Hi, my name is John Gagliardi.

I played close defense and long stick middie at Johns Hopkins University and I now play in the MLL for the Long Island Lizards and in the NLL for the World Champion Philadelphia Wings. I grew up in Manhasset, New York where I started to play midfield at age twelve, switching to defense at age fifteen. I've had the privilege of learning under some of the best coaches in the world, who helped shape my style of play. I have also played with and against some of the top players in field and indoor lacrosse.

Now I'm writing to share my experiences and lacrosse knowledge to all you lacrosse fanatics! I will have regular tips on lacrosse and life. I encourage questions, so e-mail them to E-lacrosse!

I hope everyone will learn from these tips and become healthier, better student-athletes!

May, 2002 - Q&A

Q: Gags,

I play longstick middie for my high school team in Eagan, Minnesota. I have noticed lately that I have a horrible habit of choking up high on my stick and I get yelled at by coach. I am about 5'9". Should I cut my stick shorter for more control and a better shot? Or should I keep it the same length but just try to break my habit? - Rob

A: Rob,

You should listen to your coach when he tells you to stop choking up on your shaft. Your bottom hand should be touching the butt end of your shaft when you are defending a player and cradling the ball. Use the whole shaft to your advantage. As a general rule for a defenseman our sticks should be the same height as we are. But as you get older you should play with a longer shaft to avoid buying a new shaft each year. If you are really serious about becoming a top player you should practice and get comfortable with a longer shaft starting around 9th grade. - John Gags

April, 2002 - Q&A

Q: Gags,

I'm a junior and I play for my high school team in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I started as a sophomore on a strong team, but I'm looking to take my game to the next level and get recruited. I was wondering, what do coaches see that makes a player stand out, and also, on a clear, should a defenseman carry the ball up or pass it right away? I'm pretty fast, but I notice that a lot of the college players don't even carry it past the goal, passing it right away. Thanks! Go Jays! - Paul

A: Paul,

Thank you for the great question. College coaches are looking for a number of things when they recruit high school players. They are looking for players with speed, athleticism, stick skills, communication & leadership skills, and players who are eager to learn and get better everyday in practice. You must also be smart and have good grades in school or none of the previous abilities will help you get recruited to college. When you are clearing the ball you should not be afraid to cross the midfield line with the ball. If a short stick is open then you should give the ball up to your teammate but do not hesitate to take the ball over once in a while if necessary. Once you cross the line look for one of your attackman to pass the ball to. And if the other team does not slide to you at all, then go to the cage and score a goal! - Gags

March, 2002 - Q&A

Q: John,

I am looking for exercises to do in the weight room or in my own home that will help to increase the power of my over hand shot. Thanks for your help and congratulations on all of your accomplishments. - Andrew

A: Andrew,

I am not a certified strength trainer but I have worked with some top sports trainers from the NY Jets & NY Islanders, so I will pass some of our workouts on to you. To increase the speed of your shot most people think that by working your upper body you will become more powerful and therefore have a faster shot. This is partially true, but real strength and power comes from your legs. You should work on your lower body as much as you work out your upper body, if not more. 7 drills I do with my trainer are:

1) light squats, high reps - Legs
2) Cable crossovers, - chest
3) Pull Downs - Back
4) shrugs - Shoulders
5) Leg extension & leg Curls - Legs
6) Push-ups -Chest
7) Sit-ups, crunches - Abs

Remember to stretch before and after!

These are just a few exercises we alternate in our workouts. If you are new to weight training you should see your high school coach, gym teacher, or a strength trainer BEFORE trying these. Good Luck with the training. It will pay off! - Gags

February, 2002 - Q&A

Q: John,

How can I build my confidence with my left hand? I can do everything with my left hand at home but in games I don't have enough confidence to put it in my left hand and go for it. How can I build it up? - Pat

A: Pat,

To gain confidence in your weak hand, in lacrosse and in many other sports, you need to practice and use that weaker hand as much as possible. In practice you should dodge and shoot with your weak hand to build confidence. After practice you should stay extra and go one-on-one against a defender dodging with your right and left hand. Eventually you will get to a point where you will naturally just go to your weak hand in a game without thinking about it. You might want to play all lefty one game against a weak team to build confidence. Players who can play with both hands are more complete players and harder for a defender to cover. So keep practicing that left! - Gags

