This is an excerpt from Men's Lacrosse by Don Zimmerman & Peter England.
Catching is the second half of the ball movement process. You complete this process by catching the ball when a teammate throws it to you. For example, you need to catch the ball on a ball exchange or when cutting for a feed. In a ball exchange situation, you should control the ball as it enters the pocket of your stick and prepare to move the ball or yourself. When catching off of a feed, you must secure the ball and prepare to shoot or move the ball again. The catching motion involves adjusting your body to the ball (with proper footwork), looking the ball into the pocket of the stick, giving with the ball, protecting your stick, and returning to the loaded position.
The ready position for catching, as shown in figure 3.12, is based on the triple-threat position discussed previously. Your arms are relaxed and extended from your body, and your elbows are flexed and positioned closer to your body. Catching is all about feel and cushioning the reception of the ball, so you don't need power and leverage. You want your stick on the side of your body where it's away from your body, but you should hold it within the cylinder to maximize stick protection. You will adjust your stick angle from 45 degrees to a more perpendicular stick angle. You should use the pinch technique, which cocks your wrist; the handle becomes perpendicular to the ground, and the stick pocket is fully facing the thrower (perpendicular equals full target). If you show the full face of your stick pocket, this gives the thrower the maximum surface area to use as a target. Whether you're throwing, catching, or scooping, the stick should always be off to the side of your body. You never want to have your stick directly in front of your body (in “flag pole” position). Here are some of the reasons for avoiding this position:
Stick position and target—The thrower does not see the entire pocket, and you lose surface area.
- Vision—You can't see the ball into the pocket of your stick.
- Give—You tend to fully extend and straighten out your arms. If you do so, then you are rigid and have little flexibility to give with the ball.
- Stick protection—Your stick is exposed, and you are likely to get it checked by an opponent.
- Throwing—You have to bring your stick back and reload to throw.
To catch, you adjust your body to the pass—whether it's a good pass or an errant pass—by moving your feet and then adjusting your stick to the ball. For example, on a cross-field pass, the thrower puts the ball in the general vicinity of the catcher, and the catcher adjusts his body position to make it a perfect pass. In an open-field situation, you can either wait for the ball to arrive or step toward the ball and catch it. In general, whether it's a perfect pass or an errant pass, you want to step to the ball. In a pressure situation, you should step to an open area. You want to use the triple threat position to put your defender on your back and use your body to shield him from your stick. If you stay squared up, the defender can easily check your stick. Also remember that the stick head should be up by your eyes. That way, as you watch the flight of the ball, you can focus on the ball, and as you receive it, you can look the ball into your stick pocket. Think about how a receiver in football looks the ball into his hands and completes the catch. You should use your peripheral vision so you always know where your stick head is located.
As the ball approaches, you need to “give” with your body as if someone is throwing you an egg and you don't want to break it. You should give with everything—your hips, shoulders, elbows, and hands. Everything moves backward in one smooth, continuous, free-flowing motion. You turn your hips, turn your shoulders, and the arms follow. If you turn your hips and shoulders properly, you can let the ball come to you and then “give” with both elbows and both hands (see figure 3.13). You want to have “soft hands”, which means that both your hands and grip are relaxed. If you give with only the top hand, then the bottom hand and the butt end of the handle will come up; this causes the stick to become parallel, and the ball will fall out of the pocket.
Your body and stick need to work in harmony. The stick is an extension of the body, so the body is doing the turning and bringing the stick back while your soft hands just finish off the action. Your hips turn, your shoulders turn, and your stick follows. You give with the stick as if you are drawing back an arrow on a bow. You give by pulling back on the handle with your shoulder. This enables the stick to stay perpendicular to the ground. The turn of the hip and shoulder sets up both stick protection and the loaded position. When you turn your shoulders properly, the stick naturally comes back near your ear so that you are protecting the stick with your body. As you receive the ball, you turn your shoulders into the loaded position (see figure 3.14).
As you catch the ball, you should shift your body weight to your back foot, and your stick and hands should be back. You should execute a little feel cradle so you know where the ball is in your pocket (feel cradle will be described later in this chapter). You will then be ready to throw the ball forward. It's similar to a person having a snowball up by his ear and being ready to throw it at his intended target.
Soft Hands Drill
To learn how to properly “give” with your top hand when catching the ball.
No stick is used in this drill. Have a coach or teammate toss you a ball so it lands off to your side and near your head so you can catch it.
Catch the ball with your strong hand. Give with the ball as if you are catching an egg and don't want to break it. Your hand will move back to cushion the impact of the ball.
You need to learn how to properly cushion the arrival of the ball into the stick pocket. For many young players, their first instinct is to “attack” the ball with their stick. The egg toss analogy teaches the proper touch. By using soft hands, you learn that the catching motion is more of a giving, reactive motion.