The position of a goalie in lacrosse requires a lot of courage, skill, speed, and most of all…practice.
But how can you best practice without getting injured? When it comes to making a save, goalies invest their whole body in the face of each shot.
In my years of lacrosse training, I have heard many goalies talk about their secret weapon…tennis ball drills.
Tennis ball drills help lacrosse goalies to develop great stick skills, reduce reaction times, and increase discipline, all while minimizing the chance of injury.
Lacrosse is a fast-paced sports that requires speed, agility, endurance, and physical contact (Source).
For anyone, stepping into the path of a fast-speed ball is something that is against their natural instincts – which is why it is imperative for goalkeepers to develop that very instinct in the face of a ball hurtling towards them. (Source)
Goalies need to hone themselves to jump in front of a rushing rubber bullet and also develop muscle memory, both of which they need to save the ball.
Tennis ball drills help develop muscle memory and psychological readiness, both in a safe context.
These drills I’m about to describe are fantastic for goalies of all ages.
Here are 12 lacrosse drills using tennis balls that you can incorporate into your routine to improve what you bring to the field as a goalie.
1. Colored Balls
This drill makes use of 4 different-colored tennis balls.
For this drill, four mini disc cones are placed along the crease in the shape of a five-point arc, and a different-colored tennis ball is placed on the top of each cone.
The coach stands around 6 feet away from the goal and throws different-colored tennis balls at the goal as quickly as he can while the goalie attempts to make a save, after which he must toss the colored ball at the cone with the ball of the same color.
The main purpose of this quick drill is to decrease the goalie’s reaction time and enhance his hand-eye coordination.
2. No Pocket Stick
For this drill, an old goalie head with the mesh removed is attached to a heavier-than-normal shaft which serves as the goalie’s stick.
The coach then fires normal shots at the goalie from about 5 feet away at different spots as the goalie tries to save the ball but without the mesh to rely on.
If the ball passes through the stick, the goalie must rely on his body to make the save. This helps the goalie get used to getting his body behind the shot.
3. The Doc Drill
The Doc Drill develops on three of the most important principles of a lacrosse save: having a clear vision of the ball, moving your top hand to the ball, and moving your feet and body in front of the ball.
The goalie stands around 12 feet away from a wall and shoots a ball against it as he tries to save the ball with all of his body after it rebounds from the wall.
After each save, the goalie gets closer to the wall, making it ever more difficult to make the save with each shot.
4. Tennis Racket Reaction
For this drill, the goalie doesn’t use a stick and stands at the goal while the coach uses a tennis racket to volley the ball at the goal, while the goalie drives his dominant hand and steps to make the save.
This drill is especially handy to help train the goalkeeper for the closer shots and also works on his reaction times.
5. Off-Stick Hands Drill
This drill trains the goalie’s stick movements for those off-stick saves.
The goalie stays stationary in the cage, only moving his hands, while the coach throws balls to the off-stick side.
The goalie focuses on rotating his stick quickly as his dominant hand goes straight for the ball.
6. Three Station Drill
This drill aims to improve the goalie’s foot speed.
Three stations are set up in this drill: the zig-zag drill, the lateral step, and the arc drill, and the goalie has to attempt all three stations back to back.
- Zig-Zag Drill: 5 balls are set up in a zig-zag manner at 45 degrees to each other. The goalie attempts to step and drive his dominant hand as if he is making a low save on the ground and repeats the same procedure with the next ball.
- Lateral Step: Four balls are placed in a line in this drill. As the name suggests, the goalie takes a lateral step in this drill, simulating a low save.
- Arc Drill: Five balls are set in a 5-step arc in this station as the goalie simulates making a low save in between his legs at every step.
7. Body Block
This drill makes no use of the stick.
Tennis balls are simply shot at the goalie in the cage as he endeavors to make a save with his body. With no stick to rely upon, the goalie has to block the shot with his body.
Always remember to wear a chest protector when attempting this drill!
8. Mystery Shot
In this drill, a goal is placed face-front 12 feet away from a wall.
The goalie stands in the goal as the coach shoots balls from behind the goal to the wall. The ball rebounds against the wall at several different angles that the goalie cannot anticipate as he tries to save the ball.
This offers a good practice to the goalie at facing unpredictable shots at the goal.
9. Hot Potato
The main target of this warm-up drill is to reduce rebounds from the goalie’s hands by developing soft hands.
The drill itself is pretty simple and is meant to get the goalie started with his drills for the day. The goalie simply throws the ball from one hand to another repeatedly, catching and releasing it with a soft hand, without taking his eyes off the ball.
As the name hints at, this drill is designed to help a goalie practice his feet movements.
The goalie stands with his hands behind his back while the coach/teammate shoots a low shot at his feet from close by. The goalie has to block the ball with his foot only without letting the ball rebound back.
The drill is reset and repeated several times to train the goalie’s foot.
11. Rapid Fire
In this drill, tennis balls are fired from a machine to a single position on the goal as the goalie tries to block every shot.
After several shots, the machine is adjusted to fire the balls at a different position while the goalie still makes the save at each shot.
This drill helps build the goalie’s muscle memory and enables him to enhance his overall stamina.
You can also play this one by having one person providing the shots, with someone feeding them tennis balls, as you can check out in this video:
12. Eye Focus Drill
This is another helpful drill that focuses on improving the goalie’s concentration as he positions his head over his toes and throws a ball with force to the ground and then catches it with the same hand as the ball ricochets.
This drill is repeated several times during the day.
Practice Makes Perfect!
When trying to improve your goalie game, it is very important to always work on the basics.
When so much of your team performance relies on you to do well, you wouldn’t want to let them down, would you? This is why it is so important to always try to improve your gameplay and keep practicing.
So, what are you waiting for? Pick up the stick and start practicing and see yourself blocking with confidence in no time!
Hillary A. Plummer & Gretchen D. Oliver (2015) Quantitative analysis of the kinematics of the overhead lacrosse shot in youth, International Biomechanics, 2:1, 29-35, DOI: 10.1080/23335432.2015.1017608