Trust, trust, trust

Trust, trust, trust. Trust in yourself, trust in the coaching staff, and trust that you are doing exactly what you should be doing.

I was so grateful for the Olympic experience that I had. I have been playing hockey at this level for 12 years, and this is the first time I have been to a tournament as the only goalkeeper. Before the tournament I thought that maybe it would be a lonely time, mainly before and after games, but it wasn’t. The times that I had to myself were good for mental preparation.

The extra pressure that I normally put on myself about whether or not I will play the next game was eliminated. I could just play and for me that worked. I was the best prepared I have ever been. I have had many experiences over my career both good and hard, and all were a driving force to get me prepared for the Olympics. This also fuelled my determination to perform to my best during the tournament.

Over the years I have learnt to deal with distractions. Like the distraction of already being a couple of minutes behind in your warm up, walking out from the change room to the pitch and realising once you get out there that you have forgotten your right glove. My on ball warm up can’t start without my right glove. So I asked the girl warming me up, very nicely, if she could run to the change room and get my glove. I just grabbed a ball and started juggling it to warm up while I waited for her. There was no need to make a big scene, I am sure most of the girls and some of the coaching staff didn’t even realise that I left my right glove in the change room. She got back out to the pitch, both of us were very calm and we started the on ball warm up. It was our 3rd game of the Olympics vs USA, I saved a stroke that game and we won 1-0. Being able to deal with distractions both on and off the field is very important.

All the best … Toni

Learning from the ‘sweeper keeper’ myth?

Looking ‘outside the box’, I think something can be learnt about goalkeeping from the soccer ‘sweeper keeper’ myth.

The mythological concept of the ‘sweeper keeper’ comes from football (or soccer to those outside the influence of the British Isles!) where playing a more attacking and fluid passing style means the goalkeeper has to be more active in their defensive role. As last line of defence, they become more essential to ‘sweeping up’ (I don’t think that’s what it’s meant to mean, but I feel it’s appropriate to the explanation!) back passes and start outlet passes via strong distribution to set up attacks on the opposition’s goal. Whilst it may not be the idealised version of a goalkeeper you would expect in (field) hockey, I believe something can be gleaned from the methodology and applied to the way we ‘keep’ our goals.

Stuart Hendy comes out to intercept a pass.


The theory

The myth and theory originally comes from the pioneering playing style of Gyula Grosics. The Hungarian goalkeeper playing in the 1950s is credited with the revolutionary approach. With a high defensive line, the goalkeeper is often left with a large gap between them and the defensive line. The goalkeeper essentially acts as an extra defender, coming off the line and sometimes out of their area to quash attacks and also calmly distribute the ball to their defence. The ‘sweeper keeper’ has all the desired attributes of a modern goalkeeper; agile, quick, and comfortable on and off the ball. Victor Valdes of Barcelona is seen as the atypical modern version, comfortable with the ball at his left or right foot and able to make pinpoint passes, is said to look so comfortable with the ball at his feet to be able to play in midfield! Hugo Lloris (who has recently joined Tottenham) is said to be the missing piece of a puzzle AVB is putting together, centred around fluid, passing and attacking play.


Here you can see Valdes operating as an extra defender, giving his team options as they are pressed by the opposition:


The following link gives better insight from the soccer perspective:


How can it apply to hockey?

When it comes to looking to apply this style to hockey, thinking outside of the box to reflect on can be a good way of new ways of developing the goalkeeping approach. The new penalty shuttles have shown how pro-active and aggressive the modern goalkeeper needs to be. The more a team pushes forward and plays an active, aggressive press deep into the opposition’s half, the higher the defence plays and therefore the more open to attack the goalkeeper becomes. By stepping off their line and treating the D as theirs to control and defend, the goalkeeper is more able to shut down scoring chances. With the change in free hits to allow aerials, the goalkeeper needs to be prepared for more aerial threats into the D at the higher level, which become more dangerous when the defence is playing a high press.