January, 2002 - Q&A

Q: Hey John,

I am a middie at Milford High School in Michigan. I just started playing lacrosse a year ago but I have put a lot of time into working on technique, stick-handling, and footwork, I LOVE IT. I just wanted to know how to work on my accuracy and shot speed. What are some helpful hints? Thanks a lot! -Ryan

A: Ryan,

First, you need to figure out what kind of pocket works for you. Once you figure that out you will get to a point where you can throw and shoot accurately and consistently. To work on your shot speed you can practice the motion without a ball in your stick and try to increase your stick speed each time. You should do reps of 25 several times a week, both hands. You can do this in an open area in your house. Your body will get used to the motion and it will be easier for you to get rapid stick speed when you put the ball in your stick. The more traditional way is to shoot on cage as much as possible as often as possible. Tell me how it works out. - Gags

December, 2001 - Q&A

Q: John,

I started playing Lacrosse at 10 and I'm now 13. I'm from Dallas, TX. Isn't it weird for Lacrosse to be down here? It is spreading really fast down here. I'm an attackman and whenever I go against a big defensemen they just push me away and I lose my balance.

I'm 5'3" and most of the defensemen I go against are much taller. My coach says I'm the quickest on the team so I should just keep on switching directions. He says I'll get in the weight room in 9th grade and to not worry. What do you think I should do to be able to not let the defensemen take advantage of me like that? Also, I really want to play lacrosse for Princeton University and I have for 3 years. I want to be the next Ryan Boyle. He is alot like me. I recently went to a camp that was headed up by Coach Emmer (the head coach at Army and the head coach for team USA) and Coach Moran. They said just to go to camps up in the northeast and let the coaches know whom I am. What do you think? One more thing. I recently found out that you started around 5th grade with Carceterra and some other lacrosse players. I started in 5th grade. Do you think I still have a chance to play in College even if I started so late compared to the Northeastern people. Lacrosse is all I do, besides soccer. I love it more than anything.

When I get home from school I go shoot on goal. After practice I go to the wall at school and pass. My coach tells me I'm the best on my team and our team is one of the best in Texas. He tells me I have the best stick handling skills on the team. Best Wishes this season. - Rhett

A: Rhett,

You do not need to be 6'0 tall to be a great player, and you do not need to grow up in the northeast to play at a school like Princeton or Johns Hopkins. Just look at players like Peter Lesueur at Hopkins and Mike Powell at Syracuse. They are both 5'8 and they are both dominating their position.

Both of these schools have top players that come from all over the US. I agree with your High school coach. Use your quickness and agility to your advantage when you have the ball. Change directions often, bring your defenseman far out and use your speed to go by him.

As far as getting recruited and being seen you are doing the right thing. Going to camps in the northeast in the summer is a great way to improve your game and a great way to be seen by college coaches. When I was younger I also went to Coach Moran's Cornell camp and Coach Emmer's Lax camp at West point. I first started getting recruited at Coach Moran's camp when I was a sophomore in HS.

It sounds like you are putting in extra time on your own to improve your overall game. I often put in extra work growing up just like you! All the extra work and drills usually separates the better players from the rest of the group. You have the desire, the grades and the dream. Keep working hard and hopefully your dreams will come true. Hard work does pay off in all aspects of life!! - Gags

November, 2001 - Q&A

Q: I was wondering if you could help me out. I am going into my junior year of lacrosse and my coach keeps ragging on me about how I always get back doored. I was wondering if you had any tips. - Ben

A: Ben,
Keep your head on a metaphoric swivel at all times. What that means is look at the ball for maybe 2 seconds and then look at your man for 1 second and go back and forth continuously. Secondly, put your stick in a horizontal position to the ground blocking the path of your opponent and his movements. In other words use your stick to take away the lane of your defender. You can also hold your man with your bottom hand while your hands are still on your shaft in a discrete way, but not to restrict him, and if he tries to pull away, you will know immediately. Good luck this season! - Gags

October, 2001 - Q&A

Q: I'm a 15 year old midfielder in pennsylvania. I've only been playing for 2 years. If I really want to be able to elevate my game to that next level and become a prospect for college, and then afterwards, possibly the MLL. What do you think are the key elements to bring myself up to speed? - LaxPunk

A: LaxPunk,
You don't have to start playing lacrosse at 8 years old to be a great player. At age 15 you still have time to work on your skills to make it to the next level and eventually the MLL. But start working now! What I recommend for you to do is to work on your lacrosse skills and on your speed and strength in the off-season. You should be working on all of your weakness to become a complete player during winter months, especially your off hand. Go to your school gym after school and throw against the wall. Jump rope for quickness. College coaches are looking to recruit athletes, so speed and strength training will help with recruiting and is a must in today's game. Get to work. - Gags

September, 2001 - Q&A

Q: I'm a pretty good lacrosse player on a team in Orlando. I really want to play in college but I figure my chances are slim. Kids started playing later down here and Central Florida's not really a prime spot on a scout's list of places to visit. What can all of us die hard lacrosse players do to better our chances of getting recruited.

