How To Re-Instill Confidence In A Lacrosse Goalie Who Has Lost It

Confidence. It is the base of every great goalie. It is the foundation. With it, a goalie is capable of stopping the toughest shots. Without it, even the easiest shots go in.

But how do we build confidence in a goalie in the first place?

Many coaches lack the awareness that confidence is the foundation to their goalies success. Many coaches are just too busy to care. But what many coaches don’t realize is that there are just a couple of concepts to grasp and building a goalies confidence will take care of itself during the course of every practice.

Building a goalies confidence is like building a house of cards. Even though the house is going up quickly, a small crack in the foundation can bring the whole thing down in a heartbeat.

So I put together this post for goalies, coaches, and parents to understand just what’s going on with their goalie. Why their confidence may be high. Or why it might be suffering and how to rebuild it.

Let’s Talk About How The Body Works

To understand why goalies can lose their confidence you must first understand what the body is designed to do. The body is designed to protect itself.

This is a protective mechanism that’s evolved over millions of years.  Everything from our brain that sees things that might eat us to our bones that protect our vital organs.  We’re pretty much designed to get out of the way of anything that’s going to hurt us.

So?

Well if the body is designed to protect itself, why on earth would it put itself in front of danger. That danger is a lacrosse ball coming at it at close to 100 miles per hour in some cases.

What Your Brain Is Thinking As The Lacrosse Ball Is Flying

Here is the conversation in the brain as the ball is coming at it,

“Hmm…that ball is traveling awfully fast. I think it is aiming for my head. I should duck. Or maybe I should try and catch that ball. I should duck. Maybe it is going over the net. I should duck. This is really silly. I shouldn’t be standing here. What if it hits me in the collar bone. I really don’t have a lot of protection there. Or maybe it is going to hit me in the spleen. That wouldn’t be good. I should try and stop it at least.”

And all of this happens in a split second.

If you understand that the bodies natural tendency is to avoid getting in the way of danger you can see how absurd it is to try and make it do just that.

But as a goalie that is exactly what we do. We put ourselves in the way of danger. And sometimes very serious danger.

On one end of the spectrum we withstand serious trauma with bruises that can last for weeks if not treated properly. On the other end of the spectrum is Commotio Cordis. This is where the heart stops when a ball hits us in the chest at high speeds at just the right time.

With Commotio Cordis 85% of athletes die. 97% if CPR isn’t started within three minutes. Serious stuff to be fearful of. You can see why it’s pretty easy to lose confidence with all of these issues at hand.

Principles To Understand While Teaching Goalies

Fear Is A Natural Response By The Brain. Don’t Fight It. Work With It.

 

The body is designed to protect itself. That is why the feeling of fear exists. It is a signal by the brain to tell the muscles in the body to get ready to get the hell out of the way. With the feeling of fear comes the release of adrenalin. The “Fight or Flight” scenario. Now we are trying to get the goalie to “Fight” not “Flight.” If the brain feels like the body is going to receive some serious trauma it’s going to signal the flight response. But if it feels it can outmuscle it’s opponent it will fight. We want our goalies to fight. But the fight response only comes is the brain feels it can win. Which leads me to…

Wearing Enough Equipment

Think of two fireman fighting a forest fire. Fireman A is in street clothes. A fireball is coming up the mountain at 60-80 miles per hour. He has no protective fire gear on and a fire hose with water. That fireman knows that he is not protected against this fire even with that hose. So what is he going to do? He’s going to turn and run his ass off as fast as he can to his truck where he will be safe and can turn again and drive away.

Now Fireman B has flame retardant clothing and a firehose. This fireman knows that he is protected enough to be able to fight the fire and will give it a fighting chance. However, if the fire gets too close and the heat gets too hot, he too will turn and run.

Now think of your goalie standing in the cage with his goalie stick. He’s got very little equipment on and the shooters (fire) are bearing down on him with hard shots that will hurt him when he gets hit. Can you see how this goes against the brains natural instincts? However, if you turn him into Fireman B with enough equipment he’s going to at least give you a fighting chance.

You need to make sure your goalie has enough equipment for him. Every goalie is different. When I was in high school I developed some serious shoulder issues because I took a number of shots of the front deltoid muscle. (That’s the muscle on the front portion of your shoulder.) It got so bad I developed tendonitis and couldn’t lift my arm. But because I wanted to be “cool” I didn’t wear shoulder pads. When I was in the cage I was worried about getting hit in the shoulder and not stopping the ball.

