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Getting into a perfect lacrosse goalie stance before every shot is half the action for making consistent saves as a lax goalie.
One of the MLL’s longest-standing keepers, Mike Gabel, was an original member of the Chicago Machine. And then he spent 2011 with the Rochester Rattlers.
According to this, a goalie’s stance is the most critical building block of his game.
One of the first things a new goalie should learn is how to get set up in the proper stance to maximize their ability to make saves.
When you analyze video or still images, you’ll often notice that when a goalie is set up in a lousy stance at the time of the shot’s release, the ball goes in.
The general governing rule for a perfect lacrosse stance is to get into an athletic stance.
If there’s ever a question about your stance, ask yourself, “Am I in an athletic position?”
A proper goalie stance is also one that we can routinely get into and is the same every time.
The stance should be comfortable and also put the goalie into the best possible state to stop the oncoming shot.
As I’ve mentioned before in this article, there are many styles of lacrosse goaltending. Each goalie may have his own stance. Nonetheless, there are crucial elements of the perfect lacrosse goalie stance.
Finding Your Athletic Stance
The athletic stance is a term used in every sport, and it is the basis for movement. Whether you play hockey, basketball, baseball, or lacrosse, your athletic stance is imperative.
Your athletic stance needs to have the following qualities:
- It needs to feel comfortable.
- Your weight should be on the balls of your feet towards your big toe.
- The knees are bent and inside the feet to apply pressure at the correct angle.
- The ankles should be flexed into the ground, and you want it to be a strong link.
- The shoulders are over the knees, and the knees are bent over the toes.
- Your hands are out in front of you.
- Your chest and eyes are up.
- You are ready to move in any direction.
From this basic stance, we will create the foundation of a great goalie.
If this stance feels uncomfortable right now, it is probably due to a lack of flexibility and a lack of strength. In time you will get stronger, and you will be able to assume this position quickly.
Stick with it, and before you know it, you’ll be moving in the cage-like an all-star.
Why You Need an Athletic Stance
Your athletic stance is your base. It’s the beginning of all your moves. It is unique to you, within reason.
The athletic stance of a goalie who stands 5’6″ varies from someone who is 6’3″. Same thing for women versus men.
The bottom line is that the stance is the foundation for all your moves and saves. Without it, you have no base.
Does Your Stance Change?
Yes. Your stance will change over time.
There are a few things that will change your stance. Namely:
- Your strength. As you get stronger, you will be able to hold different postures.
- Your height and weight. As you get older, your limb length will change, thus affecting your stance.
- Your skill level. As you get better, you will find out what works best for you.
- Your positioning in the cage. There are certain times when standing in your basic stance is not efficient. This most likely happens when you are standing up against the post on shots that are closer to goal-line extended.
All in all, a solid basic stance will last you your whole career. It shouldn’t change drastically unless you are doing something wrong.
With good coaching, you will find a tremendous basic stance, and that should stay with you for a long, long time.
Your stance starts from the ground and works its way up.
Start with your feet positioned, balanced slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. As a goalie, be in attack mode, ready to move to a ball thrown at any position on the goal.
Coaches often tell players to bend their knees and keep their weight on the balls of their feet. It’s not that simple.
Don’t just have your knees in front of your body. Doing so will only transfer your weight to the front of your feet. Keep your chest leaning back, creating a passive posture.
Keep your knees slightly bent, and your hips pushed back, so your upper body moves forward in your stance, propelling you into attack mode.
It’s important to realize that much of your body weight is between your hips and shoulders. If you lean too far forward, it can drastically affect how you attack the ball and lead to poor habits.
When evaluating your stance, you want your upper-body weight somewhat forward, so you’re ready to move toward the shot.
Hands on Your Stick
Your hand and arm placement can either reward your efforts with a save or have you fighting against your body and equipment to get to the ball.
Some new goalies hold their sticks in ways that don’t complement the effort they’re putting into their stances. You want to get to the ball as fast as possible and control it after your stick makes contact.
One of the primary functions of your stick is saving the ball. Your top hand should be as close to the throat of the head as possible. Meanwhile, grip the stick in your fingers, away from the center of your palm.
Many goalies keep their bottom hands just below their top hands, allowing them a lot of speed but little control over their sticks. Others keep their bottom hands far from their top hands, limiting speed and range of motion but allowing for control if they get to the ball.
Balance is usually the answer. Separate your hands relative to your body type and arm length.
There are two helpful ways to determine a reasonable distance:
- Keep your hands waist-length apart
- Leave your top hand at the throat and hold the shaft against your forearm, placing your bottom hand at your elbow.
Put a piece of tape there to create the muscle memory until it comes naturally.
Hands in Your Stance
Most goalies start off keeping their hands and elbows in close to their bodies.
