Glossary - Goaltending (See Skill Analysis)
The controversial issue surrounding goaltender equipment is the temptation to use equipment that fits too large, in an attempt to “cover as much net as possible.” There are three major reasons that this temptation should be avoided. First and foremost, player safety; over-sized equipment tends to leave gaps around the collarbone, armpits and elbows (see injuries). Second, it is an "illegal equipment" penalty if a goalie’s equipment doesn’t conform to the shape of their body, nor adhere to the limits set-forth by the CLA (Canadian Lacrosse Association) on how far it can protrude off the body (3 inches maximum). Lastly, over-sized chest protectors/arm pads drastically inhibit the movement of goaltenders (especially younger ones), which consequently takes away from their ability to pass the ball (transition) after a save (both accurately and at a distance); also inhibiting leg manoeuvrability. It is important that coaches don’t let "game misconducts," weak self-efficacy and/or lack of mental focus trump actual real skill development in their goaltenders.
There are certainly some unique aspects to goaltender equipment that players and coaches need to be aware of. Goalie equipment generally includes: a hockey goalie helmet (CSA approved with a throat protector), a chest protector and arm pads (usually one-piece; box-specific), goalie pants (hockey pants are acceptable for ages peewee and younger), a goalie jock (with extra lower abdomen protection), leg pads (box-specific), goalie gloves (box-specific) and athletic shoes (safety toed shoes are also permissible).
In terms of fitting, goalie pants should hang to just above one’s knee caps, and after the age of “peewee” it is recommended that they be the box-specific version, which offers more protection around the back and kidneys of the goalie. Leg pads should come about a half way up the thigh, pertaining to leg height appropriation; some goalies also wear knee pads underneath their leg pads to protect them while in a butterfly position. Be sure that one’s throat protector, leg pad straps and toe flaps stay in place at all times during play (use electrical or plastic tape where needed), otherwise informing the referee of the need for equipment repair (see stopping momentum).
Goalie shafts can be either titanium, composite or wood, with goalies developing preferred methods for taping the “shaft” and butt-end of the stick, and most also taping a big “goalie knob” (taped handle) near the “throat” of the stick as well (to help take up more space in the “five-hole”). A knob at the throat is an “illegal equipment” penalty should it exceed one inch in its radius from the shaft, and it also makes the stick harder to throw with (changing its balance).
Amongst the various styles of goalie heads there are some major differences (each with advantages and disadvantages), namely to do with size (shape), weight, durability and cost. The synthetic (field lacrosse style) two-piece goalie stick is round, notorious for its light weight, ease for passing and maintaining (see stick stringing). There are also triangle-shaped synthetic two-piece goalie sticks which are significantly larger (creating more surface area in contact with the ground) and help reduce the tendency of the stick to “spin” when hit by a shot (with the ball potentially going into the net).
The downfall of synthetic (plastic) sticks in general lies in their durability and susceptibility to breaking when hit by a hard shot or slash. Whereas, the traditional one-piece wood goalie stick is much heavier, harder to handle and more difficult to maintain, but also the most durable, most resistant to “spinning” and regarded by many as the best for taking up the space between the five-hole.
Goalies will ultimately determine their own preference through the use of various stick styles, taping and stringing methods; although most elite goalies strive to be competent with a traditional wood stick when given the chance (Junior & Senior Leagues mostly). Having said that, the National Lacrosse League (NLL) only permits “field style” synthetic goalie sticks, so players need to determine their team and personal goals (short term & long term), choosing a stick accordingly.
If aspiring goalies are trying to make the transition from synthetic two-piece to one-piece wood, the best way to scaffold is to first use a wooden shaft with a synthetic head. In all circumstances, but especially during these stages of change, goalies should be spending as much time as any player (“runner”) “tweaking” their stick and ensuring that they are able to at the very least make mid-range passes.
If a goalie cannot throw effectively, it literally changes an opponent’s game plan and potentially their entire transition system (i.e. Full Floor Press = highly effective). Goalies need to be an offensive threat in transition, and highly effective goalies are able to amass upwards of double-digit (10+) assists, throughout the course of a season.
