Team Dynamics

In the ideal world every goalkeeper is a starting keeper. You play every minute of every game and never let in a goal. Reality tells us this isn't true. The world is filled with keepers with a wide range of skills and a limited number of teams. Not every keeper gets to play, but that's not to say that every keeper can't have an impact on his or her team's performance. How goalkeepers work together on a team is an important dynamic on and off the field.

In the ideal world every goalkeeper is a starting keeper. You play every minute of every game and never let in a goal. Reality tells us this isn’t true. The world is filled with keepers with a wide range of skills and a limited number of teams. Not every keeper gets to play, but that’s not to say that every keeper can’t have an impact on his or her team’s performance. How goalkeepers work together on a team is an important dynamic on and off the field.

While field players can play in a number of positions all over the field, the nature of field hockey is that there is only one keeper that plays. That can be a tough pill to swallow for keepers who have invested time, effort and money in the pursuit of a spot on the field. Team success isn’t always just a measure of what happens on the playing field. Often, what happens on the practice field, in the locker room, on the track, in the weight room and in the social circles that are part of every team impact performance. Keepers, coaches, and players all play a part in shaping that performance.

As a player, I’ve had a variety of experiences in a number of roles on a range of teams. At the club level I started as the second keeper on a second team before I became a starter for the firsts. At the international level, I trained as a member of a national development squad, had a run as the starting keeper on the US national team and finished my career as the “dependable reserve” keeper. On the in between, I’ve had the privilege of playing for a variety of select teams around the world. Perspective has allowed me to see that while I may not have handled each situation as well as I would have liked, there were opportunities for me to play a positive role in the team’s performance whether I played or not.

Being a starting keeper isn’t usually a hard position. You know you’re going to play and you typically have the support of your teammates and coach. Your commitment is to helping your team win. Practices and warm ups are geared to a starting keeper playing well. That doesn’t have to be the complete scope of the starting keeper’s responsibilities. As a leader on the team, a starting keeper has an opportunity to be a mentor and a role model to other keepers on the team or in the club.

Athletes are naturally competitive, but as a competitor it’s critical that keepers bring out the best in each other. Too often, I see keepers who try to stay on top by keeping others down. They take all the shots in training or warm ups. They treat other keepers with indifference or contempt. They’re quick to point out the deficiencies in others. As a starter, a keeper needs to be confident enough in his or her abilities to see the big picture. Yes, I want to make sure that I get the time and repetitions to make sure I give my best performance, but I also need to make sure that I’m being inclusive when possible. Words can go a long way when circumstances don’t allow that, especially before a match. Keepers usually warm up and stretch together before a game. By including a second keeper in your preparation, you help prepare them in case of the unforeseeable injury.

In a club setting, you may train with keepers on the other teams. While you might not want to think of yourself as a role model, you are. The other keepers aspire to your position and you play a role in their development. Do you model good work habits? Do you share what you’ve learned through experience? The big keeper shares insights, the small keeper keeps secrets. Do you share time in drills? Do you do the little jobs like collect balls or get water? What do you want to be known for?

Being a reserve keeper on a team might be one of the hardest jobs in sport. You train as hard as you can and there might not be much separating you and the starting keeper, yet one keeper plays and the other sits. Not playing can be a crushing blow, but how a keeper handles the situation can turn a personal setback into a positive for the team. Do you work hard in training or simply go through the motions? Some keepers are happy simply being a part of a team. Not everyone aspires to a World Cup or an Olympics. There’s nothing wrong with that if you’re honest about your aspirations, but realize the effect on others. Apathy and a lack of effort and intensity are contagious, especially at higher levels.

Do you support the starting keeper? Support doesn’t mean that you have to be best friends (though that helps), but you should be working partners. Solid partnerships are built on trust and respect. Cliques can be especially divisive in a team and there’s no quicker way to start them than by lobbying for sympathy as to why you should be playing. Be honest in your relationship with your teammates and fellow keepers.

Team members need to respect their goalkeepers, both starting and reserves. Respect shows up in variety of ways. It’s not taking a full-blooded chip shot from seven yards out in training. It’s saying well done and keep at it to the third keeper as well as the first. It’s knowing that no one deliberately makes a mistake and intentionally allows a goal. It’s not supporting people when they’re being petty or complaining. It’s recognizing that every player is important.

As a coach, I try to reinforce the concept that while there is only one keeper who plays, the position is a reflection of the collective effort of all the keepers on the team. Most players only reach their full potential when challenged and pushed by their teammates. Depth at the goalkeeping position is vital. An injury can happen at any time and every player needs to be ready to step on the field at any given moment. How do you prepare the other keepers on your team? Do you give them specific feedback on the things they need to work on? Do you encourage them in training? Are you honest with them in their position on the team? All of these things go a long way to making all keepers feel they’re part of the team.

When faced with the challenges of a talented opponent, goalkeeping can be a hard enough position on its own. It doesn’t need to be made more difficult by playing against the enemy within. We’re all in this together.

Good luck,


e-mail Jon

Please note that OBO together with Jon O’Haire hold copyright over any material appearing on tips pages. We welcome the printing and distribution of these tips, provided that they are not sold, or used for financial gain. This paragraph must appear on all printed or distributed copies. The photographs above must not be used in any form without express permission from Jon O’Haire.

Goalkeeping Books and Other Resources

Recently I got a question asking about books on goalkeeping. I looked on my
bookshelf and quickly realized that most of the titles I've accumulated on the
subject are long since out of print. Books may not yet have gone the way of the
vinyl album, but increasingly other media is replacing them. Video and computers
help make the printed word come alive and open a completely new library that
everyone can access. The Internet can be a tremendous resource for the
resourceful coach or keeper.

Recently I got a question asking about books on goalkeeping. I looked on my bookshelf and quickly realized that most of the titles I’ve accumulated on the subject are long since out of print. Books may not yet have gone the way of the vinyl album, but increasingly other media is replacing them. Video and computers help make the printed word come alive and open a completely new library that everyone can access. The Internet can be a tremendous resource for the resourceful coach or keeper.

Once upon a time, there was a logjam of information trapped at the highest level of the sport. Unless you went to an Olympics or a World Cup, it was difficult to find out what the top keepers in the world were doing. You could read articles in the newspapers or if you were lucky, maybe talk to a friend of a friend who knew someone who was there. Information was often third hand, subject to interpretation and frequently inaccurate. Satellites and video have changed much of that. With the right technology, anyone, anywhere can watch the best teams in the world play live, or within days of the game or read about new skills and techniques.

Before I became a coach, I was a student and then worked as a librarian for nine years. This was great preparation as I went about researching field hockey and goalkeeping. I can tell you that I spent more than a few hours leafing through card catalogs and library stacks in search of such elusive titles as Horseshoes and Hand Grenades (yes, its about field hockey goalkeeping) and any other book that might have more than a paragraph about goalkeeping. Often, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. While I don’t spend as much time in libraries, I do spend a lot of time on the computer and on the Internet. In this tip, I’d like to share some of my favorite sites as well as some advice for your own searches.

First and foremost, this tip is not intended to be a definitive list of sites devoted to goalkeeping. Like books, Internet sites disappear and new ones emerge every day. Whether its news from around the globe, video highlights from the Champion’s Trophy, the latest equipment on the market or what’s going on in my area, it’s all up there on the worldwide web. The biggest trick is finding it.

Search engines play a critical role in finding websites. They are today’s card catalog, but they can come at a price. The GOOGLES and YAHOOS of the world will provide you with results for any search, but recognize that most search engines give priority listing to sites they do business with. Worse, in this day and age, people have found ways to hack into search engines and manipulate listings. If you’re really interested in getting the best information on the Internet, prepare to be patient and thorough. If I’m looking for new sources, I’ll often use a variety of engines and a wide range of search terms. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found great sites on the 50th hit of a list. Patience and persistence are good things when it comes to searching.

One of my favorites news websites is Managed by George Brink in England, the site is a daily collection of hockey related articles from around the world. Another news related site is The site features many of the same articles as, but also offers readers the opportunity to post comments. Though not strictly news-related, one of the best new sites I’ve come across is The site features video of top international tournaments and games from the Dutch Men’s and Women’s First Division league.

Obviously if you’re reading this tip, you’re familiar with the OBO website and virtually every hockey manufacturer has their own site. In addition to manufacturer sites, there is a wide range of vendors who feature equipment from a variety of brands they often have their own sites. Rather than list sites, you can find many of them under the search heading HOCKEY; EQUIPMENT. The better sites offer more than a listing of items and prices. Several of them have links to other sites of interest, as well as technical information about their products and tips for using them.

I’ve mentioned before that I came to field hockey from ice hockey and while the sports are different, there is much we can learn from the common perspective of stopping a shot when a game is on the line regardless of the sport. One of my favorite websites that’s ice hockey based is found at Promasque makes custom ice hockey masks and like the OBO site, they make educational use of their site. Promasque has a HOCKEY FACTORY section that features tips from Fred Quistgard. While Fred’s background is an ice hockey coach, there are many good tips for dealing with pressure, winning a starting position, coaching strategies and many other relevant topics. If you’re looking for new ideas about the position, it never hurts to be open and to look outside the field hockey box.

The Internet can also be a great way for getting connected to events in your local area. Many national hockey associations maintain their own sites and they’ll post information about coaching and player clinics as well as news about their respective national teams. In addition, many of them provide contacts for local leagues and clubs. This can be invaluable, especially when you’re moving or thinking about playing somewhere else.

Finally, there are user groups or chat rooms that are keeper specific. I’m afraid that I’m not enough of a computer person that I regularly check these but if you’re looking to chat online with someone with similar interests, they can be entertaining and educational. The great potential of message boards and chat rooms is the sharing of ideas and information. I’ve discovered new sites through postings. If you know of a good site, I’d love to hear about it.

The Internet can be a valuable resource. One of the most important skills required for success at any level of hockey as a keeper is the ability to process information. A keeper needs to be discriminating. Just because something is up on the web doesn’t mean that it’s gospel and that you should absolutely do something because it’s on someone’s site (even ours). Read, think, try and then assess whether you’re getting the information you’re looking for. As we continue to develop as keepers, we develop with new technology and new ideas. The Internet is great tool for finding them.

Goalkeepers are amazing people!!!

Good luck,


e-mail Jon

Please note that OBO together with Jon O’Haire hold copyright over any material appearing on tips pages. We welcome the printing and distribution of these tips, provided that they are not sold, or used for financial gain. This paragraph must appear on all printed or distributed copies. The photographs above must not be used in any form without express permission from Jon O’Haire.

The Mental Game

In the quest to become better players, goalkeepers train thousands of hours, burn millions of calories and spend hundreds of dollars on equipment. Yet when it comes to the difference between becoming a good keeper and a great keeper, the answer may lie between their ears. The mental game can be a critical part to success.

In the quest to become better players, goalkeepers train thousands of hours, burn millions of calories and spend hundreds of dollars on equipment. Yet when it comes to the difference between becoming a good keeper and a great keeper, the answer may lie between their ears. The mental game can be a critical part to success.

It’s always interesting to talk to keepers about the mental side of the game. There are many great keepers who succeed on their athleticism and instincts. They can simply go out and play well. For others, training and playing are only part of the equation for success. Visualization, mental imagery, relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, focus and confidence are every bit as important as weight training and skill work.

How effective sport psychology may be in your game can be influenced by how open you are to change. For many, the mere mention of sport psychology and a mental game implies weakness of the worst kind, the mind. Somehow, it’s easier to say you’re going to the weight room to get physically stronger than it is to say “I’m off to a quiet place to visualize.” In reality, one is no different than the other.

I’ll confess to being a convert to the value of the mental game. Early on, my experiences were jaded by my prejudices and perceptions. When I encountered problems with my game, my answer was more practice but there’s only so much you can physically practice. Like it or not, the nature of the goalkeeping position is goals will be scored, mistakes will be made and games will be lost because of them. There are internal and external pressures to succeed in hostile and distracting settings. How do you practice dealing with problems like these? In time I figured out all the physical training in the world didn’t help if I couldn’t let go of the goal that was just scored. I needed to fix how I thought and how I reacted and I needed help.

As a player and a coach I’ve had the opportunity to see a number of sport psychologists at work at the team and individual level with players ranging from high school to international standard. Their work can be invaluable as these specialists draw from their education and experience to bring out the best in athletes. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to a sport psychologist. While complex problems are best left to experts, there are common problems that keepers can improve on their own by using sport psychology techniques.