A: Mike,
You should sharpen up your skills and then go do a camp tour in the East Coast or at whatever university that you would want to attend. During the summer months each University has a camp that the coaches direct and recruit players from. This will also give you an opportunity to visit the college to see if you like the campus. I also run a camp called No Limit Lacrosse Camp (www.nolimitlacrosse.com) where a lot of college coaches attend and kids are recruited from. Also, make sure your grades are good enough and you are realistic about the level of lacrosse you can play and school you can get into. A second option is to send a letter or a tape to the college coach of the school you want to attend. Good luck! - Gags

August, 2001 - Q&A

Q: Hey Gags, I was wondering, as a defenseman, are there certain muscles that I should focus on and build up? Or should I do just work all the major muscles? - Joe from NJ

A: Joe,
Thank you for your question and for visiting E-Lacrosse. Athletes who want to excel should use weights!! To be a complete athlete you should train all of your major muscle groups evenly. You should focus on your legs, back, chest and shoulders when you weight train for lacrosse and other sports. I recommend that you see your high school trainer or a trainer from a gym to learn proper techniques and exercises. I feel that 9th-10th grade is a good time to start working with weights for lax and other sports. Also, make sure you stretch before and after each workout to maintain flexibility and for injury prevention. Good Luck. - Gags

Bonus Q: I'm 13 and I just started playing lacrosse this year. I'm playing defense and I really like it. My camp coaches say I'm good over all but I need to work on my footwork. What should I do to work on my footwork? - Marcus

A: Marcus,
Jump Rope. I suggest that you do 500-600 times each session 3-4 sessions a week. Try to do 100 straight at a time. - Gags

July, 2001 - Q&A

Q: I recently attended your No Limit camp and I was amazed at the amount of education that I had received in the short time I was there. My question is this. I have been playing lacrosse for eight years and I feel I have become a good player. During my lacrosse experiences I have seen many great take away defense men. I play a more positional defense. I throw checks, but not nearly the amount of my other defensemen. My defensive style works very well, but I am concerned that college coaches would rather have a good take away man, rather than a good positional defensemen. Do you think I should try to tweak my game towards a more takeaway style, or keep the position-based game. Thanks and good luck in the MLL and NLL. - Louis C.

A: Louis,
I am happy to hear that you had a good time at No Limit Lacrosse Camp this Summer. We had a blast teaching you guys!! I suggest that you stick to what has been working for you. I feel that each high school and college team needs take-away players AND position players to be successful. You will do just fine with recruiting if you are a strong position player. Most college coaches love position players! Also, make sure you can handle the ball effectively with both hands to add to your value. Recruiters come to see defensemen who can handle the rock! - John

Bonus Q: Bet you don't get many questions from middies, but I wanted to ask you this. I'm going into college next year to play lacrosse, and I was wondering if you could give me help going up against the better long pole middies. I draw the long pole most of the time now in high school but they are not as strong as they will be in college. - John

A: John,
When going against a long stick run full speed and try to change directions often to Juke your man. - Gags

June, 2001 - Q&A

Q: I was wondering if you could tell me a good check or technique to use when the midfielder I am defending tries to do a bull dodge on me. - Rao

A: Rao,
I suggest that you get close enough to your opponent as soon as he catches the ball so that he doesn't have time to get a head of steam and bull dodge you. The secret is to not give your opponent room to run at you, be on his gloves as soon as he catches the ball or picks it up. If you give anyone room to run at you they will run you over or run by you at any level. Good luck. - John

Bonus Q: Hey Gags, I have a question on body position and lateral movement. I am from Michigan and This year I started to play varsity. I am 6' tall, about 190lbs and pretty quick for my size. But when an attacker drives, once in a while I lose my body position and get beat. So I was wondering if there is any way I could improve my body position and lateral movement. Also, thanks for the great column. This column helped me a great deal to become a better defenseman. - Jae

A: Jai,
What you want to do is practice body position without a stick or with a short stick in your hands. This will force you to play good position defense and it will help you put your body in the right position without relying on your long stick. At goal line extended make sure you swing your hips and make your opponent run through your body if he expects to get topside. Force the inside roll. - Gags

May, 2001 - Q&A

Q: Hey, I kind of followed your career and started out at the midfield position at age 11 and then went on to defense about a year later. I like your style of play and at many times find myself mimicking your moves. As a defender I am quick and have excellent stick handling. I feel as if I'm a pretty good player. I'm now in my sophomore year and plan on playing private school lax next year. Is there any advice you could give me on the game or paving my way to college? - J.J.

