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Goalkeepers must be leaders. We have heard this many times before. Our coaches tell us over and over again. We know that it is our job to step up when the game is on the line, communicate with our defense, and keep a level head throughout the game. It is easy to say ‘be a leader,’ but how does it look, especially as a new player on a team?
I am a female goalkeeper. I played four years of college at as an undergraduate student at one university, and then had a fifth year of eligibility. I transferred to another school for my fifth year because I had graduated from my undergraduate institution, and they did not offer a graduate program I was interested in. That meant, after four outstanding years of college ball where I was a leader, had my best friends by my side, and a great relationship with the coach, I had to start all over.
These circumstances are challenging, but they are not completely foreign. Changing club teams, beginning high school or college, or moving/transferring will create a similar situation. Your experiences with your previous team made you used to a certain team culture and coaching style. With you previous team, your teammates knew you, which made it easier for you to speak up and be a leader on the field. As a female goalkeeper, it also important to realize that at any level, females have a higher likelihood of being caddy, clicky, and judgmental. This can make breaking into a new team even more difficult.
Going in, I had my work set out for me. I knew I wanted to come in and win the starting position, gain my teammates trust, and be a leader on the field. My freshman year I knew I had two senior goalkeepers in front of me. Through conversations with the coach, I understood that my role freshman year was not to come in and challenge for a starting job, but improve my skills so I could compete for the job my sophomore year. Although frustrating at times, this made my freshman year easier in terms of leadership. There was no expectation for me to lead. My sole job was to learn and improve. This was not the case in my fifth year. I knew, to compete for the starting job, I had to be a leader on the field. So back to the question, how do you lead in possibly adverse circumstances? There is no full proof formula. Every player needs to work within their own personality to become a leader, but certain things are constant: respect, trust, and an open-mind. The three things can enable your success as a leader on your team.
I am someone who will always work my hardest whether I am the best, worst, or somewhere in the middle. This is one of my greatest assets in gaining teammates’ respect. They respect my work ethic, desire, and passion. This does not have to be done vocally. It is what they see everyday in practice. It is also how I came into preseason, in shape. Remember goalkeepers, our fitness is very different than field player fitness, we should train different because of it, but you will still be expected to complete fitness testing. The first morning of preseason we ran our first fitness test. I was in the middle of the pack with respectable times. By beating a few field players and encouraging and congratulating others as they finished was my first foot in the door. I made myself known and began to earn respect.
My personality is to be extremely upbeat and bring lots of energy to training sessions and games. This energy was appreciated by the coaches but not always met by enthusiasm from the players. This resistance to my energy could have brought me down and made me minimize that energy, act like I do not care or do not want to be there in the heat of preseason two-a-days. One thing I had on my side was experience. I knew how lucky I was to receive a fifth year to play. I was grateful for an extra year to compete. I did not let energy suckers (people who brought the energy of others around them down) bring me down, but I also had to walk a fine line between keeping my personality while embracing a new team culture. There are times to turn the energy up (on the field), and there are times you can tone it back (locker room, off field). Understanding the difference in these situations can allowed me to embrace the team while remaining true to myself and earning. This also allowed me to earn respect through a consistent positive attitude.
I also earned players’ respect and trust through off field interactions. One-on-one and small group conversations walking to the field, at meals, and in the dorms allowed me to get to know my teammates and allow them to get to know me. When we learned about each other we found similar interests, outside of soccer, and formed positive relationships that transferred to our chemistry, respect, and trust on the field.
It is difficult to earn someone’s trust, but through consistent work and results trust can be earned. As a goalkeeper we are the last line of defense. Our number one goal is to not allow any goals, and if we make a mistake, everyone knows. This makes the trust of our coaches and teammates even more important. As a goalkeeper, the easiest way to earn trust is through consistent play. Every practice, scrimmage, and game opportunity you have to show up physically and mentally. When your teammates see you making saves consistently without letting in soft goals, their trust will grow. This does not mean never letting in a goal or making a mistake, we all do both, but it is about how you respond. Do you get down on yourself and your teammates, or do you fix the mistake in your head and move on to the next play? This consistent effort and response will allow your teammates and your coaches to trust that you will always have the team’s back in any situation.
One of the biggest challenges for me in my year at Central was the adjustment to a different team culture and coaching style. I had an amazing four years at Ithaca where I fully embraced the culture and understood the coaching style. However, every school is different. This does not mean better or worse, but each team will have a bit of a different culture in how they do things and each coach has a bit of a different style. Going in with an open-mind about both of these facets is necessary with any new team, but can be difficult when you are coming from a place of comfort with a previous team. I kept comparing what I had previously done with what was currently happening: team dynamics and personalities, structure of preseason, coaching style, game tactics, and technical philosophies. This was one of the worst things I could do, and I knew it, but I still struggled to stop. I had to take this experience with this team as independent from my previous experiences.
By gaining the respect and trust of my teammates and coaches and bringing an open-mind to a new way of doing things allowed me to lead vocally through my directions, encouragement, and feedback and lead by example through my work ethic and play on the field. One cannot lead without a group of people following. Trust, respect, and an open-mind will encourage those around you to lead by your voice and actions throughout the season.
Broken down, these three facets of leadership may seem like common sense or very simple, but every situation has its challenges whether it is understanding your role on the team, understanding the team dynamics and how to navigate them, or personal open-mindedness to a new environment. Knowing the obstacles you might face does not mean they will be easy to handle. There were definite moments of frustration and others of nostalgia for Ithaca, just remember that the ride is rarely smooth, but almost always worth it. Mine definitely was.
By: Rebecca Lewis, Former Keeperstop.com student and current goalkeeper coach.