Leg protection for lacrosse goalies is a bit of a sore point with some old-school lacrosse coaches. Many will argue that a lacrosse goalie needs to “suck it up” and “not play like a wimp”. Others will say, incorrectly, that it slows you down. I look at leg protection for lacrosse goalies as a way to accelerate learning. I’m going to cover all of this in this epic post.
Bad coaches will allow an attitude to perpetuate on their team that a goalie who wears pads on his or her legs is “weak”.
Bad teammates will say things like, “If I see you wearing pads on your legs I’m going to shoot at ’em.” (That one always makes me laugh because sometimes those same teammates look like they couldn’t hit the side of a barn let alone your goalies skinny leg
Time For a Change In Attitude About Leg Protection For Lacrosse Goalies
For over two-decades I have been preaching the benefits of added leg protection for lacrosse goalies.
In this article I’m going to give you specific advice on what shin guards, knee pads or thigh pads you should wear. I’m also going to give you some ideas on mindset to help defend yourself from the old-school lacrosse coaches who just don’t know any better.
What most coaches don’t understand is that protection on a goalie serves not one, but two purposes.
The first purpose for leg protection on a lacrosse goalie is:
Protection from trauma.
Seems simple, right? If you’ve got protection on you, that little white ball isn’t going to hurt as much. That makes sense.
It’s not about toughening you up, it’s about pain.
When the body is injured, the brain says, “I’m not doing THAT again.”
Now the brain has to fight the body every time it needs to do something. For example, the eyes see the ball moving down low. The brain tells the body, “Ok guys we need to move that leg in front of the ball and we need to try and get the stick there, asap, thanks!”
The body goes, “Um, yeah…sure. We’ll get right on that AFTER we know that the ball isn’t going to hit us again because last time that hurt…a lot!”
By the end of the discussion the ball has already gone by the goalie and now everyone is upset.
The Brain says, “Guys we TOLD YOU to MOVE!”
The Body says, “Yeah, but that last time…it hurt!”
The Coach thinks, “This kid is NEVER going to be a good goalie.”
And the Goalie thinks, “I’m NEVER going to be a good goalie.”
I call this the Trauma Loop and it’s really hard for a lacrosse goalie to break out of.
But what most coaches fail to acknowledge is that added leg protection:
2. Leg Protection Helps You Acquire Goalie Skills Faster. (Accelerated Skill Acquisition)
This is the one ‘m the MOST interested in.
I don’t think there’s a coach in the country who wants a lacrosse goalie to develop slowly. No way.
Why then, would you do something that would slow down that learning and the acquisition of goalie skills? Doesn’t make sense, right?
Well that’s exactly what old-school coaches perpetuate when they don’t encourage their goalies to wear leg protection. (Why it’s not in the rules really bothers me, but more on that at a later date.)
Now picture THIS conversation,
The Brain says, “Ok boys! Lacrosse ball. Six O’clock. Comin’ in hot!”
The Body says, “We’re on it! Deploy fast-moving-leg in front of ball. Stick to follow. STAT!”
The Brain says, “Great job Boys I’ve never seen you move that fast and we’re JUST GETTING STARTED!”
The Body says, “All good here. We got the shin there and the ball didn’t hurt a bit. What’s next!?”
The Coach thinks, “I think this kid could be a really good goalie.”
The Goalie thinks, “I think I’m going to be a really good goalie.”
Mom thinks, “Really glad I bought those pads.”
See the shift? And to think it all came because the goalie was properly protected.
3. A Goalie Will Make More Saves Using His/Her Body
We have an incredible problem in the sport of field lacrosse. For some reason, over the many years this sport has been played, a myth has been perpetuated.
That myth is that the field lacrosse goalie is supposed to catch everything with one hand.
The stick is basically an extension of one hand whether that goalie is right or left-handed.
This doesn’t make sense to me anymore. (“Anymore” meaning for the last fifteen years or so)
If you ask ANY goalie in ANY other sport to play their position while only trying to make saves with one hand they would think you’re crazy.
But for some reason, in field lacrosse, we think that’s ok.
Not only that, we think goalies should catch everything and not give up rebounds.
Oh, and do it all while standing inside an 18′ circle. (more on that in another post)
If You’re New To The Sport of Field Lacrosse Goaltending
You’re probably thinking, “That makes a lot of sense. Why WOULDN”T a lacrosse goalie wear more pads and protection. Lacrosse goalies look naked in the cage. I don’t understand why more goalies wear equipment?”
All of those thoughts are valid, and I’m going to tell you why in a moment.
But first, who is writing this anyway?
