Goalies: Good in Practice But Bad in Games? This is for you.
Happy 4th of July everyone! Thanks for everyone who completed the survey I sent via email. I really appreciate the feedback you’re given me about Lax Goalie Rat. If you haven’t completed the survey yet, please take a few minutes to do so. Here’s today’s post.
Lots of lacrosse goalies are cool and calm while saving shots in practice, with their coach 1×1, or with their friends playing some pickup ball.
It’s the games – under the lights, referees on the field, fans screaming on the sidelines – that cause the problems.
The same goalie who can make save after save in practice suddenly chokes up once the game whistle blows.
What is it that causes goalies to tense up during games and not perform like they are capable of? Better yet, how can you fix that?
In this post we’ll dig into the sports psychology behind this phenomenon.
I’ll explore why goalies struggle when the game day pressure is on and some of the tips that players, coaches, and parents can employ to ensure their goalie performs to their full potential on game day.
Note – If you’re a goalie who is the opposite – great in games, but bad in practice. Check out this post on how to get motivated for practice.
Making a save in lacrosse is a fine combination of motor skills, quick reaction time, and good preparation.
It’s not about thinking. In fact during the save process, if you have to think, odds are the ball will already be in the goal by the time you attempt to save it.
So the first tip for avoiding that game day choke is to put in the hours on the practice field.
When you first start out in your lacrosse goalie career, you’ll have to put tremendous thought into making a save. Where does my top hand go? Which foot do I step with? What do I say to communicate with my defense? How do I trail step?
As you progress through the 4 stages of being a lacrosse goalie, making a save requires less and less thought. Until you get to the stage of Unconscious Competence where your body is really on auto pilot when making saves.
This is the stage we want to be in to avoid choking in the big game.
Why? Because on game day your body and mind will be hit with a rush of emotions and a rush of nerves. This happens to every goalie.
The more you’ve perfected your save movements and really internalized them the better you’ll perform in the games because you won’t be thinking.
Remember, like the Navy SEALs say, “The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.”
So put in those hours and hours of practice. Focus on your lacrosse goalie workouts. Work harder than any other goalie.
Because all those hours of practice boil down to this: When game day comes along your body will already know what to do and you start to tackle the even bigger challenge: the mental game.
Assuming you have the ability to make the saves in practice and the problem is that the skills are simply not showing up in the games. Then the problem is 100% mental.
Let’s walk through the Balance Beam Example.
Suppose there’s a 10 foot long balance beam resting on the floor.
Could you walk across it? Sure. No problem. You could probably do it easily without losing your balance and without being scared. Right?
Now suppose we raise that balance beam 100 feet into the air and suspend it between two buildings. Could you walk across?
Not as easy, right? Now you’re scared. Now you doubt yourself. Now you have fear.
But guess what? Its the exact same balance beam!
The only thing that’s changed in this scenario is that we’ve introduced the element of failure. So instead of focusing on your balance, you’re thinking about not failing. You’re thinking about falling.
Based on these negative thoughts, your body would start to change.
Your body would have a strong physical reaction – sweaty palms, loss of muscle control, nausea, the whole deal. And of course, your balance would be ruined.
This example perfectly describes the situation that most lacrosse goalies face when dealing with practice versus the games.
In practice the balance beam is on the ground. You’re saving shots. You’re playing loose and having fun. In the event, you let in a goal, it doesn’t effect your game. Your focused on your task of saving of the ball and leading the defense.
In games the balance beam is 100 feet in the air and you’re worried about winning, worried about impressing your fans, teammates, parents, coaches, or the cute girl in the stands.
You’re focus is not where it should be and as a result your performance suffers.
No lacrosse goalie can play successfully focusing on what’s going to happen if they fail. Which brings us to the next tip.
Not focusing on the result is easier said than done: what goalie doesn’t want to play well, to be the star, to get the game ball at the end of a victory? All lacrosse goalies want a positive result.
Here’s one big clarification — I’m not asking you to not care about winning and losing.
I’m asking that you don’t concentrate on it. There’s a big difference there.
A lacrosse goalie cannot concentrate on results without thinking about failure – it’s simply impossible.
And as we saw in the balance beam example, the thought of failure makes our body tighten up and we play poorly.
So your focus needs to be on playing the game. Having fun. Being focused in the moment and enjoying the gift that is lacrosse.
Of course they wanted to win. Of course they wanted to play well. But their focus was on the action of playing.
All goalies will have moments of struggle, this one of the toughest positions in sports. However hopefully this mental shift gives you the tools to improve your game and break through the mental barrier impeding your game success.
One common piece of advice many people tell lacrosse goalies (or anyone really) before a big game or performance – “just relax”.
I probably should add this to my list of lacrosse goalie pet peeves because this drives me nuts.
Just relax? When you’re playing in the national championship game on national TV.
Just relax? When you’ve flown to another state to play in a tournament with hundreds of college coaches watching.
I’m here to tell you that “just relax” is not the answer.
One method I learned from Craig Sigl at Mental Toughness Trainer is called the “AND” method.
It’s a method to help lacrosse goalies (or any athlete) change their mental attitude when under big game pressure.
Feeling scared before a game is a natural feeling. It’s 100% ok to feel that way.
With this method, we tell ourselves “I can feel this scared/nervous/whatever AND I can still go out there and win”.
In other words, stop trying to fight being scared and worried because the more you fight it the worse it gets. Even athletes at the top of their game get nervous and scared before big games.
