The Next Christian Cook’s Questions

Q: I am a Middie/Attackman and I am trying to improve my crease offence game. I have been watching films with Bobby Benson, BJ Prager, and Buggs Combs and have learned a lot. But, I want to ask you what could help throw defenders off and get myself open and get a second or two to rip a
shot. So, from a defensive standpoint what do you hate to see crease attackmen do?
Dallas
Christian Cook: Thanks for the question Dallas. I find that as I’m playing on the crease and trying to cover a crease attackman that the most difficult thing for me to defend against is a player who can find the seams and move around.

There is nothing more frustrating than an offensive player who is constantly moving because it forces his defensive counterpart to concentrate on both his man (the most dangerous person) and the ball (in case he is the slide man or part of the slide package). As an offensive player, you should always concentrate on overloading your defenseman and making him work as hard as possible – giving him more opportunities to make a mistake. In addition if you play a high crease it is more difficult to cover as a defensive player because you are spreading out the field.

Furthermore, as I’m sure you’ve picked up in my other columns, it is a great idea to watch as much film as possible. In addition, watching film with a great crease player like BJ Prager is an even better idea. There are few players who can finish as well as BJ – he is one of the best pure crease attackmen I have ever seen.

It is clear that he also concentrates on his stick-skills with a focus on inside play. What I mean is that he can catch a pass and get it off quicker than any crease attackman I’ve played against. You should do the same. Unfortunately there are a number of attackmen who can get open but can’t finish because their stick skills aren’t up to par. Don’t let that happen to you. Get yourself in the right position and have the stick skills to finish and goals will come. Best of luck to you.

Q: Dear Coach Cook,
My name is Michael and I’m a Defenseman from San Francisco. I’ve been playing only for 13 months, yet was invited to a big time recruiting camp in Maryland and actually did very well. I’ve had a lot of coaches from top D1 schools talk to me about playing for them and it’s been a very fun couple of weeks hearing from coaches. However, how can I reach some schools that have not shown interest in me that I know I could play for? Are films and letters the only way?
Sincerely,
Michael Abou Jaoude

Christian Cook: Thanks for the question Michael. If you don’t have the resources or time to make it to any other camps out east or at schools you are interested in, then I find that videos and letters are the best way to get in touch with coaches who haven’t seen you play.

Coaches get recruiting tapes all of the time, so they are used to it. You may also find it useful to try to find someone who can speak to the college coach on your behalf. Coaches are not just looking for good players, but they are looking for good people who can contribute to their program as individuals, not just as lacrosse players. In addition, I wouldn’t downplay the effect of you calling yourself to speak to a coach.

Just realize that you need to be completely professional, as you are essentially selling yourself. Many young players out there are far too informal when they speak to coaches, which is inappropriate. You should always put your best foot forward and in the recruiting cycle, that starts with presenting yourself in a professional manner.

You don’t want there to be any doubt that you are mature enough to handle both the rigors of school and the time commitment of year-round lacrosse. Remember, in college, lacrosse players are student-athletes, not the other way around. Best of luck to you.

Q: Dear Christian,
I switched from attack to middie and I am sometimes having trouble defending the middies up top. Most of the time I just go on athleticism. What are some drills or tips to help me improve body position and stick checks?

Christian Cook: Thanks for the question. This is a problem many new midfielders have – learning how to play defense. Although defense may seem quite daunting at this stage, realize that it is very very simple. As a defensive player your only job is to keep your player away from the goal – you DO NOT NEED TO TAKE AWAY THE BALL. I’d speak at length to your coach about his defensive philosophy so that you’re on the same page. Aside from the team aspect, the most important thing to work on is footwork.

Play as much basketball as you can – it is invaluable and teaches you the right technique in pushing a player down the side of the field. The reason we split the field in two and keep offensive players running down the side is that every step they take, their angle on the goal is smaller and it is an easier save for your goalie.

Footwork drills (football footwork drills are great), jumping rope, basketball, squash and racquetball are all great things you can do to help your footwork. However, that is only half the battle – the other half is understanding defense. Watch as much film as possible and if you can, watch film with your coach. I’m sure he has a sound philosophy that should make your job somewhat easier as a defensive player.

