For us, as goalies, we need 3 basic things in order to effectively prepare ourselves to perform at a high level. They are, in order: a dynamic warm-up to get our blood flowing, elevate our core temperature, and ready our muscles for activity; a hand-eye coordination warm-up to prepare the mechanisms in our nervous system that are responsible for processing visual stimuli and coordinating the physical motion of our limbs; and, finally, the shooting warm-up to reinforce position-specific technique and movement. Now, as a coach, you must be wondering how in the world you can fit all of that into your existing practice plans. I promise you, it's easy if you take a moment to rethink how you manage your practice planning, as well as empower your player to take responsibility for their own preparation.
To keep this narrowly-focused part of practice from taking away too much attention from the broader team-focused practice time, I recommend that you implement a standard called "Goalie Time". Basically, this standard requires all goalies to report to the field before the rest of the team, about 15-30 minutes should do. One item that you'll want to explicitly clarify about "Goalie Time" is that the players are to be dressed and ready at the stated time. It does you, and them, no good for them to arrive 15 minutes before practice just to take 10 minutes putting their gear on and tying their shoes. This is a point you will want to be sure to cover with parents as well as players. Now that you've got all this extra time, let's break down each component of a good warm-up.
[Disclaimer: You don't have to follow this as rote instruction. I encourage you to use the framework and make it your own. In fact, I encourage you do for your players what I am doing for you right now. Give them the framework, explain the purpose behind it, and encourage them to make it their own.]
THE DYNAMIC WARM-UP
For those of you not already familiar with the concept of a dynamic warm-up, it is essentially a period of light form-running and agility exercises. It's a fairly recent evolution in the science of sports health, and it's use has been proven to minimize the occurrence of sports-related injuries, especially to muscles. If you have not already replaced the traditional pre-practice static stretch for your whole team, I encourage you to go speak with your athletic trainer about some sport-specific dynamic warm-ups. For now, we'll focus on the dynamic warm-up specific to a lacrosse goalie.
- Start with 15-yard form running (about 4-6 reps) to just help get blood flowing and elevate our core temperature. This can include half-speed jog, high steps, butt-kicks, lunge walks, toe pulls, skip and twist, frankensteins etc. There are literally hundreds of variations for these, and there are a few examples in the video linked below.
- Next, we're doing 10 deep squats to engage the large muscles in our lower body. With feet shoulder width apart, the player will bend his knees in order to drop his hips as low as possible. Tell them to pretend they're sitting down on a very small chair. It's important that they keep their back straight and to not brace themselves with their hands on their knees or waist. Balance is key, a slow pace is better.
- Next, we're going to do some one and two legged hopping routines to engage the smaller muscles in our lower body, as well as the quick-twitch and balance mechanisms in our nervous system. You can effectively accomplish the same thing with a jump-rope, the lacrosse goalies' best friend.
- We're going to finish up the dynamic warm-up with 10-second agility exercises using either a painted line on the field (beginners) or the shaft of their stick (advanced). There are a number of variations for these exercises, and you can find some examples in the video below. But, you'll want to make sure to cover the basics: lateral, forward/back, and opposing variations (like scissor-jumps or 2-steps).
You can watch this short video to get a better idea what each of these might look like.
All in, you're only looking at about 6-10 minutes for this dynamic warm-up. It should be noted that this is the most important part of the warm-up and should not be skipped. This is especially true after a long bus ride or time off between games during a tournament.
THE HAND-EYE COORDINATION WARM-UP
After the dynamic warm-up, you want to have them do a hand-eye coordination warm-up to begin engaging the mechanisms in our bodies that process visual stimuli and are responsible for kinesthesia. This should only take 3-5 minutes and can include a partnered soft toss, butt-end saves, hot potato, fill-the-bucket, or even juggling (I ask every goalie I coach if they can juggle the first time we meet, and if they can't I teach them how as my first lesson). As a coach, you really only want them to do one or two variations per warm-up period, but you should encourage them to choose a different one every day. I've taken most variations of these drills from other sports in which similar skills are used, so I encourage you to do the same with any that you find in your travels. And, please do share them.
THE SHOOTING WARM-UP
The final component to our warm-up is the shooting portion. Even though this is the part that every coach has been doing for a while, and is well aware of, I encourage you to look at ways of making it more effective. One thing that you will want to keep in mind is to incorporate many different shot types during this portion of your warm-up. What I mean by that is that you'll want to include different ranges of your shots (inside, mid-range, and deep shots), different shot locations (high, hips, low, bounce, etc.) and release points (overhand, side-arm, underhand, etc.), as well as shots off movement to simulate game-like scenarios (moving from pipe-to-pipe, turning from facing the goal to find the shooter above the cage, etc.).
If you are lucky enough to have more than one goalie on your roster, you'll also need to make sure you get the "back-ups" regular reps. Remember, as a coach you're only one freak accident away from having your entire season resting on the shoulders of your back-up. So, make sure you're giving them attention as well. I like to rotate my goalies through every 4 shots before practices, while during pregame warm-ups, I'll have the starting goalie take 6 shots per rotation while each of the back-ups will take 2 shots per rep. This rotation schedule accomplishes two things: first, it emulates the ebb and flow of a game situation; and second, it gives each goalie a chance to rest between reps. Whether or not you decide to have them rotate through in drills throughout practice is up to you. However, you'll definitely want to make sure every goalie on your roster is getting regular practice, even if it is to lesser extent than your starter. Your focus during this portion of the warm-up, as a coach, is on efficient movement toward the ball and sound save-technique. We're encouraging the development of muscle memory here, so make sure you point out anything you see that is not consistent with the technique you have been teaching them.
To start the shooting I'll usually begin inside (about 5 yards out) where I'm basically just tossing the ball towards the goal with no real intention of scoring. I just want them to start moving and building confidence in their ability. Then I'll move out to about 10 yards, where I'll be shooting with about 75% of full power. I finish this up with deep shots at about 90-100% of full power, so they can see what game-speed shots will look like. Each of these phases I do from the middle part of the field, and I'll go through each distance twice before moving on to other shooting areas.
Next, I'm going to incorporate having the goalies move immediately preceding the save. This is where you can start to get creative and find different game-like scenarios to incorporate making saves off of movement. You can do you wing-shooting with the goalie starting on the opposite pipe and he has to come all the way across the goal-line to make the save. I tell my goalies that I'm not going to shoot until I see them move, and as soon as they move, even a flinch, I'm going to start my shooting motion. This emphasizes fast and efficient motion to get in position, as well as training them to get their eyes on the ball while it's still in my stick. I use the same rules for when I have the goalies start with their backs to me, like when the ball carrier is below the GLE before feeding someone above the goal. They'll have to turn around quickly and keep themselves balanced in order to make the save. Again, I'll start my shooting motion as soon as they move.
I know that might be a lot to take on right now, especially if you don't have any assistants. However, you can always have a player or two take on this portion of the practice as long as you explain to them the purpose is to warm-up their teammate and not just rip shots for 15 minutes. Remember, you don't have to do everything that I've listed here exactly as I've written it. This is simply a format that you can use to make sure you're effectively preparing one of the most critical positions on your team. My own warm-up has evolved and improved over the years as I've started to think about it more and more. I hope this encourages to think more about how you can improve and prepare your goalies.
As in all cases, I welcome comments and questions.