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There is a coaching adage: "Offense wins games, Defense wins Championships". If the best defense is having the ball, the next best thing on defense is to have a capable goalie.
Goalies are the most often unsung and overlooked players on a lacrosse team. Frequently taken for granted and sometimes forgotten, the goalie is actually left out of some lingo of the game - when coaches and players say "let's play six on six" everyone assumes there will also be a goalie.
Coaches sometimes assign less athletic players to the goalie position, thinking of it as at least some way the player can participate and that the team can mask and protect them. This can work and is useful to some purposes, but at higher levels of competition the story is very much the other way around; the game of lacrosse is built toward lots of goal scoring and more often than not it is the goalie who masks, protects, and answers for the weaknesses of the team. A general rule is that in a goalie dilemma the coach should select the best athlete on the team.
It is the wise coach who recognizes the goalie as the most important player on the field; practical reasons are plentiful:
- Since the "man" the goalie is usually guarding is the 6 x 6 goal he does not have to worry himself with running after his main opponent, so can instead keep his attention on the ball and the game around him. With this special perspective the goalie is a de facto defense captain and can direct the players on defense to position themselves and take action to prevent shots before they even happen.
- Goalies also often initiate the offense -- once the save is made the goalie makes the first decisions on clearing the ball to the offense. Because of offsides rules, the goalie gives the clearing team a 7 v 6 man-up advantage on the defensive side of the field.
- The 7 v 6 man-up advantage on defense can also be used in regular play during the ride and in settled situations where the defense wants to put more pressure to get the ball. The goalie is not confined to the area within the crease and can step out to make a play, and while this usually happens only during emergencies it can be a spectacular highlight.
- The best lacrosse offenses focus on the goalie as the player to beat; everyone else on defense is just traffic. Pressure on goalies can be enormous and when the offense gets through everyone else on defense it is the goalie putting his body and mind on the line to make the save for the team.
- In close 1 or 2 goal games or in overtime every save the goalie made throughout the game becomes the most important save of the game.
Keys To Playing Goalie In Lacrosse.
- See The Ball. Save percentages increase greatly when goalies have vision of the ball for a full second before a shot. This is a pretty obvious one but it is still the most important; if you can't see the ball you (usually) can't make the save. Always know where the ball is on the playing field. Vision is a goalie's best friend.
- Know your "Ready Position". A proper ready position means that your top hand thumb is at eye level, not obstructing your view of the ball, and the top of the stick is level with the cross bar. Your knees should be bent and your feet should be shoulder width apart. Finally, in order to have extra give when you stop a shot, your hands should be about 1 1/2 feet out in front of you.
- Vision isn't only for seeing where or who has the ball - use your vision to look in to the shooter's eyes. Nine times out of ten the person shooting the ball is looking directly where he is going to shoot it. Use this to your advantage to become a better goalie.
- Be able to pass the ball. Goalies for the most part are given a lot of leeway by coaches and teammates because of the difficulty and the nature of the position, but that leeway goes out the window on the clear. Nothing will infuriate and demoralize a team more than when a goalie makes a great save and then passes the ball right to the opposing team or throws it out of bounds, which is also a turnover. You might save every single shot, but a goalie who can't pass the ball so that his team can play offense is not a good goalie. Know how to handle the lacrosse ball and take pride in it. Whether you like it or not, sooner or later you are going to have to come out of the net with the ball, so when that happens be prepared. Goalies should do wall ball and drills on ground balls and catching and throwing while running like everybody else, and should be just as much of a stick-doctor as anyone else on the team for stringing and keeping their shooting strings maintained to keep the whip correct and their throwing accuracy on.
- When facing a shot a goalie should ALWAYS step to the ball. I see so many goalies making the error of excluding the step as they TRY to save a shot. Stepping to the ball allows you to cut off the angle a little bit more, which gives you a slight edge. It also allows the goalie to go out and attack the bounce shots. Rather than just waiting for a hard-to-get bounce shot to come at you, you should go to it and smother it. By attacking the shot you are putting yourself in a better position to save a goal.