You should focus on keeping your hands out, away from your chest. Make saves in front of your body, not in tight like you’ve got alligator arms.
The goal is ensuring a free range of motion that will help you prevent issues like getting your stick caught in your equipment or jersey.
Keep the plane of your stick flat
It’s important to understand that it immediately looks smaller to the shooter any time you start tilting your stick.
Goalies should present their sticks out in front, as big as possible, to pose an obstacle to shooters.
Imagine there’s a thin vertical piece of glass in front of you. Don’t tilt your stick forward or backward enough to break the glass.
Keep your hands up
How tall you are should determine your stick placement. But it would be ideal if the lip of your stick is parallel with the crossbar.
If you’re a younger or shorter goalie, don’t jeopardize your stance to reach the crossbar. Keep your top hand up about as high as your eyes.
The 7 Key Elements of a Perfect Lacrosse Goalie Stance
Feet a Little Wider Than Shoulder Width
This is the way where you’ll feel most comfortable in the cage. You could move in any direction out of this stance, and you’ll always feel like you’re in a good athletic position.
The base stance of a lacrosse goalie is often compared to that of an NFL linebacker. Lacrosse goalies set up with their hands up and ready to save a shot.
You never see an NFL linebacker set up with feet only shoulder-width apart standing up straight.
Some goalie coaches do suggest feet shoulder-width apart, which is fine. But any narrower than shoulder-width and you’re not in an athletic position.
Other goalies do more of a broad base with their setup. This stance can be practical, too, especially for the taller goalies, but it has some pros and cons.
When you analyze the play of the best MLL and PLL goalies, you’ll notice that they use a bit wider than shoulder-width.
The weight should also be at the balls of our feet. That way, you are always ready to move. The rule of thumb is that you should be able to slide a credit card underneath your heels.
Another critical element of a perfect lacrosse goalie stance is to bend your knees low.
Having bent knees will quickly put you in an athletic posture.
If you bend your knees nice and low, it’s very easy to popup for the higher shots. The bent knees also mean you’re already lower to the ground to simplify the process of saving low shots.
Another benefit of having your knees bent is that the weight automatically goes on the balls of your feet.
Many goalie coaches teach their goalies to have their weight on their toes. The difficulty is that the goalies are off-balance and falling forward as the shooter winds up or makes a fake.
We want a stance that is still when the shooter is winding up.
How much you bend your knees will depend on your style and what feels most comfortable for you. Some goalies get into a deeper squat while others choose a slight knee bend.
But the essential thing is you must have bent knees in the perfect lacrosse goalie stance.
Straight, Flat Back With Slight Bend at Hips
Having an excellent straight, flat back in your stance guarantees you take up as much room as possible in the goal.
You should also ensure that your shoulders are broad for the same reason.
However, nothing awkward, as you would always want to be comfortable in our lacrosse goalie stance.
As you make saves, you always want to be “BIG” in the cage. Having a straight back in your stance and during the save process will help ensure you’re staying BIG and improving your save percentage.
While keeping your back straight, you would want to have a slight bend forward at the hips. Always in a comfortable, athletic manner.
A 45-degree bend is too much. We would recommend something like 20 degrees, which puts us in a comfortable, athletic position. This is going to position our chest slightly in front of our hips.
Your chest and back should always be square to the shooter.
Hands Well Positioned
Hand position is vital—both in where your hands are on the stick and their positioning to your body.
You would like to have my hands about chest-width apart or about 12 inches (30 cm).
If your hands are too wide, the rotation of the stick becomes too long. This will inhibit your ability to make those off-stick hip and off-stick low shots where the stick must fully rotate. You’d rather set up with your top hand touching the plastic.
In certain circumstances, like a 5-feet tall goalie, it makes sense to have the top hand be under the stick’s plastic throat. This is to help him reach all corners of the goal.
Regardless of where your top hand is, the bottom hand should be about 12-18 inches below. With your hands that far apart, you can make quick movements and rapid stick rotations when needed.
Place the tape on your stick so that you know where your hands should be every time.
The final point concerning your hand position is that the top of your stick should not be above the crossbar when you set up in your stance. If it is, you’re protecting an area that’s not a goal, and that’s a waste.
This means that goalies who are 6-feet or taller need more knee bend or lower hands so that the top of their stick is at the top of the goal.
Shorter goalies can have their hands as high as their eyes if the stick doesn’t go past the top crossbar.
Arms Out and Away From Body
The next essential element of the perfect stance is arms out away from your body.
If your arms are too tight, moving the stick around is a difficult task.
It might become caught on your face mask or gear during a save with your stick in tight.
Your arms should be out and away from our body while still maintaining a bend at the elbow. Remember, fastened elbows are no good as any locked joint is not an athletic position.
