I have said this before, “I don’t believe we have yet seen the best lacrosse goalie.” In fact, I think lacrosse goalies are getting worse and not better.
Sure, every year we have a fresh crop of recruits into a sport that, in all honesty, really doesn’t have a true “professional” rank. (Which means you can make enough money to look back and justify the full financial investment made when the athlete is young.)
What we do have in lacrosse is an incredible appetite for knowledge and equipment. Being a rather upper-middle-class sport, there is lots of money to go around and lots of places to spend it.
Unfortunately, that means there are a lot of Instagram coaches and influencers that can have an impact even though the information being peddled is garbage. There, I said it…” garbage.”
Before I Share The Ten Words…Some History
In 2005, Brine introduced the offset head in a stick called the Brine Edge. This head design came as a result of the impact Canadian box lacrosse players had on the field game in the US, namely Paul and Gary Gait.
At the time, Canadian box rules allowed players to use a bent shaft with no limits on how much it was bent. This bent shaft allowed players to shoot with a somewhat “normal” shooting motion to offset the increased pocket depth that was allowed.
While field lacrosse has always had a pocket depth rule, at this time players could still have legal pockets but could basically create a ledge (not a ‘lip’, but a ledge) creating a tremendous amount of whip in the pocket. This created an incredible amount of hold in the pocket and made it extremely difficult for defenders to dislodge the ball from an offensive player’s stick.
With the bent shaft, those offensive players could then wind up and rifle the ball at the cage.
How This Affected Lacrosse Goalie Reaction Time
When a player shoots the ball, a lacrosse goalie is trying to 1) see the ball, 2) figure out where the hell it is going, and 3) move something, anything, in front of that ball. But what most coaches fail to teach is that there is actually a moment before #1 and that is the “reading of the shooter”.
The bent shafts at the time basically delayed the release of the ball. A player’s hands could come through sooner before the ball was normally released. This, coupled with the increased hold in the pocket, created an increase in the velocity of the ball.
So you couple an increase in the velocity of the ball with a delay in the release point of the ball and you have effectively reduced the amount of time a lacrosse goalie has to 1) read the shooter, 2) know where that ball is going, and 3) move something, anything in front of the ball.
The Problem With Just Trying To Get Your Stick on the Ball.
Prior to this time in lacrosse, lacrosse goalies could make a lot of saves with their stick.
When you look at videos from pre-1990 you will see goalies like Sal Locasio, Quint Kessenich, Paul Shimoler, Larry Quinn, and others making lots of saves with their sticks. Even on low shots.
Of course, they made the occasional save with the body but the position was taught, primarily, that we try and stop everything with our stick.
Stopping every ball with just your stick is still how most coaches coach the position…which is wrong in my opinion. More on this in a moment.
Pre-1990 lacrosse goalies could see the ball…in the head of the shooters stick…from the beginning of the shot all the way through to the release.
Offensive players couldn’t hide the head of the stick behind their head which is what the additional whip in the head provided.
When bent shafts came into play, it made it even more difficult.
When the pocket whip rules and bent shaft rules were put in place, offset heads came into play which allowed the same advantages without damaging shafts or having incredibly whippy pockets.
Today…improved technology in mesh pockets allows a player to hold onto the ball without violating the pocket depth or the whip rules, but still makes it very easy for an offensive player to shoot the ball like a canon.
In the early 2000s came an absolute boom in youth sports and youth sports conditioning. This increased focus on young athletes Physical Ability allowed lacrosse players to shoot the ball with the ever-higher velocity at younger and younger ages.
Where Lacrosse Goalies Got Left Behind 1990-2000
During the ten to fifteen years starting from 1990-2005 shots against field lacrosse goalies got faster and more complex. This is a trend that has only increased over time.
With the rise of the internet and specifically the rise of Instagram and other social media, lacrosse players could share an ever-increasing display of shot velocity AND creativity.
There are many coaches reading this who will remember when their coach chastised them for shooting behind the back. Today, that same shot is a staple at even the youngest levels of lacrosse.
But while shot velocities increased. Creativity increased. The ability to check a ball out of a player’s stick decreased. Athletes got stronger…
Field lacrosse goalies have basically stayed the same.
You can look at a photo from pre-1990 and take a photo from today and see basically ZERO difference in lacrosse goalie equipment and protection.
In fact, one could argue that the same pieces of equipment that were worn back then (gloves, chest protectors, cleats, etc) were MORE protective because they were made with material like actual leather, kapok, high-density foam, etc.
Were they heavier, sure. But were they more protective? Yes.
While today’s equipment has gotten lighter, it is also (in some ways) LESS protective and that is a problem. Not just from the protection of bumps and bruises but because it limits the athlete’s ability to focus on the task at hand which is learning to stop the ball.
We lose more good kids who quit the lacrosse goalie position not because they aren’t smart or athletic, but because they are often unprotected to this ever-evolving game.
The field lacrosse goalie position is THE most complicated goalie position of ANY sport. It has similar, complex demands of hitting a baseball. It deserves the same critical level of thinking and not the same old, outdated, methods used from 30 years ago.
A Limiting Mindset and Dumb Culture
A VERY common saying amongst new, and even experienced, field lacrosse goalie parents is this:
“I can’t believe they don’t wear any more equipment?”
(I’ve been hearing this since I started playing!)
And you will hear a variety of replies. Some of which I can’t stand.
“Wearing more equipment makes me slow.”
“I can’t run wearing pads.”
“It’s too hot to wear pads.”
“My teammates will make fun of me.”
