Defense: On ball

Question: How can I stop getting beat one on one or “on-ball”?

Sealing off your man with solid on ball defense is a pillar of great team defense. If you are consistently getting beat by your man, there is extra pressure being put on the rest of the defense to slide and potentially get out of position on the other offensive players in the formation. This often will lead to open shots on goal. Before I get into specifics, there are two overarching principles that you need to get to be an effective on ball defender…


That dude is in your house, going after your goal and your goalie. He is literally trying to take food out of your mouth. In your house, you make the rules, not him. That means that you control him like he is your little puppet and you don’t ever let him make his own choices about what he is going to do in your house.

The second overarching rule:


Imagine the lacrosse field is cut in half long ways, from your goal to the opponent’s goal. Topside is whatever side puts the defender toward the middle of the field…in front of the goal. If you are defending at the top left of goal, and you get beat topside, you let the attacker beat you to your right. If you are defending to the top right of the goal and you get beat topside, you let the attacker beat you to the left. You should always be forcing the action toward the sideline (or the end line if you are defending the bottom). Over-defending and getting topside position DICTATES that your defender will go the other way and not have a good look at the front of the goal.

There are three keys to solid on-ball defense that you can employ every time to help avoid getting beat. These progressively build on each other:

  • Fly to your man when the ball is being passed to him, not after he catches the ball.

When you see that the ball is being passed to your man, approach him aggressively while the ball is in the air. I am not telling you to gamble and go for the ball all of the time…that is a sure way to get beat if you come up empty. What I mean is, anticipate that he is going to get the ball, and get into your good defensive position before he catches it. After your man catches the ball and looks forward, you, up in his grill, should be the first thing he sees. Giving him room, gives him options which is letting him decide. Remember, YOU make the rules not him. He is going to go where you want him to go not the other way around.

  • Big Steps to Little Steps

If the brain is the most important part of the defenseman, his feet are a very close second. The best defensemen in the game play defense with their feet, not just their arms or the pole. By having good footwork, you will always be in the right position to use your body to DICTATE position.

When you are flying to the ball you want to take big steps at first to get over to the defender quickly. However, as you get closer to your defender, when he catches the ball, your steps need to be smaller jab steps. Why? Again, you are dictating things, not him. By taking smaller jab steps, you are not overcommitting to any one direction. These smaller steps allow you to position your body to head off his topside moves. Remember, that dude is trying to get topside to square up a shot…but this is your house not his. So, big steps at first and smaller steps as you close in on your guy will ensure that you will maintain that topside position.

  • DICTATE direction and pace!

I know I have said this before but it is the single most important concept to grasp when playing defense so it bears repeating. By following the first two steps you have now put yourself in the optimum position to do step 3.

In Step 1 you flew to the defender while the ball was in the air. While you were flying to the defender you used big to little steps (Step 2) to make sure you were in the best position. Now that you are there, you DICTATE direction and the pace (Step 3). By keeping good topside position, you force the attacker to the sideline or the end line. Your job is to get the ball back to your offense. Make your guy give the ball up…he’ll do that when he realizes that you are not going to give him a good shot on goal because YOU ARE DICTATING his position.

Don’t worry, we will be going over all of these (and other) concepts in practice. If something in this article appears in Bold you will hear it often from me and the other coaches in practice. The better you grasp these concepts now, the crisper we can be in practice and ultimately in the games. See you on the field boys and…