Playing defense can be a tough skill to master for younger lacrosse players due to the nature of the rules regarding contact and stick control. Often times, at the youth level, one of two scenarios occur: an attacker runs right by a defender that is playing too conservatively, or the opposite, the defender commits a foul attempting to stop the attacker. Common fouls in this case include crosse in the sphere, illegal contact, or detaining.
The 2014 edition of the Official Rules for Girls & Women’s Lacrosse included special points of emphasis on the rules regarding Illegal Contact (Rule 6, Section 1, g), Crosschecking (Rule 6, Section 1, h), and Illegal Use of the Crosse (Rule 6, Section 1, i). The short interpretation is all three rules mean a defensive player cannot contact and offensive player with her stick. The variation between the rules has to do with the nature of the contact. Illegal Contact is simply crosse (stick) to body contact, while a Crosscheck is a shove using the stick, and Illegal Use of the Crosse interprets more of an intimidation or weapon action creating an unsafe condition. The 2014 rules emphasis specifically refers to stick to body contact with the stick in a horizontal position.
Proper defensive stick positioning is a stick held straight up, arms extended, and two hands on the stick; one on the bottom and the other 2/3 down from the top. The defender should mirror the attacker body to body and stick to stick without stick to body contact and without tilting the stick outside of the radial range of 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock. This is especially important at the youth level. Once the stick head dips beyond that range, it is a safety trigger for the umpire.
Side Note – Some coaches encourage players to hold the stick with the pocket side open facing to the attacker to be able to intercept passes. However, defending with the backside of the pocket facing the attacker keeps the stick in better position to field ground balls. There’s really no wrong or right.
When defending “off ball” the player should maintain one hand on the bottom of the stick held out in the ball side / goal side passing lane. The stick needs to be up and out – “sticks up” – coaches often say so the defender “becomes bigger” and can block crossing passes. This is also important for sliding to help by leading with the stick, closing lanes, and avoiding shooting space calls.