One of the common discussions you see come up often in the lacrosse community is what’s the hardest position to play in lacrosse. For players who have played at least 4 years and longer, this could be a silly question. Yet for beginners, this is totally a valid and great question. Since most beginners don’t have the luxury of trying out all positions, it’s hard to come up with a comprehensive view of comparison.
After doing some self-reflection and debating with college pals, it’s safe to say the general consensus is goalies are the hardest positions to play in lacrosse by a good margin. Although there aren’t any official surveys conducted to back up this view, the sheer amount of constant hits by lacrosse balls alone says it all.
Continue reading to learn why that is in detail. And most importantly, I will attempt to argue for and against each position since this is a subjective opinion. The goal here isn’t to tell you which position is the most challenging as a fact, but rather to use this post as an opportunity to help you gain a deeper understanding of each position. Eventually, you can formulate your own opinion and make sound decisions when it comes to committing to a position that fits you the most.
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The Hardest Position To Play – Contender #1: Goalies
Let’s start with a few good reasons why goalies are in fact the hardest position to play. I believe these three reasons are good representations to support the view.
Last Line of Defense
As the only player between the pipes, the goalkeeper is like a lone soldier fighting the battle. And in fact, this is the only position in lacrosse that has one single player. Which means the margin of error is much less lenient for the goalkeeper. If they make a mistake, the cost is oftentimes a goal for the opposite team.
This definitely puts a lot of pressure on their shoulders to perform at their best both in games and in practice at all times. Additionally, coaches always look for the best-performing goalkeeper on the team to maximize defense. If the starting goalie slips up, there is a good chance she/he will start on the bench the next game.
Mental Pressure From The Whole Team
Due to the nature of being a goalie, if the opposite team scores a goal, it often looks like it’s the goalie’s fault. And if a goalkeeper consistently lets balls sneak past, the whole team may start to express frustration at him or her. This is especially common at the beginner level. To combat this, goalies must have a calm and focused mind to maintain composure during games.
Yet this is a very hard and delicate mental strength many goalies have difficulty gaining. It’s very easy to get frustrated with themselves which unfortunately only leads to more mistakes. One absolute defeat can potentially wreck the goal’s confidence. So goalkeepers have to train their minds to be level-headed and keep a “short term memory” throughout the game.
The Bruises and Injuries
Last but certainly not least is the scary fact that goalies need to stay composure while being exposed to constant fast-speed shots. Compared to any other positions, goalies by far are the ones that get hit and injured the most. After all, shooters are shooting the balls as fast as they can to score without much consideration for the opposing goalie.
Let alone the fact that goalies also wear the least amount of protective equipment! To not sacrifice mobility, goalies opt for the least amount of protection which is truly an act of bravery in and of itself. Throughout my career, I have seen goalies get punched left and right during games. And to that, I have nothing but the utmost respect for every lacrosse goalkeeper.
But what’s the counterargument?
Ok although personally, I don’t think this could be counted as a fair argument, the main opposition against goalies being the hardest position is that they don’t run a whole lot and only stay in one location inside the crease.
Unlike other positions that involve long distance sprinting and demanding physical movements, goalies rarely go outside the crease and occasionally have to initiate transitions and fast breaks. Due to the lack of running, beginners tend to think being a goalie is easy and requires fewer skills.
The Hardest Position To Play – Contender #2: Defenders
Moving on to defenders, we will do the same exercise. First, let’s start with the difficulties of being a defensive player.
Upon close inspection, you probably realize coaches often put the most skilled players on the team to play defense. There are two primary reasons for this. First, defensive players have to be constantly adjusting their footing and pace to match up against the opposing attackers. Since offensive players are constantly looking for weakness to exploit, defenders must stay focused and alert at all times. And that leads to our second point, mistakes are much more costly when made by defensive players. Just like goalies, the margin of error is small when it comes to defense.
In other words, being good at 1v1 is much harder than people think. What’s more, most coaches don’t know how to properly teach players to handle those tricky situations. More often than not, defensive players have to learn on their own or participate in summer camps.
