Lacrosse Goaltending: The Basics of Making a Save

Every lacrosse goalie has to start somewhere, and if you’re brand new to this post and are looking for the basics on how to make a save, this post is for you.

Even if you are an experienced goalie, reading this post can help you improve your save percentage. You might be surprised at how the fundamentals can improve your school.

Lacrosse goalie can be a challenging position but let’s break down the save in the simplest way we can:

Learn the Defense

It’s often said that the goalie is the quarterback of the defense.

This is because of your unique position in the field. This allows you to see the ball and the cuts and movements of the opposing team’s players.

But imagine a quarterback in the NFL that didn’t know his team’s plays!

The goalie must understand the team’s defense better than anyone on the field. Because as a goalie, you are the field general.

You’re responsible for telling others where to be when to slide, being a general leader, and helping newer defenders or middies learn the D.

When your coach is covering a defensive strategy, we need to ensure we’re the #1 student as a goalie. Asking questions where things are unclear and studying the defense outside of practice.

Learn the Lingo

Every lacrosse team needs a crystal clear set of terms that can be used in the match’s heat.

You don’t need to use those exact terms on your team, but you must have a word to communicate every one of those situations.

As a goalie, you’re responsible for using these terms, so you better have every single one memorized and know its exact use.

Also essential to keep in mind is that our communication needs to be heard. A loud, crisp call needs to be practiced and refined.

Get in a Proper Lacrosse Goalie Stance

In every different sport, there is always a “ready position.” For lacrosse goalies, that is no different, and its extremely important that goalies are in a proper, athletic-ready position before the shot.

The ready position is the basis for all your saves. An excellent ready position gives you the greatest chance to make a save. It puts your body into an athletic position, ready to spring and blast towards shots.

Here are the seven elements of a perfect lacrosse goalie stance:

  1. Feet are shoulder-width apart
  2. Bent knees
  3. Arms out and away from the body
  4. Grip the stick properly
  5. Straight, flat back and bent slightly at the hips
  6. Hands well positioned
  7. Relaxed body

You’ll notice several lacrosse goalies at the top levels because there are several different styles of play, and all can be successful.

Instead of recalling the seven elements, ask yourself whether you are in an athletic position?

If you’re having trouble with a particular type of saving, it’s often because your ready stance is missing one or more of these elements.

Check out several top-level goalies and their ready stances. Try to imitate this in your ready stance.

So the initial step in lacrosse goalie save basics is to get into an excellent ready stance.

Position Yourself Properly on the Arc

Sometimes executing 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 have upped the average velocity.

The idea of the lacrosse goalie arc is to be set up in the right position to limit the amount of movement you need to reach the shot.

For beginner goalies, you can start with a traditional arc that has 5 points: Pipe left, 45° left, top center, 45° right, pipe right.

Properly putting yourself on the arc is 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 enables the goalie to efficiently cover every single inch of the 6-inch by 6-inch goal.

We want to narrow the movement along the arc because when a goalie moves from point to point on the arc, they’re not in the ready position. Therefore we use the 5-point arc versus continually moving every time an attackman dodges.

As you’d expect from a pro, it is also great to be on a ready stance.

Anywhere we are on the arc, we want to be square to the shooter. This means our toes, knees, shoulders, and face mask are all pointed at the shooter.

Being comfortable attaining your spot on the goalie arc and fluidly moving from one spot to another on the arc takes a lot of practice.

As you get more advanced, you can consider various lacrosse goalie arcs, such as the flat arc famous in today’s game. But for beginners, I recommend the 5 points traditional arc.

Top Hand Drives Straight to the Ball

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 makes his top hand straight to the ball with rattlesnake-like quickness.

It 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 difficulties moving their top hand straight to the ball with no stick. However, when the stick is in their hands, all of a sudden, you’ll see the top hand takes complicated or circular paths to the shot.

This is a very common on-off stick hip or off low stick shots.

Identify the shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line: so practice moving your top hand directly to the shot.

One tip I studied from MLL pro-Brian Phipps is to “cut the clock” on-off stick saves. Meaning your top hand cuts the clock instead of moving in a circular movement like standard clock hands.

Lead Foot Steps Into Path of the Shot

As we drive our top hand at the ball, we’re going to use our body to give it support.