Acting like a fifth defender is not as uncommon in indoor hockey, with a mobile and aggressive style befitting the fast paced game. Peter McNally in the 80s of Australia acted like an extra player, able to trap with the glove and then play the ball with his stick, along with Scott Kovacs and now Andrew Charter, demonstrate the aptitude of aggressive goalkeeping to shut down scoring chances by working in unison with their defence. However, in terms of the outdoor game, there is little to comment on, but there are some who show a more attacking style in the way their defend their goal. The French style of goalkeeping in hockey often follows the indoor style, with a pro-active and aggressive style which sees the D as the goalkeeper’s role to protect. Julien Thamin was famous for his pro-active approach with the French international team and St Germain HC. I have noticed examples in the England Hockey League of pro-active goalkeeping, with Andrew Isaacs at Havant comfortable coming out his goal to punt away aerials thrown into his D, whilst Stuart Hendy regularly comes off his line to intercept passes in the D.


The following link (didn’t want to plagiarise the photos!) demonstrates Isaac’s style, with pictorial evidence of a goalkeeper active within their D:


Comfortable with the ball at your feet

Whilst hockey goalies aren’t expected to hoof the ball up the pitch to set up a goal (although I’ve seen it done at the national league level!) we can learn a lot from football in the need to be comfortable with the ball. In essence, as goalkeepers we should be comfortable with our kicking enough to act as a passing option. A couple of times I have had to bail out my defence and acting like an extra defender, was able to pass the ball back to them or rush out to kick away a pass into the D and save their blushes. Like a football goalkeeper with strong kicking ability, the field hockey goalkeeper should also have strong kicking skills; able to kick with both feet strongly to distance with strong technique. The ability to come out off the line to intercept or kick away a pass into the D with distance to the sidelines, is an important part of goalkeeping.


Actively out to challenge

When faced with a lack of defensive support and having your team push up to push for a goal, you need to be ready to come out and challenge the play. By acting like an extra defender and coming off your line, you offer your team mates the chance to slow down the play; challenging the ball carrier, which in turn gives your team mates extra time necessary to get back into position and provide support to defend the goal. Similarly, whenever a ball gets through, you should be prepared to come out and clear it, like you will soccer goalies do. Just like Casillas rushing out of his box to knock away a high ball with his head, or sliding out with the feet to block (we would have to use the stick!), hockey goalkeepers can sometimes be seen shutting down scoring opportunities by sliding out with the stick to prevent a one on one. This is an elite skill and needs confidence and practise, but if executed well will shut down a potential goal.


At 5:08 you can see Manu Leroy (of KHC Dragons) pulling off such a feat:



Hendy comes out to challenge.


Pro-active positioning

‘Sweeper keeping’ like an extra defender revolves around aggressive positioning: able to read the play well, the goalkeeper can respond to what occurs in front of them from active positioning at the top of the D. Closer to the edge of the D, you will be quicker out to aerials or long passes into the D, ready to challenge a breakaway player or unchallenged players coming into the D. By being prepared to come off your line actively, you stand a better chance of shutting down scoring chances and preventing goals through pro-active goalkeeping involved in the play.



On their goal line, the goalkeeper gives away too much space to go through on goal.



Off their line, the goalkeeper is more able to challenge a pass or player.


Whilst it is a basic example (and not off hockey!), the following illustrates a goalkeeper challenging the angles and pushing up off their line:


Protecting your ‘house’!

The American phrase often used in field hockey refers to the need to dominate your area. It complements the theory of sweeper keeping, with the recognition that is more than just your goal, but your D, that you are guarding. The idea that you need to protect more than just your two posts is essential to strong goalkeeping and a more broadened role of supporting your back line. By ‘protecting your house’ in an active way, it helps reassure your team with a commanding, dominant presence, knowing that you are ready to come out and shutdown scoring chances yourself.


Playing as a ‘sweeper keeper’

Playing like a ‘sweeper keeper’ will obviously as listed previously, involve acting like an extra defender; prepared to come out and play the ball away or shut down attacks. The more active you are in the D, the more agile and physically fit you will need to be. As soon as you go out and down to block or intercept, you need to be up on your feet as soon as possible, before getting back into position to stop further shots at goal. Strong decision making and confidence in your ability will obviously be important as you don’t want to be giving unnecessary goals or getting stranded and out of position.


