Game Ready: Over-the-Head Checks with Jack Rowlett


Jack Rowlett talks a mile a minute. Yet, the game looks like it’s moving in slow motion for him.

Making his first appearance with the U.S. senior team at the Fall Classic in October, the two-time Premier Lacrosse League Defensive Player of the Year finalist iced an 8-7 win over Virginia with a wrap check. He also pulled off a textbook over-the-head check (pictured here) in the first quarter.

Those takeaways embody his aggressive, but technical approach to the position.

“I love it,” Chaos defensive coordinator Ryan Curtis said of Rowlett’s style. “I feel like the takeaway defenseman is kind of being coached out of kids. I’ve seen too many times to count coaches scream at kids for throwing those kind of checks, instead of teaching them how to throw them the right way.”

Keep reading to learn how Rowlett does just that.

1. Start from the ground up and set it up.

Rowlett starts with the head of his stick on his opponent’s back to gauge his distance. Then he closes the gap with his feet and positions himself as tight as possible. “When you get your feet in the right position first, then you have the ability to throw whatever check you want,” he said.

When defensemen stop their feet and try to reach, you typically see them get beat.

The most common mistake Rowlett sees younger players make is going for a takeaway on the first try. “You can’t rush,” he explained. “You need to have a plan and an intent.”

Rowlett dissects one-on-one battles likes a chess match. Throwing a poke or slap check at first will often force an attackman to pull his stick farther back, opening more room for an OTH.

2. Think like an attackman.

Rowlett tells all the defensemen he coaches at Georgetown that you have to know what the attacker is trying to do and where their stick is going to be. Growing up, Rowlett wanted to play offense so badly that he attended several attack and midfield camps. He believes that familiarity with the other side of the ball provides a better understanding of how to stop it.

Rowlett threw over-the-head checks most frequently this summer during pick plays, since he’s noticed most attackmen tend to put their stick farther behind them in those scenarios. Having another defender nearby also makes it easier to recover if you wiff on the check.

3. Punch up with your bottom hand.

When Rowlett throws an over-the-head, he punches his bottom hand to the sky. Then he tries to graze his opponent’s helmet with the backside of his top hand, so the angle of his stick becomes more perpendicular than parallel.

“If your stick’s almost parallel with the ground, very rarely are you going to be able to clip the top of that head,” he said. “But if your stick is pointing straight up and down when you come over the top, you have a much better chance of collecting some sort of arm in the process as you go by.”

Younger players should practice “on air” at first, Rowlett said, until they get more comfortable with the motion.

4. Pull down through your elbow.

Aiming for the head of the opponent’s stick will result in more misses than makes. Instead of picking a specific spot, Rowlett just tries to throw his hands over as fast as possible. “Once you get one, then the world opens up,” he said.

Just ask poor Peter Garno, the Virginia midfielder who never stood a chance of keeping the ball in the pouring rain at Tierney Field — not with Rowlett lurking.

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