Most lacrosse goalies have been there at least once in their career.
On the sideline during the games. On the sideline for key moments of team practice. You’re the backup goalie.
Every competitive lacrosse goalie wants to start. They want to play big in those big games and be the hero.
But there can only be one starting goalie – one of the major drawbacks of this position.
So what are some things the backup lacrosse goalie can do to ensure they’re improving, to ensure they’re helping the team, and to ensure they’re not going crazy?
Outwork the Starting Goalie
If you’re the backup goalie and you want to be the starter, you have to outwork him/her. Period. End of story.
If both you and the starter are doing the same amount of drills, receiving the same amount of shots, and doing the same amount of lacrosse related exercises, how can you expect to overtake the starting spot?
As a backup, you have to outwork the starter.
If they take 50 shots a day, you have to take 100.
In the off-season attend a lacrosse goalie camp and adopt a great lacrosse goalie workout program so that when you return to school the following year your game has improved by leaps and bounds over the previous starter.
Only by outworking the starter can you surpass them on the depth chart.
The beauty of trying to outwork the starting goalie is – even if you don’t surpass them on the depth chart – you’re pushing the starter to get better. Thereby improving the team as a whole.
Scout or Help with Tracking Stats
As backup lacrosse goalie you can still be incredibly useful to the team by helping to scout or track stats.
In the practices leading up to a game top coaches will have reviewed a scouting report with their team. Who are the shooters? Who the feeders? Who likes to drive? Is their top scorer right-handed or left-handed? Etc.
As a backup goalie pay extra close attention and help reiterate the scouting report during game day.
Your team will thank you and respect you for it and you’ll be a valuable member of the team even without even stepping onto the field.
If nobody on your team is fulfilling that role the backup goalie can help capture the stats during games.
By adding value via scouting or tracking stats, your team will respect you and then when its your turn to play in goal your team will already have a baseline level of respect from which you can build on.
Be Mentally Ready To Play
In life and on the lacrosse field things can change quickly.
One minute you’re a backup goalie on the bench and in the blink of an eye with a torn ACL you’re thrust into the limelight as a starting goalie.
Or a yellow flag goes flying and its against the starting goalie and you’re thrown into the game as was the case with my first collegiate save.
As a backup goalie you always want to be mentally prepared to play, no matter whether its a drill or a game.
This means you’re 100% focused on a drill in which you’re not participating. It also means that instead of goofing off on the bench during a game you’re concentrating on what’s going on within the game.
What kind of offense is the other team running? Who the shooters? Who are the feeders? What hand does their top scorer like to use? Which defensive matchups are mismatches and will require early slides for your team? You should be able to answer all of these questions.
You want to be prepared at all times; as if you were about to enter the game.
There’s nothing more frustrating to a coach than when he signals for the backup lacrosse goalie to enter the practice drill and you have no idea what is going on.
On the other hand, a backup goalie who kills a penalty or who wins a game when the starter goes down with injury can completely change the momentum of a game or of a team’s entire season.
So be ready to play at all times.
Treat Practices Like Mini-Games
The backup goalie doesn’t see any action in the games. So to simulate that game like feel I encourage you to pretend practices or drills are games.
Bring the same level of intensity that you would for a game to the practice.
Your game will improve and you’ll push others around to meet your same level of intensity.
And then when you see your first game action you won’t have as many jitters because its similar in intensity to how you’ve been practicing the entire season.
Adopt a different routine than the starting goalie
As a backup goalie you still want to go through the same warmup and drill routine as the starting goalie.
However, due to time constraints, you’ll often need to adopt a slightly different routine than the starting goalie.
For example, before games most teams do some light jogging and stretching followed by stick work and a warmup of the goaltender.
Since there wasn’t enough time to get warmed up after the starter, as the backup, myself and the goalie coach would go through our warmup while the team was doing their stretches. That way, I still got my warmup and work in.
During practice both goalies should have time to perform the lax goalie drills and get their warmup.
However if you find yourself in a situation where the starter is getting work but you’re not due to time constraints talk to your coach about adopting a different schedule than the starting goalie.
This way you can ensure that as the backup goalie you’re on the right path to becoming the starter.
Consider Some Reps on Defense
This suggestion isn’t for everyone but one idea is to consider is taking some reps at long pole during practices.
You’ll get to understand defense a little better by playing long pole amongst other defenders.
If you’re a backup who is competing for a starting goalie position, I would NOT recommend this option. You should just focus 100% of your energy on improving your goalie game to earn that starting spot.
You’re so close that it’s not worth risking an injury. Just fight for that starting spot and put all your time and effort into achieving it.
But if you’re a backup who is well below the skill level of the starter, or if you’re a 3rd string goalie, then I think you stand to benefit some getting some work at long pole.
You’ll obviously want to talk to your coach first to get your idea approved. But then feel free to strap on defender’s gear and work a different element of your game.
Playing in the field as a defender will also help keep you in shape and quick which are important elements of a lacrosse goalie’s game.
Sometimes as the backup goalie you simply have to wait your turn.
As was the case with me when I started playing goalie my freshman year. At the time we had a starter who was a junior and an All-American.
Even by following the advice in this very article and severely outworking him outside of practice there was no way that a brand new lacrosse goalie was going to overtake him for the starting job. He had too much of a head start.
So I had 2 years to practice and refine my goalie game until it was my turn.
When our starting goalie graduated, and it was my turn, I was ready. And when I got my first start I picked up right where our graduated All-American had left off. (He was my goalie coach at the time so that helped too).
For some goalies you have to stay patient and know that your time will come. But its up to you to be ready when that time does finally come.
Consider a Switch of Positions
Unfortunately only 1 goalie plays at a time. The position is not terribly exhausting meaning there’s hardly a need to substitute for the goalie.
With attackman, defensemen, and middies 3 players are on the field at one time and due to the amount of running and physical play required frequent substitutions are needed, especially at middie. Therefore a lot more middies, attacks, and D-men are going to see game action.
Sure, some injuries to goalies do occur but its far more likely for attackman or defenseman to be injured than a goalie.
For a small percentage of goalies in certain situations, it makes sense to consider a change of positions.
I only recommend goalies consider a chance of positions if they are way below the starter in skill level and the starting goalie is the same age or younger.
In this situation its rare that the goalie will ever see meaningful playing time. And without that game experience its going to be hard to grow and gain the confidence needed to dominate in goal.
Now, if your dream is to be a starting goalie I don’t want you to give up on your dream. So if that’s your situation, stick with goalie for sure.
However if you’re not 100% committed to being a goalie, if you’re heart is into 100% into putting in the effort it takes to reach the starting slot. And you’re 3rd on the depth chart with the other 2 ahead of you the same age, then considering a new position is worth a thought.
If you’re a competitive person not being the starting goalie is a maddening situation.
However there are things you can do as a backup goalie to ensure that you’re adding value to the team and to ensure that you’re progressing along the path to becoming the starting goalie.
These things include:
Adopting a different routine than the starting goalie
Being ready to play at all times
Treating practices like games
Outworking the starting goalie
Taking some reps on defense
By following these tips you can ensure that when the time comes for you be the starter, you’re ready to step in and dominate the crease.
Until next time! Coach Damon
Have you had experience being the backup lacrosse goalie? What are some things you did to earn the starting spot? Let me know 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.