Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
Goalie play is about the efficiency of movement and reducing the angle by which the shooter can get the ball past you into the net. As a goalie, you would want to start in an athletic stance and a natural position in the center of the goal.
An essential element of making a save in lacrosse is stepping with your lead foot. A lead foot means you place the right foot if the shot is to your right, left foot if it is to your left. Doing so gets your body behind the shot and supports your top hand when moving the stick to the ball.
There is some dispute within the lacrosse goalie community about which is more effective for saving shots: a lateral step or a 45-degree step.
Before, the ruling line of thinking was that a 45-degree step was the best method for cutting off the shot, getting our body behind the ball, and making saves.
But times have evolved. Now, many goalies, especially at the top levels, opt to take a lateral step to get their bodies in front of shots.
What exactly has changed?
For beginners, lacrosse players are shooting are more challenging and more accurate today than ever before. The record for the quickest shot is currently 119.9 MPH, and it was from someone who is not even from the MLL or the PLL.
So goalies have had to adapt the save methods to keep pace with the current trends in lacrosse.
Further, reduce the possibilities of the ball getting past you by stepping at a 45-degree angle toward the path of the ball.
If a shooter is on the right side of the goal and shoots approaching your right side, you want to step in a 45-degree angle toward the ball.
Lead with your right foot and close with your left foot, staying in a stable athletic position to take up more of the cage’s surface area.
Keep in mind to step toward the ball, rather than toward the shooter.
Likewise, if the shot comes to the left side, step with your left foot at a 45-degree angle and close with your right foot.
You should always concentrate on your positioning in front of the goal.
Move with the ball, not the attacker. As a shot comes in, move toward it. You want to take away as much area as you can so that the ball has less of a possibility to get behind you into the net. To help improve this skill, even more, practice the “Walking the Line” drill.
In this post, I want to consider each type of step’s pros and cons so that you can choose which is right for your goalie game.
The Reason for Stepping
There are several kinds of steps used by lacrosse goalies, and each has the same effect on coaches.
There are steps for making saves, playing the arc, transitioning from the ball being behind the net, passing to players up top, and going pipe to pipe. Steps are the topic that every goalie coach has an opinion on and will go to war to defend their views.
It is not prescribed on what steps should be used in each of the above scenarios. Instead, we’ll talk about what all goalie coaches teach due to the kind of steps taken. And that is to keep the hips square to the shooter.
It’s All About The Hips
Whether you take the traditional 45-degree steps or the side step for shots, your best chance to make the save is to have your hips square to the shooter.
Consider that the lacrosse goalies must make saves with their bodies from time to time. Have you ever talked to a goalie that said they never get bruises?
Contrary to every middie and attack view, they didn’t hit the goalie with the shot, but rather the goalie moved to get in the way. Even if they didn’t move because the shot was a wrong one right at the goalie, they hung in there to get hit – hopefully with square hips.
When a lacrosse goalie steps to make saves and does not keep their hips square to the shooter, they give the shot more area of the net to end up as a goal.
Consider a popsicle stick. The most area facing you when looking at it is when it is square to your eyes. If you twist it just a little, you can see more of what is behind it. The same is true for lacrosse goalies. We have our view on the best steps to take that keeps your hips square.
Remember: No matter what step you take, keep your hips square to the shooter after your step is complete. Always think of the popsicle stick as a visual. You can even throw one in your bag as a reminder.
The 45-degree step
When most goalies are taught the position, they’re trained to stop at the shot at a 45-degree angle.
It could be 50 degrees, or it could be 30 degrees or any other variation, but the idea is you’re stepping forward at an angle to prevent the shot path.
This is the procedure mostly taught to new goalies to this day.
There are several benefits to using the 45-degree step:
Shorter Distance to Cover
By taking a step forward at an angle, the goalie crosses the shot path at a 90-degree angle.
When you intersect the shot path at 90 degrees, you take the most straightforward route to the ball.
And taking a direct route to the ball means you have to include less distance.
Cuts Down Angle on the Shot
With one step, these goalies can easily reach either goal post.
But what about a youth goalie at 5 feet?
By taking a step out at a 45-degree angle, you cut down the angle on the shot and ensure that the goalie can cover the corners of the goal even at a small height.
It is always recommended for youth goalies to start with the 45-degree step. This is to ensure that they can adequately cover all corners of the goal.
Develop a Mindset of Attacking the Ball
Most goalies started afraid of the ball. It takes a lot of experience and repetition to instruct your body to lose the flinch reflex and aggressively attack the shot.
