The goalkeeper position is one that comes with many responsibilities. The position lends itself to leadership and mental toughness. The aim is simple for a goalkeeper -- keep the other team out of the net.
Playing the position can come with its highs and lows. Shutouts and being the hero can be quickly forgotten the next game after a dismal performance. Many young goalkeepers get thrown into the position because no one else wants to play there. My reason for playing the position was simple -- my father was the coach and no one else wanted to play in goal. After a few years, minding the net became my passion and I have studied and embraced the position.
You're Not Always Going to Play
One of the toughest things about being a goalkeeper is there is only one that can play at a time. On a team where there are four goalkeepers working hard to earn the one spot, the competition can be fierce. During my time at Bowling Green State University, I spent most of my time as a backup. The hard work and waiting for your opportunity is tough because you want what is best for the team but you also want to play.
The role of the backup is to be ready to go at a moment's notice and prepare every day to be the starter. It is a tough mental fight pitting a desire to play versus team success. During my junior year I took over the starting role, and when you are the starter is the time you start to notice that the other goalkeepers on your team are working just as hard. The training sessions become more intense as your counterparts are trying their hardest to score.
I had excellent teammates while at BGSU. The competition and camaraderie I had with my fellow goalkeepers was one of my favorite things about being a goalkeeper. We would talk at halftime about things we saw from the other team and other situations. The thing to remember is that deep down there is a part of every goalkeeper that wants you to stumble so that they can be on the field.
You'll Face Pressure
The goalkeeper position lends itself to pressure. The whole team is relying on you to bail them out of jams. We have seen that a lot from Orlando City goalkeeper Joe Bendik this year. Goalkeepers enjoy, if not relish, this pressure. We crave it and want to be in position to make the great save. Pressure can come from being put in situations where there seems like there is no way out, only to make a save.
Many experts talk about the stress of the position and how it takes a special individual to play there. One of my first real pressure situations in college was with my first career start. I was told the morning of the game that I would be starting against No. 1 ranked Akron at their stadium. Akron that year had scored multiple goals in the first half of every game leading up to ours and had beaten some major powerhouse teams.
I was only a sophomore at the time and I was young and naive to the moment. Many announcers talk about how young players sometimes are oblivious to the moment. That couldn't be truer for me. The first half ended for us and we were the first team to hold the Zips scoreless all year. As time went on in the second half, their qualities of play started to show through and they were able to beat us, 3-0. After the season was over my coach talked to me about how it was a sink or swim moment for me. I had risen to the occasion and kept my spot on the team.
Collegiate soccer sometimes is about going out and recruiting your replacement. My coaches didn't go out and recruit anyone, which shows the faith they have in you. The position can sometimes be about managing the stress and pressure of the situation more than the physical limits.
You are Not Just a Shot Stopper
Many people think the goalkeeper is just someone who makes saves and is a good shot stopper. A well-rounded goalkeeper needs to be a shot preventer. Goalkeepers need to constantly evaluate the play of the opposing team and organize the defense. Some of the best goalkeepers in the world are the best organizers of the back line.
Constant communication and knowledge of the other team's tendencies come into play when trying to be a shot preventer. There has to be some trust that is built with the back line so that you are able to communicate. Much like how a quarterback has to trust his offensive line, so must a goalkeeper trust his back line. The center back-goalkeeper relationship has to be one based on trust and knowing each other's strengths.
During my time as a goalkeeper I was not as strong on services played to the back post. My center back knew this and played a little deeper to cover that and allowed me to stay on my line more to make a save. This small nuance to help organize the back line makes the position more than just a shot stopper.
You Must Be Fearless
Goalkeepers have to be fearless. The moment you have a fear of embarrassment or being hurt your career is over. Goalkeepers are going to give up goals but you cannot be afraid of being embarrassed. In fact, you need to get more determined to prevent goals from ever happening again.
The fear of injury can never cross your mind as a goalkeeper. The position lends itself to injuries. There will be times where you will have to sacrifice your body to make a save. This could mean putting your face into a scrum in front of the net or diving on rock hard turf to make a save. The position can be physically demanding in a way that is different than running the miles that a midfielder does. Goalkeepers are constantly hitting the ground and are expected to get back up as quickly as possible to make the second save. The toll it takes on your body is something I still feel to this day. We, as goalkeepers, have to be ready to throw our body into danger to ensure that our team is successful.
My time as a goalkeeper is something I have embraced. I loved having the whole team depend on me making the key save. The position lends itself to natural leadership qualities that I hold to this very day. So, this week, as MLSsoccer.com celebrates the goalkeeper, take some time and embrace the position and the goalkeepers for Orlando City. Joe Bendik gets a lot love for some of the saves he makes, but don't forget the hard work that happens behind the scenes with Earl Edwards Jr. The position is a tough one to play but one that can be easily appreciated.