Hunter Francis On Being A Great Goalie


Editor’s Note: Who is the best high school lacrosse goalie in the country? The Guardian National Championship, a unique goalie only event on July 22-24 (women’s) and July 29-31 (men’s) at the Spooky Nook Sports facility in Manheim, PA, will settle it once and for all! Since Guardian Board members are some of the best keepers and coaches in the game, we have a series of great interviews lined up with many of them, which will all focus on goalkeeping! Thanks to The Guardian National Championship for teaming up with us to bring this great content to readers of LAS!

Guardian board member Hunter Francis, the Director of Operations for the Baltimore Bayhawks from 01-06 and also the Owner/GM of the Baltimore Bombers in 2013, took some time out of his busy day to sit down and answer a few questions on goaltending for this first installment of the Guardian Goaltending Interview Series.

Q: What should goalies focus on when they are between the pipes?

Hunter Francis: Watching the ball at all times is the biggest single priority. Secondly is maintaining a good athletic, “ready” position when the ball is in the offensive zone. Third, it’s crucial that they stay calm, keep their wits, and not allow themselves to get too up or too down. This is most easily accomplished by keeping their blood pressure low.

Q: How does a goalies decision-making responsibilities impact the final outcome of a game?

The most a coach can expect from a goalkeeper is a 65% save percentage (in boy’s lacrosse- 50% in girl’s) at the high school level. This means the goalie is saving the shots they are supposed to, and not missing the easy ones. This level of performance does not require a high level of decisions – rather much of it comes from their training and muscle memory. Therefore it’s what they do with the ball in their stick and which balls they decide to chase outside the crease which require making good decisions. If they consistently make the wrong decisions in these areas not only will it impact the game but probably lead to a loss.

Q: What is the best way for a goalie to motivate his defense after giving up a goal?

The goalie has the best seat in the house – all the action and effort is coming straight at him or her. The object of the sport is scoring – not defense or goal tending, so when the offense executes perfectly the ball is going to go in. The goalie needs to stay positive, especially in close games, and never point a finger or yell at a defender who clearly missed something. Rather, stay encouraging and most often tell the defenders “that was my bad – I should have had it.”

Q: Can a goalie single-handedly win a game for his team?

The great goalies never single handedly win games – it’s a team sport. But the goalie is the one position that can most single handedly affect the outcome of a game. Through grim determination, confidence, and uncompromising effort the goalie can brick the six by six up and make scoring extremely difficult. There is no more frustrating experience for a team and its coaching staff to lose a game because the other teams goalie stopped almost everything. The great news is this happens – not often, but it happens. And much of the attitude outlined above can be controlled by the athlete.

Q: Do you have any favorite drills you can share that a goalie can do to improve their ball stopping, throwing and clearing skills?

On Ball Stopping – Position the goalies hip on either pipe with shoulders square to the sideline, facing the goal line extended. The coach is five yards front-center with 50 balls. The coach tells the goalie each ball will be shot to the opposite top corner, or hip, or lower corner- but all 50 to the same spot. The coach yells “shot” and shoots to the preset spot and the goalie, using feet, hands, hips, and shoulders- gets there. Reset and go again until all 50 are shot. This drill builds explosiveness to include extending the hands and the head of the stick. It also helps to reinforce a “never give up” mentality- the goalie will learn he or she can get there.

On Getting Ground Balls – I was taught loose balls behind the goal line extended are fair game for the goalie. Loose balls in front are not. Set tall cones in the distant back corners of the field. Roll out a loose ball and have the goalie sprint out, scoop the ball then lock in his or her sights on the cone in the corner. In the run out be sure the ball is secure in the pocket then slow down a bit as the cone gets close. Come to a controlled stop and secure your feet – first look is down the sideline, second look is to redirect along the end line. Never ever look to the middle, in front of the goal. Typically while running a ball out this way the offensive player will drop off and drop back, giving the goalie the time and room to make a good pass. The importance is it’s another loose ball and another possession.

Johnny Unitas Drill/ Bert Jones Drill – Two of the great quarterbacks of the old Baltimore Colts, both left their mark on lacrosse goalie training and execution. Once the goalie has secured the save and has the ball in his or her stick a loud and resounding “BREAK” hopefully is heard. As the field players break most often a couple will “C” cut to the sideline. Here the goalie needs a nice arching pass to an area, allowing the field player to cut under and get it. Down the middle, and far more dangerous, the field player is likely to “V” cut- moving forward then cutting back, or moving back toward the goal then moving away from the goal. Here the goalie needs a line drive, straight and accurate pass. Goalies should practice and practice these passes until they become automatic.

Q: Post a question for our next coach profile.

HF: What’s the best way to teach young goalies to talk in the goal?

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