Recently, I received a question asking about being an underclassman starter in the cage. This is a tough position for a goalie and one that I happen to be familiar with. During my sophomore year, the goalie that was in my class suffered a terrible back injury, leaving me to be the only goalie for our team with 4 seniors and 2 juniors.
As a goalie, you’re naturally in a leadership position, but as an underclassman, you simultaneously have to balance that with knowing your place among the team and having respect for your older teammates.
I’m sure you can imagine with the numbers for our upperclassman that we were heavy on the other end, and needed strong leaders to guide the way. It was definitely difficult at times to tread the line without overstepping my bounds.
First of all, I think that intention and tone are everything when you’re speaking to people in general and it really applies to teammates. I always tried to take my time when I spoke and make sure that what I said was constructive. I’ve seen opponents break down and start blaming and yelling at each other, which is something I had to make sure I didn’t do no matter what the situation was.
I also made sure to be encouraging, and use my voice a little more. Even though you’re an underclassman, it doesn’t mean your opinions or voice doesn’t matter. In the goal, your teammates are listening to hear what you say. When you’re encouraging towards your defenders, they’re a lot more likely to listen. Let yourself get excited about big defensive plays, tell your defense when they’re playing good 1v1. You are the team's energy plug and you have to make sure you’re bringing it.
Finally, the last thing I did was to make sure that I earned the respect of my upperclassman through my work ethic. On the field, weight room, conditioning, school, you name it, I was pushing myself to be the best I could and to show my teammates that I was ready. I’m not always the best with words, so for me, building that trust and relationship with my teammates stemmed from that earned respect. I made sure to study our playbook so that I always knew our defenses and was able to help when called upon.
One more thing, if you’re on a young team like I was, sometimes as a goalie, player, or coach, you have to pick your battles. Typically with a young team, there’s a lot you’d want to change to fix, but you have to prioritize some of the smaller picture fixes that will lead to bigger picture fixes later on, instead of trying to change so much or harp on so much that’s going wrong. Always encourage players to work on the little things, and always remember to stay positive. More than anything, young teams need constant positivity. Let the coaches bring the hammers, you focus on being the best teammate you can.
Best of luck this season, hope this helps!