The Cure for a Goalie's Dropping Hands | Lax Goalie Rat

The Cure for a Goalie’s Dropping Hands

Got the same question via email this week from a Midwest goalie coach and a goalie Dad who both wanted to know if I had any tricks for when goalies are dropping the head of their stick.

As we slowly develop some of our goalies here in the Midwest I’ve seen a number of them dipping their stick head when the shot goes off. Do you have any tricks or pearls to get them to stay focused on the ball without dipping their head down? – KP

Here’s the goalie Dad’s questions:

My son is a goalie and he doesn’t always like or listen to Dad’s suggestions.  But if he has one weakness it’s when he’s faced with a step down shot from 5-7 yds.  Instead of playing big and challenging the shooter, he stays on the goal line and tries to react.  But he has a tendency to drop his hands and than react.  Which is obviously to late and it’s in the net. Do you have a drill to work on keeping your hands high?  Please let me know, thanks.
Garnet

Dropping the hands on the shot is a fairly common beginner goalie mistake.

In this post, let’s explore what exactly causes a goalie to drop the hands as the shot is released and how we can train goalies to not do that.

Why Do Goalies Drop Hands?

If you’ve spent anytime in goal or coaching goalies, you’ve seen it before.

A goalie is set in a perfect stance and as the shot is released the hands drop.

Notice how this goalie’s hands drop as the shot is released? He still makes the save relying on his athleticism.

However I think everyone can agree its a much easier save if he just moves his top hand (point A) directly to the shot’s path (point B) in a straight line.

In fact as goalies move up to the higher levels of lacrosse, they don’t make many saves with a double motion to the ball.

As Scotty Rodgers likes to say – you’ve got one bullet in the chamber.

And if you fire that bullet in the wrong direction, you’re giving up a goal.

So why exactly do goalies drop their hands in the first place?

Well, it’s the body’s defense mechanism.

In this post on lacrosse goalies and fear, I discuss the “fear response” (something I learned from Coach Chris Buck).

Humans are built to survive. Our natural response is to keep safe.

When you accidentally put your hand on a hot stove, your natural reaction is to immediately pull away. You don’t think about it. Your body reacts naturally to keep safe, to stay alive.

When someone fires a rubber bullet at a lacrosse goalie equipped with very little padding, the natural reaction is to keep safe.

And unfortunately that means dropping the chin to protect the neck, bringing your knees inward to get as small as possible and of course, bringing the hands in to protect your vital organs.

Welcome to the world of lacrosse goalies where we need to unwire thousands of years of evolution in the name of making saves.

Being on the receiving end of a 90mph shot definitely qualifies as a threat.

Thus when a shot is fired the goalie’s body activates an auto fear response.

So how exactly do we train lacrosse goalies to stop dropping their hands when shots are incoming?

Here are my thoughts.

Get Padded Up

When you talk to ice hockey goalies, even if they’re a newbie, there’s a feeling of invincibility when they strap on all the pads.

A puck hits their head or their blocker and they barely feel it. The brain doesn’t associate shots with pain.

On the other hand lacrosse goalies are pretty exposed.

Ankles, calves, knees, thighs, shoulders are all free to absorb those rubber bullets.

And as a goalie, it’s really only a matter of time before you take a hard ripped shot to each one of those areas above.

As Coach Bill Daye said in our podcast together, “taking a shot there doesn’t tickle”.

As a result, our brains associate a hard shot with pain. When an attackman starts to wind up to release a crank shot, a wave of fear overcomes the young goalie.

When you’re padded up we can reduce those feelings of fear and thus reduce the body’s defense mechanisms – like dropping your hands – that come along with fear.

Build A Counter Into Your Stance

When I chatted with Providence goalie Tate Boyce he brought up an interesting concept.

The idea is this –

If you know every single time your top hand drops or comes inward towards your body, then why not build a counter into your stance?

Here’s Providence’s current starting goalie Toby Burgdorf demonstrating what I’m referring to –

Having the stick titled forward like that is not necessarily an ideal setup. We want our stick vertical in the perfect goalie stance.

When your top hand is extended out in your stance it’s difficult to explode to the ball.