Progression

I’ll bet you a hundred bucks right now that you can stop a shot by a College All-American today. Not in a few years. Not in a few months, or days. Today.

Don’t believe me?

Ok. Let’s go out to the field. I want you to stand in this cage over here. And I want to take our College All-american buddy and I’m going to take him down to the other cage.

You think you could stop this shot if it was taken from the other goal line?

I think you could.

Now move that shooter to twenty yards and things change. Now the time to react to the ball is much shorter. Even though there is a lot of distance the ball is coming fast and will definitely hurt if it hits you.

Move that shooter to ten yards and a ball that hits the goalie will leave a bruise for sure. It may even permanently hurt your goalie.

When I work with a goalie who is having confidence issues I try and find their confidence threshold. The confidence threshold is a point where the goalie feels safe with that particular shooter. This distance will change with shooters of different skill levels so you must pay attention to the ability of the shooter and the ability of the goalie. One shooter may have a really hard shot with no accuracy. The other shooter may have a very accurate shot but not have a lot of mustard on the ball. You have to be aware of what each shooter brings to the table.

When I did a lot of personal training back in the day I used to get this question every once in a while, “I heard that exercise isn’t good for you. Why are we doing it?”

And my answer was always the same, “There is no such thing as a bad exercise. Just someone who isn’t ready for that particular exercise.”

When I was in high school we did a lot of hyrdler stretches. This is a stretch where you sit on the floor, have one leg out in front of you, and the other leg is bent back behind you at a ninety degree angle. It looks like a hurdler jumping over a hurdle.

But for some reason this stretch was banished out of high schools. Turns out some kid, somewhere, had a knee issue and this stretch wasn’t very good for him. But it went to court and the school district that kid was in was forced to banish that stretch. One school district led to the next one and eventually…no more hurdler stretches for anyone.

Let me ask you this: Is a hurdler stretch bad for a hurdler?

No.

Is it bad for a kid with a bum knee who isn’t ready for it?

Probably.

Is it ok for a kid who needs to be more flexible in his hip and knee area?

Well, that’s where progression comes in.

If you’re not ready for that stretch you probably shouldn’t do that stretch right now. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t do a variation of that stretch.
It doesn’t mean that you can’t work on a lower level so that you can eventually work up to the full version of the stretch and to reap the benefits that stretch has to offer.

Let’s use a goalie specific example.

If you’ve never taken a shot, from close range, by an excellent shooter, would you agree that having that shooter shoot on you, 100%, from fifteen yards is not a good idea?

Yes.

Does that mean that you should never get shot on by an excellent shooter who is shooting 100% from fifteen yards?

Of course not.

Should you probably find a range, or velocity that is comfortable for you and work from there?

Absolutely.

One Last Example

If you’ve ever been to a gym you’ve probably seen a set of dumbbells. On one end you’ve got the little five pound one’s and on the othe end you’ve got the big one hundred and twenty pound dumbbells.

Just because you can’t lift the 120’s now doesn’t make them bad does it?

If you tried to lift one of those now a couple of things might happen:

1) You can’t lift them at all.
2) If you can lift it you may struggle with it and hurt yourself.

But you can start with the lighter weights and work your way up to the 120’’s eventually.

Being in the cage is a lot like lifting weights. There is a whole spectrum of shots to take. Some are easy, some are progressively harder, and some right now seem so hard that you might never be able to stop them.

Your goal is to start light and to work your way up so that eventually you can stop shots that, originally, seemed too hard to stop.

Fear:

Where there is fear, there is no learning. – Jonathan Edwards

If you’ve ever watched the winter Olympics you’ve probably seen the sport of luge. That is where the athletes lie on a little tiny sled, on their back, going feet first down this enormous shoot of ice. It’s like a hockey rink twisted into a giant roller coaster. Well I used to do that.

And sliding (doing luge) is a lot like goaltending. Here’s how.

Lot’s of people ask, “Do you just go right to the top of the track and go?”

No.

For the men, we would go to the track and head to the Ladies Start which is a little bit further down the track. It is slower from there and not nearly as dangerous. Our first couple of runs are from there. Then we move up.

But even after we move up to the top of the track we still might break down a bit so there is less speed. We might slow the sled down to curve three and then lie down and slide. Next run it might be curve two, and so on.

