The Goalie Approach: Defending the Dive

Over the past half-decade, The quintessential conversation in the lacrosse world has centered on a forbidden fruit of the attack game: The Dive. The Dive is the ability of an attacking offensive player to launch his body towards the interior of the crease area to create a scoring opportunity. Controversy ensues, and high-profile games are decided on pivotal crease violation calls at the end of the season. What is Legal? What deviates between a Dive and a Push, and therefore a legal Finish in the crease? After months of preparation, playoff teams found themselves helpless to the perception of referees in critical moments. The GameChanger: Maryland & Denver, 2017 Final Four (via LacrosseFilmRoom).

After years of debate and deduction, college lacrosse has brought back the Dive. We’ve seen air gasping plays from Doug Knight, the jaw-dropping pipe reversals from Mikey Powell, and the Classic Air Gait.

The lacrosse Dive is back, and Now, more than ever, athleticism, courage, and creative stick skills are put to the forefront: players can extend their bodies across the plane of the goal, and utilize the extension of their body, arms, and stick to increase their angle and opportunity to score.

Excitement ensues. For the Game: recharged scoring opportunity, increased creativity, and possible entry into ESPN’s #Top10Play contention. Exposure, Excitement, and Drama all rise with the floodgates of the Dive.

There now lies a deeper discourse that occurs in the midst of the evolutionary chaos: What can the goalie do to setup for success against the Dive? What evolution will we see within the Goalie position to fend off the aerial attack?

Let’s be clear: The situation is dire. The offensive player has gained an edge: a step, leverage, body positioning towards the goal. The moment occurs in fractions of a second, the speed and pace of the goalie’s decision dictates the offensive player’s percentage chance of scoring. And within these transformative moments, the goalie can make choices that can deliver momentum changing plays for his team.

After years of playing in the MLL, and outright playing aggressively around the cage for my entire career, I’ve decided to work through this spotlight moment. Let us debate the situational cues, the ever-changing variables that occur in our spontaneous sport. If we can then process the function of these perspectives, and utilize them to choose our direction of play, perhaps we can inspire change at our position to defending the Dive.

I’ll break down the Goalie Position in relation to the Dive, and hope to provide insight and context to how to best play inside the cage.

Create & Establish your Identity

Do not hesitate. You have a choice: to attack & play physical or maintain patience & follow the shooter rhythm & observe peripheral pressure. What openings can the shooter go towards? Is there a slide closing out his lane to goal? Hold the pipe OR close the shooting angle? Draw the charge or Slow Play? Stay focused on the head of the stick.

Experiment.

Watch Film.

Understanding Angles & Areas of the Dive

Back Corners to GLE

It is important to gauge the area of the field, and the angle of the dodge in relation to the goal, the defender, and the Goalie. If the offensive player is running from the back corner, with his defenseman in range on his outside hip, the player has limited option for his run towards the goal.

In order to make the play and Finish in Front, the offensive player must take the inside route between the Defenseman and the tangent of the crease. This allows for the goalie to make a Step-Out, similar to the technique used by teams when utilizing their goal in the Hung Situation. Take your body out of the crease and angle your shoulders parallel to the endline, building a wall in the gap that the offensive player hopes to run through to the front of the goal. This action can deter dodgers to bail and detour towards X, which can allow your defender to regain his step and recover onto the ball… or now the Goalie has an opportunity to be Physical and stop the Run with a ‘Step-Out’ Technique.

It is key in this moment that the first point of contact by the goalie is made Below GLE, so that a shot cannot be placed over the top of the goaltender and into the Net. A key component is Technique, similar to a defender’s GLE Technique, or Football Tackling Technique: The Goalie should continue to stay low, and drive through (with his feet) into the player with his helmet to the outside of the body.

Ball at X

The area behind the goal, termed ‘X,’ is a long-standing position utilized by attackers to gain an advantage on defenders because of their ability to attack either of the equidistant goal-pipes. In this position, it is an opportunity where you will see opponents gain a “Hung” advantage on the defense. In this situation, the attacker has manipulated the defense so that his defender has chosen to stay above the goal, in order to deter the dodger from wrapping around while he chases him from the other side of the goal. You will see defensive tactics that utilize the goal to hedge towards the attacker, while the defender ‘flushes’ the player out and returns to on-ball defense.

The Value of Patience

Over the years, I’ve balanced my style to understanding that the patient approach can be effective in moments where players are attacking low-angle areas on the goal.

Defenseman Positioning & Patience

The decision for the Goalie is made easier with persistent & determined defensemen that maintain coverage, angles of pursuit, and continue to use their body position and footwork to bottle up the attack at critical areas of the field. This limits the shooter’s ability to extend & fake, making the read clear for the goalie.

The Defense that seeks the trail check has limited itself to a ‘single bullet.’ If the check does not land, the offensive player is awarded exponential time frame to now continue his drive, the air around his stick has now cleared, giving him more space to deceive the goaltender with fakes.