Time, energy and resources often limit how a player can work on a specific skill or situation. Mental imagery, or visualization, is a sport psychology tool used to simulate physical training or game situations and is proven to be effective in improving performance. Essentially, mental imagery is the practice and repetition of a skill in the mind. Through internal repetition the mind trains the body.

In visualizing, detail is important. You get best results by being clear and specific about the skills or situations you’re training. When it comes to skills, video can help in establishing a clear picture of mechanics. For a skill like kicking a cross ball with the left foot, visual details could include: the left wing coming down the side line; the keeper establishing position off his line; the player striking the cross; the keeper pushing off his right foot getting solidly behind the kick and clearing safely and powerfully to a teammate. Replay each part of the skill in your mind, see your body explosively moving to the ball and executing the skill, replaying that perfect clear.

When visualizing a new skill, start by seeing the skill in slow motion so that you can begin to establish a link from the mind to each part of the body that’s involved with the skill. While you’re not physically moving when visualizing skills, try to “see” and “feel” the movements you’re trying to master. As you become more comfortable with visualizing a skill and had the opportunity to physically train the skill on the practice field, you can speed up your mental video to game speed.

Mental imagery can also be used to visualize game scenes, especially pressure situations: the big save with time running out and the match on the line, getting on with the game after allowing a bad goal and tuning out trash talking opponents and hostile crowds. It’s difficult to physically recreate the feeling of these pressures on the training ground, but mentally you can train for these types of situations. Whatever you can imagine, you can train and prepare for.

An important part of any mental training is creating an environment for work. For the mind to work best, the body needs to be comfortable and relaxed. Loose clothes, a clear mind and a cool place where you can lie or sit comfortably are a good start in creating that setting. Avoid areas where there are distractions like noise and activity. Mental training is like physical training in that you improve with repetition. Mental training does require energy and sessions are best-kept under 30 minutes. Many athletes use visualization around the time of their events, the morning of afternoon games or the afternoon of evening matches. Mental imagery can be practiced before sleeping, but training should be built around times when you’re not tired.

It’s one thing to be psyched up for a game, it’s another to be psyched out. Picture a game, the keeper hasn’t seen the ball in his circle for 20 minutes. The ball enters his 25 and he’s screaming to organize his defense. The ball is played in to the circle, the keeper is ready for the bullet shot and the forward hits a medium paced ball just to his left. The keeper explodes and the ball goes under his foot. Was the keeper ready? If anything, the keeper was too ready. Extreme anticipation and over arousal are terms used to describe what happens when athletes are too keyed up.

Athletes perform best in an aroused state. The aroused athlete is alert, aware and ready for action. Arousal can be confused with anxiety, though. While the aroused athlete is alert and composed, the anxious, or over aroused athlete is alert to the point of panic. It’s natural to feel a rush of adrenaline in pressure moments of a match, but it’s critical to manage that rush of energy. Often it’s wasted on nervous movement, excited communication or hyperventilation. Many sports psychologists point to breathing as one way of managing arousal.

Simple breathing exercises focus on controlling the breath. It starts with practice before the match. Typically, the breath is used to center the athlete. The practice is drawn from yoga and is built on using the inhalation to draw oxygen, or energy, into the body. The goal is to build to full, deep inhalations and complete exhalations. By focusing on the breath an athlete is drawing energy into the body through the intake of oxygen. Obviously breathing isn’t a keeper’s sole focus while the ball is in his circle, but he can use breathing to relax and re-energize when play doesn’t involve him in a game and practicing breathing does train the body to stay relaxed in pressure situations. Breathing is often used to establish a setting for visualization away from the field.

Focus is concentrating on what’s important in the context of the game. The game can be filled with distractions. Focus is filtering those distractions out and taking in the important information that’s critical to reading play. It’s recognizing scoring opportunities, reading passing lanes, positioning defenders and anticipating situations. Athletes talk about being in a “zone” where they know where the ball is going before it’s shot. That “zone” is the direct product of focus.

An important part of managing focus is recognizing when you have the opportunity to relax. A keeper can mentally and physically exhaust himself by being too focused. 100% concentration isn’t required when the ball is in the other team’s circle. Take those moments to breathe, stretch, and relax.

One of the most frequent mental problems I hear from keepers concerns confidence. How do you find confidence when you allow a soft goal or get in to a run of bad play? Confidence can be precarious, especially when the stakes are high. Many keepers are their own worst enemies. Every keeper has let in a bad goal and sometimes a team loses because of it but it’s important not to dwell on goals that are already on the board and create self-fulfilling prophecies of disaster. Don’t use a past event as a projection of what’s going to happen. A keeper’s ability to play well doesn’t just disappear (barring injury). The good keeper treats history for what it is. Yes, I want to think about what I might have done differently on a goal immediately after it’s scored, but I need to be ready for what’s coming next by the time my team takes the push back. Confidence should allow a keeper to be secure in the knowledge that whatever comes, he’s probably seen it and saved it.

When assessing your game, what are the things that give you confidence? For me, a big one is the knowledge that I have played well before. Success isn’t a fluke or an accident. It is the product of preparation and opportunity. When I get in a good groove playing, I try to stay consistent in my training, my sleep patterns, my diet and my pre-game warm up. By the same token, if I’m not playing well I try to look at those factors. Success is a habit and I find that I play my best when I’m consistent. Having said that, it’s important to not get married to routine. There will be times that I have to deviate from my routine, but that’s where the knowledge that I’ve been succesful before comes in.

Competitive sport is challenging, physically and mentally. Two teams are playing to win and sometimes a team is going to come up short. The challenge is how will a keeper respond, what changes will you make? Sometimes the answer lies in a skill; sometimes it lies within, literally. As I mentioned, I’m not a sport psychologist. The techniques I’ve talked about are ones that I have experience with. Newspapers and books are filled with stories of athletes from a variety of sports who’ve benefited from working on their mental game with trained professionals. Read about them. You can learn a lot from their experiences, whether it’s in a magazine or on the Internet. If you genuinely want to improve your game, leave no stone unturned. It isn’t crazy to work on your mental game; it’s crazy not to.

Goalkeepers are amazing people!!!

Good luck,


e-mail Jon

Please note that OBO together with Jon O’Haire hold copyright over any material appearing on tips pages. We welcome the printing and distribution of these tips, provided that they are not sold, or used for financial gain. This paragraph must appear on all printed or distributed copies. The photographs above must not be used in any form without express permission from Jon O’Haire.

Decision-Making and Team Defense

Good decision-making may be one of the most critical elements of successful team defense. It can also be one of the most difficult elements of the game to learn. Good decision-making especially as it applies to team defense depends on assessing options, developing a plan of defense, communicating the plan and executing the needed skills, usually in less than five seconds.

I often receive questions such as this:

Hi Jon,
The thing that I really need help with is two on ones! When I’m up against two forwards with no defenders I really struggle with my decision, as to whether to go out to the player with the ball or whether to hold my ground? People tell me there is nothing I can do but surely there is something I can do to prevent them scoring? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Whether it be two forwards going to goal with just the keeper, or virtually any other situation that results in a goal, there is the question, “What could I have done differently?” Depending on the situation, the answer could be nothing. The answer could be positioning you or your defender in a different place. It could be playing the shot; it could be playing the pass. Most frustrating of all, what worked in one situation, might not work in another. The good news is that whatever the scenario, there is a way to defuse dangerous situations if a defense can play together as a team. Team defense requires players to think as a team and that’s essentially decision-making.

Good decision-making may be one of the most critical elements of successful team defense. It can also be one of the most difficult elements of the game to learn. The longer you play hockey, the more you realize there are very few absolutes. Hockey is a game of options, attacking and defending, and while a goalkeeper may be the last defender, he is a defender with options as long as he can play with and off his teammates. Good decision-making especially as it applies to team defense depends on assessing those options, developing a plan of defense, communicating the plan and executing the needed skills, usually in less than five seconds.

We’ve stressed that hockey is not a black and white game in terms of absolutes. Having said that, it’s critical that a keeper and his teammates have an understanding of the attacking situation if they’re going to be able to defend it. To understand attacking situations, it’s important to have an understanding of defensive principles, especially as it pertains to your team. Whatever level you play at, you and your teammates need to have a common understanding of these principles if your team is going to be successful.

That understanding becomes the crux of decision-making and as such, your coach is the person responsible for shaping your decision-making. While teams may play similar styles and use similar skills, each team is unique. Good coaches recognize that and will play the systems and skills that draw on the best of their team and players. For that reason it’s important that your coach is your first resource when you have questions about defensive principles.

This tip started with a question about what to do with two on the keeper. My best recommendation is to not let the situation happen, though sometimes that’s not possible. In my own personal experience, two attackers bearing down on a keeper don’t just happen. Usually there’s a breakdown up field and a chain reaction that leads to the keeper’s ultimate problem/nightmare. Early identification of a potential problem is critical for effective decision-making. Who identifies those problems on your team will depend on where the ball is on the field, the position of your opponents and the system your team plays. If you’re not sure, that’s usually the start of the problem becoming your nightmare.

Once a problem area is identified on the field, the next component is dealing with it. Essentially that’s a matter of positioning the available defenders to take away the most dangerous passes or penetrating runs and once again that will depend on the systems your team uses. A team that plays man-to-man defense will position themselves differently than a team that plays a zone defense. Some teams play a combination of zone and man-to-man. Regardless of the system, it’s important that all players have a common understanding of the situation and know their roles within it.

While systems may differ, there are common defensive principles and roles that all successful teams use. In a situation where a defender has been eliminated up field, there are a number of things that need to happen. First off, it’s up to the remaining players to reorganize. Positionally, players may not need to physically move, but their responsibilities in those positions may change. We talked about taking away dangerous passes and that’s marking. Going back to marking, that means that a defender has to position himself, or be positioned, to deny the opponent the pass if he’s in a direct line to goal.

If a defender is beaten and his player is going to goal with the ball, channeling and delaying are important concepts. Channeling is taking away the straight line run to goal and allowing/forcing the opponent back or wide with the ball. Delaying is often a successful tactic in the early stages of a fast break and can take the form of a player fouling to stop the play. We’re not advocating deliberate fouls, but a spoiling tackle by a defender, or a loose ball put out of play, allows an outnumbered team the time to get back in to the play and match up even numbers. Where ever the ball is on the field, the beaten player has got to work their way back in to the play and that’s recovery. A defending team will always be numbers down unless they accept the responsibility of working themselves back in to the play.

We’ve talked a little about understanding and executing roles in a team defense. Understanding and execution can be two different things and most problems with break- downs in team defense come from misunderstanding. Typically communication, or lack thereof, is the biggest culprit when it comes to breakdown and misunderstandings. As we mentioned before, who identifies problems and communicates them, will depend on where the break down on the field is and how your team is set up. Once again, it’s important that players have an understanding of who communicates what as play develops.

What is communicated is also critical. Players need to understand what they’re being asked/told to do. Quick, direct, effective communication is critical, especially in the early stages of a breakdown or as the ball moves closer to your circle. While there are common things teams try to do in defending, the terms used to communicate them might be different. Know the language and terms your team uses in communicating and make sure all players understand what is being said.

It’s important for a keeper to have a style of communication that is effective. That starts with identifying the player you’re talking to; call a name. Next, let that player know what you want to do, especially as it pertains to the urgency of the situation. There’s usually not a reason to get hysterical screaming at your right back to move two meters when your team has the ball in the opponent’s circle, but if the ball is in your circle and you’ve asked him to do the same thing three times, a little volume might be warranted. Communication is not personal. Make sure your teammates understand that if you are yelling, it’s only to stress the speed needed for them to respond to what you’re saying.

Finally, it’s critical that a keeper has an understanding of his responsibility in the team’s defense and is able to execute the skills required for the role. Just as a defender may need to mark or channel, a keeper may need to mark or channel. If a team plays with an up field forward, you may be the player responsible for denying them the ball. In a breakaway a keeper can win the time to let his teammates get back into the play by forcing the ball carrier wide, the same as a defender channeling. That can happen simply by stepping up and putting pressure on the player or taking him wide where he has a poor shot or passing angle.

