We’ve all heard it from and said it as coaches: “Hit the wall between practices!”
There is no question that playing wall ball will improve your stick skills, hand-eye coordination and feel for the ball. The real question is, how much do you want to improve? The answer lies in the consistency, variety and mechanics you apply to your wall-ball routine.
This month, I share a program that was handed down to me my freshman year in college by one of the all-time greats in our game, Syracuse University legend John Zulberti, also known as “Z.”
Zulberti was a four-time All-American attackman at ’Cuse and won two national championships, playing with the Gait brothers and Tom Marechek. He hails from perennial upstate New York powerhouse West Genesee High School, where lacrosse is a religion and they take great pride in their mastery of fundamentals.
One of the great contributions emanating from West Genesee and the coaching career of Zulberti is the wall-ball routine called “The 12 Hands of Lacrosse.” Each type of throw is referred to as a hand, and double it for completing the throw with your other side. It goes as follows:
Perfect practice makes perfect
Some keys to getting the most out of wall ball:
* Stand 5-10 yards from the wall and find a level where you can throw your passes on a rope and get a good bounce back for a catch on your shoulder (in the box).
* Find the tallest, widest brick wall you can (without any windows nearby). Many schools are starting to build dedicated wall-ball walls to protect buildings and encourage practice. These are not terribly expensive, and a community program could easily pool together to get more of these built.
* See your target and try to hit the same brick, or level of bricks, every time.
* Start stationary and get comfortable with each hand for a minimum number of reps. Start with 10 each, then progress with each hand five reps at a time. Set challenges for yourself without any drops.
* Walk down the wall passing across your body on one hand, and back passing across your body with the other hand. Once you can walk for a minimum number of reps, progress to jogging, then running. Set challenges for speed as well as number of reps in a given space.
* Wear your gloves when you play wall ball so you have the same feel as you do in a game. You also may want to wear your helmet to get used to looking through the bars on your cage. For younger players, this is a smart idea for performance and safety.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
Muscle memory is a real thing and the movement patterns that you set on the wall are what will come out in practices and games.
Maintain a “triple-threat position” — ready to dodge, pass or shoot. This means knees bent, slight lean forward, on the balls of our feet, hands up and elbows out away from your body. Stand with your body perpendicular to the wall, looking over your front shoulder at your target.
Always be a threat
Keep your hands up and elbows out so you are always a threat. If you get a funny bounce back, even better. This mimics a bad pass on the field and cues you to handle a tough pass and convert it into a good one, maintaining possession and staying on the offensive.
Maintain a loose but sure grip in your fingers with your thumbs down the back angled part of the shaft. Don’t grip the life out of your shaft. You want to have maximum wrist mobility for control and accuracy.
Neutral grip is key to being a triple threat. As a general guide for short sticks, place your top hand an elbow’s length from the end of your shaft. For long poles, about an arm’s length.
You can make slight adjustments from here and tape your shaft with a thin strip to help you find these sweet spots when transitioning between catching, picking up groundballs, or other plays where you may choke up or down depending on game situations.
Have fun with it
Stick tricks, variations in distances, footwork or changing hands on a catch all can be integrated into your routine. I’ve been fortunate enough to watch “Z” demo the “12 Hands of Lacrosse” on several occasions. He didn’t miss a single brick, caught every ball behind his head, all while on the run.
Take a page out of the Syracuse/West Genesee playbook. You’ll see the improvement.
This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of New England Lacrosse Journal.
Malcolm Chase is a certified trainer and fitness nutrition specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. In 2003, he founded Long Stick Middie, producing the first specialized instructional clinics and DVD devoted to the position. He is the national director of programming for RPM Lacrosse and has worked with youth, college and professional athletes across the country. Chase was a member of the 2013 Boston Cannons and played for the Boston Rockhoppers of the North American Lacrosse League in 2011 and 2012.