Examples of this muscle memory include: feeling for posts, various footwork patterns relative to the “5 standard angles,” finding land marks and tracking rebounds, while continually reacting on shots (fake shots) and communicating. The most important habit for a goalie to form, however, is to keep their stick “between their legs” and as close to the ground as possible while moving around the goalie triangle, moving laterally, making kick saves, and on high fakes.
Another habit for intermediate/advanced goalies to get into is to stand at the top of their crease during face-offs and when the ball is in the offensive zone. In this way they are prepared to for any loose balls, possibly able to pick-off a rainbow pass, and otherwise being closer to the bench in the case of a delayed penalty.
Stand up goalies are notoriously bigger and slower, but not all. A stand-up goalie that has quick feet can be a dominant force on small nets.Stand-up goalies generally prefer the "box" zone defense while playing short handed, and a team defense that generally keeps offensive players out of the middle, with shots coming from the perimeter.
Floppers utilize their reflexes and anticipation, while seeking to perfect the art of "give and take." It is often good practice to have a “back-up goaltender” that plays a different style of either stand-upor reactionary, in case the starting goalie is having a bad game. In this way, the opposing players will not be used to shooting against the same style goalie, which often can interrupt their “momentum” and “flow” on offense.
Goalies need to spend significant time focusing mentally, and also getting physically “prepared” in the “informal & formal warm-ups.” Players/teammates should be attuned to the needs of the goalie during a warm-up and be prepared to purposely hit the goalie on their first couple of shots, or until the goalie or team captain indicates otherwise. Coaches need to protect their goalies in this regard and be sure to enforce simple team rules. Players need to warm-up their sticks as well, but the confidence and readiness of the goalie trumps any player (especially beginner goalies who may be scared of the ball).
Players have all week to get their sticks ready, while goalies have comparatively less time to “take shots” (practice) and get “in the zone.”
Should the ball move to the crease position, goalies need to “feel for their post” on the short-side, in order to ensure that no shots are able to get in the net along the post.
This concept also holds true as a good landmark for repositioning and comfort within the goalie "triangle." When the ball is at the “shooter ball position,” goalies should also still be able to reach the post with their glove hand at arm’s length.
Think "balance, body (standing big) & step," before and after the shot. Goalies should strive to stay on their feet (for maximum net coverage) while keeping their “eyes on the ball” and constantly repositioning to “square up” (align) to the ball carrier's stick head as best as possible (see “5 standard angles”).
They should hold their goalie stick in their dominant hand (right = regular, left = "goofy"), just above the “goalie knob;” ideally with the hand that would be their top hand while passing (quicker transition: rebound control -> throwing position -> pass execution). The “stick hand” should be holding the shaft firm, halfway down the goalie’s thigh, tight to their body and they should be leaning on the stick slightly (positioned 3 to 6 inches in front of one’s feet); "dragging the stick" whenever moving.
The “shaft” of the stick should pass between one’s elbow and body, with the arm-pit becoming a lever in aiding with the movement of the stick; the rest of the shaft comes out behind the goalies shoulder.
The glove hand should then be placed beside the hip with one’s elbow slightly bent creating an "arm triangle" that covers up the “six-hole,” otherwise used to reach to save low perimeter shots.
In its entirety, described above is the "goalie stance," which is where most of the bad habits goalies develop will lie.
When a goalie repositions with the movement of the ball, they can cut down the ball carrier’s angle by challenging out if the ball is on the perimeter, while otherwise always keeping their hips “square” (aligned) to the ball. When a player is open “in tight,” the goalie should drop back towards the goal-line; at all times “standing big” and “squaring up” as best as possible.
If a goalie gets hit in their chest protector with the ball while standing in this position it is otherwise known as getting hit in the "bread basket," with goalies cupping the "rebound" as best as possible.
Outside of the standard angles and staying square to the ball carrier, goalies also need to account for a players’ release point when shooting; there are an infinite number of release points, and goalies need to be aware that a player can fake a shot as well. Having said that, goalies will often “play the stick” and position themselves more towards the stick-handedness of the ball carrier (see “eyes of the stick”), especially if the ball-carrier “telegraphs” their true intentions or stays relatively stationary before shooting (i.e. in cases of very little offensive ball movement).