This tip started with a question about two forwards on the keeper. I’ve played this game for over 20 years now and probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned in this game is there is not a definitive answer for everyone. There is an answer for you and your team if you can put your heads together and work as a unit. As situations come up, talk about them. If they’re not addressed in training or in a game, write them down. Sit down with your coach and your teammates and make sure you’re on the same page. I can’t promise that you’ll find an answer that will work every time, but I can promise you that if you and your teammates don’t talk about problem situations, you’ll get the same results. Finding answers can be frustrating. It can also be so rewarding when your team works through these situations together.

On a personal note, we recently celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday in the States. I’d like to give my own thanks for what I’ve received through hockey, to OBO for making the best goalkeeper gear I’ve ever used and allowing me the opportunity to share my experience and to all the goalkeepers I’ve had the chance to learn from through playing or coaching. I hope you all had a Happy Holiday.

Goalkeepers are amazing people!!!

Good luck,


e-mail Jon

Please note that OBO together with Jon O’Haire hold copyright over any material appearing on tips pages. We welcome the printing and distribution of these tips, provided that they are not sold, or used for financial gain. This paragraph must appear on all printed or distributed copies. The photographs above must not be used in any form without express permission from Jon O’Haire.

Equipment: Part 2

Last tip we made a start to covering goalkeeper equipment. We talked about what to look for, how to take care of it and specifically looked at equipment bags, kickers and leg guards. In this second part, we’ll look at helmets, hand protection, body pads, pants and assorted other items.

Last tip we made a start to covering goalkeeper equipment. We talked about what to look for, how to take care of it and specifically looked at equipment bags, kickers and leg guards. In this second part, we’ll look at helmets, hand protection, body pads, pants and assorted other items.


Robo CK Helmet

Starting from the top, helmets or masks are one of the most important pieces of equipment a keeper can wear. Too often, though, fashion rather than function become the criteria for selecting head protection. The most important factor when selecting a helmet or mask is whether the item can provide adequate protection for the level you play at. In other words, can it stand up to a shot in the face that you’re likely to see (or not see)? Unfortunately most keepers don’t consider the possibility until it’s too late. We talked about a number of factors to consider last tip in selecting equipment, cost, durability and the level you play at. These factors are very relevant when it comes to head protection.

One of the most basic types of head protection is an ice hockey helmet with wire cage attachments. They are among the most affordable types of protection and also among the most durable. When selecting a helmet, make sure it fits your head. Most helmets are adjustable within a range of head sizes. Most manufacturers use hat sizes to calculate the range that a helmet will fit. It helps to know that information when you go to buy your helmet. When properly fitted, a helmet shouldn’t move when you shake your head. Many helmets are available with wire cages already affixed. That’s usually the best way to make sure that a cage will fit your particular helmet. If you are buying a cage separately, make sure that it’s compatible with your helmet. Cages from manufacturers different than your helmet may not fit and that can be a big problem when you get hit. Also make sure the cage is properly fitted to your face. If there is a chin cup, your chin should rest in it. At no time, should the wire cage be able to come in to direct contact with your face.

Masks with built in cages are becoming more and more popular. They are available in a number in a number of different styles from a variety of manufacturers. If you’re looking at this type of protection, make sure you pick a mask that’s compatible with the shots you’re facing. I’ve seen extremes at both ends; junior keepers playing with $700US carbon/Kevlar masks where shots are rarely hit in the air and on the other side, elite level keepers playing in the equivalent of glorified street hockey masks.

As a rule of thumb, the harder the shot you face, the sturdier you want your mask to be. You need to consider the techniques you’re using and the conditions you play in. If you’re lying down on corners or playing on the ground, your reactions are limited. The chances of getting hit in the face in situations you can’t control increase. Many of the plastic masks are subject to extreme heat or cold. Combine extreme conditions with extreme impact and some plastics will shatter. Carbon/Kevlar masks may be more expensive, but they are also more durable. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for and you don’t want to be cheap when it comes to your head.

Masks do come in sizes also. When ordering make sure you get the right size. Most masks have a chin cup to keep the mask away from your face. Make sure your chin fits securely in it. Once again, if your chin can slip, the mask will make direct contact with your face and you can get badly cut if you’re hit in the head with a shot. Many masks also come with extra padding to help customize the fit. Take the time to properly fit the mask when you get it. As with a helmet, the mask should not move when you shake your head if it’s properly fitted.

Throat protectors are more than a good idea; they can be the difference between a wake up call and a tracheotomy. Throat protectors come in two types, a collar type protector or a plastic hanging type. One thing to consider with the hanging type is whether it will flip up when you slide or go down. If the protector is flipping up, it’s not protecting your throat. The clear plastic hanging type used by ice hockey keepers can be tied to prevent it from flipping up.

A few things to consider when selecting a helmet or mask, color can make a difference, especially if you play in hot, sunny conditions. Dark colors will absorb heat, making them hotter to play in. Similarly, if you play in hot conditions, look for a helmet or mask that is well ventilated. Many keepers have taken to painted masks or helmets. Most masks or helmets must be painted with special paints. The process can be detailed and expensive and if not done properly, the wrong paint can ruin a good helmet by compromising the integrity of the materials the helmet is made. The same can happen when you drill holes in a helmet to adjust the fit of a cage.

Helmet/mask care is fairly straightforward if done regularly. Make sure screws and bolts are tight. The best time to check is immediately after training or games. Keep a screwdriver handy. A towel is also a good idea. If you play on wet turf or sweat a lot, helmets and masks can get wet and some hardware will rust. Wipe your helmet dry after use. It’s also a good idea to periodically wash and rinse your helmet with mild soap or detergent periodically to prevent cheese like aromas.

If you wear a helmet, make sure you attach the chinstrap. If you wear a mask, make sure the straps are secured. Helmets and masks can be loose enough to allow you to talk, but they shouldn’t be so loose that they come flying off when you slide. If the wire cage on your mask or helmet gets dented, replace it. While the dent may not be serious, the welds to the cage can be compromised with a dent. If you get hit again in the same place, you risk serious injury.

Hand Protectors/Gloves

Robo Hand Protectors

Hand protection used to be gloves and they were your one and only option. The rules of the game called for keepers to wear protection on their hands that had five “separate and independent fingers”. Those rules often allowed for those independent fingers to get broken by equally independent and hard shots. Mercifully, those days are gone and we’ve seen the development of hand protectors.

Depending on your needs, your budget or what’s available, gloves can be adequate protection, particularly at the junior level. At a minimum, gloves should protect the hands, wrists and lower forearms. Basic features of the left hand (or hand-stopping) glove are a well-padded palm, in addition to wrist and forearm protection. The right hand (or stick) glove should have padded fingers, a sturdy thumb shell, as well as wrist and forearm protection.

Gloves should be big enough to cover the lower forearm, yet not be so big that they slip off. A keeper should be able to comfortably handle his stick in one hand. Some keepers prefer gloves for indoor hockey specifically for their ability to stick handle. If you do wear gloves, make sure they do what they’re supposed to; protect your hands. If your hands are getting stung making saves on hard raised shots, it’s time to replace them.

Hand protectors not only offer superior protection to gloves, they offer a keeper a wider range of skills to play aerial shots much the same way high density foam kickers allow keepers a wider range of skills to play shots on the ground. With hand protectors, a keeper can use the pace of a shot to deflect the ball away from him and into space. While a keeper still can’t bat a ball, the rules of the game now allow him to intentionally deflect a ball out of play over the end line or crossbar.

Like kickers and leg guards, the primary difference between most models of hand protectors is the density of the foam. The harder the shots you face, the thicker and denser you want the foam. If your hands are getting stung by aerial shots, it’s time to upgrade your hand protectors.

The shape of the right hand protector can also affect the way you play. Early models of some types of right hand protectors had a round hand. This often made it difficult to get your stick flat on stick tackles, especially to the reverse side. Others have padding at an angle that is better suited to playing with your hands back, closer to your body as opposed to in front of your body. It makes sense to buy hand protectors that are suited to your style of play.

At the senior men’s level, hand protectors are pretty much a one-size-fits-all affair, but the distinction isn’t so clear for boys, girls and women. Similar to gloves, hand protectors should protect the hands and lower forearms. This is especially critical for younger keepers who may have smaller equipment. Fingers should never be exposed on the right hand protector. If you wear arm pads, the hand protectors should overlap on the lower forearms. Your wrist should not be exposed. Even if you don’t wear arm pads, your wrist and lower forearms should be protected. Make sure the finger loops on the right hand protector allow you to hold a stick with a confident grip. The strap on the left hand protector should be snug enough that a well-paced shot won’t knock the hand protector off.

Care of hand protectors is similar to leg guard and kickers. You can easily clean them with soap and water. Check straps periodically. If you do wear gloves, make sure you keep them dry. Leather will crack if it’s not properly dried. Balled up newspaper or a hand held hair dryer are good for drying out soggy gloves.

Upper Body Protection

Robo Body Armour

Upper body protection takes a number of different forms and what’s best for you will depend on your style of play and what you’re comfortable playing in. The two main types of protection are body pads with attached arm protection and stand alone chest pads.

Stand alone chest protectors are usually preferred by keepers who want lightweight protection that allows for open movement or junior players who don’t face a lot of hard, raised shots. When choosing a chest pad, make sure the pad fits. The chest pad should cover the front of the shoulders and extend from below the throat to just below the abdomen. If the pad is too small, the keeper will have open areas exposed as they move. When the pad is too big, movement is usually restricted. Make sure straps are properly adjusted. The pad should be loose enough to allow for full range of motion, yet be secure enough that the pad doesn’t twist or shift when you move.

If you do wear a chest pad, elbow pads are highly recommended, especially for advanced play. Sliding on abrasive surfaces like artificial surfaces can leave nasty turf burns. In addition, consider the materials chest protectors and elbow pads are made from. Look for water resistant coverings, padding and plastic as materials, particularly if you play on water based turfs. Some keepers who wear chest pads will wear separate arm pads that cover the inside of the arms as well as the elbows. If you go the arm pad route, make sure the arm pads work with your chest pad. The biggest thing to avoid is a set of arm pads that cover the same area as your chest pad. If they do, the pads overlap and the chest and arm pads tend to bunch up and restrict movement.

The second style of upper body protection is a body pad (or body armor). Body armor was first developed for ice hockey keepers and as mentioned earlier is a one-piece pad that covers the chest and arms. Because they are designed as a one-piece pad you don’t get the bunching you do with separate arm and chest pads. Body armor provides excellent protection for the chest, the inside of the arms and the elbows. Having said that some body armor is more restrictive than others and may need to be modified depending on the level of protection and mobility you require.

OBO body armor is designed to provide a full range of motion for the movements of a field hockey keeper. Some keepers prefer ice hockey body armor that offers more protection, though sometimes at the cost of mobility. Ice hockey body armor can be modified to increase range of motion, particularly in the shoulders. Often times it’s simply a matter of getting used to and the pads breaking in, both of which happen in time. If you haven’t used body armor before, whether it is OBO or ice hockey, it can be bulky, it can be hot and it might feel restrictive. The same can be said for bruises and internal bleeding. Swelling is bulky and restrictive and it also hurts. I’ll take body armor.

If at all possible, try body armor on before you buy it. As mentioned earlier, body armor will become more flexible as it breaks in, but no amount of breaking in will help if the elbow and shoulder joints of the body armor don’t correspond to your body. There are usually a number of points of adjustment to body armor. Take the time to adjust straps to your body and needs. These straps may slip over time. Check them periodically. You may need to stitch or tape problem straps. Make sure protruding buckles face out so they don’t dig in to you when you slide.

Contrary to popular myth, upper body equipment can and should be washed. It’s best to hand wash them with soap or a mild detergent. Allow plenty of time for them to air dry. Don’t ever try to dry them in a machine dryer. Plastic buckles on body pads may break. If they do, you can often find similar buckles in camping/backpack shops or on old luggage you might have

Lower Body Protection

Senior Smarty Pants Robo Hot Pants
Senior Groin Guard Senior Pelvic Guard

For the most part, gone are the thrilling days of yesteryear where lower body protection was sweatpants and a bruise the size of a grapefruit was a badge of courage. Padded pants are more than a good idea at every level of play. Once again, depending on your budget or what’s available to you, there are a number of affordable and adequate options. In recent years, field hockey goalkeeping pants have been developed and the OBO pants are excellent. Regular ice hockey or ice hockey goalkeeper pants are also reasonable alternatives.

