Marshal your defence!

Whilst shot stopping is an important part of the game, being a vocal presence helps organise your defence, whilst helping you maintain concentration.

Whilst shot stopping is an essential part of the goalkeeping role, there is more to it than just that! Goalkeepers can often be quiet personalities (that’s not to say there aren’t eccentric or outward going members of the goalies’ union i.e. Bryzgalov of the Philadelphia Flyers; wrong sport but a good example!) and as such, can often be content with simply reacting to the game as it develops rather than orchestrating their defence. However, by organising the defence, the goalkeeper can quickly identify areas of attack, helping their team to play to a higher level. By taking command of their team and relaying instructions or pointing out unseen attackers who have managed to get in front of them (for example!), they show they are confident in their ability to read the game and take charge of the situation.


Whilst it’s difficult to show being vocal through pictures, here is James Fair watching the game and instructing his team.


Best view on the pitch

The goalkeeper arguably has the best view on the pitch. They can observe the game as it unfolds, reading the play to work out potential dangers and points of attack that could lead to scoring opportunities. With this significant advantage, the goalkeeper can use it to help their team out, identifying these dangers and telling them of them. If you were playing in defence, wouldn’t you want someone helping you out with advice on where the dangers are?! The more you help your team out, the more confident they will be with you in goal, knowing they can trust you to provide them with the support they need. Engaging in dialogue with their defence lets them know they are being helped.


Reading the play

Reading the play is an elite skill that helps you respond to changes in the game but needs analysing in more detail (so hopefully I’ll get round to writing an article on that at some point!). It is more obvious for a field player when making interceptions during a break in play, but for a goalkeeper, they need to be aware of all that’s going on in front of them. Watching games in person or video footage of games will help you learn to read the game as it happens in front of your eyes. Reading the play and being constantly aware of goal scoring opportunities will help you in being vocal; knowing what to say and when.


The silent goalie

The case of the silent goalkeeper is one that goalkeepers shouldn’t aspire to, but is a fairly common occurrence! For all their technical ability at stopping shots, their inability to be a commanding presence for their team hampers their chances of greater success. Whilst trying to tally up your success rate against a lot of shots, a better goalkeeper is one who looks to limit scoring opportunities by constantly feeding their team information. A silent goalie is more likely to face more shots and scoring opportunities because they are not commanding the game in front of them. A game involves team effort and by barking out orders, you are showing that you want to be part of the team and want to help them out.


Being involved in the game also helps with concentration. With this maintenance of your concentration levels, you stand a better chance of making the save when it matters. By being in tune with the game and not dropping off to sleep (which is an extreme but makes the point!) will also help you stay sharp and be able to make the save when an opportunity on goal occurs.


A vocal presence

The best weapon (if that’s a suitable phrase!) against the attacks of the opponents, is actually your voice. Aside from pointing by gesticulation (i.e. waving your stick in the direction of free attackers), the best chance you have of communicating with your team is obviously to talk to them. Watching international goalkeepers in action will show you the use and importance of the skill of being in dialogue with your team. James Fair (GB and England international) is a good example of a goalkeeper who creates a dominant presence with his voice, constantly barking out instructions to his team as he identifies goal scoring opportunities early on and tells his defence about them.


In the heat of playing a game and being on edge and nervous, it can be easy to forget the need to be vocal. When I was being coached as a deputy to an elite level goalkeeper, I was told that your defence often want to simply hear the sound of your voice so they know you are still there! Whilst you don’t want to slip into the trap of providing useless information, you still need to be constantly barking out orders as and when you see a breakdown in defence. The more involved you are, the more your defence and team can structure themselves towards each occurring threat.


When you notice an urgent need for your defence to react, you need to vocalise it. Here are some potential areas where you can be vocal:


  • Pointing out unmarked defenders who are in the D
  • Instructions for defenders (e.g. which side the attacker is trying to move them to)
  • Identifying attackers running in
  • Marking up against a team
  • Getting back quickly after a short corner in the opposing end


Be heard!

It’s difficult to be heard during a game, but you need to work on it and stick it out to help you develop your goalkeeping skills. The phrase “be heard by the other goalkeeper” is often used in coaching terms when describing the need to be loud. Essentially you need to be as loud as you can, potentially being heard from the other side of the pitch! Practise helps and learning to shout and raise your voice will obviously help (but be careful where you do it!). When I was learning the importance of shouting, I had to be heard over aeroplanes (with the pitch near an airport obviously!)!


Be in charge!

Ultimately, whilst it’s not always easy, the goalkeeper has to take it upon themselves to command their team. Shot stopping abilities only get you so far. The more you engage with the game, the more you show your team you are able to read the game and provide them with useful pointers to threats they need to deal with. By being a vocal presence, you will see an improvement in your concentration and the way you can reduce scoring opportunities.