Glad you asked, I’m Jonathan Edwards. Coach Edwards to thousands of lacrosse goalie families in the US, Canada, and beyond.
I have been running this blog since 2001 and have been coaching lacrosse goalies well before that.
I was a high school All-American and a Division 1 recruit, but much of my high performance sport knowledge comes from having been an Olympian in a completely different sport.
I’m also a mental performance coach who works with athletes across a number of sports.
I’m NOT just a died-in-the-wool lacrosse guy who talks lacrosse and only lacrosse and never looks beyond the sport.
I see, first hand, every…single…day…the benefits of goalies who are protected and how they impact their team, their league, and then their chances to have a long, successful career as a lacrosse goalie.
Boys AND Girls.
There’s no argument.
But wait, what about…
Does Wearing Shin Guards Make a Lacrosse Goalie Slow?
This is where I wish we could just make this a rule.
The short answer to this question is that wearing additional leg protection FEELS heavy…in the short term.
But over time it is one more piece of equipment a goalie wears and it’s just part of the package. It’s what a lacrosse goalie needs to do to be more effective in the cage.
If you’re a new goalie and your coach just says, “This is what we do here.” There’s no question. You just…do it.
That’s exactly what happened to me when I was a young lacrosse goalie.
At my school there was a rule: “all goalies below 9th grade have to wear full equipment.”
What did that mean?
- Throat guard
- Shoulder pads
- Elbow pads
- Chest protector
- Hockey pants!
- Baseball shin guards
- Oh…and the stick. (Can’t forget the stick)
Am I recommending that now to you? Not entirely.
Was it hot? Yes.
Did it feel bulky? Back then, yes because we didn’t have all of the technology we have today to make goalie equipment feel safe and light and protective.
Back then I felt like a tank…and that’s what many of today’s lacrosse coaches who are in the 40+-age demographic remember. They have no idea how today’s equipment feels.
Let’s put it this way…I’ve never heard an ice hockey goalie say, “If I could only take off these pads I could move quicker and make more saves.”
They don’t say that. Why?
- It’s a rule. There’s no discussion about what they can’t wear. It’s not even a thing.
- They know that they can put their body in front of the puck and not get hurt. (for the most part. They still actually get hurt sometimes even WITH the protection.)
- They also know they will take up more space in the cage.
Now in field lacrosse, we can’t take up more space in the cage by wearing really big pads. That’s not what I’m recommending here. I believe we can make a field lacrosse goalie look more like Robocop with an exoskeleton than, say…an overweight armadillo.
But I digress…
When a goalie feels protected in the cage, they are fearless.
When a goalie has no fear they can focus on the ball.
When a goalie has no fear they can put their body in front of the ball.
When a goalie has no fear they improve faster.
That is a fact.
Why Do Some Lacrosse Coaches NOT Recommend Wearing Leg Protection
Oh…ok…NOW you’re going to get me in trouble.
So why do some lacrosse coaches recommend NOT wearing leg protection? (Some even forbid it. (Idiots) Sorry, that was my outside voice)
- They’re old. And stuck in their ways.
- They don’t know any better.
- They don’t know the first thing about how the brain works.
- They haven’t taken the time to learn about how it might affect the development of their goalies and are too busy watching monster truck rallies. (Or working on their fast break or their offense)
- They remember the good-ol-days. (BTW in the good-ol-days the ball moved slower, the shooters weren’t as athletic, and the shots were easier to see.)
- They are stupid. Seriously. (I know, I know. A little harsh…but true)
- They just don’t give a damned about it. (Also harsh, but a fair assessment of some coaches out there.)
I know I’m going to ruffle some feathers with that list, but if you’re reading this far I know that you’re serious about wanting to make your lacrosse goalie better. Maybe even play in college some day.
To ANY coach who tells your goalie that they shouldn’t, or worse can’t, wear leg protection I would encourage them to hop in the cage and get shot on by a bunch of men for a FULL warm up and practice and THEN have them talk to me.
I’m sick of this debate as it pertains to developing young lacrosse goalies and you should be too. (Even if you’re just getting started in the sport it’s important to understand the mental inertia that is holding back the development of the position)
What Leg Protection Should You Buy For Your Lacrosse Goalie
So, now that I’ve given you the back story of what the overall approach to leg protection might be in your area and what you may run up against, I want to give you the latest recommendations for what your goalie should be wearing.
Understand this…I believe that a young/new, developing lacrosse goalie requires more protection than a more experienced goalie.
I want YOUR goalie to get to that place of being “experienced” and not have them run out of the sport because they are afraid of the ball. Understood?
So my recommendations here on out will go for a place of fully protected to less protected.
