Defensive Tips from the Best: Tommy Smith
University of Virginia, All-American 1995, 1996, 1997
from a recent interview by Great Atlantic Lacrosse
Communication is the key
The number one key to being an All American defenseman, is the communication you have on the field between yourself and the rest of your teammates. Communication can make good players great and great players All-Americans. It's amazing how easy team defense can be with everybody (goalies and short stick midfielders) barking out calls to their fellow teammates. It is even more amazing how you can intimidate an offense just by how loud you can yell out a call (even if a defender is beat). Everyone in the defensive end should be yelling a call. Whether it's the man on the ball (yell "ME"), the players off the ball (yell "I'VE GOTCHA LEFT/RIGHT"), or the slide man (yell "I'M HOT), every player is communicating and working together as a team.
This can be a defenseman's dream or nightmare. With that aside it is definitely the one time a defenseman has an opportunity to show his athletic ability. There are a couple of things for defenseman to keep in mind when going one-on-one with an offensive player. The first thing that defensemen should focus on their "ready position" when preparing for a good one-on-one battle. Defensemen should always have a slight bend to their knees, almost as if they are sitting in a chair. Secondly, defensemen should also always have their sticks out in from of them, not at their waist, this way they are ready to engage their attackman. Finally, defensemen must play on the balls of their feet, not on the back of their heels.
My final tip for any defensemen would be to play an attacking style of defense. A lot of defensemen, especially at the collegiate level, will get beat for goals because they are too worried about taking the ball away from their man. Remember, your job as a defenseman is to stop your opponent FIRST. Be physical and initiate the contact and never play on your heels. You have a six foot stick in your hand, make sure you take advantage of this luxury. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the poke check. Keep poking the bottom hand of the attackman. This will drive him crazy! Attackmen cannot stand physical play; so BE THE AGGRESSOR! Your physical play will bother the attackman so much that it will take him out of his game. You can develop take-away checks such as the over-the-head or the "kayak" later on, but the poke check still remains the most effective check in one¹s arsenal.
Remember, coaches love aggressive defenseman, however know your opponents and weaknesses and more importantly your own. Keep practicing and best of luck with your game.