Why do lacrosse goalies talk so much? The real purpose of all that chatter

Along with the role of saving the ball, the second most important part of playing the position of goalie is communication. And although many goalies understand that they should be talking, there is an often misunderstood aspect of all this talk that is overlooked.

Typically, a goalie is trained to yell out such things as where the ball is, what formation the offense is in and using lacrosse nomenclature such as who’s “hot” (see the list below of commonly used terms and definitions). Calling out where the ball is on the field, a goalie will typically say, “ball is top left, top right, side left, etc”. This is spoken to let all of the defenders on the field know where the ball is.

Why do they do that?

Because the defenders should not be looking or watching the ball, they should be watching the person that they are defending. A smart offensive player that does not have the ball, will notice when their defender is ‘watching the ball’ and not them, and will then create offensive opportunities such as going to get the ball or move to an open space to receive the ball.

To prevent this from happening, the defender must have his ‘head on a swivel’ which refers to the defender looking at their player and looking around them, if the ball is near. In lacrosse, the ball can move around the field very fast, and therefore it’s important that the goalie let the defense know where the ball is, so that the defense can keep track of both the ball and the player they are defending.

All of this information is very helpful to the defense, but there is something that goalies aren’t always taught, yet this can be the most important part of their communication. The important thing for a goalie to understand is that they are calling out these commands for both the defense and for themselves.

Let me explain.

For the intermediate and experienced goalie, talking on the field is commonplace and not anything new. However, what’s often not discussed are the intricacies of this talk and how to utilize it for the optimum use of the keeper. A big part of this chatter is actually for the goalie’s purpose.

If you think about it, the goalie already knows what’s going on and where the ball is. But the biggest advantage to this talk is to tell the defense where the goalie would like them to be.

Now, this is where an advanced and experienced keeper can really shine. When a goalie knows what shots they are best at saving, what their weaknesses are and even who the best shooter is on the field, they can communicate to the defense how to get the shot the goalie wants.

This may seem obvious to some, but to others the idea of forcing a shot or guiding the players to shoot in a particular place might not have been considered. As a goalie, if you know that you are good with outside shots on the left side, then you would want the offense to shoot from that position, that is, if you can guide the defense to have them shoot there.

An example of this is if you are a right handed goalie, you typically will be better at shots on the left side of the field. This is logical as you will have your stick to the right side of the cage and it will be easier to cover the goal as the player is often moving across the goal making the goalie move as well.

Therefore, you would want the offense to shoot from the side that is easier to reach, especially when the offensive player is moving and shooting to the oppostite side of the goal. This means that if you are a right handed goalie, and the player is to your left side, it will be easier to save to the off-side as that is the side your stick is on.

On the contrary, the right side of the field, especially when a middie is cutting down and shooting, will be harder to save as you are moving to the right and if the ball is shot to the left you will have to cross over your hands to get the stick to the left side. This is the opposite for a left handed goalie and therefore the reverse is typically true.

So, if a goalie can talk to their defense and tell them know where to stand as they are defending the ball, they can force the offense to go in a certain direction or shoot with a particular hand. This might not always work perfectly, but more often than not you can get a good result. If you see that a defenseman can force a player to the right, (and that’s what you want the shot), then by telling the defenseman to step to the left can allow for the offensive player to more easily go in that direction. If a middie has been going to the right and then dodging left, down the middle of the field for a shot all day, then you can call out to the defensive middie, “play him to the right and watch the dodge left”. You can also ask “who’s hot” and tell them to get ready to go on a quick slide, therefore creating a double team and preventing a shot that the player has been getting off the whole game.

This is an example of how you might talk to the defense. But the important aspect of this is to further your understanding of why you are talking to the defense, and how to utilize this chatter for their AND your benefit. It’s typical that most goalies don’t realize the power that they have in creating an offensive scenario that is more in their control, and to their benefit.

This also includes knowing who on the offense is a strong shooter, feeder or dodger as well as who are the weaker players. If you know that the first ‘hot’ slide is covering a weaker player, then you might have the slide go quicker in order to double the ball for a take away and not worry so much about the feed going with dire consequences.

If you can watch the top Division I teams, try to listen to the goalies talking about these specifics and not just yelling out random commands.

