The Question That Changes Lacrosse Goalie Training
You can look at stopping a lacrosse ball in one of two ways. One is the rather old-school way that you’re trying to get your stick on EVERY ball. “Just catch it!”, they say. “Attack it with your stick!”, they say.
This thinking doesn’t work for the modern lacrosse goalie. In fact, when you think about it, NO goalie in ANY sport tries to stop the ball or the puck with just one thing.
Think for a moment, if you asked a soccer goalie to only use one hand to stop a ball, in all situations.
Tell a hockey goalie they can only use their catching glove…not their left leg, or their right leg. Not their blocker, or their chest. Only their catching glove. They would probably look at you as though you had three heads, or hadn’t heard of Tik Tok.
What you must understand is that, on certain shots, the ball is coming from too fast or too close of a distance for a lacrosse goalie to be able to 1) see the ball, 2) know where it’s going, and 3) move THE STICK in front of the ball. There just isn’t enough time.
For many years now, I have stopped using the words “the stick” in step number three and have instead used the word “move”.
Because I believe, that when you understand this concept: that there are times in a game or a practice where you just can’t move the stick fast enough to get the stick on EVERY ball, then your job is to get SOMETHING on the ball.
It just doesn’t make sense, in my opinion, and every weekend I see goalies at the highest levels of our sport missing saves because that is what they are trying to do exclusively.
Think of how a lacrosse goalie is traditionally warmed up…
Ten shots stick side high.
Ten shots are off-stick high.
Ten shots stick side hip.
Ten shots off stick hip above the belly button.
Ten shots off stick hip below the belly button.
Stick side low.
Off stick low.
If you’re lucky, maybe you work some bounce shots…but hey, it’s late and practice is starting. We’ll work on those later. (And you never do.)
Oh, and maybe some five-hole shots. (But which foot should I step with again?)
It is this traditional warm-up that has grossly under-prepared our goalies for today’s modern game. Both the men AND the women. The boys AND the girls. It is universal.
Thousands of Dollars Wasted
Each week I see thousands and thousands of dollars spent by families sending their goalies to various camps and clinics all being basically taught the same thing.
A regurgitation of old, out-dated training methods that basically maintain the same tradition of crappy goaltending in the sport of lacrosse.
Did you know…that among ALL goalies across ALL sports, lacrosse goalies have the WORST save percentage with the exception of handball goalies? That’s right. The WORST.
And in my opinion, it has only gotten worse.
Well, the equipment has gotten lighter and less protective, not more. Chest protectors take up less protective space over the chest. (The NOCSAE standard is a money-grab for the limited number of goalie equipment providers and does nothing to keep goalies from being beaten out of the sport.)
Cleats that used to be made of real leather and offered some protection are now “pleather” and are light and thin. Great for sprinting…not great for making a save off the foot.
Today’s gloves are also less protective than gloves thirty years ago.
The only place that is really more protective than in the past is the helmets that have evolved since the mid-1990s. And yet concussions seem to be rising more and more, each year despite the advancements there.
And the addition of the hockey goalie cup to protect the “squares”.
But with all of that, goalies end up on a field somewhere getting shot on the same way. Mostly from outside. Time and room. One coach. One shooting style. Trying to rip it past the goalie from a distance where they feel safe that they can get their stick on the ball.
I don’t think that warm-up distance has changed in thirty years.
I’m starting to add the hashtag, #wheresthegoalie on Instagram posts of shooters shooting on open nets. My question is…where’s the goalie? Why isn’t there a goalie in the cage taking that shot?
I believe that every shot taken on a net in practice is an opportunity for a goalie to learn. To learn the “language” of shots and shooters. To understand what it is a shooter can and can’t do in various situations. To make saves. And yet, lacrosse goalies often step out of the cage in drills where shots are “too close” and the balls are “too painful.”
Why is that? No other goalie in ANY sport steps out of the cage in practice as often as a lacrosse goalie does.
I encourage coaches to use tennis balls and to restrict shooting distance not to hurt your goalie, but what I tell my goalies is that they need to pad up and be protected to see that shot. To stop it. To feel safe so they can learn.
Ice hockey goalies don’t step out of the cage as much. Soccer goalies don’t step out of the cage as much. Field hockey and handball too. Why? Because they are protected (whether that’s on their body or by the ball itself).
So as a lacrosse goalie…if you’re in the cage and you know, “I can’t get my stick on this ball” then you MUST ask the question…
“How can I make this save if my stick can’t get there in time?”
Remember, our job as a goalie is to STOP THE BALL OR DEFLECT IT SO IT DOESN’T GO IN THE NET.
That’s our job. That’s what we signed up for. It’s the Lacrosse Goalie Manifesto. Nowhere does it say we are only trying to stop the ball with our stick.
But that’s what lacrosse goalies are taught and that’s what most LACROSSE goalies do. This has rendered lacrosse goalies mostly passive in the cage as opposed to aggressive.
It has retreated goalies further and further back in the crease where the only thing keeping them OUT of the goal is the goal line.