The no. 1 rule for an impeccable defense is the ability to operate as a collective unit. This requires both time and effort to accomplish. Especially during dire situations such as fast breaks, defenders must communicate effectively and make sure everyone knows their position and responsibility.
In addition, in situations where you need to be aggressive, you must step it up to your plate to complete your assignment. And when you got beaten by the attacker, you must identify how to recover as fast as possible.
What’s the counterargument?
With all that said, the counterargument that often gets thrown at defenders is the fact that physical strength trumps actual stick skills. Since defensive players are mainly responsible for stopping and intercepting the ball, they don’t need to be as advanced and crafted in their stick skills as middies and attackers need to be.
So instead of spending hours and hours playing wall ball, defenders are better off working on footwork, agility and speed. In other words, athleticism is more important as a defensive lacrosse player.
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The Hardest Position To Play – Contender #3: Midfielders
Now let’s shift gears from defense to offense and start with midfielders.
Great At Both Offense and Defense
To be a great middie, you have to be good at doing everything, both defensive and offensive. You need to be a well-rounded player without any apparent weaknesses. In offense, you are expected to run fast, feed good balls and create shooting opportunities. In defense, you need to be the first line of defense and prevent the opposing team from initiating fast breaks. And when it comes to ground balls, you need to hustle and go for them as hard as you can.
On top of that, midfielders must familiarize themselves with both offensive and defensive strategies. It’s very important that you know the ins and outs of various schemes and strategies the team deploys. As the connection point that links two sides of the field together, midfielders are absolutely crucial for the success of a team.
Be Ready To Run Constantly
No.1 thing you must know before playing midfielder is to get ready to run an insane amount every game. On average, midfielders run 5-7 miles per game. Although two way midfielders are now less common, you should expect to sprint back and forth between the offensive and defensive zones.
Without good stamina, it’s almost impossible to be a great midfielder simply because of the sheer amount of running needed. So apart from the regular stick and team practice, midfielders have to take more effort into cardio. More specifically, you need to focus on both speed and endurance.
What’s the counterargument?
It seems like midfielders are a serious contender in this contest against goalies, so what could be a counterargument against them? A big one I can think of is the fact that they don’t face as much pressure as other positions in terms of performance.
Because midfielders act as intermediaries between defense and offense, they don’t “directly” affect the outcome of the game. On top of that, midfielders rotate on and off the field very often during games. It gives players who aren’t performing at their best time to adjust. Plus, if you aren’t a natural runner, being able to substitute on and off is very beneficial.
So overall, midfielders need to be jack of all trades but they also get the most time off to rest and the most leeway when they make mistakes.
The Hardest Position To Play – Contender #4: Attackers
Last but not least, let’s talk about attackers. As an attacker myself, I will share my honest opinion after playing this position for 8+ years.
Exceptional Stick Skills
Without a doubt, attackers got to have solid stick skills not only in shooting but also in catching, passing, etc. Attackers need to be very comfortable with their sticks to perform well. If we talk about shooting specifically, there are multiple different types of shooting players should master. Not only that, attackers need to work on their off-hand to create even more leverage over defenders.
It’s easier said than done. It takes hours and hours of practice to reach a good stick level. I would say 80% of attackers never speed more than 2 hours a week doing wall balls. But if you want to be exceptional, there’s no other way. Wall ball is your friend.
Strong Mind Creates Strong Performance
The success of the offense mostly relies on attackers. If you don’t perform well, your team doesn’t score. Just like defenders, attackers also have an immense amount of pressure on their shoulders. And you must seize those opportunities when they present themselves. Even if you miss the shots, you have to keep trying repeatedly.
Another source of pressure comes from the fact that performing poorly puts you in the danger of losing the starting position. As we know, attackers rarely get to go off the field. If you don’t start, you most likely won’t play. Therefore, from my experience, attackers definitely need great mental strength in face of adversity and uncertainty.
What’s the counterargument?
As an attacker myself, I must confess that attackers can be perceived as “lazy” from time to time. Why? One thing is that when the ball is in the defensive zone, we are simply waiting for the clear. We don’t actively engage with defense effort which tends to be the most laborious part of the game. At the same time, this does help us preserve energy since attackers play for the entirety of the game.