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Life Lessons as a Lacrosse Goalie

I’ve been wanting to do this article for years because I think about it each and every time I play lacrosse! I’ve been told that being a lacrosse goalie is both courageous, or just plain crazy. As I reach my milestone age of 40 years old, I look back and realize how much the position has helped me out in life. These are my life lessons as a lacrosse goalie.

There are three defenseman right in front of you. And then there’s just you.

While lacrosse is a team sport, goalie is sometimes a very lonely position. Nobody truly knows what’s going on in our heads as each mindset is different. Don’t try to figure us out, unless you’ve played the position. Personally, I’ve always thought that goalies should never be team captains because they already have a lot on their minds. They are leaders by default. Goalies may be the last line of defense, but they are also the first point of offense once they clear the ball. Think about that.

“Being hit by the lacrosse ball hurts, but not saving it hurts even more.” – Trevor Tierney

Goalie is a mental position – mental. A 95 mph shot can hurt, but letting in that shot knowing you could’ve saved the ball will hurt, or even haunt you, mentally. Are you willing to stand in front and stop that screaming shot any way possible, even if it physically hurts? The answer should be YES.

.8 seconds, or eight tenths of a second  >  paralysis by analysis.

Once that shot is released whether it’s 12 yards out, or on the door-step, you have to make a decision and act. You don’t have all the time in the world to be all “heady” and cerebral. Most often such cerebral mindsets won’t even act at all, due to what I call a ‘paralysis by analysis’. Once that shot is fired, not only do you have on average .8 seconds to act, you ONLY get ONE chance to act on it. Choose wisely.

Your mistakes are the most obvious.

It’s said that goalies should have a short-term memory – yeah, ok! One of the many reasons why I think goalie is the hardest position in lacrosse, is due to the fact that your mistakes are the most obvious, because they end up on the score board for ALL to see. Are you willing to own up to those mistakes? You better be.

Teammates act like their goalies.

Straight up, truth! A goalie’s personality is infectious. If you’re standing on your head and making miracle saves, your teammates will continue to fight for you. Well, the same thing goes if you’re not tying hard enough, or doing well in goal. Why should your teammates play, or stand up for you?

Goalies can’t win games, only save them.

The reality is that goalie is a defensive position and you’re a stopper, not a scorer. Like in any successful business, employers will hire people to do the jobs they can not fulfill. The same thing goes in this scenario. Understand that you’re doing a job that is different and that there are others who’re doing a responsibility that you can not execute. Let others do their jobs.

Make it personal.

We’re not talking about having personal vendetta’s, or something of that sort. What I mean by this is that you are a field general commanding and controlling things around you. And by that, you make it personal by calling people out, making everybody accountable.

So, instead of yelling out “We’re hot!” or “We’re one!” to communicate a first defensive slide, a more effective way could be “Bill, you’re going!”, or “Dave, you’re two!” and “Matt, you’re COMA (coming across)!” Making it personal on a first name basis makes them understand their role. Like yourself, your teammates have names – use them.

Learn to multi-task.

As a goalie, you’re taught to always look at the shooter’s stick, or that the player with the ball is the most dangerous on the field. But each prospective shooter on offense has 5 other teammates who can be just as dangerous, if not more. If you can spot them before they become “active” then do so. As a goalie, you too, can go “on the hunt”. One of my former bosses always said “do not become a one-dimensional person in life.”

Speak up and be the LOUDEST.

It’s not a self-centered thing. Your voice has to be the loudest on the field. Remember that kid in school who spoke out of line during class and got in trouble by the teacher? He or she got in trouble because they stopped the teacher from conducting class. It’s the same thing on the field. Call the ball location, the slides, the players who need to get back in “the hole”, the players who need to push out on the GLE, whatever it is.

Also, the more you call anything out, the greater the possibility of stopping a shot before it’s even fired. Those are what I call ‘prevention saves’ – the important saves that DO NOT make the stat book.

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up and going forward anyways.” – John Wayne

It’s perfectly normal to be nervous to do anything new, uncertain or just plain scary, itself. But, eventually you know that you’re going to have to show up, act and deliver. Each time I step in goal, there’s that nervous feeling, the jitters and the fine line between having so much fun, wanting to succeed and not wanting to do a bad job.

I remember my earliest jobs during and out of college, and the first day experiences of each, new work environment. Take a guess what kind of feelings and thoughts were going in my head, back then? Yeah, it was like stepping into a lacrosse goal.

No two games are ever alike.

No matter how many times I’ve played lacrosse goalie, each game is different, as well as the feeling. I try to not take each game, or situation, for granted because nothing is ever automatic. I like to try and play like it’s my last game, because in reality, you’re only as good as your last game. And at some point down the line, you will have your last game.

“It never gets easier; you just go faster.” – Greg LeMond

In 2013, I had a sit-down meeting with Rich Doyle, the co-founder and CEO of Harpoon Brewery in Boston, who also grew up playing lacrosse. When I told him of my position as a goalie, his direct response was, “Oh, you definitely know about pain!” 

Some people have their personal edge, wether it’s the kind of schools they’ve attended, or their career path they’ve made for themselves, but for me being a lacrosse goalie does play a role. I constantly refer to my lacrosse goalie experiences and skills as a way to remind myself that there are things you can take control and not be afraid of in life. It remains as my personal edge, the secret victory, an ace card – a confidence booster. And you better believe that it has also helped me as an artist! Those are called: ‘transferable skills’.

My conclusion.

Each summer at the Lake Placid lacrosse tournament, my housemates poke fun of me for being a total ‘head case’ on the morning of game day. I mostly keep to myself, not talking a lot as they know my head is racing. I’m going through many case scenarios, like I’ve done in many lacrosse seasons past, nothing is really different. I hate the waiting part for a game, because I just want it to start, but the clock on the wall, or on my wrist watch tells me I still have more time. The waiting is horrible – this kind of mental element of a lacrosse goalie on game day. For some goalies, it takes minutes to prep, but for me it takes hours.

When I arrive on the field, usually pretty early, I am still quiet, but restless. I need to have that warm-up in goal to see the ball, to feel it hit my pocket, to build my confidence. Once game time starts and I see the first shot about to be taken – I have to stop it, or else it may be a long game for me. If my team is up, or leading by a good score, I’m getting impatient, clock-watching, or listening to the ref counting down the remaining seconds. Once it’s all over, I’m relieved as I’m more mentally than physical exhausted.

But, when it’s really all over and there are no more games left to play for a while, a sudden feeling of emptiness takes over. I start to miss the things that were routine, boring, took a long time, or drove me completely insane. I get that feeling often, usually right after a lacrosse game is over, and I know exactly what I need to do. Because the solution is very simple – I can’t wait to get back into the lacrosse goal.

@TheArtofLax

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