Goalkeeping fundamentals start with the keeper trying to get his or her body behind the ball when making a save. That requires confidence and confidence comes from having good protection. At the junior level, danger may not always come from raised shots as much as it may come from bad bounces on grass fields. The pace of shots is usually such that the keeper only needs pants with protection on the front of the thighs and pants with foam padding are usually enough.

Once shots start to get harder and a keeper is using more advanced techniques, needs change. A keeper is exposed to hard, raised shots in training and games and is frequently making contact with the ground while developing skills like slide tackling and logging on corners. Getting hit once with poor equipment is bad enough, to risk it on a regular basis is asking more than should be expected of a keeper.

At advanced levels of play, pants should have padding in the more exposed areas that is as hard as a hockey ball. Those areas include the front and inside of the thighs, and the front and outside of the hips. As mentioned earlier, OBO makes two types of field hockey goalkeeper pants that are designed to specifically cover those areas. They are the Smarty Pants and Hot Pants. Smarty Pants are designed for keepers who favor a loose pant that will not hinder movement. The padded panels of the pants move with the keeper, especially on the area at the front of the hips. The Hot Pants are a snugger pant that is made of a stretch material. The main part of the pant is like a girdle. The padding sits directly on the leg and the stretch material allows the pant to move with the keeper. An outer shell is worn over the girdle to protect the pants and provides additional protection. Both Smarty Pants and Hot Pants are available with a durable outer that can be replaced.

Many keepers also wear ice hockey pants that come in styles similar to the OBO pants. These pants also come in a girdle style that should be worn with an outer shell, or a baggier pant that is a shell with built in protection. The major problem with these pants is that they are designed for ice hockey. Ice hockey players need protection on the outside of the thighs and hips for checking. They don’t want protection on the inside of the thighs as that restricts skating. The padding on the outside of the thighs is redundant for field hockey and the inside of the thigh is an area where field hockey keepers frequently get hit so the drawbacks are a problem.

Ice hockey goalkeeper pants provide excellent protection for many of the areas that the field hockey keeper is exposed, but it comes at the cost of mobility. An ice hockey keeper is usually playing within a three yard area of a much smaller goal while a keeper may have to play anywhere in a sixteen yard circle while defending a goal that is almost four times as big. Having said that, ice hockey pants are better than nothing.

Whatever type of pant you use, fit is critical. Pants need to be big enough that they don’t restrict movement. By the same token, you don’t want them so big that they shift when you move or prevent your other equipment from sitting properly. As a note, the Smarty Pants are designed to be big and baggy. Many keepers who are used to a snugger pant may be put off. Smarty Pants are not designed to be flattering to the figure. They are designed for function. Pants are usually held up with an adjustable belt or suspenders. Make sure they are adjusted to keep the pant from slipping down, yet still allow you to breathe.

Pants can and should be cleaned. The pads can be removed from the Smarty Pants and the shell washed. The inner pads can be removed and hand washed with soap and air-dried. The shell can be machine washed in the gentle cycle. The same holds true for the Hot Pants and most girdle type ice hockey pants. Ice hockey pants with pads built into the shell should generally be hand washed only. Periodically check the outer shell of your pants. If you’ve got holes in the shell, or it’s starting to rip, replace it.

Pelvic protection should be worn in addition to pants. Whether it be a protective cup for boys or men or a pelvic protector for girls or women, the consequences of injuries without them makes them invaluable, end of sermon.


OBO Goalie Stick

A keeper doesn’t use a stick for the same thing a field player does. He doesn’t need to hit a ball 70 miles-an-hour. He needs to stop the 70 mile-an-hour shot. For that reason, weight and stopping surface are important.

Goalkeeper sticks are becoming increasingly popular. Made from wood or composite materials, they are light and stiff and have an extended toe that provides a large stopping surface. Longer sticks allow a keeper maximum reach when making stick tackles and as long as the stick length doesn’t interfere with your ability to make plays in your normal position, they are a good idea.

Some goalkeeper sticks have a shorter, flat handle. They are designed to provide a flat stopping surface for those keepers who lie down on penalty corners. While they do provide a more predictable stopping surface, their shorter length is a drawback when making stick tackles, especially when you need maximum extension. Goalkeeper sticks with especially big heads present a different problem in that you may not be able to get your stick flat when making reverse stick tackles.

Many keepers prefer traditional sticks and they are perfectly fine for goalkeeping. Indoor sticks or lightweight field hockey sticks are fine for goalkeepers as long as they allow you to perform the skills necessary for the position.

Whatever stick you use, make sure the grip allows you to comfortably and adequately hold the stick. If you sweat a lot, tennis racquet gauze tape can help prevent your stick from slipping. Athletic tape near the head of the stick is also a good idea, especially if you’re a post banger. It’s a good idea to have a second stick in your bag and to have at least played with it a couple of times in the event that your stick does break in a match.


Shoes are important. All the equipment in the world is pretty useless if you can’t get from point A to point B without falling on your face. Having the right footwear is a matter of knowing the surface you’re playing on and the conditions you’ll be playing in. These can change during the course of the match and it’s critical to be prepared.

Different surfaces require different shoes. Natural surfaces like grass require multi-cleat shoes, but depending on the length of the grass and weather conditions, a shoe with a longer cleat may be needed for adequate footing. There are a variety of artificial surfaces, water and sand based, that require different footwear depending on conditions and your playing style. Athletic shoes with flat, rubber soles are good for dry, artificial surfaces and some sand based pitches. A multi-cleat shoe with lots of short nubs or studs is good for wet, water-based turfs. Shoes with longer studs may be needed depending on how heavily watered the turf is or how slick the surface is, particularly with new pitches.

When you go to buy shoes for hockey, take your kickers with you. Some shoes are better suited to wearing under kickers, especially when it comes to kicker straps and stud alignment. Ideally, you want a shoe that will allow the straps to sit directly on the sole and between the studs to provide maximum traction and prevent the straps from slipping. Barring that, look for shoes that will allow the straps to sit as close to the sole as possible. You can cut a slot for straps with shoes that have short rubber studs using a utility knife but you don’t want to do have to do radical surgery on your boots if there’s an easier choice.

Use your warm up to test which footwear will be best for your playing conditions. As noted, conditions can change during a match. Dry fields can be naturally watered with rain, wet turfs can dry out. Make sure you have shoe options to meet your playing conditions, especially as they might change. Also be aware of how you play. Keepers who play up on the balls of their feet may not want a shoe with long studs as they’re likely to get stuck making a save. On the other hand, keepers who play more flat-footed will require a longer stud. Know how you play and what’s best for you.

Shoes do need to be taken care of. They need to be aired out and dried properly, especially when wet. Balled up newspaper is good for absorbing moisture. If you play on wet turf, look for shoes made of water resistant materials. Leather shoes can be treated to better deal with water. Avoid extreme heat when drying shoes.

Final thoughts

There’s a lot to think of when it comes to equipment: how to select it, how to use it and how to take care of it. All affect your ability to play well. Make sure you take the time to take care of what takes care of you. If you play for a school or club team, I highly recommend getting your own kit, especially if you plan on playing for a while. Having your own kit allows you access to it all the time. Many schools have policies that prevent issuing equipment out of season. Club equipment often has to be shared. If you have your own equipment, not only do you have access, you have the ability to make adjustments and select equipment that is ideal for you.

Money is often an issue. I mentioned the internet earlier when researching equipment. It can also be a resource when looking for bargains. The OBO seconds sale is one such place for savings. You may be able to find similar savings when looking for ice hockey equipment like helmets, masks, body armor and pants. You may not always be able to get what you want immediately, but if you do your homework you can get what you need.

Equipment is a substantial investment. It’s an investment in your safety. Treat it accordingly. Don’t expect anyone else to take care of it. Don’t throw it in your equipment bag after a match and expect it to be good to go when you take it out of the bag a week later. As a wise man once said, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” The right equipment properly cared for can make the difference between winning and losing. Do what you can to make sure you have that advantage.

Good luck,


email Jon

Please note that OBO together with Jon O’Haire hold copyright over any material appearing on tips pages. We welcome the printing and distribution of these tips, provided that they are not sold, or used for financial gain. This paragraph must appear on all printed or distributed copies. The photographs above must not be used in any form without express permission from Jon O’Haire.

Equipment: Part 1

One of the most important parts of any keeper’s game is his (or her)
equipment. Good equipment, effectively used, is one of the cornerstones of
goalkeeping. When a keeper chooses his equipment, he’s choosing a style of play.
That’s an important choice. Unfortunately, that’s not a choice that all keepers
get to make for themselves. Many keepers are provided with kit through their
clubs or schools. Other keepers are responsible for providing their own
equipment. Whether you or your team is responsible for your equipment, money can
be an issue. You can’t spend what you don’t have. Having said that, there are
ways to get the most out of the kit you do have and a number of things to
consider when selecting new equipment.

One of the most important parts of any keeper’s game is his (or her) equipment. Good equipment, effectively used, is one of the cornerstones of goalkeeping. When a keeper chooses his equipment, he’s choosing a style of play. That’s an important choice. Unfortunately, that’s not a choice that all keepers get to make for themselves. Many keepers are provided with kit through their clubs or schools. Other keepers are responsible for providing their own equipment. Whether you or your team is responsible for your equipment, money can be an issue. You can’t spend what you don’t have. Having said that, there are ways to get the most out of the kit you do have and a number of things to consider when selecting new equipment.

In the next two tips, we’ll cover equipment. We’ll give you an idea of what to look for, how it should fit and how to take care of it. In part one, we’ll cover general things to think about when selecting and caring for equipment, and specifically, equipment bags, kicker and leg guards. Part two will cover pants, upper body protection, hand protectors, sticks, helmets, shoes and everything else.

Before we start, there are a number of things to consider when selecting equipment. First and foremost is the level you play at. Above all else, goalkeeping equipment must be protective. If you’re getting hurt with what you’re using, new equipment is more than a good idea. Identifying the level you play at isn’t just a matter of age. Playing level is impacted by the skill and size of your teammates and opposition, as well as the surface you play. Twelve year old club girls on grass don’t need the same gear as 25 year old International men on turf. That much is obvious. The point where a 16-17 year old moves on to senior elite pads isn’t always so easy to identify. If you are consistently being exposed to dangerous shots, especially lifted shots that don’t allow you time to react, adequate protection is essential. Adequate equipment should not leave a keeper consistently bruised and battered.

Equipment can be an expensive investment. You want to make sure you get the most out of your investment. If you’re still growing physically, it’s a good idea to wait before spending a lot of money on pads that might only fit you for a season. By the same token, hold off on making a substantial investment in kit if you’re not sure that you’ll be playing in two seasons. We talked about the importance of having kit that’s appropriate to the level you play at. It’s also important to consider the level you ultimately want to play at. Junior level pads have different playing qualities than more elite type pads, especially leg guards and kickers. If your aspiration is to play at the highest level, playing with and getting used to that gear is important. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend time on a tricycle if you want to ride a bike.

When selecting equipment, do your homework. The internet is a great resource for information on equipment. Many manufacturers have websites that illustrate their products. Make sure what those websites illustrate. Nice photos and catchy slogans are great, but technical information is important. What materials are pads constructed of? How are they made? What is a company’s history? Who is using their gear? How are their products serviced (i.e. where are their local agents, what are their return policies, what kind of customer support do they offer?)? These are all important things to consider when investing in equipment.

Taking proper care of equipment is as important as selecting the right gear. Care and maintenance of your equipment is a fairly broad subject and it can cover everything from “de-funking” (odor reduction) to unforeseen pre-game buckle replacement. It’s a matter of taking care of the things you can take care of well before a match or training session and having the resources to take care of the unexpected mishaps that hockey brings.

First off, let’s start with some of the things required to keep your kit in good shape. One of the most important things is the ability to read. OBO products (and some other makes) come with product information sheets. They’re there for a reason. Not only do they give you cool schematic pictures of your pads, they also give you some technical information about the equipment and often, instructions on how to properly use and take care of it. Make sure you have it and read it if at all possible. If you’re using a club or school’s kit, that’s not always possible, but companies like OBO do have that information online. In addition, check the Product Tips and Q&A section of the OBO website for OBO products, there is a ton of useful information there.