Last but not least, there is only one check you should ever throw as a short shaft midfielder (it isn’t really a check even): the “lift-check.” Watch film of Princeton and you’ll see it – it is the most under-utilized, most-effective check in lacrosse. Not only does it neutralize the offensive player by lifting his elbow so he can’t shoot or pass, but it allows you to keep moving your feet on defense. Learn it, love it, practice it. Best of luck.

Christian Cook’s Questions about Lacrosse

Q: Dear Mr. Cook,
I was just wondering how you balanced your lacrosse career as well as school at a top notch school like Princeton University. I was also wondering what the rewards of playing college lacrosse are.
Peter
A: Thanks for the question Peter. You have astutely asked a question that should be addressed far more often. The rewards of being a student-athlete stay with a person for the rest of their lives. I have found that balancing lacrosse at the highest level and working on my studies at a great institution taught me far more than I expected. It is difficult to dedicate yourself to a sport and to also tackle a rigorous academic course load.

There is far too much emphasis in this day and age on pure athletics. Athletics are only part of the package one brings to the table in life. I coach many clinics around the country and the world and try to instill in young players the importance of being a good person and developing a well rounded experience. While there will always be athletes, the student-athlete is a rare breed.

Playing lacrosse in college is a great deal of fun, although it requires dedication and discipline. You cannot forget that college is about academics. Playing on a top-notch lacrosse team, or competing in another sport while in college is an added benefit and privilege that can be revoked if your studies are not up to par.

Many student-athletes manage their time more effectively during season because they are naturally more focused during that time of the year. I was far more efficient in season than I was in the fall. However, it requires year-round dedication. While it is difficult – it is extremely rewarding to dedicate oneself fully to two noble pursuits, academics and athletics.

Q: Dear Christian,
I was just wondering what sort of weight training you do, I know you can’t outline your whole program, but if you could just give me a few exercises I could do. Mainly, to increase my shot velocity.
Rick
A: A lot of younger players ask me for specific weight training advice. To be honest with you, I know what exercises work for me, but I feel uncomfortable suggesting exercises to people with whom I have not worked directly in fear of pointing you in the wrong direction. The best thing you can do to increase your shot velocity is to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. It will also clearly help with your accuracy.

Unfortunately there are no short cuts towards improving your shot – just lots of hard work. With that in mind, our coaches often promoted the incline bench press as a way to increase your functional strength (as an addition to our weight program, not in lieu of other exercises). However, with this in mind you can’t forget about your back strength. I would ask your lacrosse coach or the football coach at your school for a workout program – they can direct you in a specific direction given your personal needs. Best of luck to you and keep working hard.

Q: Dear Christian,
What type of personality makes up a field player vs. a indoor player?
Thanks,
Ralph
A: That is a very interesting question Ralph. Clearly the indoor and outdoor games are quite different and have attracted different types of players. However, there are many characteristic common to both indoor and outdoor players: competitiveness, determined grit, love of the game, aggressiveness, leadership, etc. While all great players exhibit these personality traits, I don’t believe I can make any general statements about indoor vs. outdoor players.

I do know that the indoor game promotes a different type of aggressiveness than seen in the outdoor game and frankly that comes from the different styles of play needed to be successful at the different games. While they are both lacrosse, indoor players have a distinctly different style and I find are VERY good stick handlers and excellent at defense. At the same time, I don’t think they’re able to spread the field out as well as some outdoor players. Outdoor/Field players will use the expansive nature of the field to their advantage whereas indoor there is only a certain amount of ground and you can’t cede any if you’re going to be competitive.

Q: Hello Coach Cook,
I play goalie for a California club team, I have just come on as the new goalie and I wanted to implement zone defense instead of man to man, which is what they had last year. The man to man did not work so well for them last year. I wanted to know if there were any major factors you could point out that most lacrosse veterans like myself tend to forget while working a zone D. Specially with a team that’s used to going man to man.
Thanks,
Brigattoni, Anaheim, CA
A: Thank you for your question. I would suggest thinking twice about your decision to solely implement a zone defense. Zone defenses are good, but only in certain situations and against certain teams. I don’t know how your club team plays or your strengths and weaknesses as a team, but those should factor in to your decision. I remember playing in the national championship in 1996 against Virginia and we had to play a zone defense for the majority of the game to combat the vaunted Virginia offense that scored 10 goals in the first half in our first encounter earlier in the year.