But Mom…Dad…here’s the deal…if YOU are afraid of getting hit with the ball that doesn’t mean you get to wrap your goalie up in so much equipment he/she can’t move.
That’s not what I’m talking about here.
We have some awesome photos inside our Private Facebook for lacrosse goalies at Creating The Lacrosse Goalie of the Future of young/small goalies completely covered in pads where they can’t even think of moving. It’s cute and all, and at those young ages it is totally appropriate, but you can go overboard with the protection to the point where the goalie truly can’t move in front of the ball effectively.
At that point we are just letting kids have the experience. Trying to teach technique at that age isn’t advised.
Having a safe experience that ensures they want to come back and try again is.
What I AM talking about is protecting your goalie in a way that they can be confident in the cage and can focus on learning how to stop a ball properly. (And sometimes…improperly.)
A Fully Protected Lacrosse Goalie
So what should your lacrosse goalie be wearing to feel safe in the cage?
Well, it’s going to be a combination of the following.
Remember, if your goalie is young and new to the position we’re going to err on the side of more protection. If your goalie is more experienced then they might be able to do with less, or at least thinner versions of the same pieces.
That being said, I have advised collegiate goalies going into the NCAA tournament to don MORE padding to regain some lost confidence which increases performance.
Let’s start with the cup shall we? Or the “Jill” for the girls.
Why would I include the cup when it comes to leg protection?
Because a goalie who is worried about getting hit in the “squares”, or the “lady squares” will have their focus on getting hit there before their brain can decide that the ball is going elsewhere.
That micro-second delay can be the difference between missing a ball or getting in front of it to make the stop.
My ONLY recommendation for cups are ice hockey goalie cups, and they look like this:
Why do I recommend a cup like this? Wouldn’t something smaller work ok?
If You’ve Been Hit In the Balls…You Know
Listen, if you’ve never been hit in the balls with a lacrosse ball…you just don’t know.
I will be honest when I tell you that when my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our first child, I was relieved. I had been hit..quite traumatically…a few times in the squares. And as a lacrosse goalie AND an ice hockey goalie, I can tell you that a lacrosse ball hurts way worse.
What Cup Should Women’s Lacrosse Goalies Wear?
I will be totally honest when I say that some women’s lacrosse goalies I have coached have just gone with the men’s cup even though it has a bit of a bulge.
The reason for this is because it allows for the cup to be out and away from the pubic bone. The edge of the cup ends up resting on the inner thigh and if a ball does hit the cup the force is transferred to the fleshy inner thigh as opposed to the pubic area.
There are girl goalie “Jill’s” that look like this ——>>>
Allow Some Breaking In Time
When you first go to buy one of these it may feel stiff. But with a little bit of “breaking in” time a cup like this hinges at the waist. Literally five minutes of working the material back and forth in your hands makes a massive difference.
Kind of like buying gloves, at first they feel like they may be a hinderance, but after a few times wearing them they fit to your body and you don’t even notice you are wearing them.
You Must Protect The Lower Abdominals
Because of a lacrosse goalie’s more upright position in the cage while preparing for a shot, the opportunity to get hit below the chest protector increases. There are some chest pads with lower abdominal protection but my experience with these are that they are bulky and they don’t fold properly.
It’s better to have the abdominal protection in the cup and not the chest protector. (I will talk more about lower abdominal protection in our Chest Protector Post)
Getting hit there can be incredibly painful and the swelling in the lower abdominal wall can cause weird stress and swelling on the muscles. This can affect the hip flexors as well when that swelling spreads lower as gravity takes over a day or two after impact.
Why I Don’t Recommend Other Brands of Cups For Lacrosse Goalies
While the girls tend to have fewer overly traumatic injuries to the pelvic region, they are still very possible.
For the boys however, impact can be catastrophic.
While most men can relate to getting hit in the balls, many men (and women) are unfamiliar of the incredible trauma that can happen when a testicle gets caught between the edge of the cup and the thigh. This can literally cause a testicle to burst.
Which is a big bummer. So let’s avoid that shall we?
And also, that is exactly why I don’t recommend ANY other style of cup.
So before you go and say, “My goalie wears so-and so and loves it.”
I have seen all the brands and have gone through all the hype. I have worn and tried (and OMG NOT tried) some and most all of the cups out there.
I will just repeat that when your goalie DOES get hit in that area they are going to wish they had the most protection on as possible.
Don’t skimp on this purchase. Allow form some breaking in time. Make them mandatory for your goalies.
The Three Areas Of Leg Protection For Lacrosse Goalies
So now that we have the cup out of the way, let’s talk about the rest of the leg.
We can view the leg in three sections:
The thigh/quadriceps area.
