How to Recover from a Bad Game | Lax Goalie Rat

How to Recover from a Bad Game


It happens to the best of us. You’re nervous. You’re in your head. Your reactions are slow.

You have a bad game or a bad tryout and now you feel like you’ve lost your mojo, lost your opportunity.

Such is the case of a young goalie who recently wrote me for advice.

Hi Coach – I am a Freshman goalie at small D1 school in Missouri. I am only a freshman but the coaches like me much more than the two goalies older than me. I have been playing decently well in practices and have very visibly outworked the two other goalies, which is exactly what they wanted me to do when they recruited me. With that being said, we had our fall ball tournament this weekend and it was my first taste of playing against real competition since my junior year of high school. I tore my ACL last November so I haven’t played since my junior year state championship.

Long story short, I made two saves the entire day, and one of them was shot right at my face. I was nervous, inside my head, thinking too much, not reacting, not stepping to the ball, and I crumbled in the one scenario that I was supposed to show out in and prove myself to the coaches. We played three games and I played the second half in the last game (our hardest opponent) and they had to pull me about 10 minutes into the half.

Now I don’t know what to do…

First of all LC, talk to any lax goalie – heck talk to any serious athlete – and they’ll tell you a story of a game in which they sucked.

Can’t pick up the ball, thinking way too much, not making any saves, can’t save a beach ball.

Happened to me when we played Michigan in Ann Arbor. I got pulled in the 2nd half.

And just like you, I was also in a strange place. Not knowing how to proceed.

But that’s the nature of this position. You put in hours and hours of hard work to ensure consistency but there will come a day when – for whatever reason – you just don’t have it.

It has happened to every goalie and will happen again to every goalie. That’s the truth.

So the question is – how do you bounce back from a bad game? Or how do you recover from a bad tryout?

Bouncing Back Is About Resiliency

In my podcast, I ask many top NCAA and MLL goalies how they remain mentally tough and the answer that comes up over and over is – have a short memory!

It’s almost cliche at this point but the idea is so fundamental to bouncing back it’s no wonder it’s repeated over and over.

Whether you let in an easy goal or have a horrible game, you’ve cannot carry those negative feelings with you to the next play or next game. You’ve got to flush those memories and move on.

Remember it’s not what happened that matters most; it is how you respond to what has happened that will make the biggest impact on future performances.

Your ability to bounce back after getting pulled will show your teammates and your coaches that you’re a mentally tough leader. Someone who doesn’t dwell on a bad outing and lose all the confidence they spent so much time working towards.

Also, remember if you had a bad performance, the attackman in the next game doesn’t know that. If you had a bad tryout, the coaches in the next week’s tryout don’t know that.

Only you know that and only you can control whether or not it affects you.

Have a short memory to bounce back and quickly recover from a bad game.

Use Your Positive Self-Talk To Recover From a Bad Game

Self-talk is the mental track we repeat in our heads. And it really does affect our performance.

After a bad outing, it’s easy to feed the bad wolf and tell ourselves a bunch of negative things about how we suck and how we can’t save anything.

Negative self-talk affects your confidence causing you to second guess your game for fear you will have another bad outing. This negative self-talk leads to lower self-confidence and pretty much guarantees another bad game.

But if positive self-talk is an extremely important skill, it’s twice as important after a bad outing.

To build confidence use your positive self-talk to remind yourself you’re a f***king great goalie as Coach Buck would say.

Fill your head with positive thoughts because if you don’t, nobody else will.

A goalie with a head full of positive thoughts bounces back quickly after a bad game.

Eliminating negative talk from your mind is so powerful, it’s one of the lessons inside my Mental Game Bootcamp.


Keep Your Long-Term Goal in Mind

When I work with goalies for the first time, our first conversation is about their goals.

In my online camp, the first video you watch is an exercise on setting a great long-term goal.

Why the importance of setting a goal?

Because when you keep your long-term goal in mind, you realize that one game doesn’t matter.

Sure it sucks to lose and it sucks to get pulled – I know. But you’re not going to achieve your long-term goal in a single game.

On the other hand, you’re not going to derail your dreams from a single bad outing.

