The Rest of the Story ...

Updated Monday January 9, 2017 by Richard Schwartz .

The Rest Of The Story…

A parent asked me the other day “what sort of offense do you run?”  I told him that “it’s not the formation that matters as much as the IDPF, which is not formation specific.”  He looked glassy eyed. 

Many parents and players alike don’t fully understand the nuances of lacrosse.  Perhaps that is one reason many parents try to coach from the side lines.  Many parents understand the rules, but not the strategies (yes, there are strategies).  To many parents, and younger players, it’s simply a game where players run around with no clear purpose, looking to pass or shoot all the while hoping their team mate moves out of the way.

In an earlier edition of Coaches Corner, I talked about the need for a lacrosse team to adopt the “One more Pass” concept in order to make a defense react.  What I didn’t tell you, is that passing the ball does not create scoring opportunities alone because when there are an equal number of players on the field from each team, it is relatively easy for a defense to keep up with the ball.  Above all else, an offense needs to make the defense move, react, turn their heads, or make some other mistake.  So, while passing the ball is one important part of how a good offense makes a defense react, you really need … in the immortal words of Paul Harvey … the rest of the story

Truth is, at the 7/8, high school and college levels, there is actually a lot of purpose in the way the players move.  Surprised?  Don’t be.  Let me explain the basic choreography so that you can truly appreciate what your player is doing during the game. 

At the heart of lacrosse, like hockey, basketball and soccer, is the need to create a mismatch somewhere on the field.  When the skill level and number of players are relatively even, it can be a brutally boring defensive game, with opposing players “locked” onto their counterpart.  That’s why passing alone doesn’t usually work.  In order to tip the scales, offenses have developed a four step process for creating mismatches: The Initiation, The Draw, The Pass and The Finish.  These are not always obvious to parents, but they occur all the time … or at least the process is attempted.  Each element is critical, and if one fails, the entire process usually needs to start again.

In lacrosse, the Initiation usually starts with a 1 on 1 dodge, or the setting of a pick, or other athletic move (perhaps simply blazing speed) designed to allow the initiating ball carrier to get past, or beat, his defender, even if only by a step or two.  Initiations can occur from various spots on the field, and several times during a single possession.

The Draw arises directly from a successful Initiation.  This is where a second defender has to “slide” off the person he is covering in order to stop the initiating offensive player, or in other words, help his team mate that just got beat.  A successful Initiation, therefore, even if for a moment, forces a second defender to slide away from his assignment, and draws him toward the initiating player.  This means that two defensive players have focused their attention on a single offensive player.  By “drawing a slide” from the defense, the offense has an open player somewhere on the field.  And there, my friends, is your mismatch!

The Pass:  Now that we have a mismatch, several things can happen.  But in the simplest form, the initiating player, having drawn two defensemen, will now pass the ball to the open player (we call him, and anyone else that doesn’t have the ball an “off ball” player). 

The Finish:  With the pass complete to the open “off ball” player, the offense is free to shoot at the cage unimpeded by a pesky defenseman, thereby finishing the process with a goal.

The biggest misconception in lacrosse is that when a player Initiates, he is trying to beat his defender so he can get a shot off.  While that certainly happens, the real purpose of Initiating is to draw a slide and create a mismatch. 

At the High School level, well trained defenses compensate for the mismatch in a variety of ways (none of which are the topic of this article).  So the offense usually needs several passes, or even two or three re-initiations, in order to draw multiple slides from a defense.  That’s why the “one more pass” concept is so important.  Multiple passes keep the defense in a perpetual mismatch because they are constantly sliding and trying to catch up to the ball.  Each time there is defensive slide, there is a mismatch created in favor of the offense.  Every mismatch equals an opportunity.

So the next time you attend a game, see if you can identify the stages of IDPF.  You may find the game a little more structured than you thought.  I also think you will enjoy watching, and appreciating, your player’s role … whether initiating, passing, or finishing.  And that … is the rest of the story.


Richard Schwartz