Keeping a lacrosse goalie focused would seem like it should be an easy thing to do. But occasionally, goalies lapse in focus for a number of reasons that we’ll talk about today.
If your goalie lacks focus, not to worry. It happens to everyone. In fact, I received two questions recently that shows just how challenging focus can be no matter what the age.
First question, from a mom in Maryland,
“Dear Coach Edwards, I had no idea you were involved with lacrosse goalies while reading your articles at AthleteSpecific. I have a U12 lacrosse goalie who plays with one of the top clubs in our region. She is taller than average and more physical than most of the girls her age. We have already had interest from private schools in our area who want to recruit her. But over the last few weeks she just looks bored on the field. She makes silly mistakes that, to be honest, she hasn’t made before. I’m worried she’s going to make a mistake that keeps her from making a team she really wants to be on. Should I be worried about this and what do we need to do to fix it? – Angela in Maryland
This email was also followed up by this one from a college goalie.
“Hey Coach. Thanks so much for all you do. I’ve been following your blog and your podcast since I was in seventh grade. I currently play at (college name withheld for privacy) where I’m the starter. As our season was winding down and we were fighting for a tournament spot I found myself getting very distracted during games. Even though the games were important, I just felt…bored at times. It’s been a weird year with covid but I’m not sure what to do about it. How can I stay focused no matter what? Thanks again – (Name withheld for privacy)
The Challenge/Skill Balance
What drives all sorts of emotions, from boredom and worry to anxiety to control, is the ratio between the challenge an athlete is facing and the skills an athlete currently has. If the challenge is too high for the skills that they have, an athlete can worry or be anxious. Too little challenge and the athlete can be overly relaxed or just plain bored.
If an athlete is falling out of focus the challenge of the game or practice may not be enough to keep them interested. This can be on a micro-level (the play is in the other end of the field), or on a macro-level (the team they are playing for sucks).
Your goalie may have a lot going on that is occupying their mind. Exams. Parents going through a divorce. Issues with friends at school.
I was flown in to work with a promising high school goalie for a few days. The mother who flew me out there said, “Her father and I aren’t too sure what’s up. She seems slow to the ball. Distracted. We’re hoping you can figure it out. The first two days we worked together I saw nothing out-of-the-ordinary when it came to her physically. Her technique was fine. No real fear of the ball.
On the night before our last training session, we went out for a bite to eat at her favorite burger joint. Over a rootbeer, I asked, “So…what’s really going on?”
That’s when she told me that she had broken up with her girlfriend a month prior. (Which is about when her game started going downhill.)
“First love?” I asked.
“Yeah”, she said.
But then it dawned on me. “Didn’t your mom tell me that you and your boyfriend just scheduled a trip for the summer?”
“Yeah,” she said. “My parents have no idea.”
While it’s an extreme example, it just goes to show that things in life can render lacrosse, or any other thing for that matter, a bit boring in comparison. The mind is going to be occupied by other things.
As I get deeper into the performance coaching business I’m always asking, “What is going on in this athlete’s life outside of their sport?” Big things outside of lacrosse can make lacrosse seem insignificant in comparison.
Sleep and Nutrition
If an athlete is underslept and/or undernourished, this can also affect performance.
With screens being ubiquitous for a lot of young athletes, sleep schedules are dramatically affected.
Nutrition can also affect blood sugar levels which also affects attention and focus.
So even if an athlete is excited to play, if their sleep is sub-par and their nutrition is off, well…that also affects focus.
Timing of nutrition is a big deal. If kids have a meal two hours before a game, and then they drink nothing but water, blood sugar levels can dip, and focus can be lost. This has NOTHING to do with interest by the way. Low blood sugar makes anybody a grumpy SOB.
I’ve recommended athletes sip on stale coke or other soda during a game to keep blood sugar levels up. A little bit of caffeine in there doesn’t hurt either. Whatever you choose to do, understand that diet and sleep can affect an athlete in a massive way.
If your team is winning 16-2 at halftime and your goalie has had four shots…they are bored. And yes, mom or dad or coach can yell from the stands to remind a kid to stay in it, but if it’s boring…well…it’s boring.
Ask any adult how hard it is to stay focused during a boring meeting. Now try to put that on a high school or college kid with a mind like a racecar.
Ever read a book and lost focus? The brain process words at about 800 words per minute. When we read, most people sub-vocalize the words and reading happens about 125 words per minute. Your brain is actually craving you to read faster. Retention is actually higher when you read faster because the brain doesn’t feel like it’s being throttled back.
Your goalie is having the same problem.
Ball in the other end of the field? Boring.
Shooters on the other team soft? Boring.
Craving the latest Twitch streamer going live tonight? Way more fun than this game.
Boring equals loss of focus.
What Can You Do To Stay Focused?
When you understand that the sweet spot of focus is participating in something that is at least 4% more challenging than what you are used to, you can actually manufacture situations to be more challenging.
Stand Outside The Crease
I recommend to all of my goalies, no matter what the level, that when the ball is in the other end of the field they should stand out towards the men’s restraining line.
When a goalie stays in the crease it can become like a safe space. We don’t want that. We want our goalies alert at all times and stepping outside of the crease is one way to do that.
I remember experimenting with this in high school and feeling like I was no involved in the offensive play. Our defense got really good at chopping sticks and letting loose balls into our defensive end where I was there to scoop them up and clear them back to our offense.
What started out as a way to help me stay focused became another offensive attack off a turnover.
This one takes some finesse. As much as I advocate using protection for goalies as a tool to make more saves, sometimes a goalie can feel too safe in the cage. By playing without an (optional) piece of equipment, your goalie may raise their attention so they don’t get hit.
The idea here is not to get hurt but to just create a little bit more anxiety and worry which can actually help a goalie. If your goalie feels like they’ve got it all handled and they are pretty relaxed, that actually worries me as a performance coach. I’d rather your goalie be anxious because that emotion gets us on the right side of the line as we get them on the way to having a high-performance experience.
Reduce Preparation Time
If an athlete’s normal pre-game routine has gotten stale, one way to manufacture some anxiety is to do something out of the ordinary. Show up late. Don’t take shots before game day. Put yourself into a situation where you feel, “Dang it, I really need to focus in order to overcome that (whatever) that just happened.
Play With Your Opposite Hand
Now, you may have heard me say that I believe the lacrosse goalie of the future will deploy using both hands as a strategy to improve their Base Save Potential and to make more saves.
So if you’re in a game and your team is leading by a bunch, play with your other hand.
Get to practice and play with your other hand. Spice it up! This isn’t just for entertainment, it’s will actually make you a better goalie.
There a lot of reasons a lacrosse goalie can lose focus, but there are many ways that you can manufacture an environment that encourages a goalie to focus. It’s not just about “paying attention” because there are many factors in an athlete’s life that can affect their focus. So keep an eye on what is pulling your goalie’s focus away, and then do what you can to be proactive for the next performance. Let me know what you try and how it goes. I love to hear your success story.
Before You Choose a Camp, Consider Lacrosse Goalie University
Olympian Jonathan Edwards is "Coach Edwards". He runs the longest consecutively running lacrosse goalie blog on the planet. He is the "behind the scenes goalie mind" for some of the top lacrosse goalies on the planet and he has worked with lacrosse goalies from Junior High, to the PLL. He coaches goalies privately, year round, via video and phone through his Lacrosse Goalie University goalie coaching program. Don't wait for the summer to get to a camp and don't hire some local college kid who is home on break. Get unbiased goalie coaching from the coach who is changing the game, one goalie at a time.