Goalies: beyond just stopping the shots

Oct. 4, 2002, midnight | By Anna Benfield | 17 years, 2 months ago

Blazer keepers battle stereotypes, balance their emotions before stepping into the crease

Sophomore Chris Wilhelm watches the shooter's eyes for clues. With the score tied at zero after sudden-death overtime, the teams have resorted to penalty shots to determine the Labor Day soccer tournament finalist. He waits, poised on the goal line like a coiled spring, the pressure on him to make the game-winning save. With a kick, the ball soars to the left corner of the goal, and Wilhelm explodes to intercept the shot.

"I've never felt anything like that in sports before," he says, remembering the feeling as he was rushed by his elated teammates.

Spectators at Wilhelm's game understood the importance of his diving save; however, the cheering crowd was most likely unaware of the demanding physical and mental preparation that is involved in playing goalie.

When defending the goal, Blazers often find themselves playing a different sport from their teammates. The head-to-toe pads protecting field hockey and lacrosse goalies provide a stark contrast to the polo shirts and pleated skirts worn by the rest of their team.

Perhaps because of their bulky equipment, many netminders feel they are perceived as sluggish and inferior players, incapable of playing a field position.

For junior Erika Pelz-Butler, being a goalie means dealing with undeserved stereotypes. "I tell people I play soccer, and they think I'm some super athlete. Then I tell them I'm a goalie, and they think I'm lazy and don't work for what I get," she says.

To the contrary, most Blair goalies do the same running workout as the rest of the team in addition to building the strength and agility necessary for fast reactions. According to girls' soccer and boys' lacrosse coach Robert Gibb, such conditioning is indispensable in developing a second nature for making split-second decisions. "Goalkeeping is incredibly instinctive. If you have to stop to think, it's probably too late," he says.

Beyond the physical requirements, senior Ben Schwengels, varsity lacrosse goalie, considers the position extremely psychologically demanding and emphasizes the importance of being able to ignore distractions and concentrate on the game. When goalies are about to face an incoming shot, they must find the balance between excitement and mental clarity needed to perform well. This calculated control of emotions also plays a significant role when recovering from an opponent's goal.

A goalie's strong desire to stop shots makes allowing a goal a very personal failure. But according to Gibb, this sense of responsibility is a necessary part of performing as a quality goalkeeper. "If being scored on doesn't bother you, you don't belong in goal," Gibb says, explaining that confident goalies should consider every shot stoppable.

While most Blair goalies consider their teammates supportive, recovering after a score is always difficult. "One of the worst feelings is walking into the net and getting the ball," says junior soccer goalie Lino Martinez. "I'm wondering what I did wrong and how I could have prevented it from happening."

Even when a breakdown in the defense leaves her without hope of making the save, Pelz-Butler feels responsible for every goal scored on her team. "It affects me emotionally during and after the game," she says.

Because frustration can diminish a goalie's confidence and ability to make future saves, Gibb stresses the importance of recovering emotionally. "You can't beat yourself up every time a goal is scored. Learn from it, but ultimately you need to put it behind you," he says.

Though a save can't improve the score, most teams understand the impact a goalie can make on the outcome of a game. "You get a lot of recognition when you do a good job," says Schwengels. "You can change the whole momentum of a game."

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Anna Benfield. Anna Benfield is a CAP swimmer, field hockey and lacrosse goalie and diversity workshop leader. She loves biking, sailing, collages, the zoo and her little brother. More »

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