Straight Shooters answers your youth lacrosse questions with the help of US Lacrosse experts. This week's "Straight Shooter" is Matt Zash. Zash was a two-time All-America midfielder at Duke, graduating in 2006. He plays professional lacrosse for the Major Lacrosse League's Philadelphia Barrage and the National Lacrosse League's New York Titans. Zash was a member of the 2003 United States under-19 men's world championship team and played for Team USA in the 2007 Indoor World Lacrosse Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He owns and operates the Lax Hut, a chain of lacrosse retail stores.
Q: My coach just switched me to midfield from attack, and I'm having a hard time adjusting to the defensive aspect. I'm lost on that side of the field. Any tips on how to make the adjustment?
Justin McCarthy, 13, Virginia Beach, Va.
A: Unfortunately, there's no quick fix to make you a confident defender overnight. Like anything else, you'll need to work hard to get to where you want to be. Defensive midfielders, or D-middies, are required to be fast upfield, aggressive on ground balls, great with stick protection in traffic and smart with decisions once the ball is over the midline. Converted defensemen will generally be "stay-at-home" players. They're the most physical players on the field because they feel the need to compensate for lacking that extra distance between themselves and offensive players.
Short sticks don't try to take the ball away. They are more concerned with solid position defense. Mentally, short-stick defensemen are unselfish. They have to be, or they'll ride the pine. They are responsible for the intangibles (getting upfield for fast breaks, sprinting all the way back to the crease to prevent unsettled situations, boxing out on faceoffs, etc.) It's hard work with little instantaneous reward.
I don't want to throw too much technical information at you, but you should start out learning defense in its simplest setting -- one-on-one drills will reveal most of your position and footwork problems.
Most attackmen, if not all, play defense with their sticks, not their feet. They are taught only to chase. You'll soon find out those strategies don't work inside the box. The most critical element of team defense is communication. Offensive players rarely talk to each other because they already know where they're going. Defensive players must react to offensive movement and make sure the entire unit is on the same page. If they're not, the scoreboard tends to change.
Communication is key. I cannot stress that enough. Last, as someone new to "the other end," you'll need to develop a defensive IQ. Ultimately, you'll need to get caught up on all unsettled situations and six-on-six schemes. That's what coaches are for.
Straight Shooters runs every Sunday in The Sun and on baltimoresun.com. E-mail your youth lacrosse questions to email@example.com and include a phone number for e-mail verification. The series can also be found on Lacrosse Magazine's Web site at www.laxmagazine.com. US Lacrosse, headquartered in Baltimore, is the national governing body of men's and women's lacrosse. Learn more about playing, coaching and officiating lacrosse at www.uslacrosse.org.