It’s true. Take a look at any lacrosse goalie, specially men’s high school and above and they’re very exposed. No leg pads, nothing on the arms, no shoulder protection, a fresh pallet for bruises just waiting to be painted by high speed shots.
So why is that the case? Why don’t lacrosse goalies wear pads?
In this post I want to dive into that question and then also discuss the current state of lacrosse goalie protection and make some predictions as to where I see lacrosse goalie protection going in the future.
Machismo and Tradition
I think the two biggest factors for the lack of pads on lacrosse goalies is machismo and tradition.
In the words of current MLL goalie Ryan LePlante:
“If I were to wear shin pads, I would get heckled the whole time.”
Right there is machismo and tradition tightly bundled into one nice quote.
Early lacrosse goalies wore very little padding and thus the game has a tradition of lacrosse goalies not being well protected.
With the game’s culture that way, many lacrosse goalies fear breaking that tradition for risk of being heckled, aka machismo. They’ve convinced themselves that pads will actually hurt their game versus improving their shot saving ability.
But the game has changed and tradition needs to change too in my opinion.
Consider this, before 1959 ice hockey goalies didn’t wear face masks. Until Jacques Plante grew tired of suffering broken noses and wore one in a game. And you better believe he got heckled for breaking tradition.
When early lacrosse goalies jumped into cage they wore essentially no pads as demonstrated by this shot in 1942 of a Navy cadet manning the goal. Clearly his team was “skins” that day.
Pretty crazy that he doesn’t wear any chest protection. But it becomes a little more understandable when you look at a crosse from that era of play.
I mean how fast could you realistically shoot with a wand like this?
Fast forward 65 years and the game of lacrosse has introduced – plastic heads, offset heads, titanium and ultra-light / strong shafts, deep pockets, mesh pockets, and pockets strung with ‘whip‘.
All these technological advancements to lacrosse equipment have allowed shooters to rip it faster and more accurately.
In this study by Graham Walker, he compared shots with a traditional wood stick vs. a modern current plastic/composite stick.
With the modern stick the player averaged a 94 MPH with 80% accuracy (hit desired target 8/10 times). With the traditional wooden stick, the player averaged 64 MPH with 60% accuracy.
30MPH difference and more accurate! And that was with the same player using the two different sticks.
But as we know with today’s developments in sports science, weight training, and supplementation, lacrosse players are physically stronger and quicker than their historic counterparts. There’s no doubt today’s athletes can shoot faster even with the equipment of the 1940’s.
They’re more likely to look like this dude than the skinny twigs you see in old photos:
With the rise in lacrosse’s popularity and an increase in college scholarships, the sport is able to attract the top athletes, like the 6’5″ Myles Jones, that might have previously chosen to dominate another sport.
So the game of lacrosse has clearly changed from when our shirtless Navy goalie was in his prime but the tradition of lacrosse goalies not wearing any leg, arm, or shoulder protection is still very much alive.
And most goalies do not want to break tradition for reasons of machismo.
While most goalies will tell you that you get used to the bruises (and you do). The game of lacrosse is evolving such that these bruises are turning into more serious injuries.
And quite frankly I’m getting tired of seeing goalies go down with injuries from shots. Things like broken thumbs, broken toes, broken ribs, concussions, and shin splints. Injuries that should be preventable with the right protective equipment.
Less Pads = More Fear
Coach Christian Buck released a great video that all goalie coaches should watch.
Coach Buck outlines the 4 responses when goalies feel fear:
The chin tucks
The elbows come in
The knees turn inwards
The eyes squint
If you’re analyzing a goalie’s play and the first reaction to a shot is any of the above movements. Your goalie has a fear problem.
Here’s a textbook example of what I’m referring to. The goalie sets up in a great stance to save this 10 yard shot but when the shot is released: the chin tucks, the elbows come in, the knees turn inward, and we’ll just assume he’s squinting as well.
