Lacrosse Goalies and The Fear Response: How to Avoid the Turtle | Lax Goalie Rat

Lacrosse Goalies and The Fear Response: How to Avoid the Turtle


There’s a habit that a lot of lacrosse goalies have. It goes by many names but I call it the turtle.

Perhaps you’ve seen a goalie go into turtle mode? Perhaps you yourself have gone full turtle?

It happens like this. You’re setup in a perfect lacrosse goalie stance waiting for the shot to come. Then the moment this shot gets fired your way and you have a fear response.

The chin tucks, the elbows come in, the knees turn inwards, and the eyes close or squint. Welcome to turtle mode my friends.

And by the time you can react to the shot, it’s too late. The ball is in the back of the net.

In this post I want to discuss the fear response, aka the turtle, what causes it and what lacrosse goalies can do to overcome this habit that is so devastating to their performance.

The Fear Response

Humans are built to survive. Our natural response is to keep safe.

When you accidentally put your hand on a hot stove, your natural reaction is to immediately pull away. You don’t think about it. Your body reacts naturally to keep safe, to stay alive.

When someone fires a rubber bullet at a lacrosse goalie equipped with very little padding, the natural reaction is to keep safe, to move away from harm, i.e. the ball.

When Colin from TLN jumped into goal for the first time we see the fear response with each shot.

In this case the body wants nothing to do with that shot. While he understands he must make the save (as most goalies do) his body’s natural reaction is safety as it attempts to get out of the way instead of attacking the ball.

For lacrosse goalies who’ve had a little training perhaps they’ve trained the body to move towards the shot but the fear response still manifests itself like this:

  1. Chin Tucks
  2. Elbows Comes In
  3. Knees Turn In
  4. Eyes Squint

Identify the Right Problem

Many goalies, coaches, and parents email me asking how they can solve a slew of problems:

  • How do I improve hand speed
  • How do I improve reaction time
  • How do I improve stepping to the ball

And yes, those are all important elements of training an elite goalie but often its not the right problem or issue their goalie is facing.

If at the moment of a shot’s release your goalie has a fear response – chin tucks, elbows in, knees inwards, squinting – of course their reaction time of going to suffer. Of course, they’re going to be late to step to a shot. And of course, it will appear as if their hand speed is slow.

The fear issue must be addressed before other issues can be resolved.


How to Correct The Fear Response

The first method to eliminating the fear response is the goalie’s mental approach.

It takes time but developing an “attack the ball” mindset is critical to goalie success. This is one of the main reasons I teach goalies to step at a 45 degree angle vs. lateral when they’re getting started. A 45 degree step towards the ball helps develop an attack the ball philosophy.

You can also use vocal triggers the fortify your mental game. Let’s go – shoot it – come on, bring it! – These are a couple of vocal triggers I use with goalies to help get them into an aggressive, “attack the ball” mindset.

There is no elite goalie who doesn’t have this mindset.

The desire to stop the ball must completely drown out any feelings of fear.

If the feeling of fear is greater than your desire to stop the ball you will not be a good goalie. Period.

When I was a goalie at Cal our football team had a running back by the name of Marshawn Lynch. His nickname was “Beast Mode” because of the mental state he brought to each game, mentally transforming into an aggressive mindset for each game and each play within that game.

The “Beast Mode” mindset is something a lacrosse goalie must bring into games and practices so that the turtle never rears its ugly head.

So before you jump into the crease, remember…

Beast Mode

Drills to Eliminate the Fear Response

In addition to working the mental approach to eliminating the fear response, there are also a few specific drills that you can do with a beginner goalie who is constantly flinching and dealing with turtle mode.

As I mentioned above, that’s the body’s natural response, so these drills will help override that response so a goalie can focus on making saves.

Only through repetition can a goalie override the body’s natural response and eliminate the turtle.

Shots Behind A Chain-Linked Fence

One drill I’ve been using lately was actually introduced to me by a reader of this blog who was taught by Coach Guy Van Arsdale, an All-American goalie.

