Tips for Being a More Consistent Lacrosse Goalie: The Mental Game
Every lacrosse goalie at every level has some off days. But what do you do when those “off” days seems to outnumber the “on” days? How do lacrosse goalies maintain a high level consistency throughout the season?
As a goalie at Cal I remember games and practices were I was on fire. Saving every single shot that came my way and seeing the ball like a beach ball.
Then I remember the bad games oh too vividly. Where I couldn’t save anything and didn’t seem to pickup the shot until it was already in the back of the net.
Today’s post on creating more consistency in your goalie mental game is a guest post from Ryan Olson VMI ’96. Ryan has over 20 years of experience coaching lacrosse goalies so I’m glad he was able to take some time to contribute to LaxGoalieRat.
Whether it’s hockey or lacrosse, everyone knows the “goalie stereotype”.
Weird people doing weird things for inexplicable reasons. Often the goalies themselves can’t really explain it.
Whether it’s unusual dietary choices, clothing or mannerisms. It’s not universal but it’s certainly common.
I played goalie for 13 years and I’ve coached them for more than 20 and while I’m a little weird too I’ve also had a lot of opportunities to work with goalies from grade school through college. Having worked with so many goalies I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff. Mostly harmless but definitely a little odd.
It’s my personal theory that the “weird” stereotype comes from an innate search for consistency.
Most goalies who have played for any length of time have had a game come out of nowhere where they were stopping shots they had no right stopping and vice versa there have been games where you could do no right. Since we’d all love to know how to make the bad days go away and the good ones the norm I think most goalies will spend at least a few minutes trying to discern what they did right or wrong to have a game like that.
That introspection can lead one to scrutinize minute details of the day leading up to that game. Which I believe is where some of the more “superstitious” goalies get their dogmatic approach to their idiosyncrasies.
“I can’t zip my fly on game day…it’s bad luck!” Because one time I forgot all day and later had an awesome game!
While that approach works for some it’s not a repeatable process that will consistently guide you to being “all that you can be”.
What I’d like to talk about is an approach to creating a repeatable process for mastering the mental game in the goal which is the key to consistency as a keeper.
This was my approach. It may not work exactly as written for everybody but I think the broad strokes are transferable.
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation…We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
My dad gave me that quote in 1986 printed on a 3″x 3″ square of paper. I put it on the wall next to my bed and read it nightly. It spoke to me.
I tried to make it resonate in everything I did on the lacrosse field. In hindsight, understanding and internalizing that quote paid off dividends that accrued like compound interest over time.
It defines a process for constant improvement in plain unambiguous terms.
If you seek to be great at something, you have to try to be great everyday. Don’t accept less than full effort, don’t be satisfied with less than exceptional play and if you can do that consistently over time you will make the exceptional play the norm for you. This is true for any athlete expecting to play at a high level but even more so for goalies.
As a goaltender, you are teaching your body to react in ways that run counter to it’s self preservation instincts.
Simply stated, instead of dodging a hard object coming at you with velocity you are asking your body to move in front of it.
As you progress the motion has to become more and more automatic and efficient in order to be quick enough to be effective.
This becomes more true as you progress from one level to another (junior high to high school, from JV to Varsity and from High School to college). It needs to be programmed into your body so it responds every time you step on a field like Pavlov’s dogs.
It should be wired up to as an automatic response. You can’t expect that automatic response to be something you switch on and off between game day and practice.
Your body responds to what your brain tells it. Like training a dog, you want it to respond consistently to your brain’s messages so those messages need to be consistent and clear.
The most reliable way to do this is to show up everyday at practice and play like it’s game.
Get up. Get excited. Expect excellence from yourself.
Don’t accept less. Make every save. Get every ground ball. Make every outlet perfect.
Over time your body will be receiving the same message every day and will learn to respond every time.
“Excellence is a habit…bad habits are also habits”
The downside to always practicing at 100% effort and enthusiasm is that you may have teammates who do not share your commitment and resolution to be great.
They may take plays off or seek to “go through the motions” at times. This kind of behavior is habitual.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking it will take you where you want to go. In choosing to pursue excellence daily, you are also making a choice to lead.
Teammates who take plays off in practice will let you down in games. I’ve seen it first hand.
You shouldn’t be a jerk but you should make no apologies for expecting great things of yourself and your teammates. That’s a key to being a leader.
Excellence is not divine intervention, it’s not a fluke and it’s not totally unpredictable.
Whether it’s as an athlete, a musician an artist or a business person, embracing excellence is central to the process of mastery.
In my opinion, at the higher levels of the game, goalies have to be so finely tuned to really perform that you cannot and should not risk polluting your game so your teammate can dog it, “chill” or just have an easy practice.
