The position of goalie in lacrosse is perhaps one of the most challenging positions in all of sports. It requires a combination of athleticism, intelligence, and intestinal fortitude. Beyond the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of being a lacrosse goalie, many goalies rarely receive the necessary attention to improve their skill set. Even with teams that are lucky enough to have more than one coach on staff, rarely does that staff have enough experience with the position to be useful in developing their goalie(s). It's not just a tough position to play, it's quite a challenge to coach as well. I've spent nearly two decades as a goalie and goalie coach, and I'd like to share with you some thoughts to help improve one of the most critical parts of your team. I will start with some overall concepts and philosophies to help re-frame how you look at the position, and later posts will dig down deeper into drills, technique, and specific skill development activities.
First, I'd like to talk about breaking down the components of the position in order to emphasize the different skills you should devote time to improving. Being a good goalie is not just about having fast hands and being slightly insane. A good goalie needs to be athletic, have great stick skills, possess a high lacrosse IQ, and be able to (effectively) communicate to his team. Too often it is the case that the only attention the goalie receives to work on these areas are 5-10 minutes of shooting at the beginning of practice. This is the "warm-up" in the more traditional sense of the phrase, but does not give the player much opportunity to improve. We, as coaches, need to make an effort so we can help these players find the opportunity to improve. All it takes to do that is a little thoughtful planning.
It will be very helpful for your goalie(s), as well as managing the time you have for practice, if you implement a concept I call "Goalie Time". Basically, "Goalie Time" is getting your goalie(s) to the field 15-30 minutes before the rest of the team. It's an opportunity for the goalie(s) to go through a dynamic warm-up, a hand-eye coordination warm-up, and finally a shooting warm-up. More on these later. Having the goalie(s) arrive early will give them enough time to focus on skill development, without eating in to practice time or distracting the coaches from implementing game plans and team training. This also opens up the chance for the goalies to participate in the parts of practice that do not involve shooting. Which brings me to my next point.
As a coach, I strongly encourage all of our goalies to take part in the stick skills portion of practice, whether it be of the partner-pass or line-drill variety. You have no idea how effective a goalie can be if they are comfortable handling the ball, especially in pressure situations. Far too often, I see teams going through their stick skills part of practice while the goalie sits off to the side watching, or possibly doing some long passing. While long passing is important to develop, the volume of touches during partner-pass or line-drills has a number of ancillary benefits like improving hand-eye coordination and basic ball-handling. Be sure to get them involved in any drill where they are not needed to stop shots. Additionally, I think it can be especially useful for them work into the defensive drills too, as they are technically defenders after all. Not to mention it will certainly help them gain a much needed perspective into the challenges faced by their defensive teammates. This is a great coaching tool to use to help get a slumping goalie out of their funk, or conversely to apply some corrective pressure for a goalie that might have a slight attitude problem. What can I say...we're a pretty weird breed of people.
Lastly (for now), let me offer some insight into helping you deal with the emotional aspect of this position. In a high-scoring sport like lacrosse, you would imagine that getting scored on would not be too emotionally harmful. Well, every single goal is a wound to the psyche of your goalie, whether they let on or not. Dealing with this daily emotional onslaught can be one of the biggest factors in the success or failure of a goalie. To combat this we, as coaches, want to encourage a process-oriented approach to the position as much as possible, in comparison to a results-oriented approach. Mainly, this is to speak to your goalie(s) with a focus on how they did something and the decisions they made instead of simply the result of their actions. This will provide a two-fold benefit for your team. First, it will help to keep your goalie(s) emotions in check during difficult and high-pressure games. Allow them the opportunity to focus on a single play, a single shot, and a single pass without too much concern about the result. Did they make the right defensive call? Did they step to the shot with the correct foot? Did they make the best decision on the outlet pass? And so on. Secondly, the process-oriented approach focuses on the incremental improvement from play to play, game to game, and season to season. The idea is to have them, as the player, take responsibility for their own development, because you, as the coach, have 20 other players to worry about.
I will have more posts in the future drilling down further into some of these areas, including shooting drills and what would constitute as an effective warm-up. But, for now I welcome any thoughts or comments you might have about this post.