By Mike Muetzel
Last week I was coaching against a good friend of mine. In the course of the game we had three long-stick players score a total of four goals. As we talked the day after the game, he asked how he might be able to get his poles to be more aggressive in the offense. The answer is pretty straightforward -- drills in practice.
In today's game at the high school level and beyond, players are often just more athletic, especially the poles. But asking them to be more active and effective on the offensive end does not happen by accident. It happens with repetition and confidence.
I often hear from my poles that "my old coach did not let us shoot." Well, I am not your old coach!
Poles in Shooting Drills
At least twice a week we include all of our poles in shooting drills. On these days we often do a four-line shooting drill with a quick pass from each side of GLE up to the restraining line, and the lines are moving, passing and dodging, and shooting at the same time. However, we stress to poles to shoot with their hands high and shoot the ball high to low, creating a dramatic difference in the plane of the shot.
At the very least, they get 40 or more touches in a shooting drill run very fast and going with both right and left hands. In many ways it is just a stick-work drill that is more fun, as it ends in a shot.
Although it is a matter of coaching preference, I coach poles to shoot high to low directed at each lower corner of the cage. In my case, I am not even advocating a bounce shot, but a shot directly to the low corner. As many of you know, I will occasionally wrap plastic grocery bags into the low corners, and the players shoot for the bags in the lower corner. They are cheap and tear easily, adding excitement to the drill as well as an audio positive reinforcement to the poles who are shooting.
Poles – Give and Go
We also practice our poles in transition to pass the ball to an attackman in a low corner on either side of GLE, and then a quick return pass, thus a give-and-go again followed by a quick shot to a low corner of the cage. In games, it is amazing how many times teams will not cover poles, especially once they pass, leaving them wide open on a fast break or even in a slow break transition.
Again, by practicing this once or twice a week for just 5-7 minutes, the results in games can be significant.
After a Face-Off Win
Many coaches will have the LSM run directly to the crease for a short period of time following a face-off win. For most, it is a way of drawing a defender or one the opponent's better ground ball middies into the crease area, keeping them away from our offensive middies.
In my case, I have found that by leaving the LSM in the crease for 20-30 seconds the team defending our offense often forgets about the LSM. And once we convince our LSM to be active and moving while in the crease area, they often are open for easy goals or looks at the cage.
But, it is not magic. During our 6v6 work or even in 4v4 work, we often have an LSM as well as poles play offense in the crease. This builds familiarity and confidence for the shooter as well as his teammates making the passes to a quick look inside.
3v2 and 4v3
Another coaching tip that has really helped our players is having our LSM as well as our starting poles play with the offensive unit during 3v2 or 4v3 drills. Again, the result is familiarity and confidence.
Perhaps what I've described is not necessarily your coaching style, but I encourage you to give it a try. The first few days might be ugly or awkward, but stay with it. Your poles and LSMs will have a blast as well as get better. There is nothing like a great goal from a pole or LSM to energize your sideline in a tight game, and it will not be an accident!
Love to get your thoughts!