In any lacrosse game, the balance between aggressive attacking play and solid defensive play is vital to ensure your team scores as often as possible without conceding unnecessary goals. In this article, we're going to look at offensive play - how it's defined and the different strategies and formations which teams use.
What is offense in lacrosse?
There are four main player positions in a lacrosse team, attackmen, midfielders, defensemen and the goalkeeper. Offense, or attacking play, is carried out by the attackmen with the support of the midfielders. By comparison defense, or defensive play is the job of the defensemen, again with the support of the midfielders.
An offense formation is a name used to describe the position that each player involved in the offensive play takes up, and there are a number of different ways to arrange this. Most teams will train one or more formations, and start with specific formations regularly. However, teams may also change formation (sometimes within a single game) to exploit specific weak points in their opposing defense, in response to another team playing style, or to try out new plays to approach the game from a fresh angle.
Teams spend hundreds of hours training their players with lacrosse attack drills to ensure that the formation is understood, each player knows their position and that the team works as a single unit during attacking play. This is supported by individual players training the specific skills they need - shooting for an attackman, passing or running for a midfielder, etc. This training may be group based, in pairs or individual (for example, practicing shooting techniques with a lacrosse rebounder).
What are the different offensive formations in lacrosse?
The lacrosse attack position is described by a 2 or 3 number sequence which shows how many players are in the rear, middle and front of the formation. The players further forward will be attackmen, and those further back will be midfielders. So, for example in a 1-4-1 formation, there will be one midfielder at the back, two midfielders and two attackmen ahead of that, and the remaining attackman at the front. Or, in a 3-3 formation, three midfielders lined up behind three attackmen.
Let's look at the most commonly used formations in lacrosse offense, and the advantages of each one:
In this formation the forward attackman is fed passes from the middle group, acting as the primary shooter. The supporting attackmen have the opportunity to sit a little further back, opening up the possibility of time and space shots, while the lone midfielder at the back of the formation is able to command a better view of the plays, spotting counterattacks early and dropping back to link up with the defensemen as needed.
This formation pairs midfielders and attackmen together, with a mixed pair in the middle. The middle pair are able to quickly drop back or run upfield to support their teammates during the offensive play depending on what's needed. This formation is great for responsive play, where players may need to switch positions quickly to respond to the defensive position.
This formation works well for feeding passes forward, building plays from the midfield. It is relatively strong defensively, at the cost of leaving the frontmost attackman isolated. The middle attackmen, therefore, have to relieve some of this pressure, making runs wide, passing into the center or setting up long range shots. The two midfielders, as well as feeding the ball, provide defensive cover if possession is lost.
This inversion of the 2-3-1 formation puts a greater focus on attacking play at the cost of some defensive strength. The advantage of this is that the two forward attackmen have greater opportunity to interact, and are harder to pin down from the point of view of the opposing defense. It allows for explosive play, with sudden runs and dodges to move the ball quickly through the defensive players.
This is the most balanced formation - the midfielders are evenly spaced behind the defenders. It allows for a great deal of flexibility in terms of playing style, and the ability for players to switch quickly between attack and defense, which is important for repelling counterattacks. If all 6 offensive players are pushed too far forward, however, there is a risk of opposing attackmen being able to make sudden breaks through.
This formation is very attack focused, with all three of the attackmen upfield as far as possible. While this has the obvious advantage of opening up shooting opportunities from multiple angles and occupying the opposing defensemen across multiple positions, it is probably the formation most vulnerable to a sudden counter-attack. The two rearmost defenders have to be aware not to push upfield too far, leaving the defense exposed.
What's the difference between lacrosse zone offense and lacrosse motion offense?
The two terms above describe different approaches to how players interact with their opponents. Zonal play assigns players to specific areas of the field and encourages a passing game, where players stay (for the most part) within the area defined by their position, moving the ball between them to set up attacking and shooting opportunities. When executed well, this type of offensive play uses the speed of passing to overcome defenses, leaving them unable to respond in time as the ball switches position rapidly.
A motion offense has a greater focus on players moving between zones, making runs into the defensive half, dodging defenders and finding space to set up a shooting opportunity. Passing is important here too, although it can be more challenging as players need to track their teammates as the fluid formation changes quickly. This strategy is well suited to sudden, explosive plays and requires greater physical dominance of the field.