The zone defense was perfect in that situation – playing against Whitely, Watson, Knight and a very deep, athletic midfield (including my current New Jersey Pride teammate Drew Melchionni). However, zones can easily be beaten by over-loading a side of the field and drawing slides more quickly than the defense can react. With that in mind it is important to have other defensive sets at your disposal.

A couple of the most important things to remember when playing zone defense are: communication; rotation; and resetting the defense. In addition, do not forget how important it is for the crease man to always play ball-side, especially when picking up cutters through the crease. If your team is excellent at communication and each player understands their individual responsibility, a zone defense can be very effective – but only as a supplement to a more robust man to man system. I wish you the best of luck.

Q: Hello,
I have been playing lacrosse for one season and it is the most fun I have ever I had. They put me at defense and I wasn’t the fastest defender on the field. I would like to improve this and I’m wondering if you have any tips or drills to help improve the quickness of my feet so I am able to be in position to stop whoever thinks they are going to score.
Craig
A: Thanks for your question. I would suggest you look at some of my past columns about drills and other things you can do to improve your quickness and overall athleticism. Furthermore, focus on your game sense. Being a great defenseman means being a smart defenseman and that comes with experience and serious study of the game. Good luck.

Q: Hey Christian,
First of all I’m a very big fan of you and your style of play. I’ve been playing for about four years now at a high level. I really enjoy the game and spend at least 2 hours a day working on my stick skills or watching game tape. My other two sports are soccer and basketball. I know that I can still get better with my positioning because everyone can, but the main thing that I’m concerned with is my height.

I’m 14 and I’m big for my grade (8th) at about 5’8 and a half. I weight 150lbs, and both my parents are shorter than I am. I’m only predicted to be about 5’10 at the most but I don’t even know I’m if gonna make it there. I really enjoy defense and id like to stick with through college and hopefully the MLL but I’m afraid my lack of size will hinder me. People say that size doesn’t really matter but do you really think I could succeed in high school at only 5’9? Any help would be appreciated.

A: Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, there is not that much you can do about your height, but know that it isn’t a requirement for being a good lacrosse player. There are plenty of great players who were not that tall or big. If you work on your overall athleticism, strength, game sense, stick skills and progress as a player, no coach will keep you off the field if you are the whole package. I absolutely think you can have success in high school and even at the highest levels in college at 5’ 9”. Go through some of the rosters of great teams and you’ll see there are plenty of small players. Understand that while you can succeed, it will take a great deal of work to put yourself in a position to succeed. Keep working hard. Best of luck to you.

Q: Christian,
You mentioned you need to always work on your basic skills, but does that mean working on the wall? I think it’s hard to work the wall with a defense stick and seems pointless. I can see why an attackman or middie would want to work on their quick sticks but not a defensemen. Also I watched the NCAA lacrosse championships this year and I never saw a defensemen play weak hand; it just seems like I shouldn’t be practicing my weak hand either. One last question: what do you think is a good drill to improve foot speed besides jumping rope and playing basketball?
Thanks,
David

A: Thanks for the question David. Working on the wall is a large part of working on your skills. Working on the wall with a long stick is NOT worthless. If you find it difficult, you can use a short stick. Some attackman handle a longstick better than many defenseman – case in point, Jesse Hubbard has the best short and longstick handling ability I’ve ever seen.

Work the wall with a short stick and it will help your skills. Furthermore, you may not have seen any defensemen play with their weak hands in the championship game, but that doesn’t mean they can’t. You need to have that ability at the highest level and if you neglect to work your weak hand it will show and you will hurt yourself in the long run. YOU NEED TO WORK BOTH HANDS. It is naïve and lazy to think that you can progress to the next without that ability. Frankly, if you want to be the best, you have to work harder than everyone else. Good luck.