Strategy - I have been working at a snail's pace on a book called, "Why we don't call plays!".  It is a book on lacrosse strategy.  So one part of the research was to look for books on other dynamic sports' strategy (e.g. basketball and soccer) and what I have found so far is a dirth (that means a complete lack) of strategic thinking and writing around dynamic sports.  There is some for football but it isn't very dynamic with the coaches calling all the plays and the teams taking breaks to reorganize between plays.  So not much precedent in sports strategy.  But, I have garnered a co-conspirator in Dave Huntley (JHU great, current Philadelphia Wings head coach) and we have begun the journey.  This is the first of many strategy columns both explaining the development of the book and the development of strategy in lacrosse.

The real premise of lacrosse is that the game is one of action and reaction.  It is a high speed chess game where what you do is based upon what the other team does and what the other team does is based upon what you do.  So, each needs some structure, a lot of understanding of the types of reaction/actions and how they work and methods and practices to applying these structures, understanding and methods by the players and adjusted somewhat by coaches.  That is a pretty generic description, but it is why we don't call plays; the game at a high level is too dynamic and when played with knowledgeable and highly talented/accomplished players is more read/react than almost anything in sport.

So, lacrosse strategy is first structure and structure comes in three primary parts (goals, actions and adjustments) and is applied at three levels (multi-year program, single season and single game).  If the game is highly dynamic and eventually played creatively by highly talented players then their needs to be a lot of stable structure for them to operate within outside of the dynamic/creative areas.

Strategy also varies depending on level of lacrosse (both youth, high school, college and pros; and skills/depth (players, coaches, organization, ...).  So there is a progression from getting from a develop-ing/ developed person at each position (player, coach, staff, ...) to having highly skilled ones for your level to developing them/you for the next level.

So the table shows the areas that are planned in your programs strategy.  At each level each areas has different importance (e.g. at professional, good stadium seating for fans is important along with player acquisition and coaches).


Goals/Actions Area

Multi-year Program






Coach acquisition

Player acquisition

Player development

Fitness development


Staff composition


League play/results

Season Strategy


Values / Unity

Team structure and
    style of play

Season schedule/events


Unit development

Coaches roles

Core patterns

   situation patterns/sets

Team statistics goals

League play/results


Game Strategy

Team unity/courtesy


Starters/depth chart

Run, slow or stall style

Man-up/down patterns &

Offensive sets/leads

Defensive sets/leads

Situational sets

Game statistic goals

Approach - The approach is to ascertain where you are (as-is) and where you want to go (to-be) and what actions you are taking to get there (strategic actions).  Write this down for each of the three areas in the table so that all involved can know what you program is doing / going (Program Structure every couple years, Season Strategy every year, Game Strategy about 10 times a season).. Review it with key stakeholders, make adjustment and then work your plan.   Even on Game Strategy, you need to plan on scouting to know what the opponent does, you know what you are doing well (as-is) and then you need to plan what you are going to do to counter what they do well or take advantage of their weaknesses (action plan).  For example, against an All-American left handed wing attackman, our game strategy was to deny him the left side of the field above goal line extended.  We even double teamed him at goal line extended on that left-handed side to make him go to the other side behind. It was a pretty extreme strategy but it kept us from a more complex game plan. We played them pretty much straight up every where else. He had to go through X and to right side to get up field -- we held him to 1 assist and won. If we weren't scouting/gaming the opposition then likely we would have lost.

Big Picture - There is more in this as you think about strategy, there is a lot about lacrosse that is not free-flowing, creative and/or unstructured. There is lots that is structured, but, that structure is just not plays.  For example if the ball goes out of bound outside your defensive box, what should we do; double the ball?, how?, drop back? how far? why?.  Since one of the most important aspects of the game is to make sure that our 10 guys are all on the same page all the time, then everyone should know what we are doing.  Some one, two or three on the other team won't be as together and you can benefit.  Similarly, what ride set are we using, what clear set, etc.? is critical to overall play since these are big opportunities to change the game.

How can that be?  Well, besides getting more goals than the opposition, the biggest strategic statistic, shots-on-goal (SOG) differential is the next most important, possession differential is the biggest contributor to SOG differential and turnovers is the biggest contributor to possession differential (with save differential next).  Turnovers come mostly from pressure and having one, two or three guys on their guys/gals not on the same page as their teammates and you having all of your guys on the same page (and making good passes, catches and shots). 

Start Simple - If this is too much for you then keep your team real simple.  If it starting to make sense then you will structure all you can from facilities to practice schedule, uniforms, equipment, drills, etc. so that the interesting on-the-field decisions can be made dynamically, quickly and productively by your players and coaches within roles that they are capable of doing..So PLAYS are for those youth and lower level high school situations where team skills are marginal and dynamic decision-making is missing.  But, that is not a panacea.  If team skills are marginal and dynamic decision-making is missing, spend a lot of time of building lacrosse skills, especially, breakdown defense, running with the ball, dodging past checks, throwing and catching on the run and cutting to the ball to score.  Your strategy is to out lacrosse skills the opposition then you can insert good clears, rides, man-up/down and more advanced situational play.

High Level Play - Most of what we are doing on strategy involves the highest level of play.  I am intrigued by John Desko, Head Lacrosse Coach at Syracuse University, telling Mikey Powell that "We will just roll the ball out there and you should do whatever you think you should do" (my paraphrase).  This wasn't abdication, it was strategic.  The untold part is that John would get everything else well organized/structured for all the rest of the team for Mike's creativity to lead them offensively.  Further it didn't mean Mikey didn't have to practice, come to team meetings, be on time, be a good teammate, etc.  Mikey had to fit in in all those area of the Syracuse team, and, of course, he did and like his brothers before him led 'cuse to national championships.  When there are very highly talented players and lots of positions on the team, the strategy is harder since there is only one ball and lots of egos and players who need to feel and be contributors to the team. The strategy for building a cohesive team with excitement from top to bottom is at the heart of our development of a Lacrosse Strategy book. Hope you enjoy it as we go.  Please send your comments via email.


Copyright Weston Lacrosse 3/15/09