Playing it ‘your way’
When it comes to sport in general and goalkeeping, we are all different and unique and approach things differently. Like opinions maybe, we’ve all got our own opinion on things! Take runners, it’s a poor analogy, but Mo Farah isn’t exactly going to switch to doing sprints and Usain Bolt isn’t going to do marathons! With lightning speed versus endurance in that example. Everyone has their own strengths and qualities (in life as in goalkeeping!) and it should be realised and acknowledged, that you need to play in the way that suits you. You cannot play like someone else, unless of course of course you play in a similar way and find it useful to ‘shadow’ the way they play from game footage, highlights etc. And when it comes to being aware of kit and how affects the way you play, is a good idea to look at your own set-up and find foam and protection that suits your goalkeeping style.
Your playing style is unique to you. As you start to develop as a goalkeeper and get used to the position, play up higher levels and grow into the world of goalkeeping, you will get experience of things and start to work out how you do things and approach the game. Analysing this and paying attention to what works for you and what doesn’t, is going to going to help you evolve and reach your best in the long run.
And, as you develop and move forward in your goalkeeping, you will start to recognise what works for you as your ‘style’. Rather than get comfortable and not go on, as you improve, it is important not to get locked into a certain style of play, to some degree. Take the example of David Kettle changing his kit set-up to use a more blocking rhp than the tube style, same for Leon Hayward and Nathan Burgers. Like I have written about before, you should always be looking to improve rather than just see yourself as good enough already, good just doesn’t cut it if you want to be great! So, playing style is no different really. For example, developing your athleticism as you start to face better placed drag flicks on short corners etc.
How you play is up to your strengths. As you learn and get game experience, you will start to do things routinely thanks to muscle memory. But it is still important to ‘upgrade’ your game if you are going up the levels. It is not impossible to change styles, not impossible to adapt and change. As a goalkeeper, you should be constantly looking to improve and evolve (otherwise you’re not trying or working hard enough or pushing yourself to the heights of your abilities!), so perhaps consider things in relation to whether you go down and need a glove for that, or stay up more, say. I went from a tube style glove (which I could never get on with) to an rhp with a bigger blocking surface, which suited my approach to staying up more and blocking upright, for example.
Coaching and learning
Experimenting and trying out new things is the only way to find out if another skill will work for you. The training ground is the best place to do things; you can’t really cost your team in a game! Reading up on things (there are guides around, I’ve no idea if my tips are of any use!), or getting access to a GK specific coach who can provide advice on things is going to be of great use. And when it comes to taking on board new skills, you need to be conscious of your options. Don’t dismiss things and be open-minded. See if it works; if it does great and work it in, if not, don’t! Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. Like match preparation, fail to try and you will!
Working it out
Work out what works for you is all relative. How you work out your ‘style’ relates to how you approach situations and how you like to play the scenario. For example, are you patient and wait to commit, or go early? Are you comfortable being aggressive and coming ‘off your line’? Do you prefer to attack the play and get involved in tackles or interceptions, or do you prefer to try and make the save? Do you bring your lhp (left hand protector/glove) across to make saves on your right, or do you prefer to use your rhp (right hand protector)? Do you like to use your feet in the splits to stop shots, or do you prefer to dive, on corners, say?
So on and so on. These are all things you need to take into account. When questioning how you play, you really to think about all parts of the game. Essentially your goalkeeping coach (if you’re lucky enough to have one!) should be able to analyse your style and strengths to a sufficient degree to tell you what works for you and what doesn’t. Otherwise it’s a case of self analysis or asking other goalkeepers at your club for their thoughts (if they’re happy to/know what they’re talking about!).
Style and save making
Ultimately, there will be times when the right save selection trumps ‘style’. When jumping and leaving your feet for the save is going to be better than trying to stop a flick from a standing position. When logging for a straight strike is going to be useful. When you should have committed to eliminating a pass and so on. These kinds of things will become more obvious, especially so if you get the proper coaching!
Obviously unique styles?
They are a few goalkeepers around that do play styles that are pretty much unique and hard to copy. Andrew Isaacs plays his ‘sweeper keeper’ style and gets involved in distribution. Simon Mason plays a style that is incredibly difficult to emulate, unless you’re very tall, athletic and very experienced! Essentially, they both play uniquely; they play their way and theirs only. And Oriol Fabregas (think he’s been involved in the Spanish national set-up) at RC Barcelona is supposed to play a throwback style of goalkeeping that seems to represent or be influenced by the 80s school of indoor goalkeeping; coming out to challenge, playing… etc. A lot of national league goalkeepers will play fundamentally in similar ways, but ultimately differ slightly in the way they stop shots or get involved in eliminating scoring chances. We are all different: as human beings and as goalkeepers!
