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There may be no position more important in lacrosse than goalie. Goalies make up the core of a defense and “run the show.” It’s no secret that they have a big responsibility. This vital player must make the stops, and if they don’t, they receive the blame if the ball goes in the net. According to Towson head coach Tony Seaman, very few teams have won championships without an above-average goalie.
In this week’s player development feature, we’re going to take a closer look at three key areas of goaltending: proper grip, stance and footwork. Without having a solid foundation of these goaltending fundamentals, it will be difficult for a player to improve and rise to an elite level. However, if one can excel in these three areas, they’ll be well on their way to becoming a difference-maker in the game.
The top hand on the stick should be your dominant hand and should be placed on the top part of the stick as close to the head as possible. This positioning gives you much more control of the stick and allows you to get the stick head out to a shot. Plus, when the ball hits the stick, you want to be able to control the stick so it doesn’t turn on you and the ball ends up going in the goal.
Meanwhile, the bottom hand should be a comfortable distance apart from the top — about 10-12 inches, depending on one’s size and strength.
Also, keep in mind that a longer stick has the tendency to get caught on the body or uniform during play, but a shorter stick allows more freedom and less interference. But most of all, do what’s comfortable. For beginners, it’s recommended that you go with the shortest stick possible.
Next, the grip itself should make sure the wrists and hands are flexible. This is so the player can get to all parts of the cage quickly and save the ball. Meanwhile, your thumb should be to the side of the shaft. Sometimes, it’s preferred that you even wrap your thumb over the forefinger to give you more strength. However, make sure you don’t have a death grip or full-hand grip. This will take away the flexibility of your wrists. But with a flexible grip that features your knuckles pointing out, you won’t give up as many rebounds.
When talking about proper stance, goalies must always be bent. This allows you to get to the ground a lot quicker for low shots and your whole body is much more flexible this way. Never keep a straight back.
Next, your knees should be bent and avoid locking your legs. Locking your legs doesn’t allow you to step to the ball.
Meanwhile, your chest should be leading and out in front of you while your head is up and hands are in front of your chest and out in front of your body. Remember, never place the stick behind your head. It should be out in front of you so you can get to all directions and meet the ball. Also, goalies should always be “pigeon-toed” and on the balls of their feet. This allows you to step quicker to shots overall.
Proper footwork is very key to becoming a solid goaltender, and stepping toward a shot is vital. Remember, the shortest distance to any shot is a straight line. Therefore, your hands, chest, body and helmet should all lead toward a shot.
When a player shoots to the opposite side of the stick, a goalie should lead with that same foot. Therefore, a right-hander should step with his left foot and a left-hander should step with his right foot. However, for shots to the stick side, goalies should lead with their strong side foot and their body must follow.
A terrific warm-up drill that works on these footwork techniques actually involves no lacrosse stick at all. The participating player will make believe a stick is in his hand. Meanwhile, his partner will throw a ball to his right and left sides and the player must use proper footwork to catch and meet the ball with his hand.
The drill should include 10 throws to the right side and 10 throws to the left side. Throughout the duration of the drill, coaches should always watch the player’s feet. Make sure all body parts stay square to the shoulders, too. Then, switch to high and low throws on both sides after the initial 20 total reps.
The previous goaltending techniques can be found on the Championship Productions’ DVD “Becoming a Champion Lacrosse Player: The Goalie” featuring Tony Seaman. To see additional goaltending videos in our extensive catalog, click here.
Towson University men’s lacrosse coach Tony Seaman considers many of the drills based on the 4 v 4 set to be very effective for game-planning. This formation typically allows coaches to be flexible with personnel and gives them the chance to move players around in order to create a variety of game-like situations — and the more game-like scenarios you can implement in practice, the better. Plus, just one or two coaches can administer the drill, which is efficient for getting things done both offensively and defensively.
Offensively, the 4 v 4 set typically features a midfielder up top (1), a midfielder or attacker (2) on the left wing, a midfielder or attacker (3) on the right wing and an attackman behind the goal (4) — forming a 1-2-1 set. The offensive players are guarded by the typical defense they’d see in a game situation. The 1 player is defended by a short-stick defender (5), the 2 player is defended by a short-stick defender (6), the 3 player has a long-stick defender (7) on him, and the 4 player has a long-stick defender (8) on him behind the net. Keep in mind, if you usually put a long-stick defender on the 1 man, just replace him with the 7 defender (or you can use 3 or 4 long-stick defenders in the drill so that your personnel gets used to this style of play).
Instead of the typical 4 v 4 formation mentioned above, this drill has two attackers starting out behind the cage and then two more stationed out in front of the cage, creating a 2-1-1 formation.
The 4 player, who has possession of the ball on the right side behind the net, throws across to 3 and then sets a pick for 3. Now, the 3 man tries to drive off the pick and get a lead step. The offense has an advantage here as the 6 defender has to slide and pick up 3, who is now open at the side of the cage. All the while, this opens up 2, causing the 5 defender to drop down and play him, and that opens up 1 on the backside, who is moving towards the crease.
Coaches can create a variety of different options off of that pick, but the important thing is that the offensive guys get an idea of how to pick and how to create openings for their fellow attackers behind the cage.
Coaches and players can also work on the defensive aspect of how to play against the picks behind. In this scenario, the 7 and 8 defenders have choices here. When 4 carries the ball to the left and 3 picks the 8 defender, we can have 7 come across and tell 8 that the pick is coming. The 7 defender also steps back on the play and below the crease so he can allow 8 to move through thanks to the open space as 4 drives. Also, if the 7 defender can see this pick coming, he can yell out “switch” and take that man if 8 cannot get through.
Defenders can also jump the pick behind. Let’s say 3 comes over and picks 8 and 7 comes over with him and 4 now is coming off the pick with the ball. 7 then jumps out and tries to turn the attacker and 8 still goes with him and creates a double team on the ball. The goalie can also go out and play the open man, which in this case would be the 3 player who set the initial pick. The goalie sees this and covers the open man (3) because no one can shoot the ball from behind the net and the other players are being covered out in front. The goalie is safe to play that, especially if he is athletic.
When the ball is behind the net, you can also implement the pick and roll, which is a popular 2-man play. In this set, 3 passes to 4 and then sets the pick for 4, and 4 comes off the pick with the ball before getting jumped by the defense. Meanwhile, 3 sneaks out to the side after recognizing the double team and 4 hits him with the pass. 4 then passes to 3 before the goalie can get there and he comes around with the ball and deposits an accurate shot on net.
These drills are featured in the Championship Productions DVD “The Best Drill in Lacrosse: 4 v 4” featuring Towson head coach Tony Seaman. For more videos featuring Coach Seaman and Towson lacrosse, click here.