Game Ready: Drills for the Two-Way Middie


U.S. women’s national team stars Marie McCool and Emily Parros embody coach Jenny Levy’s commitment to developing two-way midfielders. In a system that preaches a high-press defense and a lightning-quick counterattack, McCool, Parros and the rest of the U.S. midfield comes prepared to play both offense and defense when called upon.

This is the USA way.

McCool and Parros, both of whom also played for Levy at North Carolina, were drilled on the fundamentals of being a two-way middie as soon as they walked onto campus at Chapel Hill. Midfielders became just as acquainted with their defensive fundamentals as they were with dodging and shooting.

“Once I got to college, Jenny Levy really made me realize how important being a two-way player was,” McCool said. “I wasn’t the best defender coming into my freshman year, but understanding the importance and impact of it made me want to work hard at it.”

For a player like McCool, who scored 268 goals in her high school career and 183 goals during her time with North Carolina, adding defensive positioning to her skillset made her one of the best all-around players in recent college lacrosse history.

Parros, who bought into playing defense during her high school career, said it can be easy to fall in love with your role as a midfielder on the offensive end — it’s only natural. However, taking the time to learn the fundamentals of defense to help your team win is equally as valuable.

“It’s an undertrained part of almost every midfielder in the country, from youth to professionals,” said Parros, now an assistant coach at North Carolina. “If you have a team that has great middies that understand defense, you’re going to win the big games. True middies are the ones that can go both ways, and they’re like unicorns. They’re very hard to find these days.”

McCool and Parros ran through a series of drills at last summer’s U.S. women’s national team training camp, led by U.S. assistant and Dartmouth coach Alex Frank.

In this drill, players run quickly and move their feet through an agility ladder and proceed toward a pseudo-offensive player, positioning their hips to help lead the offensive player toward their off hand.


Make sure you have an agility ladder and at least one cone or object to act as the opponent. If you have a teammate that can line up 10 feet beyond the ladder to simulate an opposing offensive player, that will work even better.


Activate your feet by stepping through the ladder. You can run variations of your footwork for each rep: two feet in, one foot in and one foot out or the Ickey Shuffle (a lateral sequence too complex to detail here). This will prime you for shuffling your feet while playing at the top of your defensive unit.


Once you’ve exploded out of the ladder, begin to shift your hips to the right or left. McCool and Parros call this positioning “J-ing up.” The goal of turning your hips is to force the opposing player to one direction — likely her weaker side or where the defensive help is positioned. “We like to get out, use our athleticism and dictate what the offense is doing,” McCool said.


Know your own speed and the speed of the player you are approaching in a game situation. “If you are a faster person, you can break down your feet a little later and make up ground as the offensive player makes a move,” Parros said. “Otherwise you might have to perfect your angle a little bit more and give more room to that attacker.”


Close the gap. Once you’ve turned your hips and “J-ed up,” try to get to approximately a stick’s length away from the attacker. Approach in a “J” and finish at a “T,” where your shoulders and the attacker’s shoulders are perpendicular.

This article appears in the February 2022 edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum.

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