As I mentioned, it’s important that you have the resources to handle equipment emergencies. I keep a small tool bag with my kit. You don’t need to lug a whole tool box with you, but a few items are all you need for most repairs. I have screw drivers (Phillips and regular head), regular and needle nose pliers, scissors and an adjustable wrench (in a pinch it doubles as a hammer) that I keep in portable tool kit. I also keep what’s called a leatherman (a multi purpose tool that has files, an awl/leather punch, knife blades, screw drivers, and pliers all on one tool) in addition to several heavy needles and threads. I’ll keep an assortment of extra helmet hardware (screws and bolts), as well as spare kicker straps and buckles and duct and athletic tape in the tool kit. I have a small plastic box (like Tupperware) that I keep the tools and materials in and keep it in my equipment bag.

I also have a bigger repair kit that I keep at home. Other items to keep on hand are Shoe Goo or some other kind of plastic/rubber/foam adhesive. Plastic scrub brushes and mild household cleansers are also strongly recommended. Get in the habit of checking your equipment regularly after you’ve played or trained. It’s a lot easier to mend/replace something that’s breaking after training as opposed to trying to repair it when it’s broken during warm up or worse, during a match. As we deal with specific items of equipment, we’ll cover the tools and techniques used for their respective care and maintenance.

Equipment Bag

Wheelie bag
Body bag

This is where all kit starts and ends up. While not a huge thing (figuratively speaking), a good equipment bag is quite useful. When you think about storing and transporting your kit, you start to realize all the deficiencies in your equipment bag if it isn’t up to the task. Gear can be heavy, especially when it’s wet. In addition, there is a lot of gear. The last thing you want is a bag that is too small, or isn’t sturdy enough to carry all of your kit.

When investing in a bag, there are things to check for. Is the bag waterproof? That’s important not only because hockey is a game that’s played in the rain or on watered turfs, but because often after a match, your kit is wet with moisture and/or sweat. Sometimes keeping moisture in (on a very temporary basis) is as important as keeping moisture out. Plastic bags are also good for keeping wet stuff from dry stuff.

Side and end pockets are useful. Not only do they help keep things separate, like especially wet, disgusting items from the only semi-damp disgusting items, but they allow you keeper to organize your kit. The more organized my bag is, the easier it is to find things and the less likely I am to forget things when I pack. If I’m going away for a weekend tournament, I’ll throw a couple of shirt hangers and newspaper in my bag. Newspaper is excellent for drying out wet shoes. Hangers are good for airing and drying pants and upper body pads.

On the sturdy front, check the stitching on the bag. There should be double-stitching or rivets where straps are attached. Make sure the material the bag is made of is strong enough to carry the load and stress of carrying your equipment. It’s also a good idea to see where the stress of the bag is when you carry it fully loaded. If you’ve got to walk a fair distance with your bag, the last thing you want is to lose the circulation to your arm as you’re carrying the bag. Equipment bags with wheels are a welcome development. It’s not a bad idea to test drive an equipment bag. Wheels aren’t too handy if the handle of the bag is positioned so that your bag is crashing into the back of your legs as you pull it.


Robo kickers
Cloud 9 kickers
Yahoo kickers

There are still a variety of different kickers available on the market and in various stages of circulation. If there’s one piece of equipment that should be replaced immediately, if not sooner, whether it is inherited or recently purchased, it’s bad kickers. Bad kickers can be, but are not limited to, bamboo and leather square toe kickers (yes, they’re still out there), worn foam kickers, kickers that are too big, or kickers that are too small.

First off, kickers determine the techniques available to you to clear the ball. Modern hockey requires a keeper to be able to first time clear a shot. In square toe kickers, that is a technique that is among other things, extremely painful, if not virtually impossible. It’s like trying to drill a hole with a wrench, square toe kickers are simply not the right tool.

If you’ve inherited kickers, whatever the type or brand, make sure they fit. If kickers are too big, you won’t be able to fasten the straps tight enough to secure them on your feet. If they’re close, you might be able to punch extra holes in the straps to make them fit. That might keep them on your feet for a while, but the biggest problem with kickers that are too big is that they’re difficult to move in. The foot doesn’t make actual contact with the field, the kickers does. As a result, you end up slipping or tripping.

When kickers are too small, the problem is usually equally obvious. Toes hang out, or the kicker doesn’t sit back far enough to cover the heel. There don’t seem to be enough holes in the straps on the large end at the back of the kicker or you can’t pull the buckle tight enough to get the kicker to sit right. Once again, you might be able to work around it by punching extra holes, but after time and practice, you’ll find that you end up getting hit in all the places that are exposed with kickers that are too small.

The problems with worn kickers are equally painful. When high-density foam kickers break down, they lose their rebound and protective qualities. The same applies to worn square toe kickers. Both are about as useful as over-sized slippers and should be put out to pasture. Just because kickers are old and ugly, doesn’t mean they have to be replaced. A well struck shot will sometimes sting no matter how new, or good your kickers are. There’s a difference between sting and collapsing in a heap in pain when the ball contacts your instep. The rebound qualities of the kicker are far more important. As long as rebound off the kicker is fairly proportional to the speed of the shot coming in, there’s life in the kicker.

If after you’ve assessed what you have in your kit bag and finding it lacking, or you just want new kickers there’s a lot out there, good and bad. OBO kickers, whether they are Robos, Cloud 9s or Yahoos, are all similarly shaped. For a young keeper that’s important because he’ll be playing in a kicker that’s shaped the same way as he grows as a person and a keeper. The kicker is designed with a tongue that locks the leg guard in place and keeps it from twisting. In the Robo line, the straps that keep the kicker down on the foot are built into the kicker. This keeps them from sliding back on the foot, sometimes a problem with kickers that have external straps.

When selecting a kicker, durability can be a consideration. How long a kicker will last depends on how often you play, the surface you play on, and the velocity of shots you face. OBO kickers are designed to wear well. The foam has a coating that stands up to abrasive surfaces like sand-filled pitches far better than the average foam kicker. The kickers also have bonded rubbing strips for the bottom of the kicker where most contact comes. This adds life to the kicker without sacrificing rebound. If there’s a complaint about OBOs, it’s that they last too long.

High rebound kickers use foam that is less dense than normal kickers. They offer great rebound, but over time and use, the foam compacts, losing elasticity and rebound. If you play a lot and don’t have the resources to replace your kickers, high rebound kickers probably aren’t your best choice. On the other hand, if you want a kicker that puts a shot back as quick as it comes in, they’re the way to go.

No matter what kickers you select, they become a useless accessory if your foot won’t stay in them. This is a common problem with kickers that use external, web nylon straps. Toe straps frequently slip and the front of your foot is exposed. There are a number of ways to deal with this. You can tape the toe strap (front) to the strap that goes around the ball of the foot (rear). Don’t use so much tape that you lose contact surface with the bottom of your shoe. You can also merge the strap that goes around the ball of the foot with the toe strap so that they cross under the foot. Finally, the way some kickers fit, you might not need the toe strap at all.

Care of kickers is fairly straightforward. Kickers can get dirty and do need to be cleaned even on artificial surfaces and especially on natural surfaces. A plastic scrub brush and a mild household detergent are usually all you need to put a sparkle back into the foam bits of your kit. Avoid cleansers that are abrasive or caustic. On the maintenance front, two tools are very handy, an awl and needle-nose pliers. An awl is great for punching holes in straps when your feet seem to fit just between the pre-punched holes. Needle-nose pliers are good for crimping the roller part of buckles that always seem to come off when you tighten your straps. They’re also quite useful when you first slot the internal straps through kickers.

There is a breaking in period for high-density foam kickers. Like any new piece of new equipment, you should use them in training before you break them out in a game. When breaking in kickers, I’ll usually wear two pair of socks for the first three or four training sessions. Foam can be stiff and will rub all the sensitive areas around your ankles. An extra pair of socks will eliminate most of that chafing.

Most kickers are shipped flat from the manufacturer. To help shape the kicker, tighten the straps as far as they’ll go. Beating the kicker with a stick or wrapping them snugly in an elastic bandage are also good ways to speed the break in process. Know that bottom line, all kickers usually need to break in are three good training sessions with lots of shots.

There’s a wide range of price to kickers and leg guards. If you are buying kickers, it is best to buy the matching leg guards. You should plan on spending about half your goalkeeping budget on leg guards and kickers. If there’s a place to go cheap on equipment, this isn’t the place to do it. Nothing will limit the development of a keeper more than bad pads and kickers.

Leg guards

Robo SP legguards
Robo legguards

Leg guards and kickers are the most important pieces of equipment for a keeper. Watch the game for any length of time and you realize that easily more than half the plays on a ball made by the keeper are with those two pieces of equipment. Leg guards and kickers aren’t important solely for the frequency that they’re used. Equally important is how they’re used and that’s determined by the type of leg guards and kickers a keeper uses.

Leg guards came in two types before 1985, cricket pads and skeleton (or continental) leg guards. Cricket pads were taken directly from that sport. They’re made of canvas and stuffed with cloth scraps. They’ re designed more as incidental protection, rather than primary protection (you don’t try to get hit with the ball in cricket). Skeleton leg guards are made of canvas or leather and have bamboo cane ribs along the front and canvas with cloth scraps behind the canes for protection. They are designed for a person intending to be hit by a ball, but they have their own deficiencies. A well-struck shot will break bamboo.

Cricket pads, skeleton leg guards, cloth and bamboo square toe kickers are all still available and used, especially at the junior and lower club level. They can provide adequate protection with severe technique limitations. I would not honestly encourage anyone to buy them, but they are usable, especially skeleton leg guards. Why? Because when a keeper, club or school is faced with having to buy a full set of goalkeeping equipment, costs can be a major consideration. Some items might need to wait. If you have to make a decision between replacing kickers or skeleton leg guards, there isn’t a decision in my mind. You replace the kickers.

If you’ve inherited a set of cricket pads or skeleton leg guards, realize full well that if someone hits a ball on your leg pads really hard, you’re going to feel it. If you play at a level where that doesn’t happen, then you’re all right. If injury or discomfort is something you’re looking to avoid, foam shin guards and/or kneepads worn under your leg guards are a good idea. With the advent of instep kicking, many keepers find the inside of their leg is a vulnerable area. You can similarly turn foam shin guards to cover the calf area if you’re getting hit with shots there. Make sure you really need the additional padding. Many keepers who have worn shin guards with other pads will use them when they get newer leg guards out of habit. Most leg guards that have wrap around protection will not sit properly on the leg with shin guards stuffed under them.

None of these problems exist with good high-density foam leg guards. High-density foam leg guards come in a variety of styles, sizes and densities from a number of manufacturers. Make sure the foam thickness of the pad corresponds to the level you play at. The harder the shot, the thicker the foam needs to be. When buying leg guards, it’s usually best to buy kickers at the same time. If you are using kickers and leg guards from two different manufacturers, make sure they are compatible. OBO kickers can be used with other leg guards, but one of their best features is the tongue that locks them in to place with OBO leg guards. Other kickers have different designs around the ankles that require modification if they’re to be used with other brands of leg guards.

When you buy leg guards, the surface you play on does have an impact. Whether it is grass, sand-filled turf, dry turf or water-based turf, the surface you play and train on will affect the life of your leg guards. Playing style will also affect pad life. If you’re a keeper that slides a lot on sand-filled pitches, the life span of your pads is likely to be much shorter than the upright keeper who plays on a watered turf.

There are a number of things to take in to consideration when it comes to leg guards. First, make sure they fit. Leg guards should protect from above the kicker to above the knee. Leg guards that are too short leave the keeper’s knees exposed, especially as the keeper moves. Pads that are too big are cumbersome and often painful to wear. They dig into the top of the kicker and the straps often rub directly behind the knee, chafing and digging into your leg. Leg guards should protect the inside of the calf. Just as the instep is a primary clearing surface, the inside of the leg is a frequent saving surface.

Depending on the type of leg guards you wear, maintenance will take different forms. Leather skeleton pads need to be left out to dry after use. Leather straps will crack or rot quickly if you don’t properly air dry your pads. In addition, metal buckles will rust. You should replace broken canes in skeleton pads. Obviously foam leg guards don’t have these problems. You should check straps periodically. Most foam leg guards now have nylon straps with plastic buckles. Occasionally the stitching around the buckles will wear and they should be re-stitched before you have them go in the game. Most manufacturers sell replacement straps and buckles for their pads, but if you’re in a bind many sporting goods or camping stores sell backpacking supplies (plastic buckles and nylon strap) that can be used.

