Today I’m going to talk about an extremely important part of playing goalie – clearing.
Clearing is just as important as saving the ball and it should be a favorite of all goalies because it means either you’ve just made a save or your defense has forced a turnover. Is there a better feeling than that?
Some might argue a successful clear is more important because losing the ball on a clear can take the air out of a defense and give the other team momentum.
In addition, the clearing team has 7 players on their half of the field while the riding team only has 6. Thus putting the advantage in our favor.
Let me cover a few concepts in this post that will make you a much more effective goalie when it comes to leading the clear.
Goalies should clamp the loose ball using the back of their stick.
If the goalie is within the crease, offensive players cannot make contact with the goalie’s stick nor body. So if you’ve clamped the rebound just outside of the crease, always drag it back into the crease before attempting to scoop it up.
If the rebound is clamped outside of the crease, an attack player may make contact with the goalie’s stick (but not the body) in the attempt to jar the ball loose. Therefore, be a little patient and let your long poles clear out those pesky attackman with big body checks before you rake the ball back into the crease.
Once you scoop up that rebound give a loud “CLEAR” call (or whatever lacrosse term you use for that situation) to indicate that you have the ball and the team should start the clear.
During an NFL passing play, the quarterback has progressions. Meaning he’ll look at his 1st receiver and if he’s not open, he’ll move to the 2nd, then 3rd, and if they’re not open, he’ll take off scrambling (or take a sack).
Similarly after making a save, the goalie should go through a series of progressions to initiate the clear. Here’s the progression I recommend:
Spot where the shot came from – The player shooting the ball is often watching to see if his shot went in, leaving open teammates directly behind him in space he drove from with a clear path to the midfield.
Breaking Middies on opposite side of field where shot came from – The quickest clear and easiest clear is to outlet to a middie. This often leads to a fast break as well. So if option #1 is unavailable, look to the middies on opposite side of the field and try to hit them with a lob pass.
Defenders on either side of the goal – Your defensive teammates should know to break to these spots on the field lateral to the goal. If there are no open middies up the field in our 1st two progressions we’ll look to outlet to a defenseman on either side.
Run up field – If the 1st 3 progressions are all covered and there is nobody guarding the goalie and there ample free space in front of the goalie, head up field existing the crease through the top. Nothing gets riding attackmen more excited then seeing a goalie on the move so be extremely cautious and look for two-on-ones to make a clearing pass.
Head out the back of the crease – If someone is guarding the goalie in front of the crease, then exit out the back of the crease. The riding attackman will follow you, so be sure to run as close to the goal as possible. Since the attackman must stay outside the crease running in a large circle, staying close to the pipes will create space between you and that attackman.
Remember you can only hold the ball in the crease for 4 seconds after making a save. Therefore, progressions 1-3 are very quick reads.
During practices you also need to train your middies to be looking for an outlet pass as they run up the field. Middies who don’t look back to give the goalie an outlet option is a major goalie pet peeve of mine.
Give the space a look and if nobody is open then move onto the next progression. If no open middies or defensemen are open, then you must exit the crease on foot to avoid the 4 second turnover.
As you practice these progressions they should become second nature.
Since the clearing has 7 players vs. the riding team’s 6 players we can always find a 2 on 1 somewhere on the field. Goalies must be able to spot and use 2×1’s to maximize the chance of a successful clear.
If you went through your progressions with no outlet pass and exited the crease via the back we’ll typically find a 2×1 with one of our defenseman and a riding attackman.
As the goalie moves upfield the attackman will be drawn towards the goalie and we can lob a pass over his head to our open defenseman.
In the event that the attackman doesn’t bite and stays put on your teammate then simple carry the ball upfield yourself. This is why I’ve advocated that all goalies need to have great stick skills. If nobody from the riding team picks up the goalie then he continue to run over midfield and find an open attackman or middie to outlet to.