At 3:24 you can see a great example of pro-active goalkeeping:


The following are examples of ‘sweeper keeping’:


  • Aggressively challenging breakaways
  • Making interceptions against passed plays
  • Coming to the edge of the D to sweep away the ball with the stick, or using the stick to intercept outside the D
  • Attacking base line runs with slide tackles
  • Coming off your line to deal with aerials into the D
  • Being alert to rebounds; actively coming out to kick clear a deadened rebound etc.


Being a ‘sweeper keeper’

Ultimately, considering the role of the ‘sweeper keeper’ should cause you to rethink the goalkeeping position. Whilst the buzz phrase of ‘sweeper keeping’ is a good way of attributing the skills of a commanding goalkeeper, it is a good way of reflecting on your activity within the D. In essence, the theory acknowledges the need for goalkeepers to be more than shot stoppers. A key part of goalkeeping is to deny scoring chances through interceptions and the like, rather than allow shots to come in. By recognising this you can develop into a stronger and more commanding goalkeeper that your defence has trust in.

Focus on the ball!

Focusing on the ball will increase your success rate in saving shots.

When setting for the save, you need to be watching the ball. True eye contact allows you to focus on the ball and react accordingly to make the appropriate blocking action. Obviously this is not always possible in every situation, like tips and deflections where you see the ball at the last minute, but on point shots and at short corners, you should maintain a strong focus on the ball. By being pro-active and alert, you are in a better position to make the save; so whenever you make a save, or kick clear, you should always set your focus on the ball and maintain it throughout the save process, so as to maximise your efficiency.


Focusing on the ball

When watching the shot, you should focus on the ball from the ball carrier or shot all the way into the save. The way you watch the ball goes back to the fundamental skill of reading the game; not over committing and reacting to what happens in front of you. When the potential shooter becomes obvious, you can then focus on the ball’s positioning, setting up on the angle and in your stance ready to make the save. Watch the path of their hit or flick; watching the ball from the stick all the way into your equipment; putting a strong emphasis on focusing on the ball from release to reaction. Self discipline is the order of the day, with you needing to remind yourself every time to give 100% focus on the ball and the shot.


Watch the ball ALL the way in

In order to make a strong save with good execution, you need to be focused on the ball. If you react at the last second, you can’t expect to be in a good chance of stopping the ball! When some goalkeepers will close their eyes or flinch at shots (which is a problem we can all face, not helped by poor equipment), you instead need to be confident in your kit and confident in that you will be able to make the save unharmed.


When making any save, you want to be watching the ball ALL the way into your body – the specific piece of equipment making the save. In each case the basic principal remains the same: by focusing on the ball’s complete flight, you stand a better chance of making the save than if you only caught sight of it at the last minute. It terms of concentration and focus of elite goalkeepers, you can find photos of soccer goalies facing penalties where they are clearly following the path of the shot even if they have been beaten.


Remember, it’s fairly simply; the more you focus, the more chance you have of making the save, so do your best to give it a hundred per cent.



The ‘quiet eye’

Research and sports science studies has shown that the more a goalie focuses on the object coming at them (depending on the sport played!), the more they save. In ice hockey, the concept of the ‘quiet eye’ has been developed. It has been scientifically proven, that the more focus the goalie puts on the puck, the better chance they have of saving it. This link between eye contact and reaction is important to realising the need for total focus on the ball when goalkeeping in hockey.


The following clip is a good insight into the understanding:


‘Well watched’

Watching professional soccer (football), you will often see the goalkeepers raising their hands up against a shot that goes wide. This asserts that they have been paying attention and know the ball is not going to end up in the net! When Vogels was playing (he is obviously retired now), he used to put his hands up when the ball had gone off, to show to the umpire and team that the play was dead and the ball had gone off. Similarly, you can show that you are certain the ball is wide of the goal or going over (by knowing your angles), by raising your gloves. If you feel it helps, calling “Wide!” will also help your defence know you are leaving the shot. It takes a bit of experience and practise though!