It’s a good idea to clean your pads periodically. Skeleton pads can be scrubbed down with a wet hand brush. Foam pads can be cleaned using a mild household cleanser and a scrub brush. Even if you play on watered turf and your pads seem clean, washing and rinsing them on a regular basis is a good idea. Foam can absorb sweat and you can easily get a nice coat of bacterial slime going if you don’t clean your pads. In addition to smelling, that bacteria can cause a nasty rash. When drying foam equipment, always air dry it and avoid keeping it in direct sunlight or extreme heat for extended periods of time. The inside of a car can reach 100 degrees centigrade in the summer, hot enough to damage foam.

Next: Everything else

Good luck,


email Jon

Please note that OBO together with Jon O’Haire hold copyright over any
material appearing on tips pages. We welcome the printing and distribution of
these tips, provided that they are not sold, or used for financial gain. This
paragraph must appear on all printed or distributed copies. The photographs
above must not be used in any form without express permission from Jon O’Haire.

Penalty Strokes

I am often asked questions like the following: Can you please send me information on strokes. I am a goal keeper and had a stroke against me on Wednesday and I missed it. I think it was probably because I didn’t dive but rather reached out for it with my leg. How do I know when to dive or how, and how do I read them so that I can at least dive in the right direction. Can you also tell me how to build up my confidence on diving so that I can dive correctly.

I am often asked questions like the following: Can you please send me information on strokes. I am a goal keeper and had a stroke against me on Wednesday and I missed it. I think it was probably because I didn’t dive but rather reached out for it with my leg. How do I know when to dive or how, and how do I read them so that I can at least dive in the right direction. Can you also tell me how to build up my confidence on diving so that I can dive correctly.

Penalty strokes, mention the words and depending on your experiences, you either love them or hate them. You either won the game or lost it, all on the whim of an umpire and the push of the ball. It’s never that simple, and neither are strokes. Penalty strokes are a part of the game and a keeper has to deal with them. The problem is how. For most questions there are absolute answers. Penalty strokes are one of the least absolute parts of the game, especially when it comes to how to deal with them. For every absolute, I can think of a dozen exceptions.

First off, there is no one way to deal with strokes and the more information you can assemble, the more tools you have for dealing with them. Rachel has a tip on penalty strokes and it has a lot of relevant information. In our tips, we share experiences as players and coaches. You have your own experiences and the opportunity to learn from the keepers you play against and the strokers you’ve faced. Take advantage of them all to develop the best plan for you.

These are some of the tools I’ve used to try to be successful with penalty strokes. Note the word “try.” A penalty stroke is a severe penalty awarded for an intentional foul inside the circle or a foul that prevents a certain goal. The penalty is not designed to give the fouled team a good chance to score. It’s designed to give them an excellent chance to score. A well taken penalty stroke should go in. Having said that, not every penalty stroke is well taken and even the well taken stroke can be saved.

Knowledge is a tool and dealing with penalty strokes starts with knowing the rules and procedures for the taking of a stroke. The penalty stroke is a flick or push taken from seven yards away from the goal. The stroker is allowed one step to take the stroke. The stroker must start with both feet behind the stroke mark when setting up to take the stroke. The player may not hit, slap or drag-flick the ball. The drag flick modification is a recent change in response to players slinging the ball in closer than seven yards when they release the ball off their stick. The stroker may only touch the ball once while taking their stroke.

Proper procedure calls for the umpire to “confirm” that stroker and keeper are ready. The check can be verbal or simple visual contact. If for some reason, you’re not “ready” when the stroke is about to be taken, make sure the umpire knows it by saying “no,” or raising your hand. Umpires are not sympathetic to time-wasting, but there are legitimate reasons to step off the line. Once it’s established both keeper and stroker are ready, the umpire will blow the whistle for the stroke to be taken. The stroker does not have to take the stroke as soon as the whistle is blown, but there can not be an excessive delay between the whistle and the stroke.

Rules that pertain to the keeper are that the keeper must stand on the goal line until the stroke is taken. Standing on the goal line is interpreted as the keeper having a portion of his or her foot on or above the plane of the goal line. That means a keeper doesn’t need to stand with their toes on the goal line, he can stand with his weight on the balls of his feet slightly in front of the goal line as long as his heels are along the plane of the goal line. That’s an important distinction because it allows the keeper to cut down some angle as he extends to the sides to make a save. The keeper may not move his feet, but he doesn’t have to be motionless when the stroke is taken. The keeper can rock, shift his weight or move his hands while waiting for the stroke to be taken, as long as he doesn’t move his feet.

If the stroker violates any part of the procedure for a stroke, a 16-yard hit is awarded. Typical violations for the stroker are taking two steps on the stroke, making two touches while taking the stroke or taking the stroke before the whistle is blown. If a keeper commits a violation, a goal is awarded. The biggest violation for keepers is moving before the stroke is taken. If you have any questions about the procedures for how a stroke is to be taken, make sure you ask the umpire before getting in the goal before the stroke is taken.

While you don’t want to get in the routine of giving up strokes, having a routine for strokes is a good idea. Once a stroke is called, as a keeper it’s important to detach yourself from what’s just happened and get ready for what’s coming next. Mentally, that may be something as simple as stepping out of the goal for a second while the stroke is being set up and focusing your thoughts. Time is stopped for a penalty stroke so there’s no need to race into the goal.

In years past some keepers used the time stoppage for the stroke to put pressure on the stroker. They took their helmet off, removed their hand protectors and loosened and tightened a strap that was already fine, all in the name of “icing” a stroker. The rules don’t allow this anymore and the penalty can be a goal or a card. A keeper doesn’t want to take a stroke if he’s got a loose strap, and if you’ve got sweat in your eyes, by all means wipe your brow, but these shouldn’t be a part of your routine. My routine took maybe ten seconds and it was done while the stroke was being set up. I stepped out of the goal, took a couple of seconds to stretch and to mentally focus on the job at hand and got back in the goal ready to save the stroke.

There is a mental component to saving strokes and a lot of it comes from having confidence in your ability to save a push or flick from seven yards from goal. If you don’t believe you will save a stroke, you won’t. That’s not to say that you’ll save every stroke, but you need to believe in your ability to save the shot. A stroker knows when a keeper believes in himself. He sees it in your stance, he sees it in your eyes and he sees it in how you step up for the stroke. A keeper’s routine and approach to the stroke have to be natural. You have to believe in what you’re doing. A stroker can tell the difference between a keeper standing in goal and a keeper set to save a stroke.

We’ve talked a little about where to stand on the goal line when setting up for the stroke (heels above the goal line), but once you get past that there are different philosophies on stances for saving a stroke. The best stance for you will depend on the level you play at, your size and your reaction time. There is a big difference between the strokes taken in an Olympic final stroke off and what you might see at an under-12 game. How you stand is influenced by what you’re expecting.

As a keeper, while I believed that I could save any stroke, my primary goal was to save the savable. As I mentioned before, well taken strokes should go in. The stroke I don’t want to allow is the poorly taken one. Saving the savable should keep a keeper in a stance fairly close to his normal ready position. Typically, that’s with your feet shoulder width apart so you can explode to either side, with your weight on the balls of your feet, knees and waist slightly bent. You want to be in a position that allows you the best opportunity to react to any shot at goal.

A stance for strokes, weight and hands forward, the keeper is ready to explode
to the ball.

Stance will effect how a keeper can save a ball and going back to philosophies, it’s a matter of what you’re trying to save. Many keepers ask whether it is better to dive or go with their legs to make saves on low shots to the corners. How you set up in your stance will dictate the save you can make. I found I was most effective saving strokes by playing in a compact, explosive stance. The stance allowed me to dive down and out to get to shots to the low corners. I had the size and reactions to be able to get to the high corners.

I play with my hands very forward in my ready position. I find that having my hands forward and somewhat close together helps me with diving because my weight is forward. I’m looking to go to the ball with my hands, even shots to the low corners. My goal is to attack the ball and get out to the stroke. By trying to make the save as early as possible, I take away angle as I extend to the side. That means I don’t have to get as wide and lessens the chance of the stroke hitting me and deflecting in (particularly with my stick).

The distance between your feet in your stance will also dictate how you can react to the ball. Keepers with their feet close together often fall to the ball as they don’t have a base to push off to the ball. Keepers with their feet very wide usually end up flopping to the ball. Either way, these keepers usually end up diving to balls in the corners. If they’re successful saving, there’s nothing wrong with the stance.

Another school of thought has that the keeper should look to make himself big. He’ll carry his arms out in a fairly upright stance trying to fill as much of the goal as he can. At higher levels of play, particularly with strokers who can stroke hard and high, this can be an effective tactic. In this stance, the keeper is looking to reduce the distance he has to react to the shot because he’s made himself big. The keeper is basically looking to drop to get to shots to the low corners and stepping to reach shots to the high corners.

The keeper making themself big, hands are outside the body.

A big part of saving strokes is knowing how you can save a shot when it’s taken to a particular spot on goal. That comes from repetition. Strokes low to a keeper’s right can be saved with a foot or a stick, low to the left can be saved with a hand or a foot, high right with a stick or a hand, etc. For younger keepers, it’s often useful to train by having them save strokes where they know where the ball is going. They need to learn the mechanics of saving, whether that’s by reaching with their legs or diving. Until a keeper makes a save on a stroke, they don’t know which way is best for them. By training with strokes taken to a known spot, the keeper is provided with that opportunity and is allowed to train the reaction.

A diving save to the keeper’s left

A stick save, low to the keeper’s right

A stick save, high to the keeper’s right

As I mentioned, what stance is best for you will depend on the strokers you face, your size and speed. A smaller keeper physically can’t get to low shots to the corners with his legs, he’s going to dive which is going to require an explosive stance. A slower keeper won’t have the reactions to be as explosive and will have to make himself big. There is room for variation within the stance. It isn’t one or the other. A keeper develops the stance that works for them based on experience and experience means trying different things.

Prepare for frustration when you’re trying new things with stance on strokes. For many keepers, strokes are uncomfortable to start off with. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a keeper go back to their old ways after trying a new stance for a whopping three strokes in practice. Be prepared to try something for a month, for a hundred strokes, for as long as it takes to get comfortable with it and then make an evaluation based on fact, not feel.

As a coach, there are a number of things to consider when training for strokes. Is the training for the keeper, or the stroker? When training a keeper for strokes, part of the training is building confidence. Confidence comes with saves and success, something most strokers don’t want to give a keeper. Fatigue and frustration can also affect a keeper’s confidence. Have a plan for what you want and how you’re going to get it. Also be prepared to have a back up plan if practice becomes negative.

Finally, a note on “guessing” on strokes; a keeper should avoid guessing on strokes. I might anticipate where a stroker is going, but I need to base that anticipation on prior knowledge. At higher levels of play, scouting is an important part of game preparation. It entails having knowledge of who an opponent’s strokers are, how they set up and where they shoot. I may set up differently if I know where a stroker goes. I may anticipate where they shoot, but I still need to react to the ball. Just as you might have information on a stroker, he’s just as likely to have information on your tendencies.

I hear keeper’s say that if a stroker looks one way, or sets their feet up a certain way, he’ll shoot to this spot. For every one of these certain cues, I’ve seen a stroker go a completely different place. Nothing is more disheartening to a team than to have a stroker push the ball in the middle of the goal as you’re diving to the corner. My experience has been that when I focused on the ball and not the stroker, I had the most success saving the stroke.

Like any goal shot, great strokes will go in, average strokes shouldn’t. As keepers we don’t like to concede anything, but if we take the approach that we’re going to save the savable we go a long way to making strokes more manageable. Penalty strokes are nothing more than a push from seven yards. Practice them, get comfortable with them and deal with them.

Good luck,


e-mail Jon

Please note that OBO together with Jon O’Haire hold copyright over any material appearing on tips pages. We welcome the printing and distribution of these tips, provided that they are not sold, or used for financial gain. This paragraph must appear on all printed or distributed copies. The photographs above must not be used in any form without express permission from Jon O’Haire.

Training on your own

We receive a lot of questions about training on your own and training programs. I will always refer people to check the other information on this web site. Rachel and I both have covered a variety of issues on the topic. In addition, the subject is also covered in the previous Q&A section of the website. Having said all that, let’s talk about it some more.

We receive a lot of questions about training on your own and training programs. I will always refer people to check the other information on this web site. Rachel and I both have covered a variety of issues on the topic. In addition, the subject is also covered in the previous Q&A section of the website. Having said all that, let’s talk about it some more.

