Lacrosse Goalies and Leadership: How to Become a Team Leader
By Coach Damon on January 21, 2019
It’s often said that the position of lacrosse goalie is one of leadership. The goalie is the leader – the quarterback – of the defense after all.
It’s not absolutely required that the goalie be a team leader but I think lacrosse teams are better when their goalie is the leader.
So what if you’re not a natural born leader?
What if you’re struggling to be a leader of the team when you know you should be?
That’s the premise of the question I got from a young sophomore goalie who’s trying to work his way up the depth chart:
I’ve been reading your blog for a while and it has really helped me. What I have really been struggling with is just trying to become a better leader on the field. Do you have any suggestions or tips for what I can do better? I am also a sophomore and am trying to move up on the depth chart even though I have two seniors in front of me. – MB
Leadership is a little more natural when you have some seniority on the team. Everyone assumes the starting senior goalie will be the leader of the team and most times they are.
Being a leader of your lacrosse team can be a daunting task when you’re first starting out.
Every team needs leadership. In difficult times players are left searching out the leaders in their team, but not everyone can pick up to the baton and lead the team during trying times.
It takes a special range of characteristics to excel as a leader of your lacrosse team. If you’re interested in gaining those leadership skills, here are a few tips to follow.
Earn the Respect
Before you can be a leader of your defense (or the entire lacrosse team) you have to earn respect.
Defenders will not listen to someone that they do not respect. On the other hand, ask any defender and they’ll tell you they love to play for a goalie they respect, even if that goalie is younger or more inexperienced than them.
Next, understand that respect is earned, it is not given.
When you join a new team as a freshman, it is up to you to earn that respect.
How is that done? Here are a few ideas to earn that respect…
Do All the Work
Lacrosse goalie is not like other positions. While it does require a level of physical performance, we’re not sprinting up and down the field like our teammates.
As a result, some goalies think they don’t need to do all the conditioning their teammates do.
Not true if you want to be a respected leader.
Leaders do all the work.
Hop in every line drill. Do all the running with your teammates. Do all the lifting with your teammates.
Don’t get lazy during specialty position practice. Never go through the motions.
If your teammates are working their tails off and they look down at the goalies who have been thr20-yard yard outlet passes for the last 20 minutes, respect is lost.
Participating in every team drill and putting in max effort during positional work will help you earn the respect of the team.
Because your team knows as a goalie you could probably be on the sidelines during some drills and nobody would say anything. But instead you’re in there, mixing it up with the boys (or girls).
Know the System
Can you imagine a quarterback trying to be a leader of a football team when they don’t know the playbook?
Part of the reason that juniors and seniors tend to be the leaders is that they have strong lacrosse IQ. Their experience in the game means they know the “playbook”.
They know the different elements of the game and how to play proper team defense.
How can you expect to be a leader of the team if you don’t know how to run a clear? If you don’t know where the 1 or 2 slide should come from?
Knowing the system – having a high lacrosse IQ – gives your teammates faith in you. They know that when you open your mouth to say something it carries meaning because you walk the walk.
That’s why in my online goalie camp I include an entire module dedicated to improving your lacrosse IQ. It helps your game and your leadership skills tremendously.
When a goalie has a high lacrosse IQ, your teammates can have faith in you that on game day you’re going to do your job.
Lead by Example
The easiest method to show leadership without a position of authority or seniority is to lead by example.
You don’t have to be a team captain to lead by example.
You don’t have to be the starting goalie to be the hardest worker on the team.
You don’t have to be in a position of leadership to be respectful of the sport and have a tremendously positive attitude.
You can lead by example.
Think about the behaviors you want and expect from your team members and be sure to exhibit those traits yourself.
Leaders show commitment and passion but you don’t have to be a team captain to be committed to winning and getting better and passionate for the sport of lacrosse and your team.
Make it clear you’re all there to work towards success for the big picture of winning of championships with your team.
Leading by example also means outworking everyone. Pushing your team to keep with your level of training and make everyone better in the process.
When your teammates see you getting your hands dirty, taking extra shots, sprinting after practice and going 100% during practice you earn some leadership points with your team.
