Why Don't Lacrosse Goalies Wear Pads? | Lax Goalie Rat

Why Don’t Lacrosse Goalies Wear Pads?

When outsiders view our game for the first time on TV they typically have some common thoughts, especially when its comes to us goalies.

First, since lacrosse tends to be a high scoring sport they wonder if we ever make saves –

Haha, yes James. We do make saves!

Second, they wonder why the lacrosse goalie doesn’t appear to be wearing many pads.

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.

Old School Goalie

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?

LallyStick12

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:

LaxPlayer

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.

It deals with the fear response for goalies when a player is about to rip a shot and I discussed it in depth on my post about how to get rid of fear for goalies.

Coach Buck outlines the 4 responses when goalies feel fear:

  1. The chin tucks
  2. The elbows come in
  3. The knees turn inwards
  4. 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.

Debunking Excuses

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.

The Brine Ventilator goalie pants are the most flexible and comfortable option right now but still you definitely notice you’re wearing pads. Same with the football pants protection which is another great option.

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.

Also, while goalies should prevent rebounds, rebounds are saves. Which is better than giving up a goal because you fear the ball.

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.

Day ☝️ flow. #HHH

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.

We’re already seeing teams using the Guardian caps or a product like LexiShield to provide the goalie additional head protection.

Perhaps in the future we’ll see the lacrosse helmet manufacturers like Cascade, STX, and Warrior come out with a line of special goalie helmets that better match our needs.

Custom Mouth Guards

Like other goalies I never liked wearing a mouth guard. It simply interfered with my ability to communicate with the team.

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.

Conclusion

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. 

28 thoughts on “Why Don’t Lacrosse Goalies Wear Pads?

  1. I wear a lot of upper body padding*. The reason is practical: The chest pad (which includes some shoulder protection) is a little too loose and shifts around, so I include a liner pad underneath. The whole thing is much more comfortable now, does not shift around, and as an added bonus… there’s more of me to stop the shot! (I am a small person, about 5’7″ and 150 lbs; the pads add an inch of width or so to me, especially to the shoulder area.)
    I found elbow pads to be distracting, since I constantly had to adjust them. So, no arm/elbow pads. And legs? I feel I have to move quickly but honestly, have not tried goalie leg pads.

    This was a nice discussion of this topic, thanks!

    *BTW, I play in Masters (>40) leagues but we have some “young guns” occasionally playing with us, and their shots can come hard and fast! I’m in my 50’s so my reflexes have slowed accordingly.

  2. I coach girls youth lax goalies and insist they wear shin guards, mainly for the reasons you outline. They will be far more likely to get their legs toward the ball. For the same reason I highly recommend they also wear soft slide-on knee pads, turned a little inwards (as you step out to a ball the inside of your knee is more exposed). With their legs fully protected I see much better results. Just on Sat I watched a 5th grade boys goalie with no shin guards shy away from a low shot. It was so obvious he was afraid of the shot, but no one seems to register that. I blame the coaches and USA Lacrosse for not making shin pads mandatory.

    Great blog post!

  3. The video of Alex Ready does not display the fear response. Watch the video again, and Ready is clearly responding to Providence’s Brendan Kearns head and shoulder dip. Ready initially thought the shot was going off-stick low, and then tried to adjust on the release. Good attackman regularly disguise their intentions with body lean and head fakes.

    But I agree with you 100% that goalies should be padding up more. Hide your shin pads under sweats. Less fear=more saves. Great article, thanks.

    BTW– write a post on concussions in NCAA goalies. Any tracking data? I’ve only seen a couple anecdotal mentions of goalies retiring due to concussions, most notably Trevor Tierney.

    1. You’re probably right about ready. I’ll have to find a better example with a well known goalie. Thanks for the comment. Not too sure there exists any data about goalies and concussions. But I’d certainly be interested in researching it.

  4. I’m a senior in high school about to start playing at the college level, I wear soccer shin guards and a hockey liner under my chest pad for every game. And if I know I’m going to be taking high or bounce shots I tend to wear middie arm pads for the extra protection off the bounce. The way I see it, if people are heckling me, and I’m making saves, means I’m having a good game. We can’t let ourselves in our own heads with fear, so we should be able to block out those hecklers and focus on our game.