A: J.J.,
I also started as a midfielder and then moved to defense when I was in 9th grade. I feel that starting as a midfielder until 8th or 9th grade and then switching to defense is great for your stick handling once you put a long stick in your hands.

If you are looking to play in college you must commit yourself to becoming the best possible student athlete in your precious high school years. You should work on your weaknesses as a player in practice and on your own time. Stick handling abilities with a long stick should almost be equal to midfielders. You should work on your strength in the weight room and your smarts in the classroom.

Work on your speed and quickness at your school track on your off days and in the summer. You should also attend camps in the summer to learn new techniques and to see how good other players are in your age group. I run lacrosse camps called No Limit Lacrosse with Casey Powell in the summer time with some of the best instructors and players in the world.

You can visit our website at www.nolimitlacrosse.com. Again, thanks for the question and good luck training for the next level! - John

April, 2001 - Q&A

Q: I just started lacrosse this year in the 9th grade. I started as a short stick middie, but I've recently changed to being a long stick middie. I'm 5' 9" and weigh 125lbs. I know I'm not that big but I am very fast. What I wanted to know is if you had any suggestions on how I can be a better player. - Landon

A: Landon,
Being very fast is extremely important and should help your overall game. Since you are a beginner I recommend that you work on your stick skills so that you are equally as good righty and lefty with the ball in your stick. I would also start working out and trying to build a stronger frame for the next level. Also, watch as much film as possible to learn more about the game and the long stick position. What you do now will pay off in the future. Camps are also a great way to improve your game in the off-season. I run camps with Casey Powell! You can visit our website at www.nolimitlacrosse.com. Good Luck! - John

March, 2001 - Q&A

Q: I have a question about defensive positioning. When a middie is taking the ball down, and you're covering X, are you supposed to follow your man behind the cage to guard him, or would you recommend staying even with the goal line, in case you have to make a slide. I've heard both school of thought from my different high school and summer league coaches. What's your thought on this. I can't wait to catch you in action in the MLL. - Andrew

A: Andrew,
In a situation like this I like to stay even to goal line on the ball side of the field, helping your teammates if they need you to slide. I never go behind until the ball is in the air to the man at X. Your head has to constantly be moving back and forth from the man you are covering and the ball. Remember to focus on the man you are covering and try to stay at goal line level on the same side of the field. Also, make sure that you stay to the side of the cage out of the goalie's way at all times. Great Question! - John

February, 2001 - Q&A

Q: I am from Charlotte, NC. Sort of a weird place to be playing lax, don't you think? Lacrosse is getting really big in private schools and there have actually been a few all-Americans from some of the schools down here. Anyway, I have 2 defensive shafts, a regular brine F-22 58" and a cut STX CU31 shaft. The cut shaft with the head on it come to a little taller then my eye level (I'm 5' 6 1/2"). Would you recommend for a player that clears the ball a lot to use the longer or the shorter. Thank you very much and I can't wait to see you in the MLL. - Will

A: Will,
I am happy to hear that the great game of lacrosse is spreading rapidly throughout North Carolina!! I recommend that you go with the longer shaft. You are tall enough to handle a longer shaft and it is good to get used to a longer shaft at a younger age. But before you make the change you should practice control with the longer shaft during practice and against a wall. A longer shaft is also better for stick checks and shooting!! Good luck this upcoming season! - John

January, 2001 - Q&A

Q: Do you have any tips or specific strategies for clearing the ball against the offense? - Matthew

A: Matthew,
A defenseman should have good enough stick skills that when it is time to clear the ball you have the confidence to take the ball in your stick and make the correct decisions. And to feel confidence in your stick you must practice your stick handling and clearing during and after practice. The easiest way to clear is to draw an opponent to you when you have the ball and then find the nearest open teammate, even if it is your goalie. You can also power cradle with two hands when clearing and run by your attackman if necessary. I recommend that your start with the ball in your weak hand and see what the attackman is giving you. You can use your weak hand to roll back to your strong hand if necessary. Having confidence in your stick handling is most important and you build confidence through practice! - John

