Pictured here is Duke FOGO (Face-Off, Get Off) legend Brendan Fowler, one of the great all time masters of the pinch and pop face-off technique and credited with being one of the biggest reasons for their 2013 National Championship run. The video below is a good demonstration of the technique that when executed successfully, leaves the ball on the back side of the head and pocket.
The face-off man then will flip the ball to the correct side of the head mid-stride to pass the ball; some have even learned to throw the ball accurately from the back side of the head.
This year’s face-off rule change targeted the pinch and pop specifically, when it was deemed that once the ball is in the back side of the head, the face-off man may not run with the ball and may only take one step with it before flipping it to the correct side of the head. This majorly curtails the potency of what has become the signature move of many lacrosse face-off specialists. So the question is, is pinch and pop still an effective move with the new rule change?
While the rules definitely take some of the sheer dominance away from players like Brendan Fowler that have perfected the skill, it still has a place in the face-off arsenal. For one, the pinch and pop can be used not to immediately possess the ball, but to plunge the ball in the direction of the momentum of the face-off man who won the clamp. In fact, when you watch Brendan Fowler highlights, he won many face-offs this way even when the rules allowed him to run with the ball in the back of his head. This was simply because the opposing player restricted enough of Brendan’s head to prevent him from keeping a firm nesting of the ball in the back of his head.
I have never had the pleasure of coaching a pinch and pop specialist, but I sure have coached against many. I saw first hand at the middle school and high school level, a few gifted players who have successfully adapted to the one step rule and are able to seamlessly win the pinch and pop, take one single step, and flip the ball into the correct side of the pocket in one single stride. I saw others struggle with this even after winning the pinch and pop only to lose the ball being called for taking more than one step or having it taken away as their forward momentum is slowed because of the one step restriction.
While the rule change definitely will temporarily suppress the dominance of pinch and pop experts, I believe that these athletes over time will perfect the art of pinch and pop within the new face-off rules.
I have seen the rules of face-off change constantly through the years in an effort to make it more difficult, only to see top athletes adjust and adapt to regain their dominance. This new rule change will ultimately be a mere bump in the road for great pinch and pop face-off specialists.
Dr. Roger Welton was a 4 year starter for Montclair State University and was selected as a First Team All Knickerbocker Conference Midfielder in 1995, 1996. He is the founder of the Viera-Suntree Lacrosse Club and Space Coast Elite Lacrosse Club in Brevard County, Florida.