    1. In college, the opposing fans heckled me anyways even if I wasn’t wearing shin guards. They will always find something to try to heckle you wtih so you might as well pad up and make saves!

  5. Great article and I agree with this assessment 100%. USA Lacrosse (and the various other youth ruling bodies across the country) simply needs to make more padding mandatory. I’m not a soccer fan, but watch a soccer player run up and down the field with his shin pads on – does it appear that they are being slowed down at all? My youngest son plays youth hockey and youth lacrosse. All the kids want to try goalie in hockey – all the cool pads!! They can’t get hurt!! None of them want to play goalie in lacrosse. It hurts the quality of practices because when there is no goalie the offensive players don’t enjoy shooting at an empty net (or a shooter tutor) and they don’t get to develop the skills they need to pinpoint shots around the goalie.

    Bottom line: Youth lacrosse should mandate shin pads, goalie pants, specific arm guards, chest protector and throat protection.

  6. I enjoyed your article. Good research. Absolutely correct on your assessment of modern equipment versus traditional. Our wooden sticks were much less “dangerous.” The velocity generated then is nothing like it is now. Back in the day, everyone, everyone wore the appropriate equipment, either by rule or coach’s insistence: helmet, mouth guards, shoulder pads, arm guards, gloves (longer then), cups, and for goalies, chest protectors. Some of us (yes, I am a fraternity member) even wore football pants (with built in knee and thigh pads) and soccer shin guard. Others didn’t use football pants, but resorted to sweatpants.

    I have been coaching lacrosse for many years and particularly enjoy coaching goalies. One thing we all have in common (men and women) is we have some seriously lose screws. That being said we must overcome this machismo bs. Face it, when you get tattooed it hurts like Hades! So protect yourself – wear pads. My goalies must wear sweatpants (to cover knee pads and shin guards). Thin soccer shin guards will defuse/disperse the impact of the shot – it still stings like hell BUT it should not result in such damage that the player must leave the game or sustain season ending issues. Thin knee pads are very similar …

    I explain it this way: which would you prefer? Make the saves and appreciate your play or shy away, not make the save and lose the game. Who cares what others say? What is your save %? By the way, any player of mine who speaks derisively about goalies or their protection is welcome to step between the pipes…

    Lastly, in my humble opinion, our goalies are meant to deny the opposition from scoring. If they can go coast to coast and score great (I did have one young man who had 2 in a game), clearing doesn’t require speed. It requires good lacrosse IQ, discipline, and the ability to make an accurate pass.

    So there you have it. Be safe, protect yourself (using whatever you find to your advantage), and remember rule # “Always expect the unexpected.”

  7. I play and coach box & field lacrosse. Besides the obvious differences in equipment, the hockey masks used in box do a much better job of deflecting shots than field helmets. I tried the Guardian pad once, but it doesn’t protect against a shot straight to the mask, so I think a wedge-shaped mask would do more. I wonder if some sort of shock absorber could be built into the mask/helmet connection that could absorb shock and still keep the mask away from the face.

    Box goalies also wear heavy duty cups, or even double- or triple-cup; my field goalies try to get by with a regular cup. A teammate of mine used to cut the shoulder caps off a pair of SP-35’s and lace them to his chest protector to protect his shoulders. I tried it and found it very protective and not at all restrictive. I have never found an arm pad that has pads were goalies get hit — unless you’re running away from the shooter. Likewise shin pads. I’ve worn them on the field, but I soon found out that I got him in the thighs a lot more than the shins, so goalie pants were a welcome invention. I recently saw an ad for a moldable baseball pad that fits over the lower shin and top of the foot; I haven’t tried it, but I’ve had as many borken toes as I have thumbs.

    Gloves? Why or how did smaller + tighter equak better? And the thumb protection fails when you bend your thumb around the shaft, so we almost need a pad that is actually more like a splint that wraps around the entire thumb. (Box gloves are far from perfect; pre-curved thumbs would make it a lot easier to handle the stick).