December, 2000 - Q&A

Q: I am a huge fan of yours. I started playing defense last year and I was having a lot of problems, feeling like I couldn't compete with the other players. Then I watched u play and loved your style. I read and get articles all the time trying to learn your techniques. Now I want to play at the college level and I have 2 years to work for it. I am a really big kid, 6'0" and 235 pounds. I'm not quick but I am strong. I have alot of problems getting up field and around players. What can I do to improve this? And do you have any other suggestions on how to get to the college level? Thank you and good luck in your next season. I'm looking forward to seeing you play. - Matthew

A: Matthew,
It sounds like you have the size and strength to be a great lacrosse player but the speed and quickness is what you need to work on immediately to get to the next level. I recommend that you reduce your weight about 15-20 pounds which will make you quicker and faster for the upcoming season. You can do this by increasing your long distance running and you should see your school trainer for a good speed building and weight lose program. These are some precious years in your life and lacrosse career. Take advantage of them! Thank you for the question! - Gags

November, 2000 - Q&A

Q: I am a goalie for my high school team. From a defenseman's point of view, how do you feel when the goalie gives orders and tries to be the leader of the defense? Do you think it's a good thing to do or not? - Roger

A: Roger,
Thank you for reading E-lacrosse and thank you for the great question! I really enjoy playing with goalies who speak the whole time. Sometimes as a defenseman you are taken to the crease or you end up in an awkward position where you lose track of where the ball is. A good goalie who constantly communicates can tell you the ball position at all times while also telling you the precise time to check your opponent. A defense as a whole has to speak to each other and communicate, but hearing it a second time from the goalie is always a plus. So make sure everyone on your defensive unit is always communicating and I recommend that you be a leader as the goalie, as well. - John

October, 2000 - Q&A

Q: I got beat pretty bad today at practice from up top, and it occurred to me that aside from always hearing "Funnel down" or "force down", I really don't know how to cover someone from up top WELL. I feel like every time someone takes me from there, its like a prayer- hopefully I wont look that dumb. Can you maybe give me some pointers as to how to handle that? How far should I give him until I start to run with him? Should I give him his left, or right depending on strength? Should I be playing cross-handed to get a better reach on him? Thanks a lot. - Jeff D.

A: Jeff,
What I like to do from up top is completely over exaggerate and force my opponent one way. I split the field in two, down the middle. Draw an imaginary line from goalie to goalie. I force an opponent down one of the sides. You force them one way by completely turning your hips so you are almost facing their side. If he is close enough to the midfield line then force him to his weak hand. If you play an opponent straight up giving them two options (righty/lefty), you are eventually going to get burned against the better players who are equally as strong with both. They will dance back and forth and eventually they will shake you. Also, never let your opponent get a running start at you, always be a stick length away (6 feet or less) when your opponent has the ball. You do this by anticipating the opponent you are guarding getting the next pass, and breaking down with your stick in front with your body in the right position when they receive it. Ideally you want to force your opponent to their weak hand when you can (midfield line, behind the cage) but when you are closer to the cage you must force them in the direction where you have help from your teammates if you need it. - John

September, 2000 - Q&A

Q: I was wondering who influenced your career? Who do you enjoy watching and playing with? - Tom Willis of Syracuse, NY

A: Tom,
Growing up I used to watch and follow two players, Pat McCabe and Dave Pietramala. I started playing defense in 8th grade and I tried to model my play after those two guys since then. I loved watching them go after attackman instead of being attacked. At Johns Hopkins I have had the opportunity to be coached by Petro and I played indoor lacrosse with Pat McCabe for two years, both thrilling experiences and a huge learning experience for me. I enjoyed playing defense with guys like Pat McCabe and Ryan Curtis this past summer in the MLL, and of course with any goalie who stops the ball and throws quick outlets. Playing indoor for the Philadelphia Wings I enjoy playing with Tom Marachek and Mark Millon, two of the top offensive players of all time. Thanks for the question! - John

