Size or Skill?

Opinion -

Size or Skill?

Goalies are settling in for another year of summer box lacrosse.

That means the on-going challenges of improving (at any age) the way you play the sport physically and MENTALLY has arrived and a new year of learning is upon you. 

I spend time working with lots of goalies over a range of ages. I try to get them to consider options to the way they are currently playing just to push their growth and step out of that mindset of absolutes most goalies are hanging their hat on.

Over on the Box Goalie’s Universe on Facebook I saw a discussion about goalie gear and how much is too much. The chat was started with a trading card picture of my childhood idol growing up, Dave Evans.

There has been a massive transition from the 70’s to now in all walks of life, lacrosse is just another. Players shoot harder, the equipment is better and athlete’s development is light years ahead of that innocent era. Growing up in the 70’s I played box goalie. I had to move and be active with less equipment and a much smaller stick like my idol Evans. It was challenging but I learned and re-learned ways to play the game as skills had to be improved aging up.

Goalies of these pre 90’s eras couldn’t rely on equipment to make saves; they had to play the position by being active in the net. It was just a fact; if you weren’t active you didn’t make saves. The stick was your best tool for protection because it didn’t hurt to catch a ball. Gear was sub-par and the ball was bigger and heavier. Field lacrosse balls were adopted into Canadian box lacrosse for good in 1998.

Larger equipment and sticks like fishing nets infiltrated the 90’s goalie equipment lineup. These tall sticks prevent the bending of your knees and lateral movement. They changed the way the goaltending position looked and was played. Speed forward a couple of decades and goalies are more like blockers. Instead of playing the position they have just become the position. “The bigger the better” they always say but I’m not so sure that applies to a lacrosse goalie mentality.

Activity in net forces more mental focus and effort that will develop the instincts and disciplines to play nets. You don’t apply one reaction to every type of shot. With some patience you can wait and look at the shot, then produce the right mechanical save. It would appear most goalies want to step out on every shot and block or be big. I’m here to say you can be more than “just” a blocker in goal.

If you were born after 1988 you likely grew up playing goal not knowing anything other than big sticks and big equipment combined with the odd coach demanding them being used as a means to winning. It’s a story I hear on a regular basis. I’m not saying all today’s goalies are on the wrong track, your path is your own. What I am saying is insecurity is rampant with lacrosse goalies. Goalie gear and jerseys have been growing to new sizes because of this insecurity. I believe there is no substitute for skill.

Regulations were put in place to curb some of the overzealous sizes that had been achieved over the years in goal equipment.

CLA regulations were inconsistent so the vague rule of “conformity’ was brought in for 2015. The CLA had to ease the pressure on referees who were being forced to make Goalie gear calls in playoff games and other tense situations. These equipment infractions were deciding playoff lacrosse games.

That is the proof of the message I’m relaying.

There were no goalie gear calls prior to the decade of the 2000 – 2010 because there was no reason for them. Goalies played the game of lacrosse, not the game of padding up.

The net size was increased in Senior “A” in 2000 by 6 inches in width and it was the kindling to the fire of insecurity that has become the ongoing growth of goalie equipment.

Jerseys used to be tight, now they sometimes look like tents. Sticks have grown to the point they cover an entire 5 hole (remember the Quad?). Gear has expanded so much that even if we made new rules they couldn’t absorb backlash over the money already spent for equipment while regulations were loose.  Imagine the furor if the regulations were changed and everyone had to get new uppers for Cat 3 and CAT 2 sizing?

It would be no different than outlawing wood sticks; too much time has gone before us to make that radical a change to a small sport that would cost participating goalies some serious cash to switch. I suggest there needs to be better rules to level the playing field.

I’m pushing for change and it would appear I have an agenda. The reality is I do. I make goalie equipment and have since 1987. I would love to sell lacrosse equipment and make millions doing it. I am a realist though and this sport just can’t, and will never, have the numbers playing it to support that idea in my lifetime. Still, the game needs change in the face of lacking registration and the threat of Ball Hockey taking over as a more accessible spring/summer sport.

