Unique. Intense. Misunderstood. Out there. Goofy. “I don’t have enough of them,” or “I have too many of them.” All things said about goalies. Some may be true; some may be stereotypes that have occurred at one point or another. We’ve all had experiences with teammates who are goalies or ones that we have coached. But, one thing is true: you may not fully understand them if you are not one.
It takes a certain type of person to stand within a 6 x 6 metal frame and have a solid ball of rubber fired at you at the same pace of some freeway speed limits. While it may not be fully possible to 100% comprehend what that feels like unless you have stood in front of an attacker ready to rip a shot off the possible game-winning free position, it is possible to think outside of the box and work to understand the goalies on your team and where they are coming from. Most times, that’s all they ask.
- Goalies are people too – Remember them, work with them, praise them and check in with them. Every goalie has had the experience of the solitude you can feel during a practice or a game when the focus is on what seems like everyone but them. It’s important to make a point at every practice/game to give them the attention and coaching points that they deserve. They are arguably the most important position on the field. Yet, they tend to be the most overlooked and undervalued.
- Walk a mile (shot or two) in their shoes – Take a practice to stand behind cage and gather their perspective and how they are seeing the field. If you’re brave enough, put on a helmet and experience what it’s like to have a ball coming at you. Talk to the goalie and ask them what’s going through their head or how you can help them feel prepared and included – what drills do they enjoy, what drills just plain hurt, and what drills are more harmful than good?
- Stop thinking – Goalies have a tendency to be “in their head.” Thinking as a goalie can sometimes slow down the save process. Work, as a coach, to understand this and to find ways to help your goalie “not think” during game play. They are not able to take constructive feedback and immediately make a change mid-save. Thinking can and should take place during warm up, shooting drills, goalie specific drills, etc. But during game situations, reacting is key. Work with them to understand when a good time is to think versus a good time to react.
- Often times, the learning curve results in them being slower before they are able to become quicker in a save. It’s important to give them time to work through this, help them understand the process and have patience for them. Goalies are not field players and they develop skills differently.
- Efficiency is key – The quickest distance between two points is a straight line. So many times, the focus is put on whether or not the ball ends up in the back of the net. But why? What made them slower? How did they move? Was that the quickest path? What were they watching?
- Be creative in coming up with ways to increase reaction time, eye speed and efficiency in making the save. These can include juggling, wall reaction drills, repetitive shooting drills, stepping/cross-post drills, etc. These do NOT necessarily include: shooting drills with attackers shooting as hard as they can close to the cage, sending a goalie on their own to get “warmed up,” shooting with a men’s stick to warm up a goalie who will see shots from a women’s stick (the release point is very different), etc.
- It’s not always their fault – For the ball to end up in the back of the net, it has to go through eleven other people on the field. Around eight out of ten times, the goal that was scored was NOT the goalie’s fault. There are shots a goalie should save. You can hold them accountable (especially for not putting in the work outside of practice) for those and others that you have talked with them about and have been working on and scouted. But it’s important to take into consideration whether or not your goalie should have made that save you’re expecting them to make. Was that just a really good shot? Could they see the ball or was a defender in front of them? Did another player tip the ball after it’s shot? If you’re not sure, ASK!
While probably the smallest group of players on your roster, goalies can have one of the largest impacts on the success of your team. They take time. Invest in the efficiency, mentality and understanding of your goalkeepers. Take the time to learn how they learn and get creative in ways to help them understand how time and space gets smaller as they get older and play gets faster. Explain to them that repetition may be boring but it’s the best way to create the muscle memory necessary for “not thinking” come game time. Maybe then, the misunderstood will become clear and the “out there” will become less lonely.