Glove saves

The glove save sounds the most obvious form of save involving eye contact, with the goalkeeper watching the raised ball from shot to finished save, moving the glove into touch to block the incoming ball. However, you still need to be focused on the saving process and the ball, maintaining it throughout the saving motion in order to execute technique properly and help focus on the redirection for rebound control.


Stick saves

Stick saves are a little trickier due to the width of the stick and the reduced stopping surface that the stick offers. Nevertheless, it is important that you read the shot off the shooter’s stick and move the stick in to contact with the ball as required.



Using your RHP to block the shot, rather than relying on the stick (if ), gives you a better chance of making saves to your right given the larger surface area the new styles of right hand protectors provide. Turning at the wrist and pushing into the save, your focus remains the same: making prolonged eye contact with the ball into contact with your rhp.


Pad saves

The pad save may not seem like an area needing a write up on, but eye contact with the incoming ball will allow you to concentrate on the initial save along with the following rebound. As the shot comes in you will obviously be lowering your view to the ground, following the shot low into your pad.


Kicker stops

In order to make a well executed stop with your kicker, you need to watch the ball into your foot; looking down to the pitch, to focus on being able to react appropriately, just like a pad save. When kicking clear, or making the save, the focus is the same: watching the connection with the foot to make sure the angle is correct and the clearance is sufficient. For the ball to be effectively cleared on the play, you need to be paying attention to the angle of the incoming ball and then set up the redirect to match.



Though it’s not always orthodox or best (though I have seen it being taught by Dutch coaches and is good for blocking against deflections and killing rebounds), body saves still need your focus (and trust in your kit!). If you are forced into blocking the ball, you need to be aware of where the rebound goes in order to respond with your repositioning or clearance, forcing you to make eye contact with the ball.


When diving, the concept remains the same, and watching the ball all the way into the save betters your chances of making the save, as well as getting a look at the incoming ball, for a well placed redirect to steer the ball to safety. Diving into the save puts the focus on the stick and rhp or glove; changing your focus to a lowered state to watch the ball into the save.


Jumping saves

When jumping, or high diving to reach the ball, your focus translates to the ball’s position, with your eyes ready watching the distance between you and its destination, so you are set to make the save with your equipment as you get closer to the ball through the jumping motion. With the ball away from you from the beginning, you need to watch with great awareness; judging the distance of the ball as you move in to block it.


Blocked view

Sometimes you will be faced with situations where your view is impinged and you may struggle to see the ball. Here, the need is to locate the ball holder and react to the situation as it develops. This obviously makes life difficult. Whilst you may not get the chance to be totally focused, you can still prioritise your focus to react on the instant you catch sight of it, making sure you made the effort to focus on the incoming shot.




  • Give a 100% in your efforts; focusing on the shot ALL the way in
  • Use training and warm ups as a chance to focus on each shot in this way to reinforce good habits for game time
  • Try not to block your view of the ball unnecessarily during the save process; using your gloves independently when bringing the glove across to the right could block your vision


On short corners

Short corners are a time when you see goalkeepers losing their focus on the ball, even at the elite level. Instead of watching the ball from the injection to the flick or shooter, they simply choose to react to the corner as the play unfolds. However, I feel that short corners are an important time for goalkeepers to be focused on the ball because of the score rate of corners. Focusing on the ball at the injection right through to the drag flick or shot will help provide you with a good focus for making the eventual save, as well as helping you to track the ball to the shooter (if there are multiple ‘castles’ or dummies) or slip pass for a routinely planned redirect.


At flicks

Penalty flicks are another time when it is important to have good focus on the ball. Players can easily wrong foot you and send you the wrong way with a dummy or using their eyes to pretend to be going one way (and go the other!) as you play against better quality opposition. Instead, make sure you focus on the ball and nothing else; going the right way as it comes at you in order to stand the best chance of making the save.


Focus, focus, focus!

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is the need for focus when faced with making the save. The more you focus, the more likely you are to stop everything! In training and practise try and set your targets on focusing on every shot without fail; the more you force yourself to focus totally on the ball for the shot, the better goalkeeper you will be.