More coaches are lamenting the fact that there aren’t more lacrosse goalies to go around. It seems harder and harder to get kids to step up to play the position and once they are there it’s hard for them to want to stay.
So how do we get more kids to play goalie?
Well, after running this website since 2001. After coaching goalies from all over the world (not just the US and Canada) since 1993. And after hearing from thousands of parents and coaches…I’ve got a pretty good vantage point to offer my two cents, so here it is:
Respect The Position
For most coaches, understandably, offence gets most of the attention. I mean, you can’t win if you can’t score…right?
I used to think that too. But now that I’ve done this for a very long time I can tell you that EVERY team benefits when you start by focusing on the goalie and leading out from there.
The best offence can’t score if they don’t get the ball, and having a goalie in the cage who doesn’t feel the love and doesn’t make saves can be demoralizing.
For many coaches teaching the game can be overwhelming. With ten guys on the field (and twelve for the girls), there is a lot to coach. The goalie tends to be the last player to get focused on.
Most people would argue that the goalie is probably the most important player on the field. (Or at least one of them). So why not flip things around. Instead of leaving the goalie as an after-thought, let’s put them first.
Organize Your Practice Around Your Goalie’s Needs
When it’s time for practice, it doesn’t get much better. Coaches focus on drills where the result is to get the ball IN the net. I suggest to focus in a different way.
When it comes time to design shooting drills, ask yourself, “What types of shots are my goalies going to see against our next opponent?”
Are they shots from in close? Or from outside? Are they alley dodges or crease rolls? Are they going to be 8 Meter shots for the girls, or Crease Cranks for the boys?
When you start with that question you can design your shooting drills for your own team and give your goalie the best chance for success in their next game. This then transfers to the entire team.
Create a Plan For Clearing
Many coaches will blow the whistle in practice once the ball goes in the net or the goalie makes the save. They won’t play it out.
This is a huge mistake.
In an effort to get the next rep of the offence in, Coaches will get frustrated, blow the whistle, and yell, “Run it again!”
But when you do this, your goalie, your defence, AND your offence don’t get to work on clearing and riding which is a huge part of the game.
In the course of one practice, if you just let your goalie and your team clear the ball ten times and that takes an extra ten seconds each time. That’s 100 seconds. Just over a minute and a half of practice. It’s not much at all and your team has had ten extra reps to practice clearing.
Take that time.
I have an incredibly old video on YouTube that has thousands of views that lays out a very simple clear your team can use for clearing. I still teach it to this day because it’s simple and it works. Yet most coaches don’t even take the time to really teach their team how to clear.
Think of your clear like a play in the theater. You need to have everyone in their places before the curtain goes up. If they aren’t there, it’s not going to be a pretty good show now is it.
Same thing goes for your clear. Give your goalie the opportunity to make a good play by making sure that everyone is in the right place.
A clear should be the easiest part of the game. With the exception of a man-down clear for the boys, a goalie should be able to find the open man and then dump the ball to him.
Get everyone on board as to what the clear should look like and where everyone needs to be so your team can have success. Take that time.
Have a Plan For Communication
This will vary depending on the age of your goalie, but at least have a plan for what to call and when.
Minimally, goalies call the position of the ball and where it is on the field. After that, it can get as complicated as you want when it comes to slides, etc. (I have a whole module on this for my goalies at LacrosseGoalieUniversity.)
Know that for a new goalie, communicating with the defense can be a big ask. They might be too occupied with just trying save the ball and clear it properly. But if you at least let them know what it is you are trying to do and when, they won’t feel totally lost. The worst thing is to throw them out there with no plan.
Protect The Goalie
I believe that the number one reason we don’t have more kids playing the lacrosse goalie position comes down to protection.
And protection comes in three forms:
- Proper Equipment: Compared to ANY other sport the lacrosse goalie is under-protected when it comes to the size, hardness and velocity the ball comes at the net. When the goalie gets hit, it’s a problem.
- Hardness Of The Ball: The ball is hard and that’s why you don’t need to use it all the time in practice.
- Proximity of Shots: The more time a goalie has to react to a ball the better the chance he or she will catch it and not have to take it with their body.
With all that being said, the sport of lacrosse as a whole, hasn’t done enough in my opinion to protect goalies and kids just don’t want to take that abuse.
If you answer, no, then you understand the problem. That is why we need leaders who can help change the game and keep goalies safe and eliminate the old-school, LaxBro culture that is keeping goalies, and the game, from developing.
If you are a new coach or parent reading this, I’m on your side and have been for close to twenty years. If you have the ability to do what I recommend then I would love for you to implement the following in practice:
- Make Equipment Mandatory for Middle School and Below: It’s time for the madness, and the culture to end. We need to make equipment mandatory for goalies outside of High School. (I would like to make equipment mandatory across the entire game, but for now, Grade 8 and younger would be the first step). What does that include? (Shoulder caps and upper arm guards. Thigh pads. Knee pads. Shin guards.) We were headed in the right direction back in the 2000’s but people seem to have missed the point. By making it mandatory you take the decision away from the goalie and then you remove any sort of unwarranted peer pressure by teammates telling them they are “soft” or “weak” for having them on.
