I Am Goalie, Hear Me Roar

This article appears in the “Free Play” section of our May/June edition. Send your lacrosse-themed art and writing to freeplay@usalacrosse.com.

Being a goalie in lacrosse is tough and stressful. It’s not for the weak.

“I’m not sure why I kept playing goalie, to be honest,” former two-time U.S. national team goalie Trevor Tierney once said. “It’s painful mentally and physically. But the feeling of letting a goal in is a lot more painful than getting hit anywhere on my body.”

When your team loses a big game, you feel like all eyes are on you — the one playing the single most important position on the field. And yet, coaches don’t pay nearly enough attention to goalies. We are not the prized middies or attackers. We train independently, out of view while practicing the physical and mental skills required to be successful.

Most coaches and teams focus on the field players. There are more of them. And only goalies really know goalies.

“I can’t just train you,” coaches have told me.

“You can do that yourself.”

“I’ll just pass with you.”

“I don’t know how to.”

“I need to help them.”

The only way I could get quality training was to pay a lot of money for private lessons and practice on my own every day after school. I needed the specialized reps, drills and mental training it takes to create a decent goalie. I couldn’t be mad at my coach. Most coaches don’t know how to train goalies. Goalie coaches know how to push us to become that bastion that keeps the team going even in the direst circumstances and situations. This helps build character not only in lacrosse, but also in life.

Self-confidence is everything for a goalie. The more confidence you have in yourself as a person and athlete, the more confident you are in your capability to save the ball. The minute a goalie loses confidence, everything disappears. You feel nonexistent as an opponent comes whirling toward you at top speed, getting ready to thrash the ball at you.

We mustn’t just have self-confidence on the field but within ourselves and in our daily lives. My confidence helps me try again when I fail and helps me move forward in my life, not backward. It helps me not to live in the past. When you’re confident, you perform up to your potential. You know your value.

As a goalie, if you win the game, the team loves you. But if you lose, you feel like it’s your fault. You carry that burden home when you lay down that night, replay the game in your head, see what you could have done differently to change the outcome. It sticks with you when you pick up your phone, scroll through your social media, see other teams’ successes and dwell on how to bring your team to that next level. Building up your confidence can help you in these times.

As a goalie, you’ll learn to be a leader. There is no other way. The position is too important. Since becoming a goalie, I’ve grown into a great leader of the defense and to my peers. I’m not only an athlete, but also a student. I influence my peers to stay on task, look on the good side of thing and not be swayed or influenced by the negativity in the world. I try to be someone anyone can come to if they need help or support. I’m reliable, helpful, strong and loving. I love being a positive influence on others.

I was 7 when I started playing lacrosse. I had no skill, technique or understanding of the game. My mom brought my sister and me to clinics and town practices to learn it. Once we grasped the basic concepts, my mom signed us up for our town’s PAL team.

I joined the team as a defender and had no intentions of playing goalie. The thought scared me. But the coach needed a volunteer for the position and I liked challenges. My mom bought all the gear that I needed to survive. With training and support from my family, we had an almost undefeated season. The goalie shoe fit, so I wore it.

I’ve been to many goalie camps. My mom works extra shifts at the hospital and juggles driving back and forth to allow me these opportunities for growth. I put in many hours to improve my skills, but the one thing that helped me the most was joining a private lacrosse club and a program called Breakout Goaltending, run by Tim O’Meara and his amazing staff. They break down the schematics of being a goalie, mentally and physically.

Once you become a goalie, there’s no going back. The feeling of saving goals and making perfect clears sticks with you. Seeing your team run to you at the end of the game and being satisfied with your performance is the best feeling in the world. Seeing the faces on people when I tell them I am a goalie and they respond, “I could never do that. ... You’re brave. ... How do you wear no padding?”

I’ve played goalie for seven years. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. All the new connections, skills, roles and characteristics I acquired are incredible. I am grateful for the opportunities and challenges I’ve encountered and those to come as I continue this journey.

Madeline Willocks, 15, is a USA Lacrosse member from Freeport, N.Y. 

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