His stick literally comes in front of his body and face to instinctively protect himself.
Ice hockey goalies wear pads from head to toe and many (even beginners) describe a feeling of invincibility with all that padding. They know there’s basically no chance a shot will cause pain so they can focus on making a save with no fear.
Do you think the goalie above is feeling invincible?
Many lacrosse goalies and coaches alike think they have trouble stepping to the ball, like our friend above (notice no step to the shot?) You can preach – Step to the ball – all you like but until the goalie gets over his fear of the shot, the chin will tuck, the elbows will move in and the eyes will squint so he’ll never be able to step the ball.
Just to prove that this response is not unique to beginners, here’s a great NCAA goalie Alex Ready demonstrating some of the same characteristics on a shot.
So while many goalies will make the argument that they make more saves without pads, I tend to disagree.
I think the pads give goalies a feeling of protection and invincibility and that reduces the fear response allowing goalies to actually attack the shot and make more saves.
When I talk to lacrosse goalies or peruse the lacrosse goalie forums I see a number of excuses as to why goalies don’t wear pads.
Pads slow me down
This is the most common and perhaps most valid argument for not wearing pads.
I will argue shin guards do not slow a goalie down one bit as they don’t cover a moving joint. With today’s soccer lightweight technology shin guards you hardly notice they are there.
Time yourself in a 40 yard dash with shin guards and without and you’ll see no difference.
Legs pads and arm pads are however a different story.
For this I would say that what you lose in slower movement you gain in lack of fear. You cannot move to the ball if your body demonstrates the fear response. So getting that under control should be priority number 1 for goalies.
Many sports practice with resistance to quicken up the athlete when that resistance is removed.
Swimmers use resistance suits in the pool to purposely slow them down and even with my lacrosse goalies I love to throw on a pair of ankle or wrist weights as we go through our lacrosse goalie drills.
So practice in the pads to build your resistance to fear and also build up your speed. Then take them off when its time for the game.
Finally, football players don’t complain about their protection, it’s just part of the game that you have deal with. I think that’s how lacrosse goalie pads should be as well.
I’ll never wear shin pads, because they’ll aim there
I don’t really understand this argument but this is actually a quote from Ryan LaPlante.
So if you’re wearing shin pads and they aim at your shin pads, what’s the problem? Sounds like a save to me.
Seems like the problem would be exposed shins and shooters aiming there.
Either way, it’s a low shot and goalies should be experts at saving low shots anyways.
I give up rebounds with shin guards.
Your shin bones are way harder than a piece of plastic so this isn’t really a legit excuse.
At the end of the day, I think these excuses are just to keep with tradition and be tough. Goalies haven’t worn shin guards or leg padding in the past and any goalie (specifically male goalies) who blatantly flaunts a pair of shin guards will get heckled.
I need to be mobile to help with clears
True, lacrosse goalies should be involved in the clearing game. False, pads will slow you down to the point where you can’t run and help with the clear.
Listen, I’m not suggesting field lacrosse goalies use box lacrosse pads (that’s not even legal) so some shin guards and goalie pants won’t limit your movements so much that you become useless in the clearing game.
Extra Pads create bad habits
Some coaches believe that once a goalie has protection on their legs, they’ll simply stick their leg out to make a save like an ice hockey rather than using the proper technique of a lacrosse goalie.
This could be the case if the goalie doesn’t learn the fundamentals of making and create good save habits first.
Starting with learning the proper technique, then using tennis balls to train the muscle memory is a great method to ensure that goalies won’t resort to weird tactics once they pad themselves up.
If you find yourself with a habit of simply sticking out a leg, it’s time to get back to basics to break that bad habit.
Any other common excuses I missed? Leave me a comment down below.
Trending in the Direction of More Padding?
When I work with lots of youth goalies its often a struggle to get them to use additional padding. Its simply not part of the culture.
Until they start to see some of their goalie heroes in the NCAA and MLL use padding I don’t think it will catch on at the youth level.
