When Embracing the Weird is Hard - A Call for Help from Coaches

First and foremost, I consider myself not a goalie coach, but rather a goalie advocate and educator. There is so much out there coaches, parents, fans, and players don’t understand the position and so many goalies are left without guidance and ignored. My aim is to give goalies a voice, to help more people understand and possibly see things in a new way. This post is just a continuation of that mission.

I was deeply saddened to receive an email from a player who wrote to me asking for advice, and asking specifically if I could write about her struggles to bring awareness to the topic. I want to talk about her struggles, and also discuss why this happens and what makes playing goalie in girls lacrosse in particular so challenging and why coaches need to be prepared and know how to address the problems.

This player, wrote to me to tell me that she’s different than most of her teammates. While they jam out to rap, hip-hop, or pop before games she has some steady rock on and needed to be alone.

“To be able to bring my A game, I was not into the chatter everyone was into, I was not into the music that was being played on the boombox and I was not really speaking at all. I probably wasn’t “fun” enough. I really need to get into my zone, get into my own head and set things straight. So yeah, I was in my own world from time to time, but when we had free time, no one bothered to come to me to talk. I don’t know what went wrong, maybe I triggered it, maybe some teammates triggered it, but it seemed like everyone avoided me. We had to walk in pairs to every single thing we went to, but as soon people saw they were paired up with me, they looked for someone else.”

My heart was breaking reading this. How is this possible? 

I don’t think she is isolated in feeling this way at all. I think for me, I was lucky. Believe me, I am so incredibly weird. I could run off a list of things, from color coding my closet and making sure my clothes are facing the same way, to my dance moves, to loving every single kid movie ever made, to having my own personal Elf on the Shelf during Christmas, I’m sure my closest friends could come up with so many more. However, I could always “pass” for being normal—at first anyway. I’d get comments like, “wow you’re normal for a goalie.” I used to take pride in that, and almost mentally dissociate myself from the goalie group. Sometimes even physically, where I’d only hang out with my field player friends at camps and clinics trying to avoid the weird label. I wish I hadn’t, but what kid wants to be weird or different? Now I love that I’m weird, and truly do believe it is such a great thing. I think that being weird allows me to be more approachable and effective as a coach and a friend. However, it’s really hard to communicate that to a kid and especially a pre-teen.

This is a lot of what deters girls from even wanting to play the position in the first place, the “weird” nature of the position. Where does this come from? The answer is very complicated.

First, just look at the goalies. They physically look different with the pads on. In games, goalies are typically the only ones wearing shorts, unless you’re on a rare team that doesn’t wear skirts (lucky you!).

Then, you look at where they go during practices. In the beginning, they’re isolated during stick work (unless you’re one of the smart ones that realize goalies need stick work too), and then they’re isolated in the crease during drills. Additionally, most coaches don’t even know what to do with them, so they’re left ignored in practices as well.

Finally, the position itself is weird for girls. Volunteering to play goalie, essentially saying, “I might get hurt, but that’s okay” isn’t something any “normal” boy or girl or even adult will do. However, this statement for a boy creates a social reward, and as a girl, it’s a detriment. Society conditions boys to be tough and gritty and girls to be delicate, graceful, “princess-like” if you will. Therein lies the deviation of normal to weird, even though there are pads, simply having the desire to go in the cage creates a difference for girls. As someone who has wanted to just be “normal” her whole life, this setup in lacrosse can be tough. For most kids, and I’d say adults too, we just want to feel like we belong somewhere, whether that’s at work, in our family, gym, or other activities and groups. Especially when girls are the only goalie on the team, it can be tough to find that.

So, what can we do? A lot of this is on the coaches.

Coaches, please take the time to learn about the position. I see so many coaches wanting to know the X’s and O’s about offenses and defenses, drills for stickwork, etc., but not as many are excited to learn about the goalie position. I’m not sure if they see this as not as important or they think they’ll never understand the kids or the position. The thing is, you can, and you should!

Whenever I’m doing a coaches goalie clinic, I always say the best way for you to understand the position is to play it! Yes, you, put on the pads and hop in there! Not only will you garner your goalies and players respect by trying it, you’re more likely to understand how the goalie should move, what she should say, etc., which will allow you to better coach your goalie.

I’ve heard from some coaches that say they are often less likely to coach their goalie because they don’t want to say the wrong thing. First of all, this is even more of a reason to learn the RIGHT things to say, but you really can’t say the wrong thing. It is worse to totally ignore a player than to tell her something that isn’t right.

Talk to your goalies. Yes, the position requires someone that’s different, but that doesn’t mean they’re anti-social. Get to know them, make them feel included. Make sure to do team building activities and make sure the goalies are involved. Additionally, you can even do a drill that is solely for THEM to make them feel more important for 10 minutes of one practice. I’m not referencing shooting drills here, just for the record, although adjusted, could potentially work.

The lack of seeking information might also be that coaches do not want to admit they don’t know something. The position of goalie is complicated, just like the sport itself and there is nothing wrong with wanting to learn more. In fact, I recently had a head coach from a Division II school ask if I would be able to help her out with some information. There’s no shame in admitting you don’t know everything, I have found that even though it’s hard to do this as a coach, and in life generally, it usually makes you better for asking.

Finally, for coaches - keep rotating players through at playing goalie. Not only might you find a good goalie, but players will come to a greater appreciation for the position.

Players, don't write your goalies off because they're different. They're some of the most amazing people you'll meet (totally no bias at all). They will always have your back and be your number one supporter because they've gone through their share of hardships along the way. They know what it's like to not have a lot of playing time (especially freshmen), they know what it's like when coaches are on them about making plays, and most importantly, they know what it's like to just want someone else to understand. 

Goalies, I know it can be tough, but please don’t change! Just because we’re different doesn’t mean we have to change who we are as people. Keep being yourself and things will fall into place. Trust me, your weirdness will become endearing. As I was discussing this with a few of my former teammates, one said, “Lyndsey who were you kidding you aren’t normal at all!” They all still love me for it…..I think, anyway. Embrace the weird, and remember, I’m always here to lend an ear if you need it!  

As always, thanks for reading!