August, 2000 - Q&A

Q: I'm a father of a young player (12 years old) who likes to play defense and my question concerns checks. I realize there are proper ways to throw checks and a variety of ways to do it, but at this point I'm still confused about the line between a slash and a check. Specifically, I've seen my own kid take a ball away from a guy simply by cracking his stick sharply across the forearm in which the offensive player is carrying his own stick. There's nothing too precise about this -- basically my kid will maneuver a guy into position with some pokes, then deliver a hard swing on the opponent's stick hand/arm. I've seen refs let this go and I've seen them call it an "uncontrolled check" or slash. Does the difference ride on where these slap checks hit (on the stick hand or on the free arm, for example), or what? Are slaps checks generally illegal? Are slap checks bad checks, in the sense that they invite penalties or are ineffective against good players? I'd appreciate a little insight on this. And if you can refer me to any good written or video material on the whole subject of defensive play, I'd appreciate that, too. - Craig LaMay

A: Craig,
There are two general reasons why referees throw flags when players are throwing slap checks. The first is that the check is out of control meaning the player is winding up to much, bringing the stick far away from the opponent's body and then throwing the check. Checks should be short and choppy and all close the opponent. The stick should never be more then 3 feet away from your opponent before throwing the check. Second is when you throw a check it needs to be on the front side of your opponents body. If your every throw a check and the stick goes across an opponents back a penalty will be called immediately. So short choppy checks and checks thrown in the legal spots at the stick or front side of opponents body are good checks. As for good films to watch for checking, if you can find some old Hopkins or Syracuse films from the mid 90's you will see defensemen going after attackmen. I recommend watching as many college games as possible. - John

July, 2000 - Q&A

Q:I'm going to be a junior next year and the varsity coach wants me to play defense after playing two years j.v. I still don't think I have had the results that I would like to have I was 2nd line on jv. I don't know if I am too small. I'm 5'10,140pounds. What should I do? I've started running distance and I'm working on stick work too. - Kevin Cramer

A: Kevin,
It sounds like you have the height for defense but you need to add some weight to your body (about 20 pounds). I recommend that you see your high school strength coach or a doctor about putting on some healthly pounds for more stength. I also recommend that you do sprints instead of long distance. Sprints are similiar to the kinds of up and down running you do in lacrosse, and long distance will just continue cutting added body weight. If you keep working hard on your stick skills and add body strength it will help you break the starting lineup next year as a defenseman or a long stick middie. Stay focused and keep training hard! - Gags

June, 2000 - Q&A

Q: Hey, Im a fifteen year old sophmore at Gonzaga High School in Washington DC. I've been playing lacrosse for 6 years. My coach expects me to start on Varsity next year and I would apprietiate your help on improving my game. I play very good defense away from the ball and have good foot work however I do not have that many checks. I generally just use basic slaps and pokes. They are working for now but I think in order to take my game to the next level I will need to learn more. Do you have any suggestions on which checks I should try to master? -Robby

A: Robby,
Although checking can be exciting and fun to watch, it is not always necessary to throw checks and take the ball away to be a great defensive player. On the contrary, when your team is down by two goals with one minutes left in the game takeaway checks are usually the only way to get the ball back for an opportunity to get some goals. The best way to learn takeway checks is to watch takeaway players. Tape some games and study how the checks are being set-up and thrown. Then practice with friends and try to master these checks.

At first it is very hard, but eventually you will figure out what works for you best. Get three basic checks you throw on rightys and three against leftys and when you have them down learn some more checks.

This summer I am running a camp where we are going to go over a number of different checks that I have found effective over the years. You can visit our No Limit Lacrosse camp website at www.nolimitlacrosse.com. This will be a great opportunity for kids at all levels to improve! Thanks for the Question! - Gags

May, 2000 - Q&A

Q: I am a defensman from the University of Arizona. I am 6'2" 215 lbs, and I am pretty quick. I can run with attackmen and middies both because I play longstick as well. I pretty much make my living on the field by having great position defense. All that stuff is great, but I have sort of hit a plateau. I want to get better at my stick checks, but I can't ever seem to practice them by myself. I can only do so many one-on-ones at practice before coach says it is time to move on. Is there any kind of way to practice a creative check on my own? I also want to improve my off-ball defense on my own. I hope to be able to catch you in the MLL. I am very excited that you guys are going to finally make that happen. - Tom Christian

A: Tommy,
The best way to improve your stick checks is to watch players who throw checks and see how they do it. Then the next day grab a player before or after practice and go one-on-one with him and practice your new checks. Do this for about a half hour after prctice three times a week, and when you perfect the new checks try them in a game.

A good off ball player always has him head on a swivel looking back and forth at your player and the man with the ball. You have to talk the whole time the ball is on your side of the field (who's hot, I'm hot, I'm the second slide) push your teammates to where they are supposed to be. That's what makes a great team player. Dictate!! Good luck. - John

April, 2000 - Q&A

Q: I am just starting lacrosse. I really like the defensive position. You are my favorite Lacrosse player. Can you give me some tips on defense. Thanks! - Gray Smith.