Time & Fakes

An important skill within the Patient Play, is to ensure that you maintain your balance and athletic stance even through the first of what could be multiple fakes. Most often, offensive players will fake in one direction, and than shoot in the opposite direction. Whether this is Fake High, Shoot Low; Fake Left, Shoot Right… If you can withstand the initial fake, maintain your balance and concentration on the Head of the Stick, you can increase your chances of making a play on the Ball.

“Read ‘Em & Beat ‘Em”

A well-versed phrase used by GoalieSmith Lacrosse & the Gvodzen Twins. A monumental cue for all goalies is to Read the ‘Release Point’ of the Shooter. Goalie Nerd & Sport Psychologist Chris Buck (26:00) utilizes this cue with his goaltenders, allowing the goalie to see the ball in the air for the longest period of time, and deploy an encyclopedia of stored visual memory to track the ball into the save. As a player motions towards the goal, we are prone to focus on peripheral cues that are less of a priority than the head of the stick: This could be the helmet, shoulders, hands of the offensive player. At this critical juncture, the release point becomes the most valuable perceptual cue. Within the chaos of moving parts, bodies, colors the goalie can serve himself by keeping his focus on the ball within the head of the stick to find the release point and match body level and stick-head with the shooter.

 

[See 0:20]

The Value of Being the Aggressor

As more goalies are left undefended in the crease to a flying object coming their way, goalies will find that entering attack mode can be a useful tactic. The goalie that utilizes this tactic has a number of advantages, but first must come with a variety of skills. Athleticism, Strength, Anticipation, Angle Play, etc. all come into play at this moment. By playing the Dive physically or ‘Stepping Out’, the Goalie can now:
1) Create an obstacle between the Dodger & the Goal Mouth, and Allow his Defender to Recover.
2) Draw a Flag on a Dive “Charge.”
3) Make a massive hit and lead to a momentum change for his team.
This single play can affect the rest of the 60 minute game, by creating a hesitation by individual players and coaching staffs for how they approach dodging around the crease.

Timing is Key!

It is of great risk, and great reward to come and make an aggressive, physical play outside the goal for the defense. The play can limit the team of a goal, while also boosting your team’s momentum and confidence at critical junctures in a lacrosse game. The bueaty of lacrosse is that almost all plays are slightly unique, but timing of our decision making is a paramount in defending against the Dive. For example, at one end of the spectrum, coming out of the goal crease against a player at 10 yards would do as no good if that player has full vision, free hands, and no defenders around him. This will just allow the attacker to finish around you and into the net with ease.

COMMIT

Whether it be making a hit on the ball-carrier, chasing a groundball, or diving out a shot: My recommendation is to fully commit to the action. The greatest risk that a goalie can make is to exit the goal. If our mindset isn’t to fully embrace and attack the situation, we are leaving our goal abandoned with only half of our heart in the play. This leads to indecision and mistiming that can be critical in these moments.

Know Your Personnel (KYP)

KYP: Know Your Personnel One of my favorite adages in preparation and developing team goaltenders is developing a thorough understanding for your opponent, or ‘KYP,’ or ‘Know Your Personnel.’ Studying film, acquiring game experience, and time-served in the cage all contribute to developing a sense of your opponent’s tendencies. Tendencies might include their dominant hand, favorite moves, finishing style, and more. As a goalie, if you can have a grip on your opponent tendencies, it allows you to not only communicate to your defense and make their job easier, but also to help anticipate and predict where players want to get to in order to finish, how they want to finish, and where they (generally) like to finish on the cage. If you can master this area of the game, it will allow you to move quicker and attack the ball in these moments.

Off-Hand vs. Strong Hand Drive: If a player gains a step from X with his Off-Hand, the aptitude of a player to shoot quick and accurately when the goalie dashes from the goalline can cause hesitation, and allow for big hits such as this one. In this Clip, my very close friend Chris Bocklet (Sorry Chris), makes an offensive move towards his Left, or Weak Hand. Goalie Scott Rodgers takes the opportunity to close out at GLE, acting as a “Slide” to the offensive Player. If on the’ other hand’, Chris made the move to his Right: the ages and experiences that he has accumulated over time, he would be much quicker and fluid in his finishing, which would potentially give him the upper hand in his ability to shoot quick, place the ball from a low-angle, and have the confidence to maneuver around the goalkeeper.

On this next clip, you see Tommy Palasek making the play to his Strong Right Hand. He has the poise in his comfort zone to make a quick move and slide underneath Rodgers for the Goal.

Tommy Palasek Finish

‘Diver’ vs. Near Pipe Finisher: There tends to be offensive finishers that would prefer between one or the other. To get to the pay-dirt and dive across the crease, or those who just want to entice the goalie to leave his pipe early and finish to the near side.

Thank you for reading! I hope you learned a few things. I would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment in the section below.

-Adam Ghitelman

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