- Win The Mental Game. Goalies endure the most pressure of anyone on the field, are typically highly competitive, and are in the spotlight at the most critical moments of the game. Sturdy emotional composure is essential for a goalie to learn and develop because (guess what) goals get scored in lacrosse games and goalies need to learn to respond properly to challenge. "We'll get the next one" has no greater purpose than to a goalie leading a team after a setback; as the center of attention after a goal his tone, body language, and demeanor will quickly spread to the rest of the team. If a goalie sees a correction that needs to be made, reminding a teammate that "we'll get the next one and here's how" is even better. It is a great accomplishment for a coach to teach this thinking and leadership to a team.
- BE LOUD! Goalies should let their defenders know who is cutting, where the ball is, who is passing... Let them know everything. Use your big boy outside voice. You may feel like you sound extremely dumb at practice but at higher levels your coaches and teammates will expect your loud talk to be automatic, and during a game talking will help out your defense and will make the difference in the outcome. The goalie is the captain of the defense and is in the best position to see what is happening, so let your teammates know what you see, every second of the game. Goalies who don't talk seem lazy and sometimes look stupid (not seeing the cutters, or even the shot!). Talking not only helps out your defense, but is the quickest path to improvement for a goalie because it allows you to be better prepared for the shot; since you are essentially narrating the game you are highly engaged in the flow of the action and better able to anticipate.
Here is a list of things that a goalie can say to help communicate with the defense. Defensemen should know this list as well because there are things they should say in response.
- "Ball's Side Right, Top Right, X" - Tells defensemen where the ball is on the field. This is the most basic talk to start with and should happen every time the ball moves on a pass or a carry. Defensemen should already be saying "I've Got Ball!".
- "Ball Down" - Any time the ball is on the ground. Everyone should say this.
- The goalie should occasionally remind the defense of which defensive set they are in, usually with a simple secret code word, i.e. "Aardvaark!" or "We're in Blue!". This is a good idea at the beginning of a defensive stand and also if chaos starts and the goalie wants to remind players to reset, or if there is a reason to switch to a different defense.
- "Mark Up" or "Number Up" or "Get Your Matchups" - Find the player you are guarding. The defensemen should call out the number of the player they are guarding: "I've got 23", etc.
- “(Teammate's Name i.e.) Will You're Hot" - Reminds Will he is the first defender to slide if needed and provide help. Will should already know this and should already be announcing "I'm Hot!". In times of confusion the goalie can also shout "Who's Hot?”, which is less effective since it is not specific to a player but is sometimes necessary to clarify or just remove doubt. The defensemen should respond vocally.
- "(Teammate's Name i.e.) Phil You're Two" - Reminds Phil he is the "two slide" and will cover for the hot slide (Will) if that first slide goes. Phil should already be saying "I'm Two!".
- "Cutter" - Offensive player is cutting to the net looking for a pass.
- "Check" or "Check Sticks" - Defense should check opponents' sticks because there is a dangerous pass coming.
- "Turn Him" or "Turn" or "Close The Gate" - A defender playing against a player with the ball should position their feet and body to force the opponent to change direction. Usually this is when the offense is attacking by carrying the ball from X and is to remind a defenseman to stay topside and force the opponent to stay behind the goal line extended (GLE).
- "Slide" - Bring an extra man to the person with the ball.
- "Reset" - Something dynamic like a slide or a contested ground ball or a failed clear has happened, or the defense has chased for possession of a shot, and is out of position. Making this call prompts the defense to hurry up and be ready to stop the next attack.
- "Sluff In" - The defense is spread out, making the slides too far to be effective, and the goalie wants the defenders to be in tighter to be better able to support each other and cut off passing lanes.
- "Press Out" - The defense is too tightly packed in and the offense has too much freedom to pass or maybe even shoot so the goalie wants the defenders to extend out farther.
- "Clear" - The goalie has the ball so the defense should set up the clear and be looking for a pass.
- "Break" - The goalie has the ball and wants the defense to break up field to get open for a pass on the run.
Clearly not every call will be used in every moment, however in every moment of a defensive stand there should always be lots of loud chatter happening on the field. The talk should be so loud and constant that people nearby who can't see the game can hear the goalie calls and know what is going on.
Lastly and very important.... A lacrosse goalie can not be afraid of the ball! In fact, they want the ball! My favorite goalies have lots of great self-talk in their mind during play, repeating "Throw the ball to me! C'mon I want the ball too! Throw me the ball!"