We’ll find that if we maintain 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 a position to help a save in the event we miss the ball with our hand/stick. While every shot’s goal is to catch it in our stick, we’ll usually make body saves as a result of this lead step.

So we’ll join our lead hand with a lead step.

The simplest way to 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 the body. If the shot is to the left of the line, we need to step with our left foot. If the shot is to the right of the line, we should step with our right foot. This is our lead step.

For beginner goalies, this step can be at a 45-degree angle to help cut down the shot’s angle.

Finish with a Shuffle Step

Film and watch a video of yourself making saves. If you pause the tape when you make contact with the ball, the only things that will have moved are your lead hand and a lead foot.

However, a lacrosse goalie must finish every save.

To finish the save, use a “shuffle step.”

With the trail foot (i.e., the foot that did not take a lead step) we’ll stop, and then we’ll step again with our lead foot to land in a balanced ready position. We can also make a save with our bottom hand too. Using the bottom hand to aid in stick turn.

The idea of finishing a save is to be ready to make another save in the chance of a rebound or be in a good athletic position to make an outlet pass.

Focus on the Ball

The final element of the anatomy of saving is: the lacrosse goalie needs to be incredibly focused on the ball.

From the time the ball is in the shooter’s stick until it catches in your goalie stick, your eyes should be ridiculously focused on the ball.

I like the word ridiculously focused because it implies a level of focus that is too high.

As you’re taking warm up shots in practice or going through lacrosse goalie drills, be sure that you’re focused on the ball.

Get Shots

There’s no substitute for taking shots.

You can read and do research all day about how to become the best lacrosse goalie in the world. But if you never step onto the field and put what you’ve learned into practice, it’s all for not.

Sports are all the same in this way. While it helps to read and study theory and technique, you’ll never become the best without practicing that theory and method in real life.

Michael Phelps didn’t become a championship swimmer by just reading books. Brian “Doc” Dougherty didn’t become an All-American lacrosse goalie by just watching YouTube videos.

You’ve got to practice what you learn to perfect your craft.

Making a save in lacrosse is about training our muscles to react the same way every shot effectively. There’s no other way to build this muscle-memory besides getting in goal and taking shots.

If you have enough space and money, try buying a lacrosse goal for your backyard so you can take shots year-round.

Earn Your Team’s Respect

Like an NFL quarterback, the lacrosse goalie is going to get a lot of attention.

When the team is winning and things are going well, the attention is excellent. But when you’re losing and letting in goal after goal, the attention is shameful.

Earning the team’s respect will help the goalie become a better field general and get through those tough times when the team isn’t playing well.

To earn the respect of the team here are a couple of tips:

Work Hard

Set your mindset that nobody is going to outwork you.

Whether on the field, in the weight room, or the classroom, always put more effort than anyone else.

Try showing up to every practice 20 minutes early to take shots. As other teammates arrive at practice, they will see how hard you are working, and their respect level will grow.

Stop Blaming Others

Sometimes in the sport of lacrosse, your chips are down. Your team is letting in easy goals. But never complain and never blame others.

Of course, this isn’t to say you can’t make recommendations to the D if you see a huge problem.

But there’s a clear difference between that and blaming others for why you’re a horrible goalie.

This tip is a precious lesson on the lacrosse field and in life: never complain and never blame others.

Share the Credit

As mentioned before, goalies tend to get attention when things are going well.

Sharing the credit also means giving props during training when someone makes a great takeaway or delivers a definite hit during a drill.

Share the love, and it not only comes back to you, but your team will also respect you more for it.

Final Thoughts

The position of lacrosse goalie can get pretty tricky. But if you had to concentrate “making a save” down to its roots, it would be this:

  1. Do the athletic stance
  2. Position yourself correctly on the arc
  3. Top hand drives to the shot
  4. Lead footsteps into the shot path
  5. Shuffle step to finish the save
  6. Have incredible focus

Whether you are a brand new goalie or an experienced goalie going through a rut, learning the anatomy of making a save is critical to being a great goalie.

Once you learn the basics of making a save, it’s time to hit the practice field. Just like you won’t be able to swim by reading a book, you can’t learn to make saves by merely reading this post.

It takes experience to develop your technique, so practice, practice, practice!

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