Often in sports, we ask "What makes the great ones great?" Wayne Gretzky in hockey, Michael Jordan in basketball, Babe Ruth in baseball, Tom Brady in football are some of examples of athlete's at the top of their respective sport. While the "great ones" are often debated and argued, there is no doubt they possess the talent, skills, and work ethic that has made them successful.
While lacrosse continues to grow and the "great ones" continue to play, have retired, or are still working towards this pedestal, we can take a look at what makes a lacrosse goalie great. Like everything else, this can be debated, but we will focus on three aspects of the goalie position that make a special goalie.
- Communication: Often overlooked and not easy to do, effective communication is essential to be a successful goalie. Communicating in a way that your defensive unit is comfortable and respects can be the difference between a win or loss. Communicating in a commanding tone that is clear and concise allows all defensive players to listen and react. Goalies need to communicate sets, slide packages, ball location, slide guys, turns, and clearing terms in practice and games. Effective communication gets all 7 defensive players on the same page. Some defenses may not have the best athletes or most skilled players but they communicate as a group extremely well which makes them hard to play against. The goalie sees more than the rest of the defensive players and has to communicate these situations.
- Clearing: Throughout many years watching lacrosse, we continue to see a situation over and over. A goalie makes a great save then within seconds throws a bad clearing pass which leads to a turnover. Now you and your teammates have to play more defense and that save is quickly forgotten. The best goalies not only make saves but clear the ball consistently. Understanding your clearing patterns and making the correct decision will lead to successful clears. Watch film, talk through the clear with your defenseman, be a step ahead in your mind on where the next pass should go. Clearing is hard to emulate outside of practice or in a 1v1 setting. However, having good stick skills is step one of a successful clear. Continue to work on the wall with both hands. Work on throwing with your feet moving and working on throwing different types of passes (hard, soft, close, long). Similar to a quarterback and wide receiver, use a teammate to run clearing patterns. Work on throwing the ball to the spot they will be at rather than where they are.
- Mental: In lacrosse we often tell goalies to have a short memory. This is easier said than done but great goalies seem to be able to forget the past and focus on the present. Yes, every goalie wants to stop every shot. That is not going to happen. How do you react when you get scored on? Do you point fingers and blame teammates? Do you slam your stick off the ground or post? Or do you quickly put it in the past and focus on the next save? Not only do fans and the other team notice a frustrated goalie but defensive teammates notice it too. When teammates see a frustrated goalie, their attitudes seem to change. Every goalie is different in how they handle getting scored on. Some goalies will bring the defense in and talk about the mistake then move on. Some goalies will take a walk around their crease prior to the next faceoff to settle down. Find something that allows you to quickly forget and move onto the next play. Goalie is a pressure position in itself. The best ones have the mental toughness to eliminate this pressure and perform in all situations.
Comment with any thoughts or additions!