Tag Archives: face-off

The Art Of The Lacrosse Face Off – Is It The Most Important Position In Lacrosse?

Posted on by .
Greg Gurenlian - Arguably Best Lacrosse Face Off Of All time

The face off in lacrosse has evolved through the ages in terms of line up, speed of whistle, and distance of the head from the ball as two face off players line up to with the back side of the heads on either sides of the ball in a crouched position as they await a whistle to battle for possession of the ball.  Possession of the ball is very important in lacrosse, as Division I college teams score 41% of the time per possession, making the face off position extremely important; often the deciding factor in whether a team wins or loses.

Many face off guys are very good all around lacrosse players but often as they advance in the levels of lacrosse, they increasingly stand out as winning face offs being their best contribution to the team.  Duke head coach John Danowski once famously said [referring to the face off specialist] that in the game of lacrosse, “the worst lacrosse player on the field often determines the outcome of games.”  Hence the now common position known as the FOGO, an acronym for Face Off, Get Off.

What I have learned about face off dominance in my years of playing and as a coach is that even the best lacrosse players just simply cannot be trained to be great face off guys.  It really is a skill you either have to do not, nonetheless, if a player shows aptitude in face off, it is important to nurture that player and get him the best training he can attain to hone the skill.

Case in point, my strongest all around player in the 10U boys travel division I coached this past season is a boy named Jackson.  There is nothing this boy cannot do, often  netting us 9 points per game while playing incredible defense, with seemingly endless stamina as a midfielder.  Yet, as great as an athlete as Jackson is (perhaps the best I have seen in a player at this age), Jackson was not very strong as face off.

We had the good fortune to bring in Dylan Lowdermilk, 2 time All-American face off at FSU (4 year all district face off middie from one of our local high school teams and now graduated, face off coach for FSU) to work with our travel teams.  I asked Dylan during practice to take groups of 4 of my team during practice, work through face off technique, and determine who my best face off players were.

Interestingly, a boy named Tommy, the youngest boy on the team who had just started playing lacrosse this year but showed enough raw athletic ability that I believed he could be developed into a travel team lacrosse player, proved to be our top face off prospect. By our final tournament of the summer season, Tommy became our go to face off player and enjoyed incredible success despite being young player so new to the game.

So what it is about certain players that just have that gift for face off?  Bringing up Tommy is a perfect segue into the sport science of face off, since ESPN did an analysis on arguably the best face off specialist in college, Team USA, and professional lacrosse history: Greg Gurenlian.  Tommy’s parents enrolled him in a face off academy clinic with none other than Greg Gurenlian this summer.

Here is what ESPN sport science analysis discovered about Gurenlian that made him so dominant at face off.:

  • Reaction Time – Average reaction to the whistle is 150 milliseconds.  Gurenlian’s is 130 milliseconds, translating into a 13% advantage in reaction time than the average human.
  • Clamp – During his clamp, Gurenlian rotates his head by swinging his bottom left hand on the shaft at 770 degrees per second, beating his average opponent to the clamp by an average of 0.02 seconds (the same amount of time it takes a humming bird to flaps its wings).
  • Defensive Exit – Once securing the ball, Gurenlian rips the stick out at 14. miles per hour, then sweeping the ball with his head at 3 G’s of acceleration…this adds up to Gurenlian escaping the face off space in less than 0.43 seconds!

All told, Gurenlian gains full possession of the ball in 0.23 seconds, 7% faster than an NHL hockey face off.

Greg Gurenlian’s stats courtesy of ESPN Sport’s Science tell us a few things about what makes a great face off specialist:

1.) Reaction time.

2.) Fast, strong hands.

3.) Strong upper and lower body acceleration.

To be sure, many of these skills can be honed and improved but it seems a lot of being a great face off lacrosse player is God given.  It is incumbent upon us coaches to be able to recognize these face off beasts early and point them in the direction of the best face off instruction we can offer them.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.

With The New Face-Off Rules Is Pinch and Pop Still An Effective Lacrosse Face-Off Technique?

Posted on by .

Brendan Fowler Pinch and Pop Lacrosse Face-off SpecialistPictured 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.