We’ll call it “Chain Fence”. The goalie stands protected behind a chain link fence, with or without pads but we usually keep the helmet on at a minimum.

I’ll fire shots at the goalie as hard as I can and the goalie makes simulated saves. Focusing on the aggressive mindset and attacking the shot.

I think the fence helps the body understand that no pain is possible and therefore no fear is needed. As you repeat shot after shot with no fear, the body starts to detach fear from shot.

This helps the goalie develop a no fear mindset and helps them attack that ball once the chain link fence is no longer there.

Shots With a Nerf Ball

The 2nd drill I use to eliminate the fear response comes from Coach Buck. It’s called “Nerf Ball”.

Again this drill can be used to remove the association of fear and shot. They’re nerf balls, they don’t hurt.

Even with the nerf balls you’ll find beginning goalies can still flinch or go into turtle mode in this drill. Work that out of their system.

They should be calm and focused on the ball’s release in this drill.

Here’s is Coach Buck’s video of that drill:

I’ve yet to find exact type of nerf ball Coach Buck uses but I’ve used these nerf golf balls with success for this drill.


The more shots a young goalie sees the more comfortable he/she will start to feel in goal.

While nearly every beginning goalie will demonstrate some element of the fear response in the early days, with repetition after repetition their mindset changes and they start to fear the ball less.

So after you’ve learned the basics of making a save, you’ve got to start seeing shots.

Credit to Coach Buck

Full credit for this eliminating the fear response concept goes to Coach Buck. You can watch him discussing this topic in the embedded video below:


When a goalie first jumps into the crease, their body has an innate response to shots – fear. The chin ducks, the knees and arms come inward to protect the body, and the eyes squint.

Problem is, that’s really the exact opposite of what an elite lacrosse goalie wants to do.

So we must train this natural response out of our system to be a great lacrosse goalie.

It starts will develop the right mental approach. The desire to save the ball must be greater than the fear of getting hit. Be aggressive. Be the Hulk.

As you work on your mental edge of attacking the ball there’s also a few goalie drills you can do with beginners to help train the turtle right out of their system.

Until next time! Coach Damon

Anyone else have any other methods they use to overcome fear of the shot? Leave me a comment down below. 

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11 thoughts on “Lacrosse Goalies and The Fear Response: How to Avoid the Turtle

  1. in lieu of nerf balls, I use wiffle baseballs with my boys. cheap, easy to find. they are white and about same size as lax balls, but bounce off body without pain. you can throw them fairly fast with a stick, but I think it also slows down the ball a little which helps young goalies develop their step to the ball, and the lightness of the balls helps them with soft hands to control rebounds.

  2. This post helped a lot. I just had practice and this post helped troubleshoot what I was doing wrong. And helped save more goals.

  3. I used to have the same “turtle” response and would flinch and close my eyes. When I finally talked to my coach about this problem he came up with a simple but effective solution, throw lacrosse balls at the mask of my helmet as hard as he could and that mainly solved the problem. But now I have it where I will see the shot and know where it will go, but when I tell my body to move their is a lag in between when I want to move and when I actually move. How do I fix it?

    1. Simple answer is drills. Drills to train to your reaction time but also make sure your body is in shape so it can be explosive. You can search this site for a bunch of drills to help with reaction time and explosion. Good luck!

  4. I am a u15 goalie. I’m very good, I can make all the hard save, stuffs on the crease and run up the field and in the games in the beast mind set and the ball doesn’t hurt or I just can’t care enough because I saved it . But I’m practice I get like afraid of the shot during shooting drills and I miss the save or get hit in a bad spot. How do you recommend trying to fix this.

    Thanks In advance

        1. Yeah a lot of his mental. You’ve got to want to make the save more than anything. Your desire to make the save must completely drown out any feelings of fear. That type of mental training takes a lot of experience.

          1. I’m also a goalie and I am having trouble with flitching not at the ball but at the stick movement I am not Afraid of the ball anymore I’m just scared at that stick movement and I don’t know what to do.

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