Having a training program means you’re training for something. What that something is, is completely up to you. It can be to get better, to make a team, to kick better with your left foot, to win a tournament, a championship, the World Cup, whatever you want. It’s a goal that means something to you.

It’s important to set goals that are realistic, measurable and obtainable. It’s great to want to win an Olympic Gold Medal, but to do that you have to make an Olympic team. That’s not something everyone can do. Anyone can set a goal of clearing 80% of all shots to their left foot to safety. Set goals that you can make. There are long term goals and short term goals and it’s important to have both. Achieving goals is part of the process for measuring improvement.

Whatever the level you play at, overall improvement is always a good goal. It’s also a very broad concept. Getting better means knowing what you’re good and bad at. It requires you to review and critique your game and that involves some thought. I think better when I write things down and if you’re going to the trouble of doing a training program, you should have a training notebook.

As a player, I used my training notebook as a resource for a number of areas. It’s a place to keep notes and materials as they pertain to my team, my training, my game play, my mental game, my skills or whatever is important to my development as a keeper. Many coaches ask their teams to keep a notebook and have very specific formats as to what should go in them. If that’s the case, you should also consider keeping a notebook of your own just for goalkeeping. A notebook can be a personal thing and some things you might not want to share. I can keep whatever I want in my own notebook and have access to it all the time.

When you decide that you want to start a training program on your own make sure you check with your coach. I get a lot of keepers who tell me their teams don’t do anything for keepers and then you talk to their coaches and they tell you something different. Not every practice is going to be a goalkeeper practice. Coaches have a lot of needs when it comes down to meeting the demands of preparing for a game. Sometimes a coach doesn’t realize they’ve ignored the position and by your going to them, they realize that.

It’s also important that you let your coach know what you’re doing if you’re thinking about a training program. If you have access to a training program with your team, then obviously that takes precedent over everything else you do. Many players don’t. Either way, your coach is someone who’s there to help you get better. By keeping them informed of what you want to do, you let them help you.

We talked about general improvement as a goal earlier and how broad a concept it is. There are ways to make improvement tangible. First off, think about the skills of the position. Now is a good time to get the notebook out. Write down the skills that are involved at the level you play at. Saving is a skill, but there are
a hundred different skills that can be used to make a save. Clearing skills are just as important as save skills and there are another hundred skills available to make a save and take the ball to a space. It’s important to identify skills as they relate to the level you play. A 12 year old isn’t likely to be seeing the same kind of situations as played in Premier leagues.

Breaking skills down by saving and clearing skills is only one way to start a skills inventory. Saving skills can be broken down by parts of the body: feet, legs, hands, or body. You can break it down by speed of shot: slow, medium, or fast. Use Left side or right side (as in feet and hands) and areas of the goal (centre, within two feet reach and balls in the corners) are other ways you can break down skills. Think of ways you can clear the ball: first time with your feet, a stationary ball with your feet or stick, first time off your hands into space, etc. Deflecting is a clearing skill, especially with hand protectors and high-density foam in general. There are a hundred different ways you can kick a ball to a certain area using a particular foot. You can identify those skills and should.

Once you’ve identified skills you use, think of a way you can measure them. I like to think of skills as a test when I measure them. I like to drill where I have ten repetitions and I see how many I’m successful in. 7 out of 10 is a C, 8 out of 10 a B, 9 out of 10 an A-, and 10 is an A. Until I get an A in a skill I can stand to work on it.

When you test yourself make sure you’re doing an accurate test. If I want to test kicking medium paced balls within two feet of my left foot, I need someone or something to deliver the ball with proper speed and location. That’s something you might be able to organize with the help of your coach. If you can’t work this into your team training, see if you can get your team-mates to help out.

If you are going to train on your own, make sure you’re really training. If forwards are going to help me out with putting balls at goal, I want to help them out by letting them know exactly what I want. If I want a ball hit from a specific location, put a cone there. Make sure they know exactly where you want the ball and the pace you want it at. There’s a huge difference in how you’re going to kick a medium paced ball on the ground and one that’s twelve inches in the air. You base mastery of a skill by consistent repetitions and you can’t do that if balls are all over the place. Tests can be fun and training should be, but make sure you’re doing what you want to when you train. If things aren’t defined, it’s easy for them to break down.

We talked about using your coach as a resource. Make sure you do work with someone. It’s a good idea to have a sounding board when you set goals, plan drills or do tests. Equipment is another resource. Equipment is everything from having enough balls and cones to playing on the right surface to working with good people. The internet is another resource. Use everything you can to help you get what you’re training for. Prepare to be flexible. You may have to invest in some balls. You might have to make rebound boards. You might end up training on tennis courts. If training is going to be important, having the right equipment is essential. If you’re creative, you can turn virtually anything into a training situation.

Creativity is key. As I said, we get a ton of questions about training programs and what the best program for a certain keeper is. We don’t know the best particular program for you, but you probably do. If you’re critical you know what you’re good at and what you need to work on. Think of ways you can work on the skill and make it happen. This starts with a vision and a notebook is a great start. Use it to plan your future successes and chronicle the progress.

Good luck,


e-mail Jon

Please note that OBO together with Jon O’Haire hold copyright over any material appearing on tips pages. We welcome the printing and distribution of these tips, provided that they are not sold, or used for financial gain. This paragraph must appear on all printed or distributed copies. The photographs above must not be used in any form without express permission from Jon O’Haire.

Penalty Corner Defense: Logging

We get a lot of questions about penalty corners, especially lying down on corners. Laying down, or logging, is only one technique that a keeper can apply in the context of his, or her, team’s penalty corner defence. No one technique, or type of defence, will be successful against every corner attack. This month’s tip focuses on some concepts of penalty corner defence and specifically one technique for logging.

We get a lot of questions about penalty corners, especially lying down on corners. Laying down, or logging, is only one technique that a keeper can apply in the context of his, or her, team’s penalty corner defence. No one technique, or type of defence, will be successful against every corner attack. This month’s tip focuses on some concepts of penalty corner defence and specifically one technique for logging.

Logging builds on the fact that the first struck shot on goal in a penalty corner must be below 18 inches when it crosses the goal line to be a legal goal. Notice that word “struck,” flicks or deflections do not need to be below 18 inches. Continuing on the struck concept, some people can hit the ball hard, very hard in fact. So hard, that when the shot is taken from fifteen yards at the top of the circle, a keeper doesn’t have time to react. Somebody got to thinking and reasoned that if you can’t react to a hit ball from that distance and it has to be below 18 inches, why not have the keeper lie down and not have to react? In theory this sounds quite simple, but in application it can be quite a different matter.

There are a number of variables that need to be taken into consideration when a team decides how they want to defend corners and whether logging is right for you as a keeper. The equipment you use, the surface you play on, the quality of your opposition’s attack (first shot and options), and the strengths of your defence, all need to be factored in when making a decision.

Equipment is the most important factor in even deciding whether logging is an option for you. In my mind, it’s kind of like deciding whether a parachute is a good option for skydiving. As insane as it sounds, I’ve seen keepers lay down with kickers, leg pads, gloves, helmet, small chest pad, and cotton shorts. In logging, a keeper is using his whole body to take away the bottom of the goal, which means your whole body should be protected. Well padded pants, pelvic protection, upper body pads that cover the arms and chest, as well as a throat protector are all highly recommended in addition to standard kit before a keeper even starts to think about logging.

Next comes playing surface. Logging is primarily a turf skill. Given the somewhat unpredictable nature of grass, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to go down on grass. The 18-inch rule on struck shots only applies to raised shots. If a shot is raised because of the ground/grass, the goal counts. In addition, it’s usually harder to stop the ball dead to set up the shot on grass so defences are usually more effective breaking corners up before the shot.

It’s extremely useful to have an idea of what your opponents are capable of doing on a corner. You need to have a pretty good idea that the other team is capable of scoring off a straight shot with a keeper playing upright before logging. You also need to know what other options an opponent has for their corners. Drag flicks, passing options and deflections all can make the logging keeper look silly.

Finally, logging needs to fit in with how your team is defending corners. If your team is breaking up corners at the top of the circle, there is no straight shot to defend. The keeper needs to be able to react to the broken play and the different gaps that open up as a result and is better served by staying up.

Having said all that, logging can be an effective technique when properly implemented. As we talked about before, logging is based on taking away a scoring area that is effectively 18 inches by four yards. The keeper doesn’t have to do that alone; he should have a post player working with him.

The size of the keeper and the reactions of the post player will determine where the two should best position themselves. Going back to the four yard by 18-inch goal, on hits from penalty corners, the post player is responsible for one yard, the keeper three. The post player is positioned to the keeper’s left facing out from the goal. When the keeper goes down, he’s going down to his right (strong stick side). How far the keeper is off his line will depend on his size, speed and the speed of the push out and stop. Generally, a keeper wants to get to a spot between two to four yards off the goal line.

Movement on a corner is all about efficiency. Extra time spent getting set up is time taken away from being set for the shot. This starts with the goalkeeper’s positioning as the corner is being pushed out. Many keepers turn their body to face the player pushing out. They then turn their body to face the shooter. It is simpler for the keeper to face the shooter from the start and just turn his head to see the push out.

Continuing with efficiency, a keeper needs to know exactly how many steps he needs to get set to go down. He needs to know the angle he needs to be on for where the shot is coming from. He needs to how much space he needs to allow for the other players on the corner defence. This knowledge only comes through repetition with the entire defence involved.

On virtually all corner defences, one player comes out from the left of the keeper between the post player and the keeper. This means the keeper won’t be starting from the middle of the goal when the corner is pushed out. The line the keeper takes out of the goal will depend on where the shot is being taken. With the shot taken from the centre of the circle, the keeper will step out lining his right leg up at the centre of the goal if he’s logging. This typically means that he’s stepping out to his left as he goes towards the shooter. If a keeper centres his body on the shot and the goal instead of his right leg he’ll end up covering from the middle of the goal to the right when he lays out, leaving his post player the whole left side of the goal. Once again, you’ll need to work out where you need to go down from through repetition with your post player as you figure out how to most effectively cover the goal.

A couple of things about post players: first and foremost, they are a goalkeeper’s best friends. When a keeper logs on corners, he’s counting on the post player to cover his back. Be consistent and clear with each of your responsibilities and expectations. Once again, this comes through repetition in practice. Penalty corner practice can be dangerous. A post player has to be fearless. There is no blame in short corner defence. There are mistakes, but no one points the finger. Like a keeper, the post player’s positioning on corners will depend on his speed coming off the line, getting set and reaction time. A post player needs to play where he will make saves.

Remembering that he’s responsible for saving shots at an area of the goal one-yard by 18 inches; the post player’s job starts there. I’ll leave specifics of post player technique to the experts, but generally the post player wants to step up even with the keeper as the keeper is set to go down. If the post player sets up behind the keeper he’s vulnerable to deflections off the keeper, deflections by attackers in front of him and will have a long way to go if he’s to help clear rebounds off the keeper’s pads. Helping clear rebounds off the logging keeper’s lower body is an essential part of his responsibilities. A post player makes his job easy by knowing where his goal is and this starts with positioning and playing shots on his front stick. As he steps out, he wants to line his left leg up on the left post. By doing this, shots outside his left leg should be wide of the goal (I won’t guarantee for irregularities in pitches). This is only a start for the post player, depending on the style of defence your team plays and the variations your team encounters the job changes.

Finally we get to logging. There are two primary techniques for laying down on corners. The first starts from a leaning position, the second from a kneeling one. Other people may have different names for the techniques, but for our purposes we’ll simply call them the lean and the kneel (we’ll deal with the kneel and other logging techniques in our next tip).

In the lean technique, a keeper is looking to be set in a leaning position ready to drop when the ball is struck. To recap, his movement will be slightly diagonal left to account for the player coming out from his left as he centres himself on the shot. The distance he comes off his line will depend on his size and speed coming off his line. His set position will be in a crouching lean, with his left shoulder above his right foot. His left hand is at his chest and right hand is down and stick held out to the side.

The keeper set up in the lean position, stick out, left hand in front of the chest, left shoulder over right foot. Note the position of the right leg at the middle of the goal.

As the ball is about to be struck, the keeper collapses his right leg straight out (towards the left post), looking to get his right hip down. At the same time the keeper extends his stick out for maximum width and height. Fully extended means being able to cover the height of the backboards. When laid out, your left hand should cover the right side above your stick. Your stick should cover an area slightly wide of the goal.