The Top of The Foot
Leg Protection For Lacrosse Goalies
Purists right now are thinking, “No way! It’s too much!”
Let’s think about this for a moment.
A kid in the cage is exercising bravery in the face of fear. It doesn’t mean that they DON”T have fear. It doesn’t mean that they REDUCE their fear. Fear is still there. And for a lot of new goalies there is a LOT of fear.
It’s that they are INCREASING bravery.
So I believe that if we can do everything we can to REDUCE the fear, or even ELIMINATE it, we can have a kid exhibiting bravery much more quickly and we get a better learning curve.
Goalies get better sooner and then we are able to teach them other things than just stopping the ball.
Next level stuff.
Now, back to the leg protection issue.
First, we need to talk about protecting the KNEE.
Knee Protection For Lacrosse Goalies
The reason I start by talking about protection of the knee is because we have options for protection that include protecting the knee as well as the shin and the thigh.
But you can also just wear a separate knee pad too.
A young/new goalie is going to get hit in the entire leg much more often UNTIL they understand where the ball is going.
They will, ultimately, make more saves with their stick than they do now, but until that point, they are going to get hit in the legs (a lot)
The knee, of all places, doesn’t seem to hurt as much when it gets hit. This is because the ball is striking primarily bone, and for some reason this doesn’t hurt as much as getting hit in the fleshy bits or the inside of the shin (which is hard, but hurts like a bad day at the dentist)
So when it comes to individual knee protection for the lacrosse goalie here are a few options from most protective to least protective: (I will be going into more detail in our post specifically about knee protection for lacrosse goalies coming soon)
Skater Knee Pads
While these are VERY protective with a hard plastic cap, they tend to get really hot and feel bulky around the leg. Not my first choice but still a valid one:
The G-Form Motocross Knee Pad
A very popular option among my students is the G-Form Motocross Knee Pad. This is a great combination of fit and protection.
Volleyball Knee Pads for Lacrosse Goalies
While these soft pads are comfortable, they aren’t as protective as the G Forms but they are still a valid choice. I always had a pair of these in my bag often because I got hit in the knee and had to put it on because the bruise hurt too much if I got hit again.
So those are some quick options for lacrosse goalie knee pads. For you to consider.
As we move on to the upper and lower leg protection for lacrosse goalies you’ll see why I started with these first.
Upper Leg and Thigh Protection for Lacrosse Goalies
Over the years we’ve seen some Pro lacrosse goalies adopt wearing thigh protection in the cage.
Quite famously, the goalie best known for wearing thigh protection goes all the way back to the late 80’s and early 90’s when Matt Palumb of Syracuse wore football pants in the cage while playing for Syracuse.
Ironically, even though he was wearing football pants, he sometimes took the pads out of them.
However, the additional layer of the tougher material provided some protection and that is something to be considered.
You don’t always need a big pad to feel protected. Just additional material like football pant shells or sweat pants can help.
But along the lines of protecting your lacrosse goalie, we have some additional options today that are protective but also light and breathable.
I’ll be going into more detail in future posts but for now, this should give you some food for thought:
Note: Lacrosse goalies don’t really need protection on the side of their hips. We are primarily worried about protecting the front of the thigh.
Option 1: Football Pants
Easy to find and a much broader consumer base, you can find some excellent fitting pants for both boys AND girls. (One of my women’s lacrosse goalies last year called them “Spanx for Lacrosse Goalies” which made me laugh a bit)
You can also remove the pads for easy cleaning OR you can put in thicker or thinner pads depending on your needs. Throw your team shorts or sweat pants on over top and no one knows you’re wearing them.)
These also allow for a plastic knee protector that can eliminate the need for an additional knee pad to be worn.
As your goalie gets better they might opt to shed the knee pads, or one of the knee pads. They can keep the knee pads and lose the thigh pads. You have lots of options.
Option 2: Padded Lacrosse Under Shorts
I’ll be honest…I don’t like these. I think they look ridiculous and don’t find them very flattering either.
For most of my goalies they may grow out of these and opt for something that looks a little more bad-ass.
Option 3: McDavid Padded Shorts
These are a very popular option and well worth the investment. This is the type of short you will see most pro lacrosse goalies wear under their shorts.
They are protective enough to help with getting hit with a ball, but they don’t ‘look’ like the goalie has any padding on.
While they have padding that wraps around the outside of the thigh that is unnecessary for a lacrosse goalie, the added protection to the front of the thigh and the fit is well worth that trade-off.
Option 4: Hockey Pants
Before the purists freak out on me, listen up. I recommend hockey pants for programs who are looking for a
cheap, fast option to put kids in net quickly.