A bad performance is simply a speed bump on your long-term path to success. That’s why setting a long-term goal and keeping it top of mind is so important.

When things get tough, look at that goal and then…

Get Back to Work

When you have a bad game or a bad tryout, you can’t change the past. All you can do is put in the effort starting right now.

So for me whenever I had a bad outing I tried to get back to work as soon as possible.

Hit the gym as quickly as possible. Hit the wall as soon as you can. Heck, grab a teammate and take 50 shots after the game. Hurdles. Speed ladder. Watch film. Jump rope.

Do something, do anything to move on and prepare yourself for the next game or practice.

That’s what I love about sports. Unless your bad performance comes in the final game of your career you’re going to get another shot. And quick!

I mean you’re just a freshman! You’ve got your entire lacrosse goalie career in front of you.

Maybe you felt like you didn’t take advantage of an opportunity but continue to work hard and be ready when another opportunity comes your way. And I’m sure it will!

Learn and Grow

It’s natural for goalies to feel extremely nervous in a big game or an important moment. And sometimes that gets the better of you.

But we learn and we grow.

Interestingly enough you actually learn way more by losing, by failing. Embrace the feeling you’re having right now. Acknowledge it, and contemplate it. But don’t wallow in it.

Why did you have a bad game in goal? Where you prepared physically and mentally? Can you honestly say that you put in the right work leading up to that game? What could you have done differently?

Answer these questions honestly, and vow to yourself to make the necessary changes to quickly recover from this bad outing.

Maybe you’ll realize you just ran into a great opponent. And you’re being too hard on yourself.

Either way the next time you’re in that situation you’re going to feel more confident because you’ve already been there and you’ve already gone through some mistakes that you’ve learned from.


Many goalies lose their confidence after a bad outing. But when we learn from our mistakes and grow as a result we become a better goalie.

When you show the team and your coaches that you have that coveted “short memory” that elite goalies strive for, you earn their respect.

Keep your long-term goal in mind and remember that a single bad outing is not going to derail your progress. It’s just a hurdle in the road.

Finally – get back to work! You said you outworked the other goalies…now is the time to outwork them even more.

Best of luck! Go get ’em my man! Keep me posted.

Coach Damon


Photo credit: Zac Moore

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9 thoughts on “How to Recover from a Bad Game

  1. This is one of the best articles I think you have put out. I am a sophomore goalie at my high school and beat out 2 juniors my freshmen year and my first game was against one of the worse teams in are league but I physically couldn’t stop a beach ball. I let in 9 and made 0 saves. But I was able to get over it and put up 150 saves that season with those 50 in the playoff run we had before losing in the 3rd round. The biggest thing for me was just getting out of my own head and knowing i’m gonna make mistakes and I think that what makes goalies and alot of other athletes successful is that ability to overcome that adversity that comes with all the different situations and just getting out of your own head and just playing the game. This article helps alot and gives me more ways to get over a bad game. Thanks for the article and PS would you review Thinking inside the Crease by Chris Buck?

  2. This is an excellent article, and a common scenario. Thanks, Coach Damon.
    The other thing that one needs to consider: To help overcome such jitters and history, the goalie needs to be in game situations. “Back in the saddle again,” right? You can practice all you like, but if the coach has confidence in your innate abilities and work ethic, s/he needs to keep working with you in real game situations; developing your abilities is the coach’s long-term goal. I play in a Grand Masters (over 40) league and heck, I still get nervous in tournaments but know from experience how to focus. I wholeheartedly agree with Coach Damon, being a freshman also means you’re not as seasoned, and you don’t have as much experience to know how to move past a bad game. Games will give you that experience.

  3. Great article. I’m an 8th Grader and one game against the best team in the league I let in 14 and saved 5. The next game I had 10 saves and 3 goals allowed. I just talked myself out of my slump.

  4. Coach Damon, your articles on mental toughness are amazing, I’m a sophomore in high school and I’m the only goalie on the jv team, I had a god awful practice today and I knew, come right to this site and look for mental toughness articles. I just wanna thank you for being a great mentor for all the young guys and always being positive.

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