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Team defense

This is an excerpt from Men's Lacrosse by Don Zimmerman & Peter England.

Learn about defensive units in
Men's Lacrosse.

Functions of Team Defense

Consider this scenario: The opposing team has caused a turnover via a goalie save or has gained possession of the ball from an intercepted pass, a take-away check, or a loose-ball pickup. Each unit of the team defense has a job to do to react to the loss of possession, play smart athletic defense, and attempt to regain possession. Let's look at the role of each defensive unit in this situation.

Close Attack

Most teams depend on their close attack to do their aggressive riding. Because the three close-attack players are matched up against the opposing goalie and three defenders, each attackman plays two opponents (see figure 13.1). If the goalie makes a save, the close attack's first job is to screen the goalie with their body and stick to take away any quick and accurate outlet passes. After the first pass, the close attack's responsibility is to chase down and turn back any ball movement up to the centerline. Riding is about desire and attitude. The riding executed by the close attack is analogous to fore-checking in hockey, which is about tenacity and taking good angles. Riding attackmen are like rushing defensive linemen reacting to a screen pass. Football linemen have to brake, turn, and chase down the play.

Midfield Unit

Most teams tend to be more conservative because they don't want to take a lot of chances in the open field and risk turnovers. They don't want to make “all or nothing” heroic plays that could result in giving the opponent a man-up advantage (not via penalty). They don't want to create unsettled situations for the opponent by making foolish decisions. Therefore, midfielders rarely slide upfield when they don't have much opportunity to steal the ball. Midfielders must know when to concede the clear, turn and drop back, and play 6v6 defense (figure 13.2). Whether it's an all-even transition or a break situation, defenders need to set up in the hole.

Close Defense

The close defense unit needs to closely guard the opponent's close-attack players from the midline back to the goal (figure 13.3). If these defenders are looking to challenge for the ball, they need at least a 50-50 chance to secure possession of the ball. When in doubt, they play defense first. The most important task for this group is to get back into the hole and minimize any breaks.


The goalkeeper is the quarterback of the defense and the eyes of the defense. The goalie recognizes the break situation and communicates the proper defensive formation. For example, a defender may slip in the open field; a defender may break his stick and have to get a replacement before he can continue to play defense; or the opposing team may gain possession on an intercepted pass or loose-ball pickup and have a numbers advantage between the restraining lines. In these circumstances, the defense is in a scramble situation. Whenever there is a break situation, the goalkeeper will recognize the situation and yell “Fire” or “Break.” If the goalie yells “Break,” then there is no debating the issue—the defense immediately reacts and drops back to the hole.

Once the defenders hear the “Fire” call, everybody must turn and sprint (fire), dropping back into the hole. As soon as defenders hear “Break” or “Fire,” they are no longer playing one man. They're playing a zone. At this point, it doesn't matter what defensive package they are in; all bets are off, and the Xs and Os go out the window. The defenders need to sprint back into the hole, jam the inside, and take away a dangerous situation. The “Fire” call communicates this message to the defenders: “We are in trouble here, and we're trying to stop the bleeding until we're all-even, playing 6v6 team defense.” Depending on the break, the goalkeeper will yell out the following defensive calls:

  • 5v4 break: Goalie yells, “Five on box.”
  • 4v3 break: Goalie yells, “Four on triangle.”
  • 3v2 break: Goalie yells, “Three on stack.”

Read more from Men's Lacrosse by Don Zimmerman and Peter England.

More Excerpts From Men's Lacrosse