A basic element of making a save in lacrosse is stepping with your lead foot (right foot if shot is to your right, left foot if shot is to your left) to get your body behind the shot and assist your top hand in moving the stick to the ball.
There is some debate within the lacrosse goalie community about which is more effective for saving shots: a lateral step or a 45-degree step.
When I learned the position the dominant line of thinking was that a 45 degree step was the best method for cutting off the shot, getting our body behind the ball and making saves.
But times have changed and now many goalies especially at the top levels are opting to take a lateral step to get their body in front of shots.
What exactly has changed?
For starters, lacrosse players are shooting are harder and more accurate today then ever before. The record for fastest shot is currently 116 MPH. And this was from someone not even in the MLL.
So goalies have had to adapt the save methods to keep pace with the current trends in lacrosse.
In this post I want to examine the pros and cons of each type of step so that you can choose which is right for your goalie game.
The 45 degree step for Lacrosse Goalies
When most goalies are taught the position they’re taught to step at the shot at a 45 degree angle.
For the purposes of this post I’m going to call this the 45-degree step. It could be 50 degrees, it could be 30 degrees, or any other variation but the idea is you’re stepping forward at an angle to intercept the shot path.
This is the strategy I learned when I started playing goalie and this is how I still teach new goalies to this day. For reasons I’ll discuss below I do think this is the first method that goalies should learn.
There are many benefits to using the 45-degree step:
Shorter Distance to Cover
By taking a step forward at an angle, the goalie intersects the shot path at a 90 degree angle.
When you intersect the shot path at 90 degrees you are taking the most direct route to the ball.
And taking a direct route to the ball means you have to cover less distance.
Cuts Down Angle on the Shot
If you’re a smaller goalie, you may have trouble reaching the corners of the goal with your step. This isn’t a problem for MLL’s Drew Adams who stands 6 feet tall or Scott Rodgers at 6’4″.
With a single step these goalies can easily reach either goal post. But what about a youth goalie at 5 feet?
By taking a step out at a 45-degree angle you cut down angle on the shot and ensure that even at a small height the goalie can cover the corners of the goal.
I always recommend youth goalies start with the 45-degree step and part of the reason is to ensure they can properly cover all corners of the goal.
Develop a Mindset of Attacking the Ball
When most goalies start, they’re afraid of the ball. It takes experience and repetition in order to train your body to lose the flinch reflex and aggressively attack the shot.
Some goalies are more fearless than others and don’t have much a flinch while others need a lot of work.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum I always find that goalies who adopt the 45-degree step get into a habit of attacking the ball. Developing this habit helps rid of your body of the flinch reaction.
For the bounce shots we want to try to meet the ball as to bounce as possible, even catching it in the air to reduce the chance of a bad bounce.
By taking the 45-degree step we’re able to meet the bounce shot closer to bounce and reduce the chance of a bad or unpredictable hop.
Lateral Step for Lacrosse Goalies
In today’s game you see many of the top NCAA and MLL goalies actually don’t take a 45-degree but rather they opt to use a lateral step.
The lateral step is where the goalie just takes a step to his/her left or right, parallel with the goal line, to intercept the shot path.
With both the 45-degree and lateral step the goalie should be pushing off of their back foot to drive their body in the direction they want to go. That technique is the same regardless of which angle you choose to step at.
NCAA All-American and current goalie coach Trevor Tierney was a big fan of the flat arc. I discuss his particular style in my post on flats arc and stepping laterally.
The lateral step pretty much boils down to a single advantage:
More Time to See the Shot
This is the primary benefit of a lateral step – more time to see the shot.
By stepping laterally, instead of forward at an angle, we give ourselves just an extra millisecond of time to see the ball.
Sometimes that extra millisecond is the difference between a save and a goal.
With shooters in today’s game shooting harder and more accurate than ever many goalies in the MLL have opted to use the lateral step in order to get more time to see the ball and more time to get their body and stick in front of the shot.
You can check out Trevor Tierney explaining his theory behind the lateral step in this video:
Should I Use a 45-Degree Step or a Lateral Step?
As I’ve mentioned in many articles on this site, there are many different styles of playing goalie.
Some goalies like to get setup very low in their stance, others are more upright. Some goalies like to setup with the stick completely perpendicular to the ground, others have it at more of an angle.
The beauty of goaltending is it’s all about whatever works for you.
The difference between a 45-degree step and a lateral step is among those choices.
My personal preference is that youth goalies start by learning the 45-degree step.
I think stepping forward at an angle is a more effective way of getting your body and most importantly your stick to the ball.
For the smaller goalies it also also cuts down the angle allowing them to cover every corner of the goal.
By attacking the ball with a forward step you train your body to be fearless and you’re also able to meet a bounce shot closer to the bounce which eliminate funny hops.
So I think the advantages of the 45-degree step outweigh the lateral step when a goalie is first learning this position.
Later on in your career once you’ve developed a good understanding of the position and have greatly improved your hand-eye coordination and reflexes then you can consider the lateral step if you’re finding that you don’t have enough time to react to the shooter’s higher velocity shots.
The fundamentals between a 45-degree step and a lateral step are not all that different. You still want to push and drive off your back foot to get your body into the shot path. Not a major difference, just tweaking the angle of attack. Lateral step gives you more time, 45-degree step cuts down the angle and allows you to cover more goal.
Like many aspects of lacrosse goaltending, experience with this lateral step in practice to see how it effects your game. Only when the technique is fully refined and working well for you should you then take it into a game.
And if you’re having success with the 45-degree step but hear so much these days about “lateral step…lateral step…lateral step” and are wondering if you should make the switch? Don’t. If it ain’t broke, don’t fit it.
Part of the save process is taking a step with our lead foot in the attempt to get our stick in front of the ball and our body behind in the shot in event the stick doesn’t make it there. That much is universally agreed upon by all goalies.
However the type of step you take is the subject of much debate in the lacrosse goalie community.
There’s the 45 degree angle step which cuts down the angle and allows you to cover the corners a little better. Or there’s the lateral step which gives the goalie more time to save the shot.
I recommend new goalies start with the 45-degree step and then learn the lateral step as they advance in their game. Some may not even want to switch at all if the 45-degree step is working well for them.
Regardless of whether you’re for the lateral or 45-degree step, one thing is for sure – the debate will rage on.
Until next time! Coach Damon
What kind of step do you use – lateral, 45-degree, or something else? Let me hear it in the comments below.
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About Coach Damon
About Coach Damon
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.