Every lacrosse goalie has to start somewhere. If you're brand new to this position and are looking for the basics on how to make a save, this post is for you.
Even if you are a more experienced goalie who has gotten away from the basics, reviewing this post can help you improve your save percentage by getting back to the fundamentals of making a save.
I always recommend to experienced goalies who are going through a slump to get back to the basics. Lacrosse goalie can be a very complex position but let's break down the save in the simplest way we can.
Before I start with the basics of making a save, be sure to get protected. An injured goalie can't make saves and feeling protected will increase your confidence. So before you step into goal be sure to strap on all the required lacrosse goalie gear and perhaps even some optional protective gear.
Get Setup in a Proper Lacrosse Goalie Stance
In many different sports there is a "ready position". For lacrosse goalies that is no different and its extremely important that goalies are in a good, athletic ready position prior to the shot.
The ready position is the foundation for all your saves. A good ready position gives you the best chance to make a save. It puts your body into an athletic position ready to spring and explode towards shots.
Here are the 7 elements of a perfect lacrosse goalie stance:
Feet a little wider than shoulder width apart
Arms out and away from body
Proper grip on the stick
Straight, flat back with slight bend at the hips
Hands well positioned
What you'll notice about different lacrosse goalies at the top levels is that there are several different styles of play, and all can be successful.
So instead of obsessing over the 7 elements, I encourage lacrosse goalies to ask themselves this question: are you in an athletic position?
If you're having trouble with a particular type of save, it's often because your ready stance is missing one or more of these elements.
Check out a few top level goalies and their ready stances. Try to imitate this in your own ready stance.
So the first step in lacrosse goalie save basics is to get into a good ready stance.
Position Yourself Properly on the Arc
Sometimes making a save is all about being in the right place at the right time.
That means being in the right place on the goalie arc. A lacrosse shot is fast, especially in today's game where stick technology and stronger players has upped the average velocity us goalies must face.
The idea of the lacrosse goalie arc is be setup in the right position to limit the amount of movement you need to reach the shot.
For beginning goalies I recommend you start with a traditional arc that has 5 points - pipe left, 45° left, top center, 45° right, pipe right.
Represented visually the traditional 5 point arc looks like this:
Properly positioning yourself on the arc is something that's done pre-shot that will give you the highest chance to make the save.
For the beginner goalie, the objective is to be directly in the center of the goal from the shooter's perspective. This allows the goalie to efficiently cover every single inch of the 6' by 6' goal.
We want to limit the amount of movement along the arc because when a goalie is moving from point to point on the arc they're not in the ready position. Therefore we use the 5 point arc vs. constantly moving every time an attackman dodges.
Notice how in the picture below of MLL goalie Jordan Burke he's splitting the cage directly in half from the shooter's perspective. He's also in a great ready stance.
Wherever we are on the arc we want to be square to the shooter. This means our toes, our knees, our shoulders and our face mask are all pointed at the shooter.
Being comfortable finding your spot on the goalie arc and fluidly moving from one spot to another on the arc takes a lot of practice.
But for beginners I recommend the 5 point traditional arc.
Top Hand Drives Straight to the Ball
First a definition - our "top hand" is the right hand for righties, and the left hand for lefties. It controls the head of the stick and is placed right against the plastic of the head.
On the shot, the goalie drives his/her top hand straight to the ball with rattlesnake-like quickness.
Doesn't matter where the shot goes (stick side high, off stick high, off stick hip, etc.) top hand goes in a straight line to the ball.
"Straight to the ball" is an important concept. Many goalies have no problems moving their top hand straight to the ball with no stick.
However once the stick is in their hands, all of a sudden you'll see the top hand take indirect or circular routes to the shot.
This is especially common on off stick hip or off stick low shots.
If a shot goes to our off stick hip side the top hand should follow the red path, not the brown:
Remember the shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line: so practice moving your top hand directly to the shot.
Here's MLL goalie Scotty Rodgers practicing driving his top hand directly to the shot:
A video posted by Scotty Rodgers (@scottyrodg42) on Oct 31, 2016 at 5:22pm PDT
Lead Foot Steps Into Path of the Shot
As we throw our top hand at the ball, we’re going to use our body to give it support.
We’ll find that if we support our hand with our body we can get our hand (and thus our stick - stick controls head) to where it needs to be faster.
We’ll also put our body in position to help with a save in the event we miss the ball with our hand/stick. While the goal of every shot is to catch it in our stick, we'll often make body saves as a result of this lead step.
So we’ll combine our lead hand with a lead step.
The simplest way to the describe the lead step is whatever side the ball is shot on, that side becomes the lead foot.
Drawing a line perpendicular to the ground down the center of body. If the shot is to the left of the line, we step with our left foot. If the shot is to the right of the line, we step with our right foot. This is our lead step.
For beginner goalies I recommend this step is at a 45 degree angle to help cut down the angle of the shot.
As goalies get more advanced you can have a look at this post to understand the different type of steps we can use: 45 degree vs lateral step: which is best?
Finish with a Shuffle Step
When you watch video of yourself making saves, if you pause the tape at the moment you make contact with the ball, for the majority of saves, the only things that will have moved are your lead hand and lead foot.
However a lacrosse goalie must finish every save.
To finish the save I teach lacrosse goalies to use a "shuffle step". The shuffle step looks like this:
With the trail foot (i.e. foot that did not take lead step) we'll step and then we'll step again with our lead foot to land in a balanced ready position.
We also finish the save with our bottom hand too. Using the bottom hand to aid in stick rotation.
Here's another GIF of former MLL pro Jordan Burke demonstrating the shuffle step to finish his saves:
The idea of finishing a save is to be ready to make another save in the event of a rebound or to be in a good athletic position to make an outlet pass.
Putting It All Together
When all the elements of the save process are put together you get this:
And perhaps this...
The lacrosse save: ain’t it a thing of beauty?
The position of lacrosse goalie can get pretty complex but if you had to distill “making a save” down to its roots, it would be this:
Good ready position
Well positioned on the arc
Top hand drives to the shot
Lead foot steps into shot path
Shuffle step to finish the save
Whether you are brand new goalie or an experience goalie going through a rut, learning the basics of making a save is critical to being a great goalie.
Once you understand the basics of making a save its time to hit the practice field. Just like you can’t learn to swim by reading a book, you can’t learn to make saves simply by reading this post.
It takes experience to develop the perfect goalie technique.
Practice, practice, practice!