“My teammate said that if they see I’m wearing shin pads they’ll aim for my legs.”
Or my favorite from coaches who should really be kicked in the groin…
“If the kid can’t learn to get hit with the ball then they shouldn’t be in the cage.”
It takes a very self-assured Coach to understand that the way THEY played the game back then is not the same way it should be played today. So the coach who says, “I played like that and I turned out ok”. Is no longer a coach. They are stuck in their ways, only able to coach one way. Their approach is fixed while mine is adaptive and understanding that we must adapt our methods to the athlete in front of us and not the athlete we with they might be.
All of these comments have led to a culture in field lacrosse that limits the development of a lacrosse goalie from the youngest levels all the way up to the professional ranks. And it is why I believe we have still not seen the best goalies play this sport.
And if you spend time in ANY other sport you will rarely, if ever, hear the same comments spoken with the same frequency or conviction, which makes them even more absurd.
Across all sports, the goalie position has evolved into a position that uses equipment as a tool to make more saves.
Those sports are not held back by some lax-bro culture that keeps athletes stuck and often gets them hurt.
Overwhelmed Lacrosse Goalies = Ten Words
So when you bring all of this together you get…overwhelmed lacrosse goalies. The shots are too fast. Too complex. Sometimes too close.
And the fear of getting hit is very high.
And that is why…back in the 1990s and into the 2000s you had the birth of ten words that have since ruined the development of the field lacrosse goalie position and those are:
“It gives me more time to react to the ball.”
When I first started hearing these ten words, they made no sense to me.
Why? Because no other goalie in any sport really says such a thing.
As someone who was a lacrosse goalie, a hockey goalie, AND a soccer goalie…I knew this wasn’t true.
Why These Words Ruin Field Lacrosse Goalies
Now one might think, “What’s the big deal? They don’t seem like that big of a deal.”
Here’s why they are a big deal.
Field lacrosse goalies, back in the 1990s and early 2000s, because they were overwhelmed by the velocity of the ball…started to retreat back into the cage.
- Because balls were whizzing by them with more frequency and…
- Because when you got hit with one of those balls, they hurt. A lot.
And when you’re taught to only make saves with your stick…well, you’re not going to train to take balls off your shin, or your elbow, or your knee, or your…you get the point.
Instead of evolving…field lacrosse goalies retreated.
They decided to stand back as far as they could to increase the distance they had to 1) see the ball, 2) know where it was going, and 3) move their stick in front of the ball.
This is also the time when you heard field lacrosse goalies talk about a high arc or a low arc.
You might even hear a lacrosse goalie say, “Oh, I play a FLAT arc.”
Which basically translates as “I’m going to give the shooter as MUCH net to shoot as possible. I’m going to assume that no matter what I do, this shot is going to hit the net. I’m not going to value the possibility that they might miss, depending on where I stand, or decide not to shoot altogether.”
Which, again, you would never hear any other goalie say.
What these words have basically done is given all the credit possible to the shooter.
When You Really Decide To Become a “Goalie” Things Begin To Change
Coaches who continue to teach you to stand back in the cage are avoiding a very difficult discussion.
That discussion HAS TO go like this.
Coach Edwards: “Coach, do you agree that there is a point where the ball comes from too close or too fast for a goalie to get their stick on it?”
Your Answer: “Well, yeah. There’s a time when that’s true. Yes.”
Coach Edwards: “Where would those shots come from?”
Your Answer: “Well, they could come from anywhere I guess. Depends on the ability of the shooter. Age. Strength. Stick skills. Those sorts of things. And where they are shooting on the goalie, of course.”
Coach Edwards: “So Coach, let’s say they are shooting to your goalies off-stick hip. You’d agree that’s a pretty tough shot to stop wouldn’t you?”
Your Answer: “Yeah, probably one of the toughest.”
Coach Edwards: “So Coach, if you have your goalie as far back as they can go, but they still can’t get their stick to the ball, how would you teach your goalie to make that save?”
Your Answer: “Ummm”
It is here that the discussion about how to train field lacrosse goalie changes. It is here where we have to eliminate the idea that we are only trying to stop the ball with our stick and that we MUST train goalies on how to use another piece of their body to make the save.
If you agree that shots can come from too close or too fast to save some of them with your stick, then you have to agree that you may need to use other parts of your body to make the save.
This is where you will see many of the Instagram coaches or those running rather popular camps and clinics fail our goalies AND the sport as a whole.
The answer is NOT to just retreat further into the cage to give yourself more time to make the save. No other goalie would do that. In fact, goalies only retreat in the cage if one of three situations are true:
- They might get shot over their head and don’t have enough time to retreat to make the save once the shot is taken, or…
- There is the possibility of a deflection or a shot by an offensive player, or…
- They are worried that they may get shot around them and can’t disrupt the shot enough so that the shot will go wide of the net.
It is here where the discussion of positioning and equipment comes into play.
But for today, I will leave you with this. Please leave a comment on your thoughts about this so far.
Retreating in the cage is a sign of failure of field lacrosse goalie coaching. The fact that this has been perpetuated for so long is absurd and only uncovers the fact that the sport of field lacrosse is so full of bad programming and cultural ignorance to true sport performance.
I’m sick of it.
Hopefully, this series of articles will help to shift the norms. Our goalies in Lacrosse Goalie University who experiment with these ideas tend to see immediate success and I hope you will to.
If there is one legacy piece I would like to leave this sport it is the concepts I will be sharing over these next few blog posts. Enjoy. And good luck to your goalie.
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.