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Lacrosse Defensive Strategy: What You Need to Know

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Lacrosse Defensive Strategy: What You Need to Know

While a significant aspect of lacrosse focuses - understandably - on scoring that winning goal, another critical element can really make or break your game: the defensive strategy. This is an essential tool in learning how to play lacrosse; securing a strong, impenetrable defensive strategy can help focus your team, boost your performance, and increase your chances of winning - but just how do you craft the perfect defense?

The Situation

It is important to remember that defense in lacrosse will differ depending on the situation players find themselves in. There are several common game situations, and these include:

  • Settled - a settled situation occurs when all players are settled, or ready, as soon as the offense goes on the attack. This is common if there has been a temporary pause in play, such as out-of-bounds play, or a foul from either team.
  • Unsettled - conversely, an unsettled situation occurs when there’s a very quick change of possession, and this offers one team a significant advantage, such as a fast break.
  • Power Play/Man-up Man-Down - this situation occurs where one team is down a player, usually due to a penalty. The team with the extra player will push forward and focus on scoring a goal, while the other team must focus on defense, trying to hold the line and supporting each defender until the penalty time has elapsed.

Common Defensive Strategies

Many commonly used strategies can help you improve your defense in lacrosse, and drilling these with the team can seriously improve your game and give you an advantage over any team - no matter how skilled. 

Man-To-Man Defense

  • This is a standard move in settled or regular play; each lacrosse defender is assigned their own zone or area to cover.
  • This defense strategy requires excellent communication between the team, and each will have ‘slide’ responsibilities, which requires them to cover a defender who gets passed - the secret is understanding how and when to switch the players for maximum impact.
  • Man to man defense may be a classic, but when used correctly with a team who knows how to work together, it can be a game-changer for your lacrosse match.

Zone Defense

  • Understanding how to beat a 1-3-1 zone defense is one of the most common questions asked in lacrosse. This relies on understanding zone defense - a popular alternative to man-to-man defense.
  • Rather than having a defender guard one specific player, each zone defender is given responsibility for guarding a particular side of the field, or ‘zone,’ as well as any offensive player who enters this area.
  • Those playing defense in this way must adjust their position on the field, depending on the ball’s movements across the field. Zone defense can be super effective, as it severely limits the movements that the offense can make and gives more power to your defender.
  • Rather than focus on the next goal, the opposition will be forced to try and escape the defense, shifting their attention.
  • Additionally, a properly executed zone defense can cause surprise and offer a nice change of pace to keep your opposition on their toes.

Defensive Strategy Top Tips

Ultimately, learning how to become a top defender comes down to practice, experience, and teamwork. It is also important to overcome the psychological factor - it will be tempting to simply focus on the goal.

Quick Feet

  • Quick feet are a crucial aspect of lacrosse, and even more so when you are in defense; your success will depend largely on your ability to respond to the offense and how well you keep the offensive play in front of you and away from the goal.
  • Quick feet are integral; you need to move quickly, stay in the most advantageous position, and match the attackers’ moves before they have a chance to make them.
  • Training moves such as jumping rope and running stairs can help boost your agility and improve your overall fitness.

Boost Stick Skills

  • The defenseman lacrosse stick can be a lethal tool, so making sure your stick skills are first-class is extremely important.
  • Ensure you can handle the ball and your stick, and you will have an enormous advantage over the other side.
  • Wall ball is a fast, accessible, and easy way to increase your stick skill - take the time to practice throwing, catching, passing, and scooping.
  • You also need to work with your stick as much as possible, until it becomes almost an extension of your arm and natural to use.


  • Communication is one of the most important features of a successful lacrosse team, and never more so than when you are attempting to mount a successful defense.
  • Practicing excellent communication skills helps you to respond instantly, work together as a team, and move before the other team has a chance to respond. 

Use Your Triangle

  • The triangle lacrosse formation has long been a secret to success, and it can be invaluable if you find yourself having to defend a fast break.
  • As soon as you get the hint that a fast break is on the cards, everybody needs to yell “fast break” - this is the signal to start setting up the triangle.
  • Remember that the defense will be a man down, meaning one defender will need to cover two attack players.
  • As the ball carrier moves towards the goal, the triangle must stay firm - the goalie may direct the team to “hold.”
  • As the ball carrier approaches, the call changes to “rotate.” As this suggests, all defensive players move as one - the ‘point’ of the triangle heads to stop the ball.
  • The back right rotates up to cover the other attacker.
  • The back left rotates across, ensuring that a strong defense is maintained while the ball is protected.
  • If a pass is made or a shot is attempted, the rotation will occur, helping to make sure all aspects are covered. 

Getting Good At Defense

  • The best way to get good at defense is simple: practice, practice, practice.
  • While there is a temptation to focus primarily on running offense drills, this can leave your defense weak and divided, creating an opening that the opposition will more than welcome.
  • Get used to running regular defensive drills and honing the skills you need to achieve excellent communication, good footwork, and strong stickwork, to name a few.

Practice The Drills

  • It is also a good idea to run the ‘triangle’ drill. Divide the team into two, with one side representing the opposition and the other the defense.
  • The opposition must create a ‘fast break’ and attempt to score while the defenders work to implement and hold the triangle - this can be the tricky part, as all players must know their role and stick to it.
  • If one point of the triangle falters, the whole defense will fall apart, leaving them wide open and vulnerable. Practice this and switch things up so that all players have a turn in either position and focus on improving speed, communication, and fluidity.

Taking the time to hone and refine your defensive skills and strategies can be a real secret to success, and ensure that every member of your team is confident, valuable, and able to bring vital skills to the game - no matter which side they are on. You can even practise lacrosse at home -for that it would be a great idea to get yourself a lacrosse rebounder and other equipment that's necessary for the game.

Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

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