to catch and throw, he must first get possession of the ball, which will be on the ground. As the player approaches the ball, he must have two hands on the stick (see figure 2.4a). The stick should be held to the side of the body with the upper hand held loosely near the throat of the stick. As he approaches the ball, he should bend with the knees and the back. He should focus on the ball, stay low, keep his head over the ball, and place the stick on the ground 6 to 10 inches in front of the ball. As he scoops the ball into the stick, the player should come up, cradle slightly (see figure 2.4b), sprint for 10 yards (see figure 2.4c), and circle as he keeps his body between his man and his stick (see figure 2.5).
Ground ball scoop: (a) approach the ball, (b) scoop, and (c) explode.
Circling to the outside.
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