Many goalies and parents think that kids with dreams of playing goalie for an NCAA D1 lacrosse program should focus their time and energy on playing goalie year-round.
In theory, it makes sense for athletes to specialize at goalie. After all, as I’ve mentioned several times on this blog before – practice makes perfect. Therefore, by specializing early, athletes should be improving their chance of high school dominance and perhaps one day a college scholarship to a top lacrosse program.
With the college recruiting process seemingly starting earlier and earlier in young player’s lives, the pressure to specialize in a single sport has never been greater.
If you are a youth, junior high or even high school lacrosse goalie, should you play multiple sports or focus on simply developing your lacrosse goalie game? Such is a question that all young goalies and their parents face.
The reality is that single sport specialization, especially in a unique position like lacrosse goalie, does more harm than good.
It’s my strong belief and the belief of many sports scientists that kids should not specialize in being a lacrosse goalie at least before high school and perhaps even before college.
In this post I’ll share my reasons why I think all lacrosse goalies should play other sports.
I grew up playing multiple sports. It’s just what my family did.
As a kid it was soccer, baseball, and basketball. In high school, it was soccer, wrestling, lacrosse, and tennis. Then in college it was lacrosse.
For me, playing multiple sports not only helped me physically but mentally as well.
It not only helped me develop self-confidence which is essential to the position of lacrosse goalie, but also helped me deal with the trials and tribulations that life as a lax goalie is certain to bring.
After I finished my collegiate goalie career I was playing pickup basketball 3 days a week at my gym. I returned for the alumni game a year later and although I had been coaching goalies I literally hadn’t seen a shot since my final collegiate game. But I dominated in net that day.
Parents after the game inquired has to how much lacrosse I was playing and were extremely surprised when I answered – none.
I’m a strong believer that playing other sports helps your goalie skills.
Playing Multiple Sports Increases Overall Athleticism
Lacrosse goalies should be one of the best athletes on the team.
Just look at ex-Albany and current MLL Florida Launch star Brett Queener.
In 2009 he made the Boston Blazers, a professional indoor lacrosse (NLL) team, as a field player – not a goalie. While he played at Albany, he would often come out of the net to play offense on man-up situations. Watch him sprint full field after a save, absolutely juking defenders along the way to score a goal and there’s no question this dude is a serious athlete.
Research shows that early participation in multiple sports leads to better overall motor and athletic development, longer playing careers, increased ability to transfer sports skills to other sports and increased motivation, ownership of the sports experience, and confidence.
Those are all good things.
Most D1 College Athletes Come From a Multi-Sport Background
Perhaps you saw this graphic make the rounds on social media. Originally from Twitter (@ohiovarsity) it explains the number of football recruits who were multi sport athletes vs. those who specialized in football only. I first saw the graphic on Strength Coach Will’s blog on this same topic.
A UCLA sports specialization study surveying 296 NCAA Division I male and female athletes, average age 19, found that 88 percent participated in an average of two to three sports as a children, and 70 percent did not specialize in one sport until after the age of 12.
If you look at those who reach the top levels of college athletics, including lacrosse, the data is clear. Those who play multiple sports as a youth are more likely to make it to the NCAA Division I level.
At the youngest ages, we shouldn’t try to develop lacrosse goalies. We should develop athletes who love to play lacrosse goalie.
When I spoke with this NCAA D1 lacrosse goalie we shared how we were both multi-sport athletes in high school, each starring for our team’s wrestling squad, in addition to other sports.
Playing Multiple Sports Helps Avoid Burnout
Those who commit to a single sport are often the 1st to suffer burnout and quit the sport altogether.
Playing goalie is great but its easy to see how a young goalie could get sick of the bruises and emotional hardships that come with this position and want to quit lacrosse entirely.
Playing soccer or basketball during lacrosse’s offseason not only gets the goalies body into better shape to save shots but it also helps to prevent burnout.
When the lacrosse season rolls around again the child is pumped to play. The enjoyment level is high and that transfers into great performance between the pipes.
Multi-Sport Athletes are Smarter Athletes
In addition to better increasing motor skills, the science shows that multiple sport athletes are better at decision and play recognition.
Playing any sport requires quick reactions and decision making. Youth athletes hone these skills not only in lacrosse, but also in fast moving
So the same play recognition skills that are honed on a basketball court or an ice hockey rink will help a goalie recognize plays when it comes time to stop lacrosse shots.
Research Shows Multi-Sport Athletes are More Successful
The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine has done extensive research on this topic – Single Sports Specialization vs. Multi-Sport athletes.
So what do they say?
Dr. John P. DiFlori, President of organization for the UCLA Department of Intercollegiate Athletics states, “With the exception of select sports such as gymnastics in which the elite competitors are very young, the best data we have would suggest that the odds of achieving elite levels with this method are exceedingly poor.”
For lacrosse goalies the elite competitors are not 14-15 year olds, they’re the Kyle Bernlohrs and Scott Rodgers of the world who are in their early or late 20’s.
At the tender age of 14 maybe your little one has found his passion playing in goal, but who knows? Maybe he/she’s really meant to play defense or another sports altogether. By not specializing you give your child a better chance at arriving at their true passion in the sports world.
I think playing goalie year round is hazardous to a youth’s sports health and should be avoided. Lacrosse goalies should get plenty of time in between the pipes but they should also spend time playing other sports as well.
In the debate of single sport specialization vs. multi sport athletes for lacrosse goalies, here’s my advice – let your young goalie participate in multiple sports.
In fact, let your child have some time to just be a kid. Not everything they do has to be so structured and organized. Let them love sports and let it grow from there.
Until next time! Coach Damon
Would love to hear your opinion on lacrosse goalies specializing vs. playing multiple sports. Please leave a comment down below to start the conversation.
Lacrosse is my passion! The game has given me so much and this blog is my way of giving back to the lax community. Specifically the most bad a$$ part of that community - the goalies! After learning to play goalie from scratch, I wanted to create a site where I could share what I learned with others so they too can become champions in the crease and in life. Learn more about Coach Damon.