Some goalies are brave enough than others and don’t flinch, while others need a lot of work.
Regardless if you fall on the spectrum, goalies who adapted the 45-degree step get into a habit of attacking the ball. Improving this habit helps rid of your body of the flinch reaction.
If you’re having difficulty attacking the ball, incorporate these drills to improve stepping to the ball.
Additionally, stepping at the 45-degree is one of the elements in creating bounce shot saves.
For the bounce shots, we want to hit the ball to bounce as much as possible, even catching it in the air to decrease the chance of a bad bounce.
By taking the 45-degree step, we’re able to meet the bounce shot closer to bounce and decrease the chance of a bad or unpredictable hop.
In today’s game, you see many of the top NCAA and MLL goalies don’t take a 45-degree, but instead, they opt to do a lateral step.
The lateral step is where the goalie takes a step to his/her left or right, parallel with the goal line, to prevent the shot path.
With both the 45-degree and lateral steps, the goalie should be driving off of their back foot to move their body in the direction they want to go. That method is the same regardless of which angle you choose to step at.
NCAA All-American and current goalie coach Trevor Tierney was a big aficionado of the flat arc.
The lateral step pretty much simmers down to a single advantage:
More Time to See the Shot
This is the main benefit of a lateral step – more time to see the shot.
By stepping laterally, instead of forward at an angle, you are giving yourselves an extra millisecond to see the ball.
Sometimes that extra millisecond can make a lot of difference between a save and a goal.
With shooters in today’s game shooting harder and more precisely than ever, many goalies in the MLL have opted to use the lateral step. This is to get more time to view the ball and more time to get their body and stick in front of the shot.
Should I Use a 45-Degree Step or a Lateral Step?
There are many different styles of playing goalie.
Some goalies like to get set up very low in their stance. Others are more upright. Some goalies want to set up with the stick completely perpendicular to the ground. Others have it at more of an angle.
The beauty of goaltending is it’s all about whatever works for you.
The difference between a 45-degree step and a lateral step is among those options.
It is suggested for youth goalies to start by learning the 45-degree step.
Stepping forward at an angle is a more effective method of getting your body and, most importantly, your stick to the ball.
For the smaller goalies, it also cuts down the angle enabling them to cover every corner of the goal.
By hitting the ball with a forward step, you train your body to be fearless. And you’re also able to meet a bounce shot closer to the bounce, eliminating funny hops.
The benefits of the 45-degree step outweigh the lateral step when a goalie is first learning this position.
Eventually, once you have a good understanding of the position and have improved your hand-eye coordination and reflexes, you can consider the lateral step. More so, if you’re finding that you don’t have enough time to react to the shooter’s higher velocity shots.
The fundamentals between a 45-degree step and a lateral step are not all that complex.
You still want to push and drive off your back foot to get your body straight into the shot path. Not a significant difference, just pinching the angle of attack. The lateral step allows you more time while the 45-degree step cuts down the angle and will enable you to cover more goals.
Like many lacrosse goaltending features, experience with this lateral step in practice to see how it affects your game. Only when the technique is fully refined and working well should you then take it into a match.
If you’re having success with the 45-degree step but hear so much about lateral steps these days, it doesn’t mean you should make the switch. Don’t fix what’s not broken.
Don’t Base Your Main Move on Rarity
If you want to step laterally, then you may be out of position on a bad bounce.
However, they are rare, and we do not base our main move on rarity. We base it on the majority. The majority is that shots from outside, middies, attackmen, shots with time and room.
Don’t Just Step Forward
This is a big step – it’s a full lunge.
The bottom line is this: if you step to the ball, you may never get far enough where you’ll cut that ball off. And also, by stepping forward, you’ll be shortening the amount of time you have to get in front of that ball. Does that make sense?
One, you may not get far enough. Two, you may attack the ball, which will reduce the attacking time.
Part of the saved technique is stepping using your lead foot to get your stick afront the ball and our body behind the shot. That much is agreed upon by all goalies.
However, the type of step you take is the subject of much dispute in the lacrosse goalie community.
There’s the 45-degree angle step, which lowers down the angle and allows you to cover the corners a little better. Or there’s the lateral step, which provides the goalie more time to save the shot.
I recommend new goalies to start with the 45-degree step and then learn the lateral step as they progress in their game. Some may not even want to shift at all if the 45-degree step is working well for them.
Regardless of whether you’re for the lateral or 45-degree step, one thing is for sure – the debate will run on.