Goaltender movements should be made using shuffle steps, unless the ball is passed on a diagonal from side-to-side (east- west) or crease-to-crease (GLE). In this and other “desperation” scenarios, the goalie may also need to “lunge” (drop-step) across the net and at times swing their stick over to stop quick stick opportunities. Having said that, quick “footwork” and anticipation should be relied upon most in order to stop a shot that is a product of quick east-west ball movement.
With offensive ball movement, goalies need to effectively move through their “goalie triangle” as the ball moves through the “standard offensive positions,” also adjusting to the corresponding release point of a potential threat. Occasionally, acrobatic saves are necessary to defend against quick ball movement, so goalies need to be able to “recover” quickly to the ready position, while still keeping their eye (tracking) on the ball and playing the angle. With rebounds and quick passing, goalies need to be able to reposition quickly and efficiently, in order to be successful.
Goalies should regularly practice repositioning as quick as possible, shifting weight from one foot to the other between the 5 standard angles (muscle memory) while having a feel and understanding of where they are in the net at all times (see "goalie triangle"). The large majority of saves are strictly positional (see mental focus), whereas perhaps only 25% of saves are the result of goalie reactions (i.e. glove saves, kick saves, give & take away etc.).
If ever in doubt of whether they are in proper positioning, goalies should "feel for posts," or otherwise look for landmarks in the arena, found during pre-game warm up.
Very small “shifts” in position are generally all that is required to reposition as the ball-carrier moves around, but during ball swinging steps can be much longer depending on the length and direction of the pass.
When the ball is passed on a diagonal from side-to-side (east west) or crease-to-crease (GLE), the goalie may also need to side “lunge” or drop step toward the far post, swinging their stick over to stop any quick stick opportunities (half-butterfly).
The weight of the goalie should be on this short-side leg, with their right foot ready to react to any shots to the “goalies far side,” or “ball swinging.”
The goalie’s short-side arm/hip should also be as close to the post as comfortably possible, with their hand feeling for the post (as a guide) when repositioning during "ball movement."
The further out the ball is, the farther the goalie can come out to challenge the shooter. Goalies must be aware not to challenge too far out though, especially in a short-handed situation where there is more risk of back door “quick-stick” goals against.
“Goaltender communication” should be: concise (descriptive), trustworthy (intelligent), loud, positive (the majority of the time) and/or encouraging towards team camaraderie (developing pride).
Goalies should be able to anticipate the actions of the opponent better than anyone else on the team and be able to let their defense know if they are out of position, or if the ball is loose.
Players need to listen and follow the goalie requests!
As with “finishing a check” for a player, finishing the play if you’re a goalie means to track the ball until it is in your pads, otherwise “tracking rebounds” and always repositioning to the proper angle (all of which are the most important habits related to the position of a goaltender).
Whenever a player gets "in tight" with the ball, the goalie should be starring at the players stick, magnifying their focus and reading the body language of the shooter.
Coaches and teammates should be sensitive to the highs and lows goalies are experience, keeping interactions as positive as possible (coaches: 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative) and keeping the goalies confidence high.
Successful goaltenders need to have a “short memory,” being able to earnestly "re-focus" (see optimal level of excitement), control their emotions and concentrate on maintaining good habits, instead of getting discouraged by goals against. At the end of the day, goals are going to be scored in a lacrosse game; it is the timing of saves that is just as important as how many go in. Some games are quick-paced and lack defense at both ends of the floor, with the storyline becoming “who made the save when it counted?” A goalie that is composed during these sorts of clutch situations is more valuable than a goalie that plays good one game and terrible the next (inconsistent).
The expectation of any team is that their goalie will give them a chance to win the game; never will the goalie be held solely for responsible for a team losing. In order to put the team in the best position to win, goalies need to be highly proactive, strong communicators (see goalie communication) and have a thorough understanding of the game. Also, they need to be able to properly position themselves and the defense, in the best way possible in order to prevent goals against.
Goalies should “practice like they play” and treat every repetition as a threat; expecting teammates to shoot to score (be “ready”) and always being vocal with their defenders in drills involving the defense. The marker of a great goalie is consistency; undoubtedly this virtue is the product of high standards in regard to the mental focus and effort required to always be alert and in position (this alertness will deteriorate with fatigue).
