I’m getting my goalie mask painted soon, and for a beer league goalie, that’s a pretty big deal.
Unlike pro players, you generally only get one or two shots at making your paint special because it may be the only paint job you ever get. Not because it’s crazy expensive, but it isn’t cheap either, and it’s absolutely the least necessary thing you could ever pay for in terms of goalie gear.
But because of the anonymity of the position (guys I’ve played with for 2 years, and who get an email every game day saying who’s in net, still call me “goalie”), your gear is your identification, your mask paint especially.
It’s almost like a tattoo. Sure, it’s not embedded in my skin forever, but it creates the same powerful urge to make sure the design is relevant to me and my identity as a goalie, and also a reminder of what’s important to me.
As such, my mask design will be (drum roll) a picture of a blind squirrel carrying an upside down goal stick in one hand, glove and puck in the other hand. And a pile of acorns (nuts) on the other side.
Fierce, right? Yeah, yeah, I know. Totally not fierce.
If you’ve seen me play though, sadly, this IS representative of my identity as a goalie. I’m below average-to-bad most nights, but I get REALLY excited about glove saves. And my bottom line is all about having fun, so I think that design pretty much nails it.
I wish I were the kind of goalie who warranted a paint job with the jagged, gaping maw of some hell beast or wild animal, but I look at those and think I’d feel like a fool in them.
So, naturally, I go for the self-deprecation. Make fun of yourself before they can make fun of you.
I bring this up because, having learned to skate and play hockey starting at the ripe old age of 32, people regularly ask me how to get into playing goalie as an adult.
My gut reaction is something like: “Just don’t.” Then, “No really, it’s hard,” on to, “okay, but you better REALLY want it. Like, lifetime-of-regret-if-you-don’t-try kind of want it. Otherwise, the ‘getting started’ part is pretty heinous.”
Because really, it’s hard, physically and mentally. Okay, maybe if you’re athletic already and you’re one of those people who goes fearlessly, shamelessly balls first into everything you do, then you’ll be fine.
But I was in marching band. I’m a writer. I played softball for one day as a kid and quit because I didn’t like balls being thrown at me (and I’m talking outfield—no way would they put me on a base or behind the plate).
My biggest athletic accomplishment heretofore was walking the Portland Marathon in 7.5 hours. So, as far as athleticism, that’s about a 2 on a scale of 10, right behind “vigorous cooking” and “dog washing.” One foot in front of the other is all that was. Tenacity and stubbornness and a high tolerance for foot blisters and painful boredom.
So, when that wasn’t fun anymore (was it ever?), instead of doing something reasonable like Jazzercize, I decided to take up the Hardest and Most Important Position in Sports. Why the hell not?
Luckily, that marathon-walking tenacity and stubbornness are probably the only reason I survived the embarrassment, pain, and failure of my first year in goal. There were lots of fun bits, but it was mostly a lesson in deep, deep humility.
The biggest hurdles I’ve run across thus far:
I underestimated the fact that sportsmanship actually has to be learned. I got away with trash talking as a fullback in girls’ soccer when I was a kid because the adults weren’t within the proximity to say, “Jesus, child, that’s inappropriate.”
Now, as an adult, you’re expected to know how to be competitive while also being pleasant. The concept was totally lost on me. In fact, I still struggle with it. I’ve learned to fake it but really, if you’re not on my team, my feelings for you come from a very dark place until the final buzzer.
Then it’s beer time and we can be friends again. Especially if my team won. Still kinda hate you if your team won.
Those pro goalie thighs I’m so eager to eye-molest aren’t come by easily, but I never really appreciated them until I became a goalie myself.
Goalie gear can weigh 30-40 lbs, so imagine holding two 20 lb weights and climbing stairs two at a time while wearing stilettos (which is sort of the dry-land balance equivalent of wearing skates on ice) for an hour. Oh, and the temperature is about eleventybillion degrees because that’s how hot it is in goalie gear.
Beyond that, most of goaltending is about going side-to-side, which apart from maybe playing tennis, isn’t something most adults are prepared to do, muscle-wise. The kind of lateral movement goalies do, especially from a down position, is the. Most. Unnatural. Thing. Ever.
Hips and knees aren’t meant to do what a butterfly style asks them to do, but eventually your body adapts (or falls apart. It’s a gamble.)
Learning to Skate
It’s easy to underestimate how good a skater you need to be to be a good goalie. It is without a doubt the biggest barrier to entry for a newbie to the position.
And it’s one thing to be able to skate, but really, goaltending is about stopping. Short bursts — forward, backward, and side-to-side — and then stopping. Over and over and over. And anybody who’s learned to skate will tell you, learning to stop, especially on your weak side, is one of the biggest challenges.
Mainly because you end up falling a lot and falling is way scarier as an adult, and especially because you’re probably learning to do it without gear on, so it really does hurt like a mofo to crash and burn.
It’s often said that goaltending is 90% mental and 10% physical, but this only applies once you have the base physical strength.
I remember my first stick-and-puck in the net, I was WILDLY unprepared physically. It was and hopefully always will be the most exhausting, frustrating hour of my life. It was, without question, 1000000% physical.
But 3 years later, every Monday and Tuesday night, I strap on the pads, pretend to not violently loathe my opponent, and take whatever abuse comes my way and it rarely almost kills me anymore.
In exchange, the blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut – a sexy glove save and an “awwww, F**K” from a disappointed shooter – and that keeps me coming back for more, despite the fact that all it’s really doing… is making me nutty.