There are hundreds of lacrosse goalie drills out there and multiple variations of each drill that you can do with your goalie. Go online, go on Instagram, wherever, and you will see lacrosse goalie drills of all shapes and sizes.
But the question is, “Is that goalie drill good for YOUR goalie?”
The Ideal Lacrosse Goalie Drill
When it comes to assessing if any drill is good or not we have to compare it to some sort of ideal, right? Well what might that be?
Here’s what I think it should be. It would be a full game experience completely catered to the goalie.
Sure! Why not.
It would be six guys in the offensive zone running plays that would look identical to the plays that goalie would be seeing in the next game. The shots would be from the same place on the field. The same velocity. And the same placement on the net.
The shots would fall into three categories:
- Just right.Not too hard.Not too soft.
- Just a bit hard. About a ten to fifteen percent increase in difficulty.
- Too soft. Beach balls, really. Shots a goalie could save with his/her eyes closed.
But we know that isn’t ideal so we create drills based on the resources we have. You might have one coach and one goalie. You might have one coach and three goalies. You might have no coach and four goalies.
I’ve seen every combination and you immediately have to compromise and ask the question, “What can we do right now given our available resources to help improve THIS goalie who stands in the cage. (And you might not even have a cage because the two cages your team has are being used in some full-field drill by the other coach.) You get my point.
When it comes to ANY drill you have to start by asking a couple of questions:
1)What quality am I looking to improve with my goalie? That quality will fall under one of the their Three Key Abilities
a) Physical Ability
b) Technical Ability
2) Is this drill relevant? Is it similar to something my goalie is going to see on game day?
3) Is it appropriate? The appropriateness of a drill usually hinges on how challenging it is for your particular goalie. The drill will either be:
a) Too hard.
b) Too easy.
c) Just right.
4) Is this drill wiring in good habits or bad habits? A drill either takes you toward a desired response to an input or it takes you away. There is no grey area it is black and white.
5) Is this drill safe? While this might fall under the “is it appropriate” category it’s worth it to add it here.
What Quality Am I Looking To Improve?
You have to look at your goalie in layers. The first layer is a foundation of strength and mobility. Without a proper level of strength and mobility you may be asking the goalie to do too much.
But what is fascinating is that the body has an incredible way of doing what the brain wants even though it may lack in strength and mobility.
Here’s an example: Imagine you dropped a pen on the floor but you have tight hamstrings. If I had you do a hamstring stretch and said, “Reach down and touch your toes.” The odds are you’d have trouble reaching your toes at all. But to reach down and get the pen off the floor your body will do any number of things to help you get down there. You might move one foot ahead of the other. You might drop the hips. You might reach with just one hand so you can rotate through your spine. Whatever it takes, your body will find a way to do what it is you ask. It might not look pretty, but you’ll get it done.
Drills are no different. You tell an athlete do to something (i.e. fire across and get their stick on a shot going off-stick low) and they will find a way to do it. It may not look pretty, but they will get it done.
There is a standard of quality athletic movement we are looking for however. I don’t want my goalie to be sloppy so we have to keep in mind, “What is keeping my goalie from making this save in this way?” He/she might make a save, but it’s my job as a coach to think, “Yes, she made that save, but she had to do a lot of work to make it happen. Let’s fix that.”
Our first look is to a goalie’s Athletic Ability. Is my goalie strong enough to make this save? Are the mobile enough? Can they get down on the ball? Over to it? Can they reach/twist/lunge or do whatever it is they need to do to get something on that ball?
This is where it’s important to understand that you can’t do something explosively if you haven’t mastered it slowly?
I have painful/vivid memories at the Cornell Lacrosse Camp being put through some drills that were so difficult for my strength and mobility levels I’m lucky I didn’t get injured. I was so sore that afternoon and into the next day that it took everything I had not to pass out or pull something. I still managed to be the Most Valuable Goalie for that session that summer but I think of how well I might have played had I not been put through something that was well out of my realm so early in the camp.
This is where running lacrosse goalies through a drill for the drill’s sake does nothing for the goalie. There may be strength and mobility issues that need to be addressed before you can actually do the drill in question. But if you look at a goalie in layers you may find another drill, or a variation of that drill, that is more appropriate for that particular goalie.
Your goalie’s technical ability is their ability to do the thing you want them to do. It could be catching a shot, making a pass, or making the right call for a clear or a slide. These are all technical things a goalie needs to work on.
But is the goalie physically ready to do them?
A coach reached out to me complaining about how his high school goalie couldn’t make a decent outlet pass while on the run. My first question to him was, “Have you checked the pocket? Have you thrown with it?”
There are times when Technical Ability can be restricted by equipment and that may be the layer you have to get to and figure out where the problem is coming from.
A few weeks later, “Coach! We fixed the stick. We’ve been doing all these passing drills. He still can’t get a pass out there with much energy. Now what?”
“Can he do a push up?”, I asked.
“Um…I’ll get back to you,” he said.
A couple days later. “The kid can’t do a solid push up.” came back to me.
I told this coach that no matter how many passing drills he did, this goalie wasn’t going to get stronger by just doing the passing. This kid needed to get into the gym. There was no drill that was going to help this particular goalie but getting in the gym was the fastest path to getting better.
We don’t use drills in the typical sense of a drill for Tactical situations. These typically come through game play so we don’t always break them down like we normally would.
But when a goalie doesn’t have the physical ability or the technical ability to do certain things then he/she sure isn’t going to be able to do it in a team situation either.
The key is to peel away the layers to see where the breakdown is and what ability we need to improve. We might not need a drill at all at this point. We might need weight room work. Or we might need to watch some game film.
