Coach and Athletic Director
Getting The Most From The 2-3-1
By Barry Ellison, Former Club Coach, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Okla., Current Owner of Lax Elite Clinics (Ga.)
One of the more familiar formations in lacrosse at any level is the 2-3-1 but just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean it’s fully grasped.
It is critical for head coaches to really understand the concepts behind this formation before trying to teach it to their staff and players. I coached and played for many years, but it wasn’t until I really broke down the 2-3-1 by studying film and reviewing notes from clinics, that I felt my teams were getting all that they could out of this formation.
When executed properly, the 2-3-1 allows easy cuts to the net that create scoring chances — but running it well means attackmen and middies must be in constant motion to put themselves in the best position to make plays. That’s why understanding the basic concepts of the formation is important, because if players know what they’re trying to accomplish, they can adjust if things don’t go exactly as planned.
This is especially important at the lower levels, where there just isn’t time to put in multiple formations, and teams end up living and dying on how well they execute the 2-3-1.
DIAGRAM 1: 2-3-1 Formation. This set creates space, puts pressure on the defense and, if your players are active, then they are certain to have scoring opportunities.
The Advantages Of The 2-3-1
To begin with, the 2-3-1 creates good spacing, which makes it easy to unbalance the defense with dodging — but players cannot just dodge to dodge. They must dodge to pass and to be more than a simple two-dimensional player.
The players who are off the ball must, at the same time, be active so that the player with the ball doesn’t get double-teamed. One way to remain active is by sealing, which the 2-3-1 sets up nicely because it creates space. There’s more room in the middle, so it’s easier to avoid double-teams and seal defenders.
Finally, the ball can be moved through the “X” to the other side very quickly, which puts pressure on the defense.
The Disadvantages Of The 2-3-1
If players aren’t constantly in motion, the 2-3-1 stalls. Players cannot settle for one pass and go — they must continue passing to keep the defense off balance or there won’t be any weak-side holes. Good passers are critical, as teams often have to make multiple passes to create opportunities.
In-tight shooters are also important because the defense typically sets low against this formation.
Finally, the top middies must understand they are going to play a big role in creating shots for other players.
A Set Play
This play is called “North Carolina” (I’m a big Tar Heel lacrosse fan). It’s a simple curl but for this play to work there must be a good feeder at the top of the box and a great finisher to connect on the low corner shot.
DIAGRAM 2: North Carolina (A). The attackmen (A1, A2 and A3) are at the X and the goal-line extended (GLE), while one middie is at the crease and the other two start higher. The play starts from ball side, with a pass from one of the top middies to the other (in this case M1 to M2). After the pass, the middie who passed screens for the middie at the crease (M3), and the attackman on the weak side screens for the attackman at the X (in this example it’s A2 for A1).
DIAGRAM 3: North Carolina (B).The middie with the ball (M2) now uses a change-of-direction dodge and moves across to the side of the field where the screens have been set. M2 must move quickly, and ideally, M2 gets to a spot where there is an easy pass to one of the open offensive players just as they are coming off the screen.
DIAGRAM 4: North Carolina (C). M2 has two options and either A1 or M3 should be open. Good screens, good cuts and a good pass should result in a good shot.
It’s important, though, to be able to adjust to a double-team on the ball. Make sure that your other middies know they must be ready to relieve the pressure and reset the play.
Despite playing club lacrosse in high school and college, Barry Ellison started his coaching career as a football coach. He soon shifted gears, however, and took a lacrosse coaching job at Fairfax High School in Virginia. He moved on to coaching the club team at Oklahoma State and he now runs Lax Elite Clinics in Georgia.