- Tennis Balls In Practice: For 3v2 drills and smaller I highly recommend tennis balls for practice. There is no need to abuse your goalie in practice. Make them mandatory and your players will learn to live with it.
- Manage Shot Distance: When practicing time-and-room shots where kids are just ripping the ball at the cage, put down a cone or a stick, mark the field with paint, or put down your Assistant Coaches sweatshirt. Whatever you use, put it at a distance where it challenges your goalie but doesn’t threaten them. As your goalie gets better you can shorten the distance, but in the meantime, restrict the distance.
Invest In Extra Goalie Equipment
Every program should invest in a set or two of goalie equipment that you can suit up ANY athlete who wants to give it a try.
I’m not a fan of forcing kids into the cage at young ages but I can also see the value in it.
The pro’s are that every kid gets the slightest experience of being in the net and what it means. If they are afraid of the ball but they are still protected enough not to get hurt, then I think it can be a good experience that helps all athletes understand just what the goalie is surviving.
The cons are that we are putting a kid in a situation where they are all afraid. Their brain is operating in High Beta Waves. A fight-or-flight situation that is not conducive to learning.
I do believe that not all kids are wired to be a goalie but I think that’s a cheap excuse to not coaching goalies in general. I believe we can do a much better job of getting kids to play the position and succeeding than just throwing them in the cage and having them quit.
Have some extra throat guards and Gear Ties to attach them quickly. Have some proper chest protectors that are the latest in protection. Have some light shoulder pads to protect the shoulders and the upper arm. And have some football pants, or to make it real easy, a pair of hockey pants with suspenders. Do they look cool? No. But do they protect a kid enough to throw him or her in the cage and have some fun? Absolutely.
But Coach, They Have To Toughen Up. Umm…no…no they don’t.
Yes, I get it. Coaches with limited thinking tell me all the time, “But Coach, the goalie is going to see harder shots in the game and we have to get them ready. They have to learn how to suck it up.”
Of all the goalies you see who are playing at a high level, all of them have…survived to get there. They haven’t thrived.
I believe, as a whole, the goalies we see today competing at the highest level…could be even better if they HAD been more protected when they were younger and were more protected today.
Why do I know this? Because even they will tell you that they wish they had more pads on. This is the quite story of all lacrosse goalies. It’s like they are in the closet about it and we really need them to come out.
We are starting to see goalies where more equipment here and there. Thigh pads. Shin guards. You name it. We are starting to see it.
What I’m concerned about is the young goalies we are losing because coaches aren’t doing enough to address the problem.
Your goalie doesn’t need to overcome fear with more fear. That’s basically what this advice is saying.
Goalies need to progress. They need to develop. And they need to learn how to feel safe in the cage. This is simple brain science and something very few people understand.
Remove the threat of getting injured and a goalie can learn how to make saves. If you take a read through my Lacrosse Goalie Cheat Sheets I describe just how this works. You can get your copy here: Lacrosse Goalie Cheat Sheets.
But Coach, “My Goalie says extra pads make him slow.”
That’s not true.
For example, I’ve never heard a hockey goalie complain and say, “If I could just take of this arm guard I’d be able to catch more pucks.”
If we make it a rule so that there is no debate anymore then we will remove this absurd argument that has no data to back it up.
There isn’t enough money in lacrosse to fund that sort of data anyway so don’t bother trying to created it.
I’m not going to go too deep on this argument because we’re trying to get more kids IN the net and not force them out of it. It’s a stupid argument anyway.
Share Statistics With Your Team
This is a touchy subject but one that I think needs to be shared. The truth is that some days your team is going to be…horrible. And they are going to give up an incredible amount of shots on the goalie. That’s a problem.
I believe that the goalies grade is NOT the scoreboard. It’s their save percentage. Some days your goalie is going to play fantastic but you will still lose. Some days your team will play awesome but your goalie might not have a great day.
This is where statistics can help.
No obviously I don’t want you to set your goalies up to be ridiculed or bullied by your team. As a coach this is where you need to work your magic.
But when you keep track of the shots and saves ON BOTH ENDS OF THE FIELD, you can really help your goalie.
If your goalie is making lots of saves but your team is losing, we need to make sure they know it’s not their fault. We also need to stop any sort of abuse a team might give the goalie.
So if you can keep track of how your offence is doing: shots, shots on goals, goals, saves, shots wide, etc.
And if you keep track of how your goalie is doing: shots, saves, goals, save percentage, etc.
Then you can have good discussions with your team about what they are doing and what they need to improve on…AS A TEAM.
Make Them Royalty
When you give the goalie position the respect it deserves, you’re going to get more kids who want to play. If the position looks “cool” and you protect them in that position, more kids are going to want to play.
If you prevent your goalies from being bullied because kids think they are “soft” for wearing pads, you’re going to have more kids who want to play.
And when you make kids run laps or sit out practice because they crease crank the goalie or talk trash to their teammate, kids will start to realize, “That’s my goalie.”
Cheer Every Save
Finally, you need to cheer the saves just like you cheer the goals that your team scores. When I stand on sidelines I’ll see and hear big cheers from the crowds for the goals scored. But I rarely hear people cheer as loud for the saves.
Respect the position.
Start with the goalie.
Keep them protected.
Understand the statistics which tell you/the goalie/the team what is truly going on.
Then you’ll have more kids who want to play.
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.