Removing your helmet to help being vocal

Just a super quick article on removing your helmet to be more vocal like Ali McGregor does!

During the game, goalkeepers will often remove their helmet. This is because it gives them a better view of the action and also stops the helmet infringing on their shouting (which helmets often do!). If you ever watch Ali McGregor (GB and Loughborough Students no 1), he will very often remove his helmet when the ball is outside of his zone, so that he can heard clearly by his teammates when shouting out advice to them.




The reason goalkeepers like to remove their helmet for two reasons: a better view of the pitch and not being blocked when they shout. Extra vision means they get a better look at what is going on in the game, and they can therefore give better instructions to their defenders as to what to do (open players to mark) and where to go. Masks often block the mouth and therefore limit the sound the goalkeeper can make; muffling their voice when they shout. By removing the helmet, the goalkeeper can shout instructions at their defenders more clearly, so they are properly heard.



When you take off your helmet depends on where the ball is on the pitch: if it is just outside the D, then you’re obviously not going to take it off as a scoring chance could happen! When the ball is outside the half, it is safe to take off your mask. The further the ball is in the opposition’s zone (like their 16 or within their D), the longer the time you have to stand around without your mask on.


Putting it back on!

As soon as the ball gets outside of the opposition’s zone and towards yours, it is necessary to put your helmet back on. Make sure you do it instantly; putting it back on as soon as the ball comes loose and crosses your half into your zone, so that you have time to get ready and set in your stance before the opposition have the chance to score on you. You don’t want to leave yourself vulnerable to taking a shot off the head!



Passes Across The Back-Line

Defenders often like to pass the ball around the back of the pitch, in order to open up pitch space and allow for an attack through the middle; holding the ball and passing it amongst themselves to force the opposition to press forward (and thus making gaps appear). For this to happen, the goalkeeper must play their role in stepping out of the way!

If you do watch high level domestic (like the Hoofdklasse, Bundesliga, England Hockey League National Premier league games etc.) or international hockey, or happen to be able to, then something you will often notice the goalkeeper stepping into their own goal, as defenders stay deep, passing it amongst themselves, as they like for space in the midfield. At first this seems a little odd; why would the goalkeeper be intentionally stepping into his own goal during open play when their team has possession? Often, with a high press at work limiting the chance of moving the ball forward, or wanting to move the ball around at the back to the sides and start a play, your full backs will look to slap the ball between each other across the back of the pitch, in the attempt to entice the opposition forwards to come forward on attack and therefore open up space.


Although it sounds insignificant, it’s a very simple and effective tool that you can add to your game, to help your team; allowing your defenders more room to play the ball around, using the time and space available by staying deep to play the ball hard and fast across the field to test the centre, or begin an attack.


The ‘back-line’ pass

The back-line pass is essentially a pass made near the back line, with two defenders far apart, in each corner, knocking the ball back and forth amongst themselves (England’s international Richard Mantell, who plays his club hockey for Reading, is a great example of this, and was influential with it in the recent EuroHockey matches). A good slap hit allows the defender to move the ball with speed, power and accuracy a great distance; maintaining the team’s possession of the ball by playing it back and forth around the back of the pitch. Looking for a gap to open up in midfield, two defenders will often hang back and play consecutive long passes between themselves to take their time over opening up space for an attack, before releasing the ball to allow the moving forwards to penetrate the D.


However, for such an option to be available and successful, the goalkeeper needs to work with the team; if they are standing on their line in between the defenders, the option is not available! If you are standing on your line, you will end up being in the way! For the defenders to be able to maximise the space available to spread out a pass and open up playing space, they need to be given the room to do so. By stepping out of their way, you can give them the option to make pass across the back-line.


With the goalkeeper standing in the way of the passing option, the pass cannot be made.
With the goalkeeper standing in the way of the passing option, the pass cannot be made.


With the goalkeeper out of the way, the defenders are now free to make the pass; maximising the greater space provided as a result.
With the goalkeeper out of the way, the defenders are now free to make the pass; maximising the greater space provided as a result.


Moving out the way

To get out of your defender’s way, you can step backwards past the goal line and into the goal. Standing inside your goal will give your defenders more room to manoeuvre, playing the pass as near enough to the goal line as possible, to keep it deep. If they like to play it further away from the line, then you can just stand on the line if you wanted, out of their way. Once the pass has been made, you can obviously step back out of the goal and out to your normal standing position within the D. If your defenders want to pass the ball to each other again in this way, then all you have to do is repeat the process!