If a player crosses the imaginary floor division while moving across the net, essentially they have run out of room on the far-side in terms of what would be considered a quality shot (bad shot). At this point, goalies should be sure to stay tight to the far post (“feeling for the post”), not giving up their position unless they are absolutely sure the ball-carrier is going to shoot back to the short-side. Advanced goalies must also be aware of “BTB’s” and cripplers at this point as well.
In order to consider all of these different factors in a matter of seconds, a goalie’s mental focus must one of their best qualities (“always be alert”), alongside having a thorough understanding of how lacrosse is played and the personnel being defended against. Goalies need to scout/study offensive specialists and know tendencies/patterns pertaining to a player’s shooting habits (shot selection), release points and body postures.
The importance of good eyesight must also not be underestimated, as the trick for goalies to avoid fakes is to always keep their “eye’s on the ball” while also being aware of body, shoulder and head movement. When a ball carrier is approaching an area that would be considered a quality shot, this means to keep their eyes on the “head” of a player’s stick and train oneself to watch the ball leave the stick before reacting (less likely to “bite” on fakes). BE PATIENT and wait out the shot fakes.
Aside from always “tracking the ball,” goalies should be heavily reliant upon their ability to quickly and efficiently reposition within the “5 standard angles.” There is no set-order that the ball will move, so goalies must be able to reposition quick enough to square up to any angle, which is toughest when the ball is swung from side-to-side in a quick stick scenario.
Sometimes the play develops so fast that all the goalie can do is make a desperation movement back to the “far” post with a reverse “lunge step” and/or stick swing toward the uncovered angle. When defending a potential quick stick off of a skip pass, goalies should be sure to stay on their feet and avoid the “half-butterfly,” which gives them a chance to get back into position if the player doesn’t quick stick the ball upon receiving the pass.
Goalies should be careful not to “step out” too far, as they risk giving up quick stick goals (skip passes) off of outside shots, and dip & dunks on inside shots.
When the ball carrier shoots the goalie needs to attack the ball with their body, especially on bounce shots (which reduces a bounce shots’ effectiveness). The one exception to this strategy is in a short-handed situation, where a goalie can make the choice to either play reactionary (“deep” in the net) with more “pressure” applied to shooters (inviting the crease players to shoot), or by playing stand-up and challenging the shooters with defenders “locking off” the crease players.
Usually a stand-up goalie style that likes to challenge plays best within a box zone, while reactionary style goalies prefer the diamond zone.
While making this manoeuvre the goalie’s foot should not be raised off of the ground and it should be kicked out and towards the ball. The other option on a low shot would be to drop into the half-butterfly, although a stand-up style is generally preferred.
Glove hand location is a personal preference, depending on the situation, something that beginner goalies will become more aware of as they develop. Goalies must learn to be active with this hand, keeping it loose and “ready” to react in anticipation of perimeter shots towards the “low corner” on the “glove-side.”
The other option is to position this arm against their waist, forming an “arm triangle” (upper arm -> elbow -> lower arm).
Whether stepping (moving laterally) to the “stick-side” or “glove-side,” depending on the direction of the shot, the stick, leg & body should move together (as a unit).
Another stick maneouvre when the goalie feels a rebound bouncing at their feet is the behind-the-back sweep, or "swipe," whereby the goalie takes a step forward and swipes their stick behind their back with one hand, sweeping any stray balls away from the goal-line.
Defenders should make every effort to prevent an “inside shot.” Goalies as well, need to take an active role communicating with teammates in order to prevent players from getting open in-tight (see goalie communication).
If they do find themselves up against a ball carrier that is open in tight, goalies should be sure to keep the player’s stick head in their peripheral vision (see defending fakes) and rely more on their lateral movement as opposed to just standing big.
Goalies need to keep their glove hand tight to their body, otherwise project it outward as they lean to the side or drop into the half-butterfly, in anticipation of the shot. These are the sort of movements that are usually made by a goalie that is reacting to “inside shots” in the “prime scoring area.”
Usually reactionary goalies are best at this manoeuvre, but all should beware not to move too late or the ball will be in the back of the net. Moreover, if the goalie flinches too early (lacking "disguise"), the ball carrier could recognize the tip-off and shoot to where the goalie is currently standing.
The degree of "give" should be dependent on the skill of the shooter, with egg & spooners given more and play makers given less; timing is critical.
Goalies can also entice players to shoot far-side or short side by “faking a shoulder block” to one side of the net and then exploding in the opposite direction at the last second, depending on the reaction of the shooter (see give & take).
