What to do with a goalie? A coaches guide to the position of lacrosse goalie

The most often asked question I get, whether I’m on the field, off the field, in stripes or wearing a helmet, is always “what do I do with my goalie during practice?”. It’s a good question, and as most coaches haven’t played goalie, they usually don’t know much about the position.

Sure, you can open up a few books, google some drills and plays and even attend some lectures on goalie play as visit this website lacrossi.net for articles and blog posts.

However, I’m writing this for all those who ask me this question to help them understand one thing. And if this one aspect is understood, it is my opinion that it might be the most helpful attribute you can learn for dealing with goalies.

What is this gem of information? What could possibly be so important that it could by itself create an attitude and understanding that will be invaluable as a coach of any team? I’m here to give you some insight, for free, that will be worth it’s weight in, well, gold. Ok, so what is it?

It is understanding the mind of a goalie.

Let me try to explain. More often lately, I spend most of the time on the field as an official. And almost every time I get to the field before a game, I see a warmup that has become so commonplace. What I see is the coach warming himself up. Yes, that’s not a typo, I said the coach is warming themselves up.

What am I talking about? Let’s pause for a moment and take a look at the goalie position. Most people who have never played keeper assume that it’s all about making the save. Now this does seem logical, and even makes sense. However, let’s look a bit deeper and analyze what it takes to make a save. First of all, with very limited equipment, a keeper is standing in front of a 6′ by 6′ cage, trying to stop a small round ball, traveling very quickly from entering 36 square feet of space. Oh, and the keeper has a single stick, about 1/36th the size of the cage, along with their body to do this.

Analyze any great goalie in any sport throughout history and you will find one common thread that connects them all. While each player has their own unique style, abilities and attributes, the common thread is their mindset. It’s not to say that they all think the same, but they all have the focus and concentration that allows them to make the save.

Let’s look at the kinematics of making a save. The keeper is watching the shooter’s stick, looking and preparing for the ball to be released.

As soon as the ball is shot, there are three keys to making the save:

  1. The first is that you must see the ball.
  2. The second is that the goalie must be in a position to physically stop it.
  3. The third is the mindset and confidence that they can save it.

The first two are based on concentration and being prepared in stance and position. The third is the most critical, and often the most misunderstood by coaches. However, it’s also the most valuable aspect to understand in order to know HOW to deal with your goalie.

Each goalie is different, and a coach will need to spend some time to understand how they might be thinking, or even to check in with them and ask. “How are you feeling, are you seeing a beach ball or a peanut today?”. If a goalie feels comfortable enough, they can let their coach and teammates know where they are at. If they are having a bad day and can’t see the ball well, and they feel comfortable and confident enough, they can let their coach and defense know this. This will allow for the coach to adjust accordingly.

There are many factors that each goalie will have, to their advantage and disadvantage. Maybe it’s cold out and they do well in warmer weather, or vice versa. Maybe the field is grass or dirt, and yields a high or low bounce shot, each resulting in a harder or easier save. Perhaps it’s a night game, or the sun is shining in a specific place that makes it harder to see. The attack knows this, so why shouldn’t a defense man know this as well and adapt accordingly?

Before I go forward, let me comment about the coach warming themselves up. I’m sure there are a few still wondering what I meant by this. Each goalie will be different, but more often than not, a goalie’s purpose of warming up is to get physically ready for the shots. This means focusing on position, getting comfortable to ‘warm up’ so that they aren’t physically stiff. Once this stretching is done, then the real warm up happens. Getting mentally prepared and boosting one’s confidence. This is the single most important aspect of warming up a goalie.

Let’s think about this. If you are running fast break drills and one-on-ones before a game, how many saves do you think your goalie will make? If you don’t know the mental condition of your goalie, you may never even consider this, but it could have a huge impact on your keeper. Put in the second string goalie for this or have the goalie in on only a few of these drills before a game.

More importantly, be sure that at least once during a practice, you are working to develop and improve the mental confidence of your goalie. When a goalie is mentally prepared, they can be better tuned in to being in the zone. If they can concentrate and be confident in themselves, they will more often than not, make the save. When they make the save, it will then boost their confidence and continue the positive domino effect of feeling even more confident.

I’m not saying to coddle a goalie, but don’t be so focused on throwing the ball at them as hard as you can. A few hard shots at the end of a warm up will help to see these speeds, but the true warm up and practice will be to have a positive mindset and feel confident.

If you think that your goalie needs practice with a certain shot, then make a mental note of this and work on this during practice. Find certain drills that might help them with their weaknesses in play, and prepare drills and practice sessions that focus on this. Whether the goalie is aware of this or you communicate this to them or not, they will get the practice they need to better their game, instead of just getting generic tips and working on generic skills, yet not knowing exactly why these coaches are doing such drills.

Wow, wait a second, there you have it. You can now realize what your goalie needs to work on and guess what, this is exactly what you should do with your goalie during practice.

Funny how that happened…

Good luck and don’t forget to check in with your goalie. Talk with him or her and give them a comfortable environment to assess themselves without feeling like your picking on them or putting them down.

The mental state can be fragile, even though standing in front of a hard ball may necessitate a hard shell. I haven’t yet met a goalie that is beyond or above the affect of their mindset. Actually, I haven’t yet met a human being who is above or beyond this statement, even coaches…