What I experience in almost every case of teaching new student lacrosse goalies is they are missing out on the best parts of playing the sport. My experience as a child was that the box goalie position challenged me and made me work to get better. Those skills transfer to other sports and other walks of life. Inside the work were the lessons that spurred on confidence to improve myself.

Nowadays the kids are wearing suits of armour that protect them well. In this era parents have to show responsibility in the form of protection. You can still move in the gear made at this point in time just not so well with all the bulk. It really comes down to the stick, size of the kid and net size to decide the amount of movement. 

When you use a tall stick you nullify the ability to use the stick for anything other than resting your weight and locking your knees straight. A stick is needed to catch balls before it can pass balls. If you want to dig for a save you will need to use your stick to cover low shots side to side. I see most kids holding the stick north to south instead of out in front were they can cut shots off before they touch the ground.

I saw 11 year old goalies using Senior Warrior Wall’s at the Provincial Championships a few years back. These sticks should be outlawed until the goalie has reached Bantam or even later so they can learn how to use a stick properly and develop skills like the footwork of pushing side to side.

I also see 4x4 nets stuffed to the rafters with massive kids doing nothing more than standing in equipment and being big. These kids are not playing lacrosse; they are not challenging themselves, they aren’t even learning about sport. Instead they are just being used as a vehicle to win and their experience in sport is wasted. Being big isn’t playing sports. Instead it’s just a kid finding a place to fit in. A lot of mixed messages are being sent to our youthful goalies.

What are the answers or the fix? I’m not sure and I’m going to be criticized for offering any opinions. People hate change. Then consider your kid just started playing and you go to an arena to play a game and they can’t score a goal on a huge goalie that covers the whole net. Is that fun for any of the participants? Ball hockey doesn’t have any issues like that with their 4 x 6 ft net for all age groups.

I believe we need to outlaw a certain height of wood goalie stick and the Senior Wall goalie stick for goalies 13 or under and if the kid is 6’6” that’s just too bad. It will force kids to use a stick properly and instigate skills around using the stick. Additionally I believe the age we use 4 x 4’6” nets needs to be lowered now that everyone has the nets. This net should be used from Bantam to Senior in an attempt to lessen the impact of equipment goalies are allowed to use once they are in the adult stature of CAT 3 gear.

The only other ways to police this would be to have CAT 3 equipment wearing goalies having to play in a 4' x 4’6” inch net no matter what age they are. That would be tough for referees to monitor and accommodate each period when one goalie may be in a smaller net and the other in a bigger net. The other far-fetched idea would be to have all goalies fit into their age related Cat # category. If you had a kid who needed an exemption so he could wear CAT 2 gear for a CAT 1 division you would simply say no. That player would have to play forward and another team member would become the goalie and play at the regulated size.

Seems unfair but no less fair than the team losing to the team with the huge kid in goal after both teams parents paid registration and with valued time for a whole season just to have their endings and lessons decided by girth instead of skill and effort. Look at the picture of the goalie at the top of the screen. Imagine him with a big wood stick, where would you score?

My argument is the youth game is broken and it needs to be fixed. The lessons our kids are learning in lacrosse are faulty because they are less a factor in their own outcomes than kids playing other sports enjoying the fairness of their competition.

Everyone who loves lacrosse loves lacrosse. That isn’t what we’re discussing here. What is on trial is the game and the current rules that taint the experience of playing the game prior to junior lacrosse. What are these rules teaching us except to skirt rules for the benefit of winning?

What is winning? There are multiple losers for every single winner every year in every sport. Winning to me is each kid getting a good experience at any level in any sport through fair competition.

Winning has taken on a whole new perspective with the way things are going in Canadian Minor lacrosse with our young impressionable lacrosse goalies. 


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