Remember: leaders are not perfect—but they are always working hard on improving and honing their craft.
Be a Good Goalie
At the end of the day, regardless of how hard you work and how well you know the system, if you’re not a decent goalie, it’s going to be tough to lead the team.
The same concept applies to business leaders. A business leader must be competent.
A boss who demonstrates all the leadership characteristics in the world but is NOT skilled at his/her job will not be able to lead a team.
When you’re a good goalie your teammates can trust that you’ll make the saves you should make. They don’t have to worry about that.
That means working religiously on improving your game.
Your teammates will see your extra work and that will earn you additional respect which goes back to my first point.
Do you have to be an elite goalie to be a team leader? No.
Do you have to be a competent goalie to be a team leader? I argue yes.
Nobody else on the field beside us goalies can make saves (well quick shout out to defensemen who sacrifice their bodies on occasion). So we need to be competent at our jobs at a minimum.
Regardless of how much leadership skills we have, if we’re not competent goalies, it’s going to be difficult to lead the team and command the respect.
Carry Yourself Like a Leader
How you carry yourself on the lacrosse speaks volumes to what type of leader you are.
After giving up a goal are you the goalie that does any of these:
- Slumps shoulder
- Throws palms up
- Slams stick
- Drops head
That’s not the body language of a leader.
When your team does tough conditioning drills are you the one complaining or are you the one encouraging others and pushing everyone to get better?
Great leaders on the lacrosse field stand, walk, and gesture in ways that exude confidence and competence.
What you say with your body language matters. Carry yourself like a leader even if you’re not the designated team captain.
Great leaders also speak with confidence. Maybe you’re a naturally shy goalie but when you’re yelling out your commands to communicate with the defense you must learn to use a confident tone.
Keep that in mind the next time you’re on the field with your teammates.
Be a Leader Off The Field
When you read about great sports leaders – the Derek Jeters, they Ray Lewises, the Shane Battiers, the Peyton Mannings, the Hunter Pences – you realize their leadership didn’t end once they walked off the field.
To be a leader of a lacrosse team you must continue that role when you step off the field too.
Help younger players feel like part of the team. Help a struggling teammate with their schoolwork. Help a slumping teammate regain their mental edge.
They are tons of different ways you can demonstrate leadership off the field but the important thing to know is once the game is over, your leadership shouldn’t stop.
Passion for the Game
I love lacrosse. It’s my passion. And when I step into the crease and play with my teammates that comes out.
When we’re doing the West Genny drill I approach with the same passion and enthusiasm as the championship game.
When a defender makes a takeaway check or knocks an attackman on his butt, my excitement overflows and I’m the first guy there giving them props after we’ve cleared the ball.
As a leader, you have to show passion and enthusiasm. It’s contagious and it makes your teammates want to play for you.
Know Your Role
Finally, I want to mention that it is important to respect your role on the team.
If as an underclassmen you come in and try to boss around players who’ve been through the program several years in an attempt at “leadership”, you’re going to lose credibility.
Most of the points in this article can be exercised without stepping on the captains’ or seniors’ toes so this just goes as a warning that you should respect the guys/gals that came before you while still trying your hardest to be a leader.
The way Tom Brady is a leader to the Patriots now is a lot different than the way he was a leader to them in the year 2000 after being drafted.
Leadership is absolutely possible as a younger player but sometimes it does take time to fully blossom as you can experience.
On the lacrosse field, leadership must be both learned and earned.
Some people seem to be born with a degree of talent or inclination, but without cultivation raw talent rarely comes to meet its full potential.
Chuck Noll, former head and winner of four Super Bowls, stated:
On every team there is a core group who sets the tone for everyone else. If the tone is positive, you have half the battle won. If it is negative, you are beaten before you even walk out on the field.
When goalies step up and embrace leadership – even without being a captain – teams get better.
I encourage each and every one of you to see yourself as a leader who lends their unique strengths and skills to the team to help everyone get better.
Follow the tips in this article and you should be on your way to becoming a great leader in the crease and in life.
Until next time! Coach Damon
Photo Credit: The Art of Lax
What are your top pieces of advice for lacrosse goalie leadership? Let me hear about it in the comments down below.