By Ryan Hoff
Finishing the ball inside is an often underrated skill to have in the game of lacrosse. Many players, fans, and coaches overlook this ability, but it is indeed an extremely important talent to have.
The entire point of lacrosse is to score more goals than your opponent. And no matter how you look at it, being able to score on the inside will help in reaching this ultimate goal and help your team win games.
There are several things that I focus on in shooting while in close. Some of them are aspects of the game that you need to work on physically. Others are on the mental side of lacrosse. The three main parts of scoring goals as an inside guy are communication, off-ball movement, and proper stick-work on the crease.
The first aspect of scoring goals on the crease is communication and working well with your teammates. As an off-ball player, you must be able to constantly communicate with the guys that are around you. Continuous and deliberate communication with fellow attackmen and offensive middies allows the creaseman to receive more looks while cutting. I have always developed great on and off-the-field relationships with the other attackers, which makes it easier to work extra on specific situations and plays.
Putting in extra time with your feeding attackman so that he knows you will cut a certain way when he dodges a particular direction will help create a non-spoken connection like many of the top duos in sports have. Great athletes like Marvin Harrison and Peyton Manning always work on their game together–which is why they have such a great on-field dynamic. This type of relationship is no different than Matt Danowski and Zack Greer. You have to work together with your teammates on a consistent basis in order to improve as on off-ball finisher.
The second portion of being a prolific goal scorer on the crease is having the right off-ball movement. The best word to describe good off-ball cutting is efficiency. As a crease guy, you never want to overcut or get yourself out of position by cutting at the wrong times. It is important to wait for the right opportunities so that you can take advantage of the best situations. Efficient movement is extremely important because it allows for your teammates to know where you are at all times and for you to always be in position to score. It is imperative for a creaseman to always be on his toes and ready to move. If you are always on your toes, you will be able to get to ground balls, rebounds, and any open passing lane that presents itself.
The best times to cut are when your defender begins to hedge away from you for the slide or when your defender begins to turn his head. Once he turns his head to look at the dodger you can move to any open space where there is a passing lane. Make sure as an off-ball cutter you show a clear target for your feeding teammate to see. Communicate loudly (calling “one more” or “here’s your help”) as well so that the feeder knows that you are open.
It is also worth noting that sometimes the best communication is non-verbal. When a feeder knows your style well, there will be times when you can beat a defender and get the ball without even saying a word.
The last phase of scoring as an off-ball player is the best part. It’s the short period when the ball is in your stick before you score. A quick release and good decision making with the ball are very important at this time.
There are many bad habits that I see when coaching younger players, and they are all easily fixable. A lot of younger players think that they need to wind up and shoot as hard as they can in order to score. Well, on the inside this is not the case. Placement is much more important than power when inside, and scoring TOUCH is what allows players to be successful in close to the crease.
Good crease players keep their stick in tight to their body, and this starts before the ball is even in the stick. Once the pass is on its way, the cutter should start bringing his body (not just his stick) towards the ball. This way, he is catching the ball in tight allowing his body to shield his stick from the defender. After the ball is caught, you have little time before the shot is taken.
A good shooter knows where the goal is, so he should catch the ball and begin to turn towards the cage right away. Keeping the head of the stick close to the helmet helps shooters see the goalie and the net behind him. It is important that a shooter keeps moving his feet and continues towards the goal. He should focus on the net and NOT the goalie or the pipes as he shoots.
The most important part of shooting inside is to shoot past the goalie, and I like to call this shooting for the ‘white’ of the net. The back of the net is a bright white color and shooters should focus on it. Shooters should avoid bouncing the ball inside and avoid looking to ping corners. Bouncers give the goalie a chance to react, and shooting for corners leads directly to a lower shooting percentage since more of those shots miss the net. Shooters need to shoot for the white (or past the goalie) to maximize scoring chances.
Some other pointers include:
-always keep the feet moving
-always increase angles
-change planes while shooting–catch high, shoot low
-be crafty if the opportunity presents itself
A good shooter will catch the ball at goal line extended, keep his feet moving to the top of the crease and increase his angle. When there is a good pass, he should change planes by shooting high to low since goalies have a lot of trouble getting to a ball that is shot from high and is placed down low.
And there are definitely times to be crafty. There are times for box fakes, underhand, sidearm, behind-the-back, behind-the-legs, through-the-legs and any other crazy shot you can think of. Practice all of these maneuvers both during practice and in your spare time, but make sure you use them at the right moments. There is a clear difference between being creative and showboating, and the latter can get you in trouble as a player.
One thought on showboating is that your chance to shoot the ball is almost always coming out of the hard work that your teammates do to get you the ball. No matter if a teammate had to win a face off, make a check, clear the ball, or feed you with a pass, you owe him respect and showing off diminishes that respect. Imagine how a teammates would feel when working hard to get the ball only to have an attackman show off and miss the net. Shooters owe their best effort to score cleanly. They should celebrate with whoever got them the ball, after it is in the net.
Learning to be an efficient, productive scorer on the inside can elevate your game to the next level. Whether you are a full-fledged crease guy, or a player that is just looking to improve his off-ball game and shooting, the tips above should help you put some balls in the back of the cage. And like I said, the more goals you score–the better chance you have of winning.