The GK Union

By Sarah Olender

An inside look into the lives and minds of Northeastern’s goalkeepers and goaltenders.

“Do whatever you can to make sure they don’t score.” 

That’s the message from any goalkeeper or goaltender coach to their star student. And at the end of the day, that’s what the main objective of goalkeeping is: don’t let the other team score. Even with all there is to the role, from technique to positioning to communication, it is the pressure, both external and internal, that is a major stressor for goalies across all sports.  

Think about it: a forward could make 10 mistakes, and none of them would matter or even be remembered if they score once to win the game. A goalkeeper could make 10 great saves, but no one will remember those if the opponent scores. Unlike any other position, every mistake a goaltender makes is projected on the scoreboard.

Pressure is the reason why sophomore women’s hockey goaltender Gwyneth Philips didn’t start goaltending until later in her hockey career. From the beginning of Philips’ career, her father wanted her to play anywhere except in the net.

“He didn’t want the pressure on him, of being the goalie’s father,” Philips said. “He was so against it for so long but we eventually tricked him.”

She recalled that when she was younger, there was a period of time during which her team’s only goalie was away for two weeks, and her coach let her give goaltending a try.

“I played goalie for those two weeks and I was pretty good. And all the parents were like, ‘She’s really good. Let her do this,’” Philips said. “I think then his pride overpowered his fear, and he was like, ‘Okay, we’re gonna roll with it.’”

Despite the pressure on Philips and other goaltenders, she said it’s one of the reasons why she loves goaltending so much.

“I just kind of like the butterflies in my stomach for the game, you know?” she said. “Obviously there’s such a great team in front of you, but it does really fall back on you. Sometimes [I] like that pressure, most people crack on it, but goalies thrive on that and I thrive on that.”

Men’s soccer redshirt freshman goalkeeper Colby Hegarty had similar thoughts. He admitted that he also enjoys the pressure of being the very last line of defense.

“There’s times where it’s almost overwhelming. But that’s why if you ask any athlete, especially at this level, you can’t really play at a level like this and not have a part of you that loves the pressure,” Hegarty said. “No one wants to make a mistake and let the pressure get to them, but at the other end of that, it’s like a risk/reward. There’s a ton of risk involved in making mistakes and doing all this, but at the other end, you know, if you play a fantastic game, the reward is unmatched.”

To a lot of people, being a goaltender sounds crazy. Who would want to put their body in front of fast moving objects with the intention of getting hit?

The training to be a goaltender is different from that of any other player on the team. A goaltender doesn’t always have to run sprints up and down the field or rink; rather, they have to learn how to see the game from a different angle, prepare their fast twitch muscles and master how to communicate effectively with their teammates. 

“There’s definitely always going to be a large emphasis on the goalkeeper being the loudest person on the field, because you see everything,” women’s soccer sophomore goalkeeper Angeline Friel, said. “Coming into freshman preseason, I was only 17 years old, and to know that I was gonna have to pretty much boss around a bunch of girls up to 22 years old was kind of daunting, but it definitely comes with a lot of respect between teammates. If you earn their respect quickly, then they know that what you’re telling them is going to help the overall team performance.”

It’s certainly daunting to be the loudest person on the field. A goalkeeper is the only person on the field who can see the whole picture, so most coaches designate them as a leader on the field who tells everyone where to go, who to cover and what to do. 

“At the collegiate level, I was noticing how many goalies are a captain or assistant captain,” Philips said. “They are very authoritative. They’re not afraid to tell a [defenseman] to do this, do that. And I think that translates off the ice too, which makes them good leaders … I definitely think there’s some connection between a strong goalie and being a strong leader.”

Learning how to communicate and be assertive with teammates is intimidating, but the link between being a great communicator and great leader is evident. A key part of goalkeeper training is learning how to coach teammates to where they’re supposed to be on the field, but with that responsibility comes a necessity to be mentally strong.

“It’s all mental, and you have to be able to really let go of mistakes quickly, because you could let in a goal but you can’t lay on the ground and cry about it,” Friel said. “So mentally, it’s definitely been hard because being a younger player on the team, there’s a lot of pressure from upperclassmen to perform. But they always have your back and usually your perception of the pressure on you is greater than [what] was actually expected of you.”

There’s no position like goaltending. It is so unique and distinct that people often say there’s a certain personality type one needs to be a goalie. The stereotype in most sports is that goaltenders and goalkeepers tend to be “weird,” and many say that you have to be a little crazy to want people shooting pucks and balls at you as hard as they can.

Perhaps you do have to be a little crazy to want to be in goal, but it’s easy to get addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes from making the amazing, game-winning saves. This is the type of rush that members of the goalkeeper union love.

“People often think it’s like a very individualized position. They think since you get special training and you wear a different jersey than other teammates, that it’s kind of isolated,” Friel said. “But for me, it’s been probably the best position I could have played because I get to talk to everybody on the field and have a personal relationship with all my teammates. So I just think it’s a great way to be the leader, but also just to make a lot of friends.”