As I have written about this a couple of times, the lacrosse community has a knack for using esoteric terms that new players and fans don’t immediately pick up. I also wrote a post on the many common ones you should learn when starting out. And today, let’s talk about another term, which is an alley. I first heard it from my high school coach and to be honest, it took me a few games to fully understand what he meant.
To save you the trouble and time, you will learn everything about an alley in this post including some training drills you could do, etc.
Depending on who you ask, an alley in lacrosse can refer to different areas. Normally when we talk about alleys, we are describing the areas that are on the inside right and left of the restraining box but not directly in front of the goal. When referees refer to an alley, they refer to the narrow lane that is outside of the restraining box from the end line to the restraining line.
This might sound a bit confusing. Continue reading to understand the nuances and know how to utilize the alleys going forward.
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Where is the alley? Illustrated with diagrams
Since the alley is interpreted differently from a referee’s and a player’s perspective, it’s better to address the difference so you don’t get confused during games. Let’s start with the official definition of an alley that referees use.
The alleys in the eyes of officials are the slanty lanes that lie outside of the restraining boxes in the picture below. Each alley goes from the endline to the restraining line. And as you can see here, there are in total four alleys on each lacrosse field.
Alleys play a big role in restarting a play. In the event of that, the referee will grant the offensive team possession in the alley instead of giving them the ball right inside the restraining box. This rule prevents the offensive team from automatically gaining an unfair advantage over the opponent. As we discussed here before on the blog, possession in lacrosse comes with many advantages that put the other team in a more inferior position.
If the ball carrier is given the ball within the restraining box, s/he will probably go straight for a shot and there really isn’t anything effective the other team could do to stop them. So it’s only fair to restart the game from a place where both teams are on an even playing field, which makes the alley the perfect area to do so.
Another important thing to remember is during a game, whenever the referee refers to an alley, they are speaking about that area outside of the restraining box. Make sure you aren’t confused by it.
It’s very important now that you learn how an alley is officially defined in the eyes of a referee. Let’s now turn to the more common and familiar version of alleys coaches and players often use. Let me preface this by saying it can be a little confusing for beginners but once you get used to referring to them in different contexts you will know exactly which one it is.
The alley players talk about is an area that is not directly in front of the goal but rather off to the side that goes from one edge of the crease to the other. In terms of size, the player alley is bigger that goes from one restraining box to the other. See below for a demonstration.
It’s easy to notice that the player alley is broader and more loosely defined. They extend across the majority of the field. This difference also speaks to the fact that referees and players view the importance of alleys in different lights.
In summary, the referee uses an alley to conduct fair play between the defensive and offensive teams. The players use an alley to facilitate an offensive scheme to create scoring opportunities.
As your experience grows, you will quickly decipher which one is being mentioned in different contexts.
How to use the alley as part of the offensive play
One thing I didn’t grasp in the early days of my career was using space to get open and create scoring opportunities. Rather than the immediate hunch to go down the main street to shoot, many times players utilize the alleys to create gaps in between defensive players and find open teammates. Thus, in this section, let’s go over how players can use the alleys to their advantage.
Pull defenders away from the offensive zone
Inside the offensive zone, the most heavily guarded area is the space right in front of the goalie. For this reason, there are always at least two defenders standing in the center lane at all times. It’s incredibly difficult to crack open that defense line without utilizing the expansive space around the center area.
Hence, a good way to add variations to offensive schemes is to take advantage of the right and left alleys. As you often see in college and professional games, players rarely charge straight down the main street. They often run up and down the alley or behind to pull defenders apart and create space.
Another benefit to utilizing the alley is once you successfully execute a dodge, you can cut toward the center as fast as you can to get a better shooting angle or feed to an adjacent player who is in front of the goal.
Alley Dodge Shooting
Once the middie or shooter successfully gets past the defender, s/he will get open down the alley. If the player is confident with their shooting ability, they will be able to shoot an alley dodge shooting from either side. This is a very common and useful shooting technique players should work on during practice.
Learn more about it below. Also, check out this guide done by beginner lacrosse.
Live example of using an alley
Now we have walked through how an alley is used as part of the offensive strategy. Many teams in fact initiate the attack by first exploiting the alleys. Let’s take a look at a great example of how it’s done in a real game.
Read also: How to dodge in lacrosse
How to use the alley as part of the defensive play
Just like how the alley is an important part of the offensive strategy, defenders can’t overlook the importance of an alley either. In every defensive strategy, the center lane is guarded with the most number of defenders as possible. Any dodgers that attempt to get themselves open in this area will quickly get swallowed up by defensive recovery. Thus, in order to protect the center lane, on ball defenders are willing to strategically give up the alley and keep offensive players for defensive advantage.
However, as we mention in the previous section, the shooter down the alley has an opportunity to shoot an alley dodge shot once s/he drives past the defender. In order to minimize this potential risk, defensive player 2 will slide to recover.
Essentially as the on-ball defender drives the opponent into the alley, the opponent will make an attempt to dodge past the on-ball defender. This will expose the defensive team to a wide open uncontested shot. So the sliding defender in this case will quickly step up to dissuade the immediate threat by leaving their previous markup.
This is why it’s very common to couple an appropriate sliding strategy with the strategy to push offensive players to the alley. It not only serves as a second line of defense but also makes the alley a solid spot to defend effectively.
Mirroring the offensive alley drill, the defensive alley drill allows players to work on their footwork and defensive positioning. In particular, as the ball carrier is riding the defensive player, the defensive player needs to match up their pace using drop step and body position in transition.
Watch how you can adopt this practice drill to your regular defensive practice to improve footwork.
To wrap up, remember there are two different references attached to the term “alley” in lacrosse. Since now you understand why referees and players use them differently, you will also remember how to differentiate them under proper contexts.
Lastly, always take advantage of the alley whether you are an offensive or defensive player. It’s a crucial part of the lacrosse field that you could use to obtain an advantage over your opponents.
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