If you live anywhere near a used sporting goods store you can get a set of hockey pants for under $20.
If I’m looking to get a kid in the cage fast and have them feel bulletproof I’m throwing them in some hockey pants and on the field they go.
Add some baseball shin guards and the kid is golden.
For up to date discussions on the latest and greatest pants for lacrosse goalies and specifically women’s lacrosse goalie pants check out our Facebook group at Creating The Lacrosse Goalie of the Future (Be sure to answer the three questions)
Shin Guards For Lacrosse Goalies
When it comes to shin protection for lacrosse goalies, there are a LOT of options. (They just aren’t specifically for lacrosse goalies)
I’ve covered this before, you’ve got to protect yourself to the level that allows YOU to reduce your fear enough so you can focus on the ball.
That NEXT shot will let you know if you’ve been protected enough or if you’re allowing the Cloud of Fear to creep in.
When it comes to shin guards for lacrosse goalies we can go fully protected to somewhat protected. Let’s start with fully protected:
Baseball Shin Guards for Lacrosse Goalies
This is my go-to for young/new lacrosse goalies because they are simple and protective and they are actually made to run in as any baseball catcher will
prove to you.
As the lacrosse goalie position evolves I really feel this is the direction we are headed.
Baseball catcher shin guards represent the “exoskeleton” I have been describing for years.
We finally have some momentum in this direction as we see some pro goalies starting to wear shin protection as the result of injury and not always in a proactive way to make more saves.
Baseball catcher shin guards for lacrosse goalies can be inexpensive or they can be very expensive.
The difference in cost is typically form and fit, weight and strapping so you can run in them and they won’t flop around.
They also protect above the knee into the mid thigh which will eliminate the need for a knee pad and will also eliminate the need (potentially) for thigh protection.
Lacrosse Goalie Shin Guards
There are, in fact, lacrosse goalie shin guards…but they really come from the field hockey market that is a lot larger.
My european and australian lacrosse goalies are more apt to wear this pad, but many of my american goalies will also wear these pads.
The most popular in the US is the STX Lacrosse Goalie Valor Shin Guard here. But to be honest, more and more of my women’s lacrosse goalies are wearing more of the other brands of field hockey protection.
Field hockey is typically played in colder climates so they don’t have the air flow that the Valor shin guard has. People aren’t as concerned with heat as we are in field lacrosse in the spring and summer.
This pair of Adidas Lux shin guards are also excellent but they would need to be worn under a sock as there are no straps. (But if mom or dad are handy you could just add a pair of velcro straps.
Motocross Shin Guards for Lacrosse Goalies
An emerging category of leg protection shin guards for our lacrosse goalies has come from the Motocross world.
As you’ll see here, the G-Form Elite Shin Guards are excellent and designed to be worn in hot climates. Many of our goalies love these even though they are a bit pricey.
Soccer Shin Guards For Lacrosse Goalies
The final category of shin guards for lacrosse goalies are soccer shin guards.
These are probably some of the easiest pieces of equipment that you can run out and get right now.
Every sporting goods store will carry soccer shin guards of some sort.
If you’re going to throw on some soccer shin guards there are basically two choices: those with ankle protection and those without.
Most all of them come with size recommendations right on the package, but I wouldn’t worry about those too much. Go up a size or two based on the height of your goalie and you’ll be fine.
Soccer shin guards will also be your cheapest option most likely.
There are so many soccer players out there, the cost of making them is tiny.
Availability is good. Protection is decent. And your goalie will be off and running pretty quickly.
They can wear them under a sock or just under a pair of sweatpants to make it easy.
For more on the latest and most up to date selections from our lacrosse goalies come join The Lacrosse Goalie of The Future Private Facebook Group.
The Wrap On Leg Protection For Lacrosse Goalies
Well, I hope that gets you started. Or maybe even finished.
The bottom line is this…I believe that your goalie will be better…sooner…if they are protected than if they are not.
I can tell you this because I see, every day, with my goalies in Lacrosse Goalie University the byproduct of bad coaching and bad use of equipment.
Your goalie should be empowered.
The fear doesn’t go away, and athletes have a wide variety of fear going into the cage.
What we are instilling is bravery. And like a good soldier who goes into battle with just enough of the equipment he or she needs to feel confident, your lacrosse goalie needs to feel that too.
Whether you go with a football pant, shin guard combo. Or a soccer shin guard and a knee pad, that’s going to be up to you and your goalie. But don’t fall prey to peer pressure and bad coaching.
I want your goalie to go out there and improve quickly. He or she is only one shot away from being filled with fear and I don’t think we need that anymore.
If you have ANY questions, don’t be afraid to reach out.