    The best thing about the box lacrosse equipment manufacturers is the wide range of sizes that are available. They seen to have noticed that big guys play goal, and have pads that will fit a goalie up to 6′ 9″. Field lacrosse manufacturers have more of a “one size fits all” mentality.

  8. As a girls lax goalie, it is in the rules that we have to wear shin pads, and I happily oblige. I make most of my low saves with my quick first step (as I play more and gain more experience I find I catch the ball more often but that’s beside the point) and getting hit with the ball every time I do this doesn’t sound like fun. I practice with boys and sometimes they do heckle me for my shin gaurds, but the teasing is better than getting a bone indenture on my shin, something that happened to my trainer when she was in college, not wearing shin pads. I don’t think the machismo and culture are worth getting hurt.

  9. So when I started lacrosse I would use the whole getup. I had the chest pad elbow pads thigh pads and I even wore v-ball knee pads. But once I started hs I eventually let some of the pads go one by one and I have seen a increece in my game. This can easily be caused by me just getting older and better at the game, but I do believe the pads had something to do with it. I would totally love to try thinner padding to see how it would work. I totally agree with the culture of less pads too. I felt like I was behind and restricting myself by having extra pads so I got rid of them. But yea if there was a better way to get pads and still have mobility then sign me up!

    1. That’s the golden goose – pads + mobility haha. I think as goalies get older and used to shots it makes more sense to strip off some pads but I always encourage beginners to get protected.

  10. Okay so I wanted to ask you a question, because frankly, as a girl goalie, this angers me.

    What do you think about the rule that girl goalies have to wear padding on their thighs, and guy don’t?

    Because honestly, to me this is so dumb. I love to have the least amount of padding as I can because I am not as quick as I should be and need a quicker range of mobility (don’t worry, I’m using your tips on how to become quicker(; ). But either way, I was just wondering what you were thinking about this because I have SUCH strong opinions on it!

    1. Hi Samantha – If you read this post you’ll see I’m in favor of the pads. Especially during practice. But I do understand goalies feel strongly about not wanting to use the pads. Hopefully you can find some pads that don’t limit your quickness and range of mobility as much! Good luck! Damon

  11. Glad to have read this article. Yes, it is high time the machismo about shin pads goes away. Too many young players, who are great athletes, shy away from playing in the goal once they get that shin or thigh shot. It is not helping us groom goalies and in the end it is simply illogical to not prevent injuries when practical.

    1. Thanks Adrian. Glad you liked it. Hopefully one day simply accepting that goalies will break bones, get concussions, and get their legs torn up won’t be a part of the game’s culture.

      1. I know this is a pretty old article, but I just tried not using shin and elbow pads at today’s practice and really liked it! I felt so mobile, and clears felt faster and longer because there was no restriction on my elbows. I know you said that pads make a goalie feel more confident mentally, but less padding seemed to make me feel more confident and free! I freaking love not wearing shin or elbow guards. Sure, those shots into the shin killed, but the feeling of freedom made up for it. What is your opinion?

        1. That’s great Kolin. It’s not that old of an article haha Dec. last year. My opinion has always been whatever works for you. I find MOST young goalies feel a little more confident with the pads. But as you gain experience and confidence it makes sense to strip off padding in favor of mobility. You can always keep the shinguards as the new soccer style just cover the shin, a non-mobile part of the body thus mobility shouldn’t be reduced.

  12. This article definitely helped prove my point to my team about my extra protection. I’m a first year goalie, only trained by my friend and the internet until the season began, and noticed how there were no leg pads on the college goalies. No rules existed against it, so I wore them and I’m glad I did. I’m not as afraid in net as I was.
    Another thing, about “lack of mobility”. I wear hockey pads on my legs and have no lack of motion, as my pads don’t strap above the knee, so movement isn’t hindered. But if they slide around a bit, like mine did, the best solution I found is to cut the “boot” off knee-high socks and use the sleeve to hold them on. If they’re tight enough, they’ll stay where you put them. Compression socks should work too.

    Just thought I’d share some beginners knowledge.

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