A: Gray,
So glad to hear from you and that you are interested in becoming a defenseman. Playing defense in lacrosse is like playing defense in basketball. Always stay between your man and the cage, pushing out at times. Be aggressive at all times on defense. Practice often in the off-season, and go to camps! Eventually it will all pay off. - Gags

Q:When you are playing defense do you throw your checks with both hands. Like on one side of the field do you go righty to throw a check and lefty on the other? -SQL

I feel that while playing defense you should always keep your stick in your strong hand at all times no matter where you are on the field. If you switch hands, a good offensive player will pick up your weak hand, and they will attack that hand. It can also slow you down when changing directions while covering an opponent. Figure out which way you feel more comfortable playing defense(righty or lefty)and stick with that way and that will make you a better defensive player in the long run. - Gags

Q:How can I loosen up a little bit and not play the attackman too tight without giving him space to think, or pass, or do whatever he wants? Jesse Stephens

You should start using your 6'0 defensive stick in your favor. Instead of having your stick on the side of your body while covering a player with the ball, put your stick in front of you when covering the player, giving yourself a 6'0 cushion. When you are covering a player off the ball use the head of your stick to get a defensive touch and feel where your opponent is while looking back and forth at the player with the ball and the player you are covering.

Off the ball, put your stick in the lane where you think your matched opponent wants to go, and you will know if he decides to make a move. - Gags

March, 2000 - Q&A

Q: I'm kind of a small guy (5'4) and I'm in the 8th grade. I play defense and people always tell me I'm to small to play defense. I start so there must be something good in my skills. Am I too small to play defense in lacrosse? - Pat Mills

A: Pat,
Although you are only 5'4 in the 8th grade, you can definitely play lacrosse and be very a successful defenseman or long-stick middie. In 8th grade I was 5'6 and then I grew 6 inches in the next four years. A teammate of mine at Johns Hopkins University was 5'6 160, and he started his junior and senior year. Even though size helps, speed and aggressiveness make up for any shortcomings a player might have. I suggest you play long-stick middie this year and then maybe try moving down to defense in a year or two. Thanks for visiting E-lacrosse, I hope you learned something today that will improve your playing! - Gags

Q: I heard something about you having a camp of your own this summer. Is this true, and if so, how can I get in? -Ben, Glen Cove

A: Ben,
That is correct, I am having a camp this summer with Paul Carcaterra from Syracuse at Adelphia University July 9-13. I would love to see you and your friends attend for some one-on-one personal tutoring by me or any of our staff! You can get a brochure at any Lacrosse Unlimited store, or you can visit us at www.NoLimitLacrosse.com as of March 1st, our live date! If you want me to send you a bunch of brochures for you and your friends e-mail me at johngagliardi@hotmail.com. We have a outstanding staff, so I hope to see you there. - Gags

February, 2000 - Q&A

What kind of stringing do you prefer for defense and why? - Joe

A: Joe,
I prefer using Dura-mesh pockets. You get a longer life out of your pocket, not having to restring them every month. Dura-mesh is also good in wet conditions. It is also important to clean your stick after playing in mud or any wet conditions. You can do this by running your pocket under hot water, and then pounding the pocket with a ball. Take care of your sticks and the pockets in your sticks, and they will last longer with their original stringing. - Gags

Q: I started playing lacrosse last year, I started at midde but I was moved to D and played though the whole summer which developed my game more. I started cradling with my weak hand and ive gotten good at it the problem is I can not catch or throw with it. I remember throwing with my right hand when I started out and it was much easier. Is it that important for me to develop both hands? I'm also 6'2 and 150lbs, that isn't much at all but I am pretty strong. Is weight that important for a D-Man and what are some things I can do at my home without weights to improve my game by myself such as scooping, power for the long ball and speed? - Rich Lake

A: Rich,
It sounds like you really want to become a better lacrosse player. You came to the right website! You need to gain a few more pounds for your height. You can do this by eating more frequently, but more importantly, EATING HEALTHY more frequently. Five small and healthful meals a day should work. To improve your stick handling you should have a catch with a friend only using your weak hand. Do not allow yourself to use your strong hand. If you are alone, play against a wall, again only using your weak hand. It might be tough in the beginning, but you will see great results in a couple of weeks of hard practice. -Gags