Going down on the hit, the keeper collapses the right leg. As the hip comes down and the right leg straightens, the keeper’s body extends to the left.

When a keeper is laid out, make sure your body is vertically angled forward with your left hip and shoulder slightly in front of your right as you’re down. Many keepers set up in the lean with their right foot slightly behind their left to ensure that their body won’t be angled back as they go down. The last thing you want to be is a human ramp, deflecting the ball into the goal. The same applies to your stick. Make sure the toe of your stick is slightly forward so the shot doesn’t deflect in. That may mean adjusting your grip as you set up for corners.

Once down and extended out, the keeper and post player effectively cover the bottom part of the goal.

Some keepers almost brace themselves with their stick in the lean position. This helps them get down more smoothly. You want to get your right hip and arm down and out as quickly as possible when dropping for the hit. By bracing yourself with the stick, you ease your drop as you go down. It’s important not to get stuck on your right elbow. If you do, there will be a gap under your armpit. A keeper doesn’t want to flop. Flopping usually happens when a keeper doesn’t collapse his right leg, but pushes off of it as he goes down. If he does this, he ends up going up before he goes down. He’ll have a hard time getting his legs extended and is usually still coming down when the shot is coming to goal.

Now that he’s down, how does the keeper make a save in the logging position? Saving shots below the waist in a prone position is a fairly straightforward proposition for the keeper. Basically he is just letting the ball hit him. As we mentioned before, the keeper must have his left (top) hip slightly of his right (bottom) or the shot will deflect off of him, up and into the goal. The keeper needs to be consistent with what he does with his feet while down. If the keeper is pointing his toes down for extra length, he needs to do that all the time, otherwise he creates confusion (and deflections) for the post player. In almost all defences where a keeper is down, the post player is responsible for clearing saves off of the keeper’s lower body.

Shots above the prone keeper’s waist present a different set of issues. As the keeper is down waiting for the shot at goal, he wants to keep his left hand at his chest. If the shot is between his waist and chest, the keeper wants to keep the ball as close to his body as possible. The easiest way to do that is to trap the shot, almost patting the ball palm down with his left hand. Depending on the defence a team plays, the keeper may be responsible for clearing these shots. If clearing for himself, the keeper is using his stick, taking his left hand off the ball and sweeping the ball to his left with his stick. If a keeper is clearing for himself, he needs to call it, otherwise he risks hitting the post player with his clear, or just as bad, the two going for the same ball.

As for shots that are above the keeper’s chest in a prone position, much will depend on the height of the shot. Shots on the ground are easier as they can be saved with the stick. The important thing with stick saves is the angle of your stick. Not only is it important that your stick isn’t angled toe back, angling your stick back towards the end line can be most beneficial. You don’t want to deflect the shot into the goal, but if you can put it out of play you’re looking at a long hit, not a fat, juicy rebound.

Taken from an angle, this photo illustrates angling the stick back to save the shot over the endline.

Two areas present a problem: the area under the keeper’s right arm and balls above the stick. Don’t think that because you’re stretched out with your side flat, a ball hit at your right armpit will stop when it hits you. Unless you can dislocate your right arm, there’s always going to be a gap there when you go down. The other bit of nastiness is that there is no padding under your arm. Use your left hand to cover the gap. You also want to use your left hand to make saves above your stick. Just as you want to angle your stick back when making save on the ground to that side, you make your job easier by angling your palm towards the side/end line when making a save with your left hand. Once again, there is a bonus to setting up with your right foot slightly behind your left when setting up in the lean, your body is already angled back towards the end line when you’re stretched out for the save. A keeper is going to need help with rebounds off shots above his chest when he’s down. Many defences keep a player low off to the keeper’s right specifically for that reason. Like rebounds off the keeper’s lower body, there has to be a clear understanding of who is clearing rebounds off the keeper’s hands. In penalty corner defence, confusion equals goals.

We’ve talked about a lot of concepts and mechanics within the skill in this tip. All of them need to be mastered if logging is going to be effective. Footwork needs to be practiced. Set up, positioning, the lean, getting down, the save and clear all need to be done in synch before you can expect to successfully log in games. As mentioned before, success comes with repetition. Make sure your penalty corner defence practice allows you an environment to learn and master the technique.

Practicing logging. Going down on the strike.

Good luck,


e-mail Jon

Please note that OBO together with Jon O’Haire hold copyright over any material appearing on tips pages. We welcome the printing and distribution of these tips, provided that they are not sold, or used for financial gain. This paragraph must appear on all printed or distributed copies. The photographs above must not be used in any form without express permission from Jon O’Haire.

Basic Positions: Angles

The concept of angles builds on most effectively using your ready stance to position yourself between the shooter and the goal. In the one ball, one shooter world that can be a pretty simple concept. Throw in variables like your size, your reaction time, passing options and players in the way, and things get complicated. Complicated doesn’t mean impossible, a keeper just needs to take these things into consideration and put them to use.

The concept of angles builds on most effectively using your ready stance to position yourself between the shooter and the goal. In the one ball, one shooter world that can be a pretty simple concept. Throw in variables like your size, your reaction time, passing options and players in the way, and things get complicated. Complicated doesn’t mean impossible, a keeper just needs to take these things into consideration and put them to use.

Starting with basics, a standing keeper should be able to cover a yard to either side of his center (at least that’s what we hope a good ready stance will allow). Building on that premise, the keeper covers two yards. If a keeper stands on the goal line in the middle of the goal, that leaves two yards of open goal (the goal being four yards wide). If the keeper steps off the goal line on a line from the middle of the goal towards the shooter, that area outside the two yards the keeper takes up by standing gets smaller. When the shooter is at the middle of the goal, the most goal area is open. As the ball goes to the sides, the scoring area gets smaller if the keeper maintains the distance he is off the goal line.

A keeper two yards off his line

A keeper four yards off his line

Angles are geometry and the principle builds on the keeper always being on a line from the middle of the goal to where the shot is coming from. Shots can happen from the front stick and the reverse stick. A keeper can’t just line themselves up from the middle of the goal to the player taking the shot, it’s got to be on a line from where the shot is coming from.

When first introducing the concept of angles to young keepers, make the concept concrete. You can do it with ropes. Put a ball at a spot in the circle, get a long rope, tie it to the goal posts and pull the middle of the rope to the ball. When the keeper is centered between the rope, he’s on goal. Let the keeper see it from the shooter’s perspective and from behind the goal. Move the ball and shift the keeper. Angles start with being on line and can be an abstract concept for keepers, young and old.

Depth is the second part of angles. Going back to variables, how far a keeper plays up on the line of the shot will depend on his strengths and weaknesses in relation to where the ball is in the circle, as well as the keeper’s own size, flexibility and reactions. With a simple shot from the top of the circle, a small keeper is going to have to play further out than a big keeper does to cover the same area. Physical abilities (or limitations) require it.

Effectively playing angles means building on your experiences and strengths. To find out what the best distance for a keeper to play off his line is requires patience, discipline and players willing to work with the keeper, especially with beginning and younger players. There is no substitute for experience/practice, but experience has to be structured. It does no good for a keeper to stand in goal for a hundred shots if they’re coming from everywhere and going anywhere.

By putting a keeper in a situation where they take 20 balls from the direct top of the circle and gradually adjusting the distance the keeper plays off their line, the keeper can get a sense of where he’s most effective saving the ball and clearing it to a space. It’s important that you not lose the focus on clearing the ball. Too many times the emphasis of angle work becomes lots of shots, some saves, no consequences (i.e. feedback or second shots). Angles are awareness and a keeper needs to know where they are making their most effective plays of the ball. Set up sets of 20 shots from different positions around the circle, one spot at a time. Give feedback, set up clearing targets, put rebounders in the drill, whatever is appropriate for the level and abilities of your keepers.

Going back to guidelines, there are no set/carved in stone rules for angles for every keeper. Generally, with a set shot at the top of the circle from the center, the keeper will be the farthest off his line. As the set shot shifts to the sides, he can cover the same goal area with similar results by being closer to goal and not as far off his line. My own experience has been that with a shot from just inside the D in the center, I’m most effective playing three yards off my line. As the ball goes to the sides from the edge of the D, that distance goes down to two yards, then one until the ball goes baseline and I go to my post. A lot of people talk about playing angles as an arc, or an extended arc. I’ve used the analogy of the arc being shaped like the top half of an egg, but that also applies to my individual abilities and limitations. Some keepers can play a round arc, I couldn’t.

Angles simplified: an overhead diagram. Each letter represents a shooting position and what a keeper covers simply by being in a ready position on the proper angle.

There are philosophies and principles that can be built on and most of them apply as the ball moves around the circle. When a ball is passed to the left or right from the top of the circle, a keeper can’t move to their left or right simply in the line of the ball, they need to move in relation to the ball and the goal. Their movement is not going to be flat, it’s going to be arced, rounding back to the post. This is an especially critical concept for beginners.

Repositioning on a small pass, shuffle steps.

It’s important that as the keeper moves, he stays square to the ball and the goal as the ball travels. We talked about this in the last tip, The Ready Position. A goalkeeper can most easily make a positive play of the ball if he’s square to the shooter. I like to try to keep things easy. Easy for me is using short, quick, shuffle steps (never crossover steps). By doing this, I stay in my ready position (or reasonably close) as I move. The result is I maintain the ability to make a positive play on a shot while moving.

When there are big changes of angle from left to right or right to left, a keeper may have to drop back to center and realign himself when taking on a forward or shot to get on an angle from goal. The OBO goalkeeping video does an excellent job of illustrating this concept. If a keeper goes from one angle to the next on a pass without realigning himself, he’s never in the goal when the shot happens and he ends up going out at where the ball was as opposed to where it’s going, i.e. at goal from the new angle.

Repositioning on alarge pass, realign.

You can incorporate movement (big and small) in to simple drills that start with a pass to the side and result in a shot. Once again, make sure these drills are structured. If a keeper is off on his angle, stop the drill, show him where he is and make the correction. An important correction is not only showing the keeper where he needs to be, but also how he needs to get there. If you don’t have the players to do this drill with a pass, have the keeper start from a cone at a fixed point and on the coach’s call take a shot from a different angle. As keepers become more proficient, you can add a couple of different angles and call them by number, or allow forwards to make passes within the circle to change the angle. The key is proficiency. If a keeper can’t consistently save and clear a shot with one change of angle, do not expect him to play shots where there are three changes of angle.

We’ve talked about the distance a keeper plays off the line with a shot from a set spot. That all changes with a little thing called a pass. A shot from the endline isn’t necessarily dangerous, but a pass to a player at the penalty spot from the endline is. Similarly, an opponent with the ball and a defender on him is not likely to be as dangerous as the opponent’s open teammate. Modern hockey has shown that a keeper can’t just be a goalkeeper, he needs to be a circle defender. Sometimes a keeper can stay back and be set for a shot, other times he might need to step up and intercept a pass, some times he might have to step up to pressure/smother a shot. Blagoevgrad . Angles incorporate all of that.

Playing the situation: A keeper angled to play the pass and the shot from the side.

Angles build on knowing where you are in the circle. We’ve talked a lot about keepers being a circle defender and not just making plays of the ball on the goal line. There’s not a whole lot of advantage to a keeper coming off his line, if the result is that he’s going to concede a goal on the pass because he doesn’t know where he is. It’s important to know where you are in the goal from landmarks around the field. Use landmarks like the opposite goal, the arcs of the circle, the 25 at the sideline and long hit marks to find your bearings. Too many times a keeper uses a marker like the penalty spot to find center. That’s fine if all your plays are two yards from the goal. As soon as you get farther than seven yards off your line, you have to look back to find where you are. A keeper never wants to look back to find where he is.

There are extremes to everything. The further out a keeper plays, the more net he or she covers, but at the price of less reaction time to save the shot. At the same time, the further out a keeper plays, the easier he or she is to pass around. Effectively playing angles means finding a balance between extremes and incorporating your strengths in to your positioning.

Good luck,


e-mail Jon

Please note that OBO together with Jon O’Haire hold copyright over any material appearing on tips pages. We welcome the printing and distribution of these tips, provided that they are not sold, or used for financial gain. This paragraph must appear on all printed or distributed copies. The photographs above must not be used in any form without express permission from Jon O’Haire.