Most Drills Are Trying To Do Too Much
The mistake I see in many drills is that it’s just too much, too soon. Many drills today are taken from Instagram clips of college or pro lacrosse goalies doing what looks cool. The natural thought process is, “Well since that guy/girl is doing it and he/she is a D1/Pro/World goalie it must be good for my goalie.” You’d be thinking incorrectly.
I’ve seen Pro goalies cradling lacrosse balls while staring at their feet trying to do ladder drills. Are they a Pro goalie because of that drill? I would argue you that there is no way in hell that goalie was now a Pro because of that drill. And applying that drill to your U14 goalie is probably a waste of time.
Using that particular drill the coach is trying to do any number of things:
Improve foot speed.
Improving strength in the upper body?
Improving cradling ability?
And any number of other things.
Yes, we are all starved for time, but layering too many things into one drill reduces the effectiveness of the drill and at worst causes a goalie to regress?
You would be better off focusing on one aspect of that drill and maximizing the quality of that particular skill than trying to do three things at once.
The Purpose of Every Drill: Wiring
No matter what drill you choose to do we have to remember that our lacrosse goalies are some of the fastest kids on the field. I’m not talking about running speed although that can be a part of it, I’m talking about quick and twitchy. They see a ball and they snag it.
The ability to be fast and reactive is a byproduct of strength and neurological conditioning. When fatigue sets in, that is when a drill loses it’s effectiveness.
I see coaches running goalies through drills and they are so sloppy the effectiveness of the drill was lost ages ago. Your goalie doesn’t need a thousand balls, he/she needs five high quality balls. Then they rest and recover and try it again. After a ten percent decrease in explosiveness, switch it up and move on. If a goalie is sloppy you are just wiring in “sloppy.” We want to wire in “efficient”, “explosive”, “high quality”.
Novelty vs Effectiveness
When your kid goes off to lacrosse camp there are some factors to consider:
How do we fill all that time over the course of the camp?
Fatigue. The more in shape your goalie is the more balls they can have shot at them.But…
Camp attendee quality. Your goalie may be an 8/10 but the other goalies there are a 3/10. We can’t have them all doing 8/10 drills so instead they do a 5/10. Those goalies who are 3/10 are getting overworked. Your 8/10 goalie is getting underworked. All the goalies are getting screwed and your money is wasted.
Most drills come as novel ideas that fill camp time. They are fun. They are creative. Everything from Goalie Games to shooting balls out of a tennis ball machine.
And I want to be totally honest when I say that there is a place for that.
If your goalie has been working his/her tail off every day in practice and you sense they are getting in a rut then doing behind-the-back-shots-off-the-rebounder-with-a-reaction-ball might be a fun way to break up practice.
I’m all for that.
I tend to be quite black and white, and I do have the discipline to do the repetitive, not-so-sexy stuff that most would call the “work”. Many young goalies are in an environment that if something isn’t “entertaining” then they lose focus.
Coaches today have to juggle being part P.T. Barnum and part Warren Buffet. The former is all about keeping your attention with fluff and hype. You leave sweaty and think that your money was well spent. The latter understands the power of compound interest and doing boring, unsexy, small things every day leads up to massive rewards down the road. Make sure your goalie is more Warren Buffet and less P.T. Barnum.
The 80% Rule
If I’m the goalie I want whatever I’m doing to be 100% effective. But that may not be totally realistic. I tell people that I was a goalie in every sport that I played and an Olympian in a timed event. Just tell me what it is I need to do to get better and I’ll do it. No questions on my part.
But if your goalie is doing a drill and it kinda sorta looks ok? It’s probably good enough. Like I said, I can pick apart any drill and find a way to make it better, but if it’s close, it’s probably ok, as long as it doesn’t violate any of my no-go rules below.
Every drill has a cost and a benefit to it. And do to time and space and resource restrictions we may have to compromise what it is we are doing at any point in time. That being said, every goalie has to do three things to make any save. I call this the Three Keys To Making Any Save. And they are:
- They must see the ball.
- They must know where it’s going.
- They must move in front of the ball.
I could add a .5 that comes before “seeing the ball” because the lacrosse goalie of the future uses what happens before the shot as a “tell” to key #2 which is knowing where it is going. Many drills don’t pay attention to that step. Maybe they use a wall, or a rebounder and that obviously eliminates what it would look like if a shooter had the ball. Are we missing out on that learning? Hell yes. Is there a cost there? Yes. Is there a benefit to everything else the drill is trying to provide under the resources you have? Probably.
Like I said at the very beginning, the very best drill would be having a whole team at our disposal to just work with the goalie. Everything else is a compromise.
Some Rules I Never Violate
Finally, here are some rules I never violate no matter the age, sex or ability of the goalie
1) If the goalie gets sloppy it’s over. At around a ten percent decrease in performance, the goalie is done with that drill. Rest. Recover. (From the sideline this can look like I’m not doing anything and just chatting with the goalie. Recovery is a tactic.)
2) If it’s dangerous to this goalie, it’s over.
3) If it is wiring the opposite or an incorrect way of what I want to see a goalie do, I don’t do it.
4)If the drill strays too far from what is normal, I don’t do it. Specificity is important for ANY drill to be effective.
Choosing drills for your lacrosse goalie is an art form. It is very easy to parachute in and criticize a drill just looking at it without more context but the rules I’ve given you here will allow you to make your own decisions on what is relevant and what isn’t for your goalie.
Every drill has a cost/benefit ratio. And sometimes skipping the drill altogether and getting in the weight room instead is what is necessary. I’ll be honest when I tell you I see that a lot.
Shots, shots, and more shots. The best drill in my opinion will be shots from a shooter with a properly strung stick who has a shooting motion that doesn’t stray too far from what is normal. (Mom’s and Dad’s you can learn how to shoot a good shot with just a little bit of practice if it’s you who is shooting on your goalie. Let that be your homework.)