The goal of breaking the sled is so that we can master the track with a little more speed but no fear. Let’s say you don’t break enough but then you have a really bad crash. Now you have the fear of crashing in your head so the next time you come down the track you’re thinking about crashing and not about what you’re supposed to be doing. You aren’t relaxed which causes the sled to go slower and you’re not learning anything because all you are thinking about is not dying.

Where there is fear, there is no learning. Let’s say you just took a really bad shot to an area that hurts a ton. You’ve got a huge bruise to remind you of that shot but you really need to be working on stepping to the ball. The fear in your head from that shot is like this huge cloud layer. It’s like a fog in your brain. Until that fog is gone you can’t get to the real learning. You’re always in a state of survival mode if there is fear in your brain.

It’s Best To Avoid Fear in the First Place

With proper progression of shots you can pretty much eliminate fear. There is still some, but it’s manageable.

With proper equipment you can avoid getting hurt. And with proper coaching you can learn enough so that you go into the cage confident and with planty of ball-stopping technique. So the best thing to do is to keep the fear out of your head to begin with.

The Best Goalies Aren’t Fearless They Just Understand How To Work With Their Fear

I’ve heard terms for goalies such as Psycho, Crazy, you name it. But that’s really not true. Goalies are some of the most introspective people I know. They are critical of themselves and they are tacticians in how to stop the ball.

Fear comes from a lack of information. That’s it. If there is fear, the goalie lacks the proper information on how to deal with that situation to stop the ball. That’s it. With enough information the goalie can stop all shots and be confident when he or she does. It’s that easy.

If shots are coming that raise the fear level the goalie is just saying, “Hey, I don’t know how to stop that thing yet. Back off to a level where I can.”

Coaching Tips To Ease Fear

First things first…

Get The Shooters To Back Off

The first remedy for fear is to get the shooters to shoot from further away. Tell them to shoot from a certain distance and no closer. I used to mark the field with spray paint and say, “Cross this line and die.” Or you can put down a stick, a sweatshirt, a pylon. Anything that the shooters could see. As my goalies get better I move the line.

It’s easier for a shooter to shoot from further out than trying to get them to slow their shots down. When they do that they become less accurate which isn’t fun. I mean who wants to chase balls down behind the cage.

Put On More Equipment

If you’re getting hurt with balls hitting your body you need to wear more equipment. It’s that simple. Don’t think that by wearing more equipment it’s going to slow down your reaction time. I have yet to see that proven so until I do I don’t buy it. The level of confidence that you feel in your head will far outweigh the weight of any additional equipment.

It’s not like you’re wearing chain mail or something like that.

If you don’t feel “cool” because you’re wearing too much equipment do this:

Wear it for warm up. I used to take a ton of shots off my forearm in warm up but I never seemed to get hit there during the game. So I made this little pad that I taped on my forearm and then I took it off once the game started. It’s that simple.

Now I have to give you a hard time about looking cool. Your goal is to not look cool. Your goal is to stop the ball. And with that comes doing the things you need to do to build your confidence and stop the ball. If that means you need to wear more equipment then do it.

Tennis Balls

Another great way to deal with fear, but have shots taken from the same distance is to have the shooter use tennis balls. By using tennis balls you are still getting a similar velocity of shot but your brain knows that if you get hit with one of those balls it’s not going to sting nearly as much as if you were using a real lacrosse ball.

If you live near a tennis center they always have old tennis balls that they want to get rid of. I got a garbage bag filled with balls from the tennis club near my house. I still have some of them in the bottom of my ball bag now too.

Shooting with tennis balls also helps the shooter. The lighter ball forces them to have more sensitive hands. So don’t think that by asking the shooters to shoot with a tennis ball is a bad thing. It’s actually good for them!

Conclusion

It’s important that you never lose your confidence to begin with. Every day in the cage you should feel safe and confident. Shooters should shoot from a specific range until you feel ready to go closer. Keep this in mind, “It’s easier for shooter to shoot 100% than to try and shoot slower and accurately”

Make sure you’re wearing enough equipment and use tennis balls if necessary. By using the tennis balls you will eliminate the fear of getting hit with the ball so you can focus on proper movement to the ball.

Remember, where there is fear there is no learning. Keep the environment safe and positive and you will watch your goalie grow.

Please email me at jonathan@inseasonhome.com if you have any questions regarding this article. And I’d love to hear your stories about
how you’ve dealt with fear and conquered it. Or maybe you aren’t conquering it yet. Send me an email so we can discuss it.

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