Ashlyn Harris sat down on an exercise ball and Lloyd Yaxley picked up a tennis racket.
The Orlando Pride goalkeeper coach then began hitting tennis balls for his star ‘keeper to swat away.
“She’s been getting a lot of shoulder movement,” Yaxley explained, “so by incorporating the tennis ball or the volleyball or the miniball, if her movement isn’t efficient, she’s going to get beaten.
“Anything where you can put a little twist on saving a soccer ball but with the same premise. We use volleyballs sometimes as well because the impact is less and the ball moves slightly different, to keep them honest.”
Yaxley has been creative with his drills over his 12 years coaching goalkeepers. He’s always looking for new ideas, whether from other coaches, online, or even at a hockey rink.
“I’m really fond of the little movements that they do to keep a tiny puck that’s traveling 100 miles per hour out of a goal,” he said of ice hockey goalies. Yaxley mentioned Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby’s pregame routine, during which he stands alone on the bench doing visualization with his hockey stick before “flinging a racket ball against the wall in a corridor by himself.”
“That was fascinating for me to watch the way he prepares himself, not only physically but mentally.”
Mental preparation is a huge part of goalkeeping - Harris said it’s “90 percent of everything” - and the relationship Yaxley and Harris have built over their six years working together is founded on mutual trust and the pursuit of perfection.
“I demand a high level of concentration and I’m hard on him, too,” Harris said. “If he comes into training and his kicking is just not where it needs to be it really affects the training. So I definitely demand as much as he demands and I think that’s the unique thing about both of us is we’re both growing and getting better together.”
Yaxley focuses on more than just shot-stopping. For one of them he’ll angle a table on its side before kicking the ball off it so it loops to the far post.
“I really like that drill,” he said. “It gives a new dimension to crossing, like a deflected cross off a defender’s foot.”
Yaxley’s out-of-the-box techniques have gained popularity around the soccer community.
“My old goalie coach in Seattle spoke very highly of him, not even knowing everything that would transpire,” said backup goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer, who was acquired via trade in January. “I knew that he had a creative and interesting way of doing things and accomplishing things.”
Kopmeyer knew she wanted to improve her quick reaction saves. So Yaxley got out the tennis racket.
“I always try to keep it interesting,” he said. “Try and keep them on their toes, try and keep them wondering what we’re going to do at training today.”