As Jim Beardmore said in our podcast together, when the hands are out extended like that the energy pathways are closed. You cannot explode to the ball.

However what Toby and Tate realize is that each time a shot gets fired at them their hands come into their body naturally.

So by setting up in this way, when the hands inevitable move in upon shot release, they will actually be in a perfect position to make the save.

This technique isn’t for everyone.

But if you’re struggling with dropping hands, I do encourage you to give it a try and see if it works for you.

Drills to Prevent Dropping Hands

Here are some lacrosse goalie drills you can work into your goalie training in order to reduce the habit of a goalie dropping his hands pre-shot.

Shots Behind A Chain-Linked Fence

One drill I’ve been using lately was actually introduced to me by a reader of this blog who was taught by Coach Guy Van Arsdale, an All-American goalie.

We’ll call it “Chain Fence”. The goalie stands protected behind a chain link fence, with or without pads but I would usually keep the helmet and gloves on at a minimum (although we didn’t in this demo photo cause the chain link was super small).

I’ll fire shots at the goalie as hard as I can from very close and the goalie makes simulated saves. Focusing on the aggressive mindset and attacking the shot.

I think the fence helps the body understand that no pain is possible and therefore no fear is needed. As you repeat shot after shot with no fear, the body starts to detach fear from shot.

Without the threat of pain, the goalie is free to simply focus on the shot and release point.

This helps the goalie develop a no fear mindset and helps them attack that ball once the chain link fence is no longer there.

Table Top

Here’s a drill I picked up from the TCM Lacrosse guys.

The drill involves placing a table underneath your hands and doing some reps.

 

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One thing I would add to this drill is someone firing a shot, or at least winding up to take one.

As I mentioned above the dropping hands habit is often the result of fearing the shot and by seeing that big wind up on the shot we can attempt to trigger those feelings and work the habit out of our system.

Shots With A Nerf Ball

A great drill to eliminate the fear response is another I learned from Coach Buck. It’s called “Nerf Ball”.

Again this drill can be used to remove the association of fear and shot. They’re nerf balls, they don’t hurt.

Even with the nerf balls you’ll find beginning goalies can still flinch or go into turtle mode in this drill. Work that out of their system.

They should be calm and focused on the ball’s release in this drill.

Here’s is Coach Buck’s video of that drill:

I’ve yet to find exact type of nerf ball Coach Buck uses but I’ve used these nerf golf balls with success for this drill.

Handcuff Drill

In this drill we’ll connect our top hand to the helmet with a lanyard (or a handcuffs).

You connect your top hand to your helmet. Thus training your head to get behind the shot as well.

But this drill also as the additional benefit of training you not to drop your hands pre-shot.

Because if you instinctively drop your hands pre-shot, you’re going to pull your helmet downwards.

 

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Shots with a Long Pole

Team USA goalie Liz Hogan reminded me about this great drill to cure a goalie’s dropping hands.

This is similar to the Table Top drill in that it gives the goalie a physical reminder if the hands drop during the shot.

Shots with a long pole is also great to ensure you don’t twist your body during off-stick hip saves.

If the hands don’t drive outwards with that long pole, it gets caught in the net.

Shots, Shots, Shots

The more shots a young goalie sees the more comfortable he or she will start to feel in goal.

While nearly every beginning goalie will demonstrate some element of the fear response in the early days, with repetition after repetition their mindset changes and they start to fear the ball less.

So after you’ve learned the basics of making a save, you’ve got to start seeing shots.

There is no substitution for seeing rubber.

Conclusion

Dropping your hands pre shot is a fairly common issue with beginning goalies.

It’s your body’s instinctive way of protecting itself when it feels a threat. And a 90mph rubber bullet definitely qualifies as a threat.

The problem is – as a goalie we have very little time to react to make a save.

We have one bullet in the chamber and if your hands drop you’re essentially firing your bullet. On a high save the hands then need to come back up and it’s tough.

At youth levels goalies can still make saves with this habit but as you rise up in level and the shots become harder and more accurate, you will not make the save.

Until next time! Coach Damon

What your guys favorite ways to reduce dropping the hands pre shot? Let me know down below in the comments. 

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