Take on board what coaches have to say and work their advice into the way you play as a goalkeeper. They should be able to analyse your game and see how your strengths work for you. But I think goalkeeping coaches should be wary of moulding a goalkeeper into a fit that doesn’t fit their qualities, strengths and attributes. Arguably one of the dangers of regular coaching is that you don’t play to a goalie’s natural traits. Such as cutting down their athleticism too much or attacking play and turning them into a ‘blocker’ of shots, say. The danger is that a goalkeeping coach (I honestly don’t think this happens much in hockey, but can and does in other sports i.e. Jonas Gustavsson and Francois Allaire in the NHL perhaps!) moulds the goalkeeper to play a certain style, rather than appreciating the attributes of the goalkeeper they are working with. And on the other side, there are a lot of goalkeepers who will never get elite coaching let alone goalkeeper coaching, so it is for them more case in point to work out how the best play and work to their strengths; learning from others and games as they go along.
What kit works for you?
Similarly, you should take a look at what kit works for you. Another thing you should analyse when considering kit: it relates to your playing style and it has a direct influence on the way you play and make saves. Because different pads offer different properties and styles of play, you should be aware of pads that better suit an upright style and offer more stopping surface and so on. Or gloves that offer better rebound etc. Goalkeeping kit is expensive and if you don’t have a job you need some good sponsors (not sure if parents are always up for that, giving the speed youngsters grow at)! Even if your club provides your kit, you may not be in a position to do this kind of thing, so is obviously a little complicated.
Goalkeepers mixing brands in the EHL
I don’t want to tread on anyone’s toes or annoy certain goalkeepers’ sponsors, but it’s a little obvious to us goalie geeks and kit obsessed analysts when a goalkeeper is wearing a mix of brands. It might not be obvious, but it’s totally obvious to us goalie geek types (obsessed with kit)! It is possible to get options within a brand (say tube versus blocking rhp or style of pad), but mixing brands if you are aware of their features gives further opportunities to maximise kit for your playing style.
In the England hockey league, there are a few examples of goalkeepers who mix brands for certain qualities. Tom Millington went from full Obo to a Mercian lhp (Obo gloves are made to drop the ball, whereas a ‘square’/flat face will push away the rebound with more ping *theoretically*!), but is now obviously in full Mercian and interestingly switched to a tube style rhp, for example. Chris Hibbert has switched to Mercian foam, but still uses his Obo hi rebound rhp (not sure if he struggled to get used to the Mercian rhp design) and customised Obo chest pad with added bicep protection and Obo PE helmet. Chris Rea uses an Obo hi control rhp and the rest TK foam. Maddie Hinch in the women’s league, wears a Mercian Extreme chest pad (I think!), Rob Turner at Bowdon does too (at least he has the shoulders of a Mercian chest pad!). James Bailey too wears ice hockey shoulder caps for extra protection. David Kettle uses all Obo except a TK rhp (including chest and helmet!); some goalkeepers finding the smaller profile easier for ground work (diving, tackles, where the ball is on the ground, to clear etc.) which he has cut away the wrist padding, for more wrist movement/rotation flexibility.
In the Hoofdklasse, Pirmin Blaak uses a total mix; Brabo lhp, Obo hi rebound rhp, TK Soft pads and . Jenniskens uses Brabo pads, lhp and Obo hi rebound rhp. Same for Mark Jenniskens. I haven’t really seen much of this in the AHL as much as my awareness of that league goes, although the Obo chest pad seems pretty popular with some of their notable goalkeepers and it’s notable that Bazeley is still using Mazon elbow pads.
Play it your way!
Ultimately, you need to do things your way! You are you, you can’t be anyone else (in life and goalkeeping for that matter!), and so you need to work out your strengths, work on your weaknesses and develop into a way that plays to these qualities. Sure, there are times when you need to make a certain save selection, but playing to your strengths, like a patient and reflex based yet athletic/acrobatic style is going to be useful on corners and such. For kit too, try and look at options if you can (financing goalie kit is a little tricky sometimes!), just to give yourself the best options for maximising kit to suit the way you play.