Bad habits are hard to break just as good habits can make you great.
Finally, let’s talk a little about those quirks and superstitions that make up the goalie stereotype.
I have great news. In a Psychology of Sports study led by Dr. Richard Lustburg they measured that sports superstitions actually do help athletes perform better.
“Superstitions are a coping mechanism to deal with the pressure to succeed,” Lustberg writes. “Athletes begin to believe- they, in fact, want to believe- that their routine of choice is enhancing their performance. In reality, it is just practice and confidence that make them perform better.”
The superstition might be just a placebo effect but they create a circular pattern where athletes attribute their success to these superstitions and by repeating them, experience more success.
“If a player has success in sports, it’s more than likely because of practice and skill,” says Lustberg. “But if the player attributes his or her success to some type of different act, such as wearing a certain article of clothing or repeating some kind of routine, the player will repeat the act. As a result, the player’s confidence will rise, and this increased confidence allows the player to perform at a higher level.”
It wasn’t dramatic or even large but it was real and measurable. The point being, if you believe wearing a rasta hat on game day, eating only breakfast foods 24 hours a day, or sleeping upside down in your closet wearing voodoo jewelry makes you a better goalie, then it does!
How much? Who knows. But we’re all looking for a little edge as goalies so whether it’s tweaking your stance, adjusting your grip or employing harmless superstitions we should keep trying to find ways to improve.
As long as it’s not detracting from your game embrace your weird. Let your freak flag fly. But show up to practice ready to work like it’s game day, everyday.
I’ve always enjoyed coaching the mental side of goaltending as I believe it’s the key to really unlocking a player’s ability. What worked for me may not work for you as every goalie is his/her own puzzle that they each have to solve for themselves. I hope in some way this helps you figure out what works for you.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
First of all, thanks to Ryan for the contribution. I hope you got as much out of that as I did reading it.
I want to offer one more tip when it comes to improving your consistency as a lacrosse goalie.
That is: keep a lacrosse goalie journal.
A lacrosse goalie journal is extremely beneficial for goalies to take notes as they progress in their lacrosse careers. These notes can be revisited and learned from.
The goalie journal is a way to record mistakes, learn from them, and ensure when the same situation presents itself again you do the right thing.
The goalie journal is not just about particular situations in a practice or game, like I’m struggling with defending bounce shots or keep your eye on the ball, although you can certainly take notes on the technical elements of goalie play.
However, the more beneficial part of the goalie journal is how you felt in a game. The emotions you went through during a game and how you dealt with them.
Up by a goal with 1 minute left, what was I thinking? Or how did I feel going into that big game? What did I do as preparation on days where I was dominate versus days I sucked?
By studying these notes you can go back and look at your thoughts during hot streaks, times when you were absolutely in the zone, seeing beach balls.
This type of review will help you get back into that state much sooner when you inevitable hit a cold streak.
I find that reviewing the notes from my positive times is actually more beneficial then review notes of what I did wrong or what I need to improve on.
When you played well take note of:
- What were you thinking?
- How did you feel going into the practice or game?
- What type of music where you listening to?
- How did you approach warm up?
- What where doing that day before you arrived to the field?
By studying these elements I think you can avoid going into long bouts of bad play. And that’s what being a consistent lacrosse goalie is all about.
Because every goalie is going to have an off day, a cold streak. But the consistent goalies recover after a practice or two while the inconsistent ones remain bad for weeks perhaps even large chunks of games.
By keeping a journal and studying it, we can improve our goalie consistency in the crease.
They say playing lacrosse goalie is 90% mental. Well having consistency in your game is a huge mental aspect that doesn’t get addressed enough.
Having consistency in your game is about ingraining the save movement so far into our psyche that we don’t even have to think about it when the time comes to make a save – our body simple reacts. Unconscious competence.
This type of play only comes when you give everything you’ve got for every single practice, training session and game.
In this way consistency is a habit you can create.
Also don’t be afraid to embrace those weird goalie superstitions that make us such a strange breed. It turns out they actually do make us better goalies. I typed this post with only my left pinky, we’ll see how my goalie student plays today.
Every lacrosse goalie is going to go through hot and cold streaks.
However the consistent lacrosse goalies can quickly recover when they hit a cold streak. Consider keeping notes in a lacrosse goalie journal to review times when you’re hot. This will help you get back to that state faster.
Until next time! Coach Damon
How do you ensure you’re staying consistent as a goalie? Let me know in the comments.
The idea for this post was originally from a question from a young goalie named Josh. I accidentally deleted your email Josh so I can’t respond back but I hope you read this.