January, 2000 - Q&A

Q: I am a huge fan of yours. I started playing defense last year and I was having a lot of problems , feeling like I couldnt compete with the other players. Then I watched u play and loved your style. I read and get articles all the time trying to learn ur teachniques. Now I want to play at the college leavel and I have 2 years to work for it. I am a really big kid - 6'0'' and 235 pounds. Im not quick , but I am strong. I have alot of problems getting up feild and around players. What can I do to improve this? Any other suggestions to get to the college leavel? Thank You and good luck in your next season. Im looking forward to seeing you play. - Matthew

A: Matthew,
Sounds like you have the size and desire to get to the next level! What you need to work on is your speed and quickness, and you can do this by running sprints and doing speed drills 3-4 times a week. If you weigh 235 pounds that might be one problem that affects your speed and quickness. You might want to lose 10-20 pounds for the upcoming lacrosse season, which will probably help with your speed. Furthermore, you can be an outstanding defensemen at your size or smaller for a college team if you work on your weaknesses, which will help you become a more complete player. - Gags

Q: Great column Gags! As a youth coach on Long Island, I have tried to update my knowledge of the game so that I can share it with the kids I coach. I have one question about defensive technique and appropriate age levels to teach certain skills. Do you think it is OK to teach hold techniques to kids at the 5/6th grade level? They are typically 12 years old and under? - Joe

A: Joe,
When I teach kids at that level, I teach them the importance of body position, keeping your body between your opponent and the cage at all times. If their bodies are in the correct position, they would not have to hold very often. I feel that at the 5th/6th grade level you should let your players try new things, while emphasizing having fun and putting players in the correct positions. Holds are good at the later levels, but holds at the lower levels might be a little advanced. - Gags

DECEMBER, 1999 - Playing defense behind the cage

A good attackman always has a plan when starting with the ball behind the cage. A good defenseman knows what their opponent is trying to accomplish, and tries to disrupt the plan. When you are playing defense behind the cage you should position your body in a way that dictates your opponent's moves by overplaying him to one side. You can take away your opponents options by lining up on one side of him, forcing him to go the other way. You always try to take away your opponents strong hand on the back line, forcing him to use his weak hand. Once you have your opponent cradling with his weak hand than you can attack. When attackmen start with the ball at the corners behind the cage, a defenseman should force his opponent behind the goal, not letting them to get in scoring position.

NOVEMBER, 1999 - Stick Handling for Defenseman

Sometimes it can be difficult to get together with a friend to practice one on one during the off-season. But stick handling is something everyone can improve on their own. Defensemen should improve their skills by practicing throwing and catching against a wall just like offensive players often do.

A player should stand 30 feet from a wall throwing it 50 times with your right hand and then 50 times with your left, as hard and as fast as you can. Then throw and catch with your right, change hands, throw and catch with your left, and repeat. Alternate fifty times. If you do this 3 times a week or more during the off-season, it will enable you sharpen your skills and give you more confidence in your stick handling.

Defensemen should also practice power cradling, always using both hands, while running. These drills should improve your stick handling during clearing and ground ball situations. It is also important to have a good lacrosse stick with a deep pocket that you feel confident playing with.


Lacrosse season does not start the first day of practice in the spring. Successful players start months in advance. The best way to get in shape for lacrosse is to play sports year round in summer/winter leagues and for your high school teams. (Football, soccer, basketball, track, wrestling, and indoor lacrosse!) If not here are a few alternatives for the off-season:
  • Talk to your high school coaches or a trainer about a off-season weight training program hitting your major muscles two to three times a week. (Legs, chest, shoulders, and back.) This will increase your strength and speed, while helping avoiding injuries.

  • Every good off-season training program includes a cardiovascular workout at least three times a week. Get a pick up game of hoops with your friends, or run a couple of laps (4-8) around the track for endurance. Eight to twelve sprints starting with 40 yards and going up to 100 yards is also a great alternative!

  • Eating properly is essential for all sports! Eating a good balance of carbohydrates (pastas, rice), and protein (meats, fish) and light on the fats will increase your energy level. Sticking to a healthy diet will maximize your strength and energy for school and sports.

*All-American Manhasset High School, L.I.
*Two-time All-American Defense Johns Hopkins Univ. '96,'97
*North-South All-Star
*All- Star N.Y. Saints 1999
*USCLA Defensive player of the year '98, '99
*U.S. World Cup team All -Star 1999

The ideas and opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do
not neccesarily represent the views of E-Lacrosse or Tonabricks Publishing.