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Building a Goalie

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Training a goalie when you personally have never played that position isn’t an easy task, but there are a lot of us who do it. Finding and keeping a goalie is on the list of coach challenges for many programs each season. Most of us are guessing how to do it, and let’s be honest, we really don’t have time to do it properly. I’ll always be crazy jealous of the teams with a full time goalie coach

Hey kids, who wants to get in the goal and have hard rubber balls thrown at you? Many of these shooters can’t aim, will shoot as hard as they can from 3 feet away, the defense likely will forget to crash, and you’ll have plenty of exposed areas between those pads. There’s a guarantee of some of the biggest welts and bruises you’ve ever experienced. Sometimes you’ll feel ignored, neglected, or not part of the team. Also if we lose by one goal you’ll feel horrible like it’s all your fault. So… who’s in?!?

Then we talk some kid into strapping on the worst smelling items they’ve ever smelled, throw them in the goal and then line all the players up to do a round robin of 8 meter shots. Well the lucky ones get a two minute intro, maybe some warm up tosses first, those are the “lucky” ones.

Oh you have two goalies? Great!! One of them is better than the other, eh? Well, I hope that back-up goalie is super into standing around and watching because that’s the fate of many goalies in training.

As a coach, coach trainer, parent of two goalies, and someone who was thrown into goal for a game once, I’ve got some ideas on finding, keeping, training, and building a goalie system that works to generate a love of the position. Here’s my top 10:

  1. Never train a goalie until you’ve strapped on the gear and allowed the kids to shoot real lax balls on you in various situations. 8 meters, crease rolls, quick sticks, and defended game like situations. Nothing will prepare your empathetic side like being thrown to the fire. Once you get it, you will never let your goalie into a situation that is terrifying, dangerous, or likely to make them quit. It’s so easy to lose your patience when they don’t step, or they duck, freeze, etc until you’ve seen that ball screaming right at your knee cap and landing a full force welt on top of that welt you just got two minutes before.
  2. Make your goalie a captain. Build leadership right into the position and encourage them to have a commanding voice on and off the field. This helps keep them from feeling left out, not part of the team, keeps them engaged.
  3. Start them off with no gear and a dodge ball. Play 4v4 or 7v7 with a dodgeball and no sticks and shoot on a goalie with the dodgeball. Let the goalie learn to communicate with defense, move on their arc, learn the rules of the goal circle. Rotate people through to show how goalies and defense need to talk.
  4. Make a save yourself rule. Anytime the goalie feels like they need a mental or physical break they can leave the goal circle. No questions asked. Then get back in when they are ready. This takes the fear away and empowers them to feel confident and safe.
  5. Build parameters around shooting, make a big deal when player hits their own goalie with a shot. Teach the team to respect, protect and listen to their last line of defense and first line of offense. Shots should be placed with intent and never chucked at the goal. This protects the goalie and teaches better shooting.
  6. Introduce skills in a non-threatening way. Progress back when ball fear emerges and build confidence back up before putting them back into a tough situation. It’s great to work on crease rolls but you should always use tennis balls or pinky balls for repeated point blank shots and not on brand new goalies. Reiterate shot placement.
  7. Make. It. FUN!!
  8. Love the whole player. If you’re willing to get pelted with the ball as target practice you probably have quite a bit of personality. Embrace and appreciate your goalies unique personality because without it they wouldn’t get in that situation so willingly.
  9. Forgive and forget. You with your goalie, your goalie with themselves, your players and your goalie. Every shot is over when it crosses the line. Flush it and get ready for the next one. Even the best goalies in the country only save HALF of the shots taken on them. Any shot saved is a celebration. Every single one! Get your team used to cheering, celebrating and rallying around your goalie every chance they get. Get them involved in every drill.
  10.  Create goalie war days. Everyone gets to rotate in, keep points, earn prizes, learn if they like being a goalie or at least what a goalie goes through and how to better help them on the field.
    Goalie Wars:  Each player is defending their cone area and facing a partner. (6 foot space between cones. Give them any number of soft things to throw at each other, taking turns. The winner moves up to face the next opponent, until you have the goalie champion. The winner gets to be the goalie that day and get shots on them with pinky balls. Being a goalie should be a treat not a chore or scary.

For all my goalie friends out there, my son and daughter who guard the cage, and my future goalie superstars, thank you for being awesome, brave, driven, and just crazy enough to get in there in the first place! #respect

2 thoughts on “Building a Goalie”

  1. Hello Coach Kate.
    Thanks for this great read. You may not remember me but I am from Arizona and you had me in goal during level two training a few years ago . Since the Level II training, I have gone on to become President of our league and JV coach (going into my third year). I remember the foam dodge balls. We do have a full time goalie coach on the Varsity level who took over for me last year. He has played the position so it made sense. I really enjoy your articles so I just wanted to take the time to say thanks.
    Best,
    Reggie Younger Jr.
    President Arizona Girls Lacrosse
    Junior Varsity Head Coach Pinnacle Girls Lacrosse

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