And of course if nobody continues to pick up the goalie on the offensive side we can attempt to live every goalies dream like the video below. Notice how this goalie 1st goes through his outlet progressions, sees nobody open and then exits the crease. He attempts to force a 2×1 but the attackman stay home on the defenders and so he simple carries it over midfield.
NOTE: I DO NOT RECOMMEND that goalies attempt to make dodges in the offensive zone as this could result very easily in a turnover or even worse in injury:
Here are the different types of passes goalies will need to master to dominate clearing.
The Lob Pass
When we see breaking middies in the clear we typically want to use a lob pass.
In this pass we’ll put some air underneath our throw to allow middies to run under the ball and make the catch. Make sure you don’t lob the ball anywhere near the midfield line since opposing players run up and crush your teammates. Similarly, if you see anyone behind your teammate don’t use the lob pass for the same reason.
Throwing “hospital passes” (i.e. passes that put your teammates in the hospital) is a quick way to make enemies amongst teammates.
Remember when throwing to teammates on the run, you want to lead them a little bit. Don’t throw to where they are but to where they are going to be so that they can catch the ball in stride and continue to move up field.
The Bullet Pass
The bullet pass is a hard direct throw right to a teammate. Goalies will use this type of pass when a teammate is standing still or moving towards the goalie.
This pass is much better with a midfielder than with a defenseman because its a little harder to catch. However if you’re playing in a more experienced league or your defenseman have good stick skills they should have no problem making the grab.
Which pass to use?
Goalies must know when you use the lob or the bullet.
If a defending player is behind your teammate, the bullet is the pass to use. Sometimes I’ll even throw the pass slightly short to make sure my teammate moves towards the ball and doesn’t drift back into riding attackman behind him.
If the riding attackman is between the goalie and middie, then the lob pass is the ball to throw.
Practice these passes until you can throw dimes every single time. A single bad pass could result in a turnover and more time on defense for you and your teammates.
Simple Drills to help your clearing game
During a normal warmup with my goalies, I’ll grab another player and have the goalie make an outlet pass after each save instead of simply throwing the ball back to the shooter.
The outlet player should be running away from the goal to simulate a real-live situation. This gets the goalie accustomed to immediately looking up after the save and putting the right touch on the ball to initiate the clear.
Of course all goalies need strong stick skills too. So be sure to add that practice into your regiment so that your passing, throwing, and catching is just as good (if not better) than anyone else on the team.
Practice Your Passing
Practice throwing both lob and bullet passes until you consistently hit your target.
If you don’t have a teammate to play catch with practice bullet passes on a wall and practice throwing lob passes into a garbage can.
Once you have those passes down, add movement. While many times a goalie will be able to make an outlet from stationary position in the crease, there are other times when you will be on the run, possibly being harassed by a riding attackman.
Practice throwing your bullet and your lob passes while on the run – first at a jogging pace and then a full sprint.
One Tip from Years of Playing
Here is one move that I learned from an old goalie that I used quite frequently when playing and still teach to my goalie students today.
It is illegal for an offensive player to contact the goalie’s crosse when the goalie has possession of the ball in the crease. The penalty for such is an offense being a free clear.
In my playing days I earned numerous free clears immediately after making a one-on-one save.
Often times with those saves the ball gets popped up into the air as the goalie pushes it upwards. Upon catching the ball, leave your stick right in the attackman’s face for just a second. Almost inviting him to hit your stick.
They’re typically so frustrated from just having gotten stuffed at the doorstep that they’ll always take a swing at your stick. Plus many don’t know the rule that the goalie’s stick cannot be hit while he has the ball in the crease.
Boom. Free clear.
And if they don’t go for it, fine. Go through your normal clearing progressions that I discussed above.
Hopefully by now you understand the importance of clearing in a goalie’s game. You’re not doing your team any good if you can only make saves but cannot clear.
All-American goalies need to be lead the clear and get their team the ball on offense.
If you enjoyed this post on clears, please share it with other goalies, players, parents and/or coaches.
Until next time! Coach Damon
What tips do you have for making your team better at clears?
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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.