One tip for finding the right arm position is to extend your elbows fully, then bring them 1/2 way back. This usually results in an excellent athletic positioning of the arms.
To train to have your arms out and away from your body, try the Defensive Stick Drill, where we use a long stick to make saves. If your hands are not far from your body, the stick will instead hit the goal.
By having our hands out, we can attack the ball quicker and reduce the amount of distance we need to cover to save.
Proper Grip on the Stick
When you grasp the lacrosse shaft with your hands, you would want the grip to be loose – ideally with only your thumb, first, and second fingers.
The grip should be loose while still keeping control of your goalie stick.
The light grip with the thumb and forefinger enables the hands to rotate to cover all the goal corners.
Your hands should be on the stick so that the wrists are to the back of the stick. Again, this will give the best rotation of the stick to all areas of the cage.
You should be able to freely and quickly rotate the stick 360 degrees with no interruptions. If you can do that, you’ve got the right grip.
The goalie’s grip exposes his thumb to damage from shots. So be sure you’ve got a pair of lacrosse goalie gloves that have a reinforced thumb to shield yourself.
The final key element of a perfect lacrosse goalie stance is to be completely relaxed.
You cannot have tension in your body because it limits your ability to react.
One of the main reasons you give up rebounds is that you’re stiff. One of the main reasons you bite on fakes or have a false step is because your bodies are too tense, and you go for that first movement.
You’re gripping the stick nice and light with our hands too. And all other limbs are relaxed and ready to go.
If you’re relaxed in your stance, you can stay in it all day, or at least long enough to endure a long 4-minute possession from the opposite team.
Putting the Stance Into Practice
Once you’re able to set up in the whole lacrosse goalie stance, one great exercise is the “mirror training lacrosse drill.”
That is, stand in front of a mirror and see how your stance looks.
Your lacrosse goalie coach can give you feedback on your stance. But once you understand the basics, you can practice it in front of the mirror to ensure consistency and perfection every time.
Another great drill is to “walk the line” to practice your stance by visualizing and making imaginary saves. Before making a save in this drill, set up in your stance.
Work on the things that you need to correct to make your stance is excellent.
With the goalies, the need to repeatedly get into the same stance without thinking about it is significant.
The perfect stance should be the second nature for every goalie. And this only comes through repetition.
If you’re finding some difficulties in your stance, you might need to build the leg and shoulder muscles to increase their endurance.
Positioning Your Stick
No matter where you put your stick, it is always the furthest point away from a shot somewhere else?
Because goalies play in a 6-feet by 6-feet box, it makes them susceptible to receiving shots from all over the place.
If you put your stick straight up and down and high in the cage, that may be great if a shot comes to the top of the cage. But if a ball goes low between the legs, you’ll need to move your stick a long way down to stop it.
Whether your stick is straight up and down or perpendicular to the ground is irrelevant.
There are two things to consider that override where you choose to put your stick. They are:
- The head of the stick must not be covering any part of the body. (i.e., Your head or shoulders.)
- The position of your stick must not put it higher than the top of the cage.
- The position of your stick must not restrict your ability to move to the ball.
If you keep these three things in mind, you should have no problem.
Should You Copy Someone Else’s Stance?
As mentioned earlier, your stance is unique to you and is based on your strengths and weaknesses. It’s also based on your build. Like, if you have long legs or short legs, a long torso or a short one.
Many young goalies see a college goalie who they love and try to copy their stance. Unless they have the same build, this is ridiculous.
The stance used by that college goalie is based on years of ball-stopping and (hopefully) good coaching. It is also based on their strengths and weaknesses and not yours.
So be careful when you try to copy someone else’s stance as your own.
Adapting Your Athletic Stance to Your Goalie Stick
Now here’s the easy part where people get confused. Get in your athletic stance with your hands out in front of you.
Now, rotate your top hand up and your bottom hand down to a comfortable position. THAT is the position your stick should be in, with some minor adjustments.
Those adjustments are:
- Your top hand should be at least shoulder high and far enough from your head. That way, the head of your stick covers the space over your shoulder and the side of your head.
- Your bottom hand should be in front of your torso. Not out too much to the side.
- Your hands should be roughly the same distance apart as your waist is wide.
These are all the adjustments you need. Anything else is overthinking the whole thing.
Your stance and your stick position are unique to you. There are some standards you must follow. But for the most part, your stance will be unique to your body-type, your strengths, and your weaknesses.
Nevertheless, finding your stance is easy. But you must return to that stance all the time, and always remember the following:
- Your athletic stance is your base. It is what all other movements in the cage come from.
- Your athletic stance is unique to you.
- A proper stick position comes from your athletic stance first. Not the other way around.
- Your athletic stance will change as you grow and get stronger and more flexible.
Another thing to keep in mind is that your stance may change over time as your ability improves and gets stronger.