So if you agree with me that there are times when a goalie can’t get their stick on the ball, AND their job is to get SOMETHING on the ball, then what is that ‘something’?
It could be your elbow. Your bottom hand. It could be your knees or your feet. It can be right in the “babymaker”. The idea here is that it doesn’t matter WHAT it is…it matters…
“How are you going to make that save?”
“How are you training for that?”
Proof Our Lacrosse Goalies Are Unprotected
As I mentioned above, lacrosse goalie protection is lacking and a culture of anti-protection exists around lacrosse goalies.
That is ONLY a lacrosse problem. You don’t see the same cultural issue with goalie protection in ANY other sport to the degree that it is KEEPING GOALIES FROM MAKING SAVES.
How? I’ll prove it to you.
The next time your goalie needs a warm-up, have them go through their normal movement prep and activation work. Whatever they normally do, get them a solid warmup that activates the body but doesn’t wear them out. We want them fresh.
Now…we are going to rip shots to their off-stick hip.
Start from a distance where your goalie can get across and make that save with the head of their stick.
Now, I know you’ll agree with me that this is probably one of the hardest saves to make for a lacrosse goalie with the exception of off-stick low. For this example: we’re going to stay with the off-stick hip.
Now…take five shots, and then move in two yards.
Take five more shots.
And then move in two yards.
If you started at fifteen yards this round of shots would be at eleven yards.
Now move in again. Nine yards. All off-stick hip.
At some point, your goalie will start to see that they can’t get their stick head on the ball anymore. The question now is, “Well, now what are we going to do to make that save?”
Are you just going to give up on it? Say, “Well, I guess I can’t stop that.” Why? You have a perfectly good piece of equipment there to make the save…your bottom hand.
Let’s work on blocking that shot now with your bottom hand. Why? Because we can. We have a glove, possibly an elbow to make that save. Let’s use that?
Oh…wait…that’s right…it hurts.
The elbow, upper arm, and forearm are all unprotected. And you can probably take a few off the glove, but that glove is awfully thin. You might be able to take a few, but after a while, that hand is going to be sore. You may even break a bone in it. But if it goes ok…
…have the shooter move in some more.
Right on top of you. (The girls see those shots often more than the boys do but rarely train it.)
All off-stick hip. You have ZERO ability to move the stick there that fast.
What are you going to do?
The Tipping Point for the SPORT of Lacrosse
I believe that when lacrosse goalies embrace the idea that they can’t get their stick head to everything and that they must employ more of their body to make a save…
- Training will improve. (Spending money and getting shot on by a college kid from thirteen yards from top center is NOT training. How many of those shots do you see in a game any way?)
- Protection will be utilized as a TOOL to make more saves, not just eliminate bruises.
- The CULTURE of lacrosse will change when coaches realize their goalies can finally be aggressive and not passive athletes cowering in the crease so they “have more time to react to the ball”.
And while I use the example of off-stick hip…this can be off-stick low, five-hole, stick-side low, stick-side hip. When you think of it, this is just geometry and physics. When the ball is shot from point A and it is headed to point B, what part of me can I get to point B faster than the ball?
If your answer is your left knee cap but you’re worried the ball will hurt, pad up.
If it’s your elbow or your bicep but you’re worried the ball will hurt, pad up.
If you just won’t buy anything in front of the ball except the head of your stick…well…you’re not a goalie. Seriously.
And you’re not a coach if you’re continuing to allow them to play like that because a coach needs to always be asking the question, “How can we make THAT save?”
Coaches Need To Take The Lead
Coaches, you have to understand that to break the chain of asinine coaching methodology YOU need to take the protection decision out of your goalie’s hands.
While I would love to see the NCAA, NFHS, and USLacrosse take the lead here I know that none of them will move until someone gets really hurt. They are old, antiquated bodies who despite all the abuse and legal ramifications turn a blind eye to the most important position in this sport.
So coaches, if you agree with what I’ve laid out above, YOU need to go, “Alright, we need our goalies to be protected no just to protect themselves but to be a more impactful position to the game.”
Save percentages in the ’50s and ’60s is NOT as good as it could be. Think of your last game. What would a ten percent improvement in save percentage have done to your goals against last game?
Sadly, I know many who read this will go, “That’s nice.” But if you truly wish to change the impact your goalie has on your team then you will try what I mentioned above.
Added protection does NOT make your goalie slow. It actually INCREASES their ability to make more saves and that results in an increase in save percentage.
It also changes how your team plays defense and what shots they give up.
Very simply…if you ask the question I have laid out in this article, the entire sport will change.
I look forward to hearing how this has impacted your goalie and your team.
Olympian – Jonathan Edwards
“Changing the game. One goalie at a time.™
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Coach Edwards has been the man behind-the-scenes to many of this sport's top goalies. The OG of lacrosse goalie coaching he abhors out-dated coaching methods and wants the best for your goalie. He works with lacrosse goalies all over North America from D1 on down to U12 via video and has been since 2001. When you're ready to take your game to the next level, book a breakthrough call. The call is free and it may just be the most impactful 45 minutes you ever invest in 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.