So the next time a thought like “I hope I don’t choke” enters into your mind. Recognize it. Hey, I’m worried and nervous AND I’m still going to dominate. I’m still going to play my best.
I’m nervous AND I’m going to dominate.
I’m nervous AND I’m going to make every save I can.
This shift in thought has helped more than a few goalies succeed under pressure.
Checkout this post for additional tips to improve goalie mental toughness.
Another very effective method for overcoming game day anxiety is using anchors or positive affirmations.
I want you to do a little exercise right now.
Take out a piece of paper (….. I’ll wait …..) and right down a sentence that describes how you want to play. Envision your favorite MLL or NCAA lacrosse goalie and write a description of how they play.
Make your affirmation as specific as possible. It’s not just – I’m a good lacrosse goalie. You’ve got to sell it more than that.
Imagine you’re describing your goalie abilities to someone who’s never seen or heard of the sport of lacrosse. How would you do it?
I’m a confident and explosive goalie with lightening quick hands who leads the team and is on every shot!
Now every day I want you to look at yourself in the mirror and repeat this phrase. Repeat it before every practice, repeat it before every game, repeat it half-time.
Every single day read it out aloud. This isn’t a one and done approach. Like brushing your teeth every single day you need to repeat this positive affirmation.
People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.
The theory behind this is we’re trying to bury this thought into our subconscious mind. Then when the pressure is on these thoughts will emerge from our subconscious and you’ll be confident and dominate in the big games.
If there’s another specific issue or challenging you’re dealing with in the game, put that in your positive affirmation and get it addressed.
With so much pressure on the shoulders of lacrosse goalies, pre-game jitters are common.
For the goalie that dominates in practice but cannot bring that success into a game, the problem is most of time purely mental.
Using the tips and techniques in this post hopefully you can overcome that mental block and dominate in the games despite feeling those inevitable feelings of nervousness.
Until next time! Coach Damon
How do you overcome pre-game jitters? Any tips or tricks you use to perform at your best during the games? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
14 thoughts on “Goalies: Good in Practice But Bad in Games? This is for you.”
Hey coach I actually have the opposite problem in games I have no problem getting in an aggressive mindset and attacking the ball however in practice when its a much more relaxed atmosphere I have trouble really attacking the ball and throwing my body in front it and really getting in the right mindset. I just started in college and its difficult for me to move up and compete for a starting position if I can’t play well everyday at practice, do you have any advice for this problem
Hi Joe – I’ll write up a post with some tips for goalies in your situation who struggle to get into the right mindset during practice but are fine in the games.
Thank you I’m trying to make the jump from 2nd string to starter and your tips have been a huge help
You’re welcome Joe. Good luck! keep me posted on your progress.
Hi coach , this is my second year being goalie and after games i beat myself up ALOT because i blame it on myself that we lost and its just getting too stressful . I love playing and being in goal but its killing my mental health . any advice on calming down?
Hi Coach, I’ve been playing goalie for barely a year and I’m already starting on varsity but I get these pre game jitters bad, but your tips have really helped!!! However, I have another problem in both practice and games; I have a tough time saving longer shots. When the shooter is up close and shooting or right on the crease I can stay big and I play my best, making saves and stuffing kids. But when it comes to longer shots I dip my head, body, or stick and then have a hard time recovering to save the shot. I know part of it is still just being scared of the ball but it’s hard for me not to be scared. I wanted to know if you have any tips for “newish” goalies who struggle with this problem or problems like it?
That’s great Danny and awesome you’re already on varsity. Experience will you keep the proper form on longer shots. I’ve been working with goalies on positive trigger or cue words lately that put the goalie in the right mindset and reduce fear while encouraging proper save form. Post on that coming soon.
Thank you Coach!! I had a 14 save game yesterday, with most of my saves coming from longer shots. I just tried to step to the shots more and get my stick and body down too, but I kept bringing my knee down to the ground and my coach would yell at me. Is that a bad habit to get into for low and longer shots?
Nice work Danny! That’s awesome. 14 save game is great. I coach goalies to stay on their feet. I know there are some goalies who do coach dropping to the knees on low shots but I don’t, so I consider it a bad habit. Keep up the good work!
Hey Coach! I’m an 8th-grade goalie and whenever someone takes a shot down low from far away, I sometimes get my body in front but am always late to put my stick down. I don’t get why I keep doing this because I have been playing goalie for almost 6 years now. If you have any tips, it would be greatly appreciated.
And our “goalie” coach doesn’t spend much time helping us, he rather just shoots on us and then we go straight into normal practice, what should I do?
I would chat with the coach about working in some goalie specific training into your practice routines. You can get a workout plan from my book or online camp and then instead of taking just shots you can do through some of the drills. That will help you get better!
Hi Doi – Checkout the answer I just left on the Caylee Waters post! Cheers!
I’m trying to help my son who’s a second-year goalie. He’s one of those kids who naturally doesn’t flinch at the ball, and he plays great in games. However, he’s starting to dislike going to practice because he’s tired of taking hard hits during practice. He rarely gets hit in a game, but at practice, he has some of the top attack players in the state throwing their hardest shots at him. After taking one to the knee at the last practice, he’s feeling particularly frustrated. He wears pads at practice, but the ball still finds places to hit him with so many shots taken.
Do you have any suggestions for how I can help him get his mojo back? He’s a natural at it and loves playing in games, but he’s tired of the constant pain at practice. He likes practicing with his dad or coach, but he doesn’t liked getting nailed at practice from the attack players of his own team. Thanks for your help!