When to Call Your Defense Back to Cover a Cherry Picker

One of the more common defensive situations you will find yourself facing is one player from the opposing team staying on offense while your team transitions to offense.

A cherry picker.

The question becomes when do you call a teammate back to come guard the cherry picker and when do you let your team try to take advantage of a man-up opportunity?

The following are my thoughts on some general game situations on when to bring a defender back and when not to. As always, it’s going to depend on your coach’s philosophy and each unique game situation.

Close Game, Early in the Game

This is probably the easiest one.

Bring a defender back.

Instead of screaming “Cherry Picker” and hoping one teammate comes back. Call a specific teammate back by name. Usually, the closest person to come back and cover up the cherry picker.

It is too early and too close to potentially give the other team an easy goal. If you’re winning you don’t want to let the other team close the gap. If you’re losing you don’t want to give the other team a bigger lead.

Bring a defender back and play one-on-one.

By early I mean at least the first 3 quarters.

Close Game, Late in Game, & You’re Losing

This is going to be when you start communicating with your team to go 6 on 5.

This a scenario that can have a lot of different “what ifs”.

It will depend on how many goals you are down by and the time. The more goals you are losing by, the earlier you will start going man-up. The fewer goals you are losing by, the longer you will wait till you have your offense play man-up.

For example, let’s say you are losing by 3 goals and there are under 3 minutes left in the game. For simplicity, let’s not worry about timeouts.

If you find yourself facing a cherry picker in this situation you will most definitely go man-up. You need the better scoring opportunity than 5 on 5 offers. You only have a few potential offensive possessions left.

Why would an opposing player cherry pick in this situation? If I was the coach of the cherry picker, I would immediately substitute them for someone who can swim back to defense for 3 minutes.

Losing Game by Large Margin

This situation can happen early in the game or late in the game.

If you can’t score in a natural 6 on 6 offensive possession then you have to take advantage of any cherry pickers. They are giving you and your team a better scoring opportunity.

With a little luck, you might close the scoring gap. When you can’t beat someone conventionally, try the unconventional, see if luck is on your side.

Now, if your team is really bad – like there is no way you’re even scoring a 6 on 5 situation – you might want to bring a defender back. Let your team run their offense with the spacing a 5 on 5 offense provides so you don’t have to face constant one-on-nobodies.

Special Situations

In a recent tournament I played, my team was in the semi-final game. Our opponent had a 4-time Olympian on their team. A 2-meter player.

It was early in the game and the score was close. A goal or two but we were losing.

The 2-meter player did not want to go back to defense. He wanted to cherry pick, rest, and save his energy to score goals and draw ejections.

We knew that we could not go 5 on 5 and let him rest. We also did not want the other team throwing the ball up to him in a one-on-one situation. He would most likely score or draw an ejection. We couldn’t scarifice our 2-meter guards that early. Especially, since they also provided perimeter offense for us.

We would go man-up anytime he cherry picked. We hoped we would get the counter 6 on 5 situations. But we would’ve been happy with drawing him back to defense, which it did.

This was our general rule. But we had unique situations during the game that forced us to play 5 on 5.

Discuss With Your Coach

Like I said above, these are just general guidelines. You need to talk with your coach and review these types of situations as they occur during games and scrimmages.

Then you and your teammates need to be on the same page when you want them to play 6 on 5 and to not cover the cherry picker.

Create a code word that you can communicate to your team quickly and effectively when there is a cherry picker but you want them to play 6 on 5.

But when you want someone to cover the cherry picker call that person back to defense by name. Tell your offense to wait until the cherry picker is covered and then let them play 5 on 5.

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