Dealing with the Pressure of Being a Lacrosse Goalie
There’s no doubt about it. Lacrosse goalies carry a lot of pressure on their shoulders.
Many athletes feel pressure but as goalies, we’re the last line of defense.
A mistake by the goalie instantly translates into a goal for the opposing team.
It’s a lot for some young goalies to deal with. Many succumb to the pressure and fail to play up to the best of their ability.
But if you’re going to be an elite lacrosse goalie and win championships with your team, it’s vital that you possess the ability to remain calm and perform well under pressure. Even in those most important games.
This post is about how lacrosse goalies can deal with pressure.
What is Pressure?
Before jumping into the tips on how to deal with pressure, let’s first come to a basic agreement about what exactly pressure is.
In sports, it is a psychological stressor that refers to feelings an individual has about an upcoming competition.
It can be intrinsic or internal, created by the athlete with thoughts such as “I must play well,” or “This is a big game I have to win.”
It can also be affected by external or extrinsic factors, such as a big buildup in the media, or a coach, teammate or parent placing added importance on a game and the goalie’s performance.
We can think of pressure as any factor (or combination of factors) that increases the importance of performing well on a particular occasion.
Here are the tips I have for dealing with pressure –
Pressure on the goalie is only bad if you perceive it that way.
Awhile back I got an email from a youth goalie that said:
I’ve been the starter for two years now and being regarded as the best goalie for my age puts a lot of pressure on me. What’s your advice?
So let me get this straight – you feel the pressure to be the best?
What’s wrong with that? That pressure will encourage you to get out and hit the wall or jump rope while your competition is playing Fortnite and eating Doritos.
Pressure doesn’t have to be a negative thing. It can be a positive.
Stress and pressure can ruin your performance but it can also enhance your performance.
If you perceive pressure as negative, you will associate it with negative thought processes such as self-doubt. You are also likely to attempt to consciously increase your effort in an attempt to improve performance.
And as we all know, making a save needs to be a subconscious skill. Once it becomes conscious, that is you’re thinking about it – you lose the valuable milliseconds that mean the difference between the ball ending in your mesh or in the goal.
Solid Preparation Alleviates Pressure
I remember a big test in high school. Lots of kids showed up looking nervous, obviously affected by the pressure that this test would determine their fate.
Are you nervous? – someone asked me.
I had spent weeks if not a month preparing for this test. I had studied so much there was nothing left to study.
That level of preparation meant that while my peers were feeling pressure I was feeling confident.
Same goes on the lacrosse field.
If you’ve taken hours and hours of shots, done hours and hours of drills, watched hours and hours lacrosse – why should you feel pressure?
If you’ve prepared for big-time game situations with mental visualizations that will also help enhance the “familiarity” of the situation. Even if you haven’t been there before, in your mind you have and that will help you deal with pressure.
The more familiar we are in situations the more comfortable we are, this leads to lower levels of anxiety and reduced likelihood of choking.
The more you practice the skills needed to be a great goalie, the more you develop muscle memory for that movement. With repetition, movements start to feel natural and effortless.
You’ve done everything you’ve can. Now it’s time to perform.
Which leads me to my next point…
Once you can honestly say I’ve done all I can to prepare for this game, it’s just about trusting yourself.
Trust that your preparation has adequately prepared you to play well.
You’re wearing that jersey for a reason. You’re the starting goalie for a reason.
Trust yourself and don’t let your body, mind, or play succumb to the pressure of the situation.
Recognize that you have planned for this situation and have performed well in this same spot before.
Lacrosse goalies who lack trust in themselves tend to:
- Second-guess their decisions
- Over-analyze their technique
- Take too long to make a decision
- Avoid taking risks and making plays to avoid mistakes
- Dwell on past mistakes
All are horrible for a lax goalies performance so you must learn to trust in your abilities.
If you start to feel a lack of trust, ask yourself the following –
- Haven’t I spent years (or months) training for these moments?
- Haven’t they been replicating these moments over and over again?
Yes and yes. So trust your abilities.
Experience With Pressure
By far the best tip to learn how to deal with pressure is to get experience with pressure.
When you’ve already played in a championship game, the next one won’t be as nerve-racking.
If you’re an inexperienced goalie you can still visualize and imagine yourself in those situations.
Imagine being in a high-pressure situation like the start of the championship game. How do you feel?
Visualize yourself making those saves in the key moments. How does it feel? What are you thinking?
The best method is to get the actual experience in those pressure-filled events.
But when we cannot, attempting to pre-live the moments will help us deal with the pressure when those moments actually do arrive.
Focus on Your Breath
Whether they’re playing in a pressure-packed game or practicing with the team, elite lacrosse goalies spend a fair amount time focused on their breath.
Many do yoga outside of the lacrosse field which teams them that even when the body is stressed we can focus on our breath to relieve tension.
With deep rhythmic breathing, they are able to control the symptoms of pressure and remain process focused, they maintain situational awareness so that they can make good decisions and also make save after save.
We face pressure in our daily lives at work, in school, from family members and friends, but the level of pressure a young lacrosse goalie can sometimes feel surpasses all those other situations.
We’re the last line of defense. A big game by the goalie is important in getting a win.
No goalie is immune to pressure. All of our heart rate rises, we all breathe quicker. But depending on how well prepared and confident they are pressure can make them perform better or worse.
Remember to put in a high level of preparation and then trust yourself.
Until next time! Coach Damon
P.S. How do you handle the pressure of being your team’s goalie?
6 thoughts on “Dealing with the Pressure of Being a Lacrosse Goalie”
My son (10 yr old) just played in his first championship game as the starting goalie yesterday. He was a combination of nervous, excited and feeling the pressure. In addition to what you wrote above, I would add that a consistent warm up routine seemed to really help him settle down pre game. He had done this exact warm up all season, so going through it before the championship game made it feel “normal”…seemed to mitigate the nerves and pressure and allow him to be EXCITED to play. The warm up built some confidence going into the opening face off. His team won and he played the best game of his young goalie “career”.
Agree on the preparation part completely, but add in a routine and I think that helps, particularly the young goalies.
Good addition Tim. I like it. Thanks for that.
Great article coach, I’m coaching the goalies for the Varsity and both JV teams, all great, hard working kids. I’ve been coaching them on the mental game, not just agility, eye to hand coordination and making saves. I really appreciate your attention to the mental game, it is amazing to me how many coaches fail to coach, or have their players practice, mental toughness. The skills you talk about in this article do not come naturally to most young men or women, but if coached, they can learn them, and it will benefit them through out life. Thank you, keep the material on developing the mental game coming.
Thanks Todd. Mental game is definitely an area that fascinates me so much so you can expect a lot more mental articles this year.
Coach, loved what you wrote about breathing. I train my goalies to breath a specific way. One hand on the chest, one on the stomach, when breathing in the your chest should not rise, your stomach should, breath in through the nose for a two count, out through the mouth slowly for a 4 count. The goal is to increase your oxygen intake, slow your heart rate, and relax. This breathing is taught to patients dealing with anxiety, but works great for high pressure scenarios with athletes as well. Studies have shown that increasing your oxygen rate enhances brain function, particularly concentration and focus. I personally believe it helps with reaction time as well.
Solid technique right there Coach. Thanks for sharing that. Something that should really be taught more right? little thing like how to breath right.