Another important aspect of this talk is the tone and pitch of your voice. Take a moment to recognize the power of psychology and natural human response. It’s human nature to act calm when a voice is talking calmly. It’s also a natural response, for most people, to become more alert when someone is yelling with a higher pitched voice.

The defense will have a different reaction if they know how your voice sounds when it’s relaxed and there is no threat. They can also adjust automatically if they hear your voice louder and in a higher pitch, as this will automatically signal them to be more prepared that a threat or shot is near. Keeping this in mind you can consciously utilize the decibels and pitch of your voice to have the defense understand how to respond.

These are a few things to consider and will hopefully give you more insight as to how field talk can better your game, as well as properly inform your fellow defense. Feel free to talk with your defense before, during and after a game. Check in with them about whether they can hear you, if they are getting enough information and if they’d like to know more or something specific.

Each defenseman may want something different. Therefore, it’s important that you are a good leader in this position to orchestrate an environment that is beneficial for all players, particularly in the defensive end of the field. This is why the position of goalie is often referred to as the ‘quarterback’, and shows how important the goalie’s part is to every players’ game.

Here’s a list of commonly used jargon that goalies use and the definitions:

Common positions called out to where the ball is located: Top Left, Top Center, Top Right, Side Left, Side Right, Back Left, Back Right and X. Note that Back Right and Back Left are called in relation to a player who is looking up field. Therefore, when a goalie is facing to the back of the goal, they will call out Back Left as the opposite of what they are seeing. Example, when looking behind, Back Left is actually Back Right to the goalie’s view.

Ball at X: X refers to back center, the area directly behind the goal, from the back of the crease to the endline.

Fast Break: Called when the offense has an advantage over the defense of 1 or more players. Typically this is called when the ball is cleared as an outlet pass to the top of the field from the other team’s defensive end, and the player catching the ball has beat his defender. A 4 on 3 fast break is most common and should be called by the goalie as soon as this is noticed.

Check: This is called out by the goalie when the ball is being passed to another player, typically in the area close to a scoring attempt, such as just above the crease, which is often called “the hole”. Similar to “the paint” in basketball. The check call is used to let the defenseman know when to check the opponents stick. It needs to be timed correctly, as the defense is not allowed to check the offense player’s stick, unless the ball is within 5 yards of the player.

Slide: This refers to the process of when a defensive player leaves their position to go and defend the person with the ball. This term is called when an offensive player has gotten past the defensive player or when a double team is executed (see Hot).

Who’s Hot?: This refers to the person who is responsible for the first slide, if and when called. It’s important for there to be communication between the goalie and defense to be sure that everyone knows who is hot and if there are any changes to who is hot. Typically, this is asked by the goalie “Who’s Hot” or commented by the defense “I’m Hot”.

Who’s the two?: This refers to the person responsible for the second slide. This person will slide to the offensive player where the first “Hot” slide is leaving. This way, when the first Hot leaves to slide, the player they are leaving is not left wide open.

On the pipe: This is called out to the defensive player who is playing the person with the ball. The ‘pipe’ is used to reference the goal line extended. If you draw a line between the two goal pipes and extend this line to the sidelines, this is called “Goal line extended” or GLE. When a goalie says, “you’re on the pipe” it means that the player is now on this goal line extended. It’s used to let the defenseman know that the offensive player is now in position to shoot on the goal, and is typically meant to signal the defenseman to be ready for this possibility. It also helps the defenseman to know where on the field they are, as they are typically looking at the player and won’t be able to look to see exactly where on the field they are.

Play/force them to the left/right: This is another term used by the goalie to let the defense know which way they should let a player go, or to force a player in a certain direction. This is almost always used in a middie situation. The first is to tell the player what direction they should force a player to go in and the direction is typically towards the sideline, preventing the offensive player from going down the center of the field to the goal. The other time this is used is when a goalie knows what the strong hand of the player is, to prevent the player from driving in that direction and shooting with that hand.

Head on a swivel: This is most often used in reference to the defense. It refers to a player being able to turn their head and look around when they need to, but keeping an eye on the offensive player they are matched up with. Keeping their ‘head on a swivel’ allows the player to be aware of what’s happening on the field, while paying the most attention to the person they are defending.