Life in the cage – what is it really like? Goalkeepers have such a different perspective on the game, how different are their mindsets and their jobs than the rest of the players on the team? Junior Maeve O'Connor, women's soccer goalkeeper, senior Sean Augustine, men's soccer goalkeeper, and sophomore Wesley Hertel, men's water polo goalkeeper, provided some insight into their lives in the cage.
Everyone knows the goalkeeper's main job – to make saves. But, as O'Connor says, "goalkeepers have something like five minutes of actual action." How do they find ways to contribute to the game during those other 85 minutes, or in Hertel's case, 27 minutes, of the game?
O'Connor explained, "I would consider myself an active leader, so since I'm on the field 90 minutes of the game I am seeing literally everything that's going on…I feel like I'm constantly talking to the team and trying to organize everyone."
Augustine had a very similar point of view, "I try to be very vocal during the game, obviously as a goalie you see the whole field so it's always the goalie's duty to communicate with the players in front of him."
Hertel also talked about the importance of communication, "In the cage I do a good job of telling the team where the ball is and figuring out what kind of defense we're running. You know, sometimes we have to do a drop where people have to come back to help on other players. I also tell them how much time is left in the shot clock so they know 'Hey I can go on offense' or 'It's time to come back on defense'."
All three goalkeepers honed in on the importance of communication in the position. They have the best perspective of the field, so they are constantly talking to their teammates, helping them out in whatever way they can.
How did they first get into the goalkeeper position? You often hear of young kids hating to play in the goal, but these three players started at an early age and stuck with it.
"My mom was the coach so she stuck me in goal and I stuck with it", O'Connor said. Not exactly an inspirational story, but it seemed like another common theme.
Take Augustine, for instance. "For as long as I can remember I've been primarily goalie ever since I started playing soccer at four or five. I guess I was the kid who was never scared to get hit by a soccer ball, so that's why I got thrown in there." As young players, they were the ones who were put in goal, but they stuck with it when none of the other kids would.
Hertel, who also started on the soccer field, had a different story. "I played soccer when I was little and I played for several years and I always had a defensive-set mind even when I played on the field. I always saw the importance of defense so it just came natural to me."
So how about that split second when they have to make the huge save? The rest of the team always has to be "on" when they're on the field or in the pool. Do goalkeepers have to flip a switch in that instant to make a save or are they were also always "on" in goal?
"I have to be on all the time", O'Connor said. "If I'm not, it's a goal. The main role of the goalkeeper is to be constantly mentally awake and aware and that's why I'm constantly talking and communicating because it helps me focus."
Once again, Augustine had a similar answer to the question. "I try to stay alert and focused all the time. It's obviously very hard when games are an hour and a half long. Most of the time you're not touching the ball or involved in the play so I try to just move around a lot and talk to players. I do a lot of stretching during the game...so when that time comes I'm ready."
Hertel also spoke to the mental part of the position. "Being a goalie, it's a big mental game. I would say it's almost 60% mental. You have to know that you might not get the opportunity to make another save in the future. For me, when I can see the ball coming, I have to talk myself up. Get motivated and really focused."
Finally, how are their responsibilities as goalkeepers different from everyone else on the field or in the pool?
O'Connor highlighted the need for perfection. "If I make a mistake, everyone sees it. It adds into the responsibility that my work has to be perfect."
"Really it comes down to the communication part", Augustine said. "It's the biggest job for a goalie, especially when they're not involved in the play. Even if you're not a captain, you're really responsible for acting like a captain on the field, talking to players all the time, especially your back line."
Hertel, like Augustine, spoke to the role of leadership as a goalkeeper. "I have to always be positive, I can't have a negative attitude. I have to show the team that I'm the big support in the back. If they're struggling, I'm going to be there to have their backs."
Communication, mentality, and leadership. The three most important pieces that go into the roles and responsibilities in the cage. The three themes to remember when asking yourself, "what is it really like back there?"