Fortunately for the sake of youth goalie some college programs are actually moving in the direction of more padding.
The Syracuse Men’s Lacrosse team posted this on their Instagram showing how during practices they’re starting to protect goalies heads a little more.
That little device is called a Guardian cap and why wouldn’t you wear it during practice? Helps prevent head injuries and concussions that can knock a goalie out for awhile.
A photo posted by Syracuse Men’s Lacrosse (@cusemlax) on
Interestingly enough, another former Syracuse goalie – Matt Palumb – was one of the first to use the football pants protection in the mainstream (word up STX Goalmaster!)
Lacrosse is evolving, why isn’t goalie protection?
In 65 years since our Navy cadet started in goal, the only additional piece of equipment a goalie uses is a chest protector?
So we have situations like Denver’s Ryan LePlante who throughout his collegiate career suffered broken knuckles, broken thumbs, cracked ribs, and shin splints from continually getting in the front of the legs.
Where are the matching advancements in lacrosse goalie technology?
Goalie gloves have added additional thumb protection but talk to most collegiate goalies and they’ll still regularly tell you stories of broken thumbs and other fingers.
Today’s goalie chest protectors have done a good job of adding reinforced heart plates to prevent deadly injuries and beefing up the rip protection and coverage to other areas. But most chest protectors still leave the shoulders exposed.
In my post on my wishlist for lacrosse goalies, you’ll notice that the majority of items have to do with better protection while maintaining flexibility and comfort.
Unfortunately I don’t have all the answers as to what’s needed in lacrosse goalie technology. But I do know there needs to be advancements in current protection equipment to improve the play and safety of today’s lacrosse goalies.
So where is lacrosse goalie equipment going?
It’s obviously hard to predict the future but here’s a few trends I see expanding in the years to come –
Additional head protection / Special goalie helmets
There’s a huge emphasis in sports right now to eliminate concussions. You see it in the lacrosse rule changes eliminating blind side hits and in the rule changes in other sports like the NFL.
Plus goalies rarely take hits outside the crease so what was the point?
Now the sports world has done studies showing that custom mouth guards help reduce concussions by absorbing shock, stabilizing the head and neck, and limiting movement cause by a direct shot the helmet (study here).
I hope we see a trend in goalies electing to use custom fitting mouth guards to help reduce head injuries from shots to the helmet.
Protection Over Mobility
Many goalies cite the need to be mobile as the reason they don’t want to use padding. Which I understand.
A lacrosse goalie essentially tries to “catch” every shot versus ice hockey or box lacrosse goalies who “block” shots with their excessive padding.
The field lacrosse goal at 6′ by 6′ is simply too big to use a “block” approach like the other goalies do in front of their smaller nets.
So a lacrosse goalie does need to be mobile.
D3O technology is starting to make its way into lacrosse protection gear. This material It’s a thin, flexible layer that moves with the body but then stiffens on impact.
I would love to see a line of neoprene sleeves for the arms and legs that come with the D3O technology built in.
I hope that’s in Warrior’s plans as I think it would provide goalies with mobility while still giving them the level of protection from shots to help alleviate the fear response we discussed above.
The idea for this post started when I read the question – why don’t lacrosse goalies wear pads?
It turns out to be a little complicated but hopefully 2200 words later you start to understand a little further.
At the simplest level I believe most don’t wear pads due to machismo and pure tradition. The culture of lacrosse is such that goalies don’t wear pads and those who do are ridiculed.
Goalies will make excuse after excuse as to why they’re actually better without the pads but I think the opposite is true. I think padding can give a goalie a feeling of invincibility and that helps eliminate fear and focus on making a save.
Lacrosse goalie technology has a long way to go but hopefully we start seeing advancements to keep our goalies safe!
Until next time! Coach Damon
What are your thoughts about lacrosse goalies and pads? Do you disagree with me on more padding? Please join the conversation by leaving a comment down below.
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.