Whatever way they might be "leaning" toward, goalies should be sure to move their entire body and commit to their final movement. Be wary of beginner goalies being tempted to jump on high shots, which should be discouraged by the coach.
A “half-butterfly” is a large side “lunge” step, either towards the “short-side” or “far-side” of the net, where the goalie will slide onto their lead leg while keeping their shoulders up to cover the top of the net. Goalies should beware that the half-butterfly opens up the five-hole for a brief moment, so it should be used sparingly. Goalies need to be able to recover quickly if they commit to a half-butterfly, which can be risky if the offense is able to quick stick the ball from side-to-side.
Often players will “telegraph” their true intentions, especially if they are being chased (see partial breakaway), so goalies should learn to “read” the eyes of a player and play coy until the last second (still aware of a “no look” shot, if advanced).
Elite goaltenders know the tendencies of their opponents and the breakaway move they prefer (“scouting”). If a goalie has a good read on what they think a player will do, ideally they make their move last (i.e. give & take away), using quick reactions. Having said that, they also cannot wait too long where a player would able to score with a simple shot around the pipes, or last second improvisation.
At the end of the day, goalies are expected to save around half of the breakaway’s they are faced with, with any save they do make being highly advantageous in terms of momentum (also vice-versa in terms of transition goals).
When a rebound cannot be controlled, the next course of action is for the goalie to immediately "track the ball" and reposition. “Communication” with defenders is a big part of this responsibility, and to the goaltender position as a whole.
Any loose balls around the crease should be scooped with 2 hands or picked up with the goalies hand; for loose balls outside of the crease, the goalie must be sure to have at least one foot in the crease while scooping, in order to avoid a "back in" call against.
Quality goaltender equipment and a goalies ability to cushion (corral) the ball after it hits their body (similar to a player having “soft hands”) or stick, goes a long way in terms of rebound control. With a shot that hits the goalies stick, the goalie should twist the stick slightly in the opposite direction of where it hits the stick in order to avoid stick "spinning," also in an attempt to corral the rebound. The action of “cupping” is the preferred method of controlling a high shot that is undoubtedly about to hit one’s “chest protector,” whereby a goalie drops their arms forward and absorbs the ball as it hits the chest protector, creating a sort of concave that effectively keeps the ball close by (instead of ricocheting into the corner or out of bounds).
They are free to run outside of their crease and play the ball where needed, even set a “goalie pick” as an opponent chases their teammate behind the net; but for the most part goalies are best to stay in their crease (especially beginners) instead of risking giving up an empty net goal (see 50/50 balls).
The greatest goalies play their “angles” well and also have superior "reactionary" ability; performing well against the best competition (clutch) and making timely saves when the team needs them most.
For beginners, rotate the goalies who are interested, and if none are interested, rotate all players through the position until one volunteers for the rest of the season.
In most cases, taking a two-minute “roughing penalty” would be completely acceptable, while in others, a “fighting penalty” might be necessary. As an unwritten rule, it is the responsibility of the nearest teammate to come to the defense of their goalie, when needed.
When a player “dives” through the crease and hits the goalie, the defender that is “chasing” should also dive and land on this player.
Players that talk to the goalie in an inappropriate way also should get a “talking to,” or potentially “roughed up,” as it can drastically effect the momentum of the game if not addressed.
Pulling the goalie during 4-on-4 play is another tactic, which indirectly gives a team a power-play. That said, offensive players need to be especially wary of reverse transition and getting the goalie back onto the floor without giving up an “empty net” goal. In these situations, the closest player to the bench needs to anticipate the shot and get a “head start” on a line change.
The most common time to “change the goalie” is when the other team has scored a number of consecutive goals, and clearly has the momentum. At this point, good coaches usually bring in the back-up goalie for a short or extended period of time (if they’re playing exceptionally well).
Coaches must be wary of excessively hot days and should constantly promote proper “hydration” (water intake) protocols both on and off of the floor (every 2 drills or 15-20 minutes during practice).
On game days, utilizing electric fans on the bench and in the dressing room are great sources of “heat management;” iced towels and ice packs (bags) also work particularly well. Players should be prepared with spare garments and garments that promote heat dissipation, wherever necessary.