What it feels like to face a breakaway as a goalie

By Charlie Snyder // usolympicteam.com // August 7, 2003

Field hockey’s Peggy Storrar remembers her first game in goal.

“I was in seventh grade and I was playing with a college club team,” she recalled.

“I couldn’t go to ice hockey camp because it was for boys only, so I played in the summer league for field hockey. I was small and they didn’t want me to get hurt, plus, they didn’t have a goalie, so they put me in goal.

“I had no idea any of the rules. I would just run around and kick the ball and foul about every five seconds because I was out of the circle. I just said to myself, ‘Get the ball, get the ball.’ And it was like five-to-nothing, but it was really fun and I was dirty and I loved it.

“That was seventh grade and I’m now 32. That’s a pretty long time.”

What it feels like to face a breakaway as a goalie

Matt Van Houten has been playing goalie for team handball for 18 years. For a sport where the balls fly at over 90 miles per hour, there is a certain lack of equipment.

“You can’t be afraid of the ball,” he explained. “You have to be a little crazy. You just have to be willing to sacrifice everything to help your team to get in front of the ball to make the saves. You have to be a certain kind of person, you can’t be squeamish.”

One of the keepers for the women’s water polo team is Nicole Payne, a silver medalist from Sydney and newly-crowned 2003 world champion. She’s not squeamish.

“I actually played on the guy’s team in high school, some of those shots that I faced were pretty ridiculous because we had a pretty bad defense. I love it. I think it’s fun when shooters throw the ball hard and you can make a save. That’s crazy, but it’s fun. The harder the shot the more you feel it when you block it, so the better it is.”

So what does it feel like to face a breakaway, when it’s all left up to the goalie? Let’s start with Ms. Payne …

”The first thing I do on a breakaway is to take a really, big, deep breathe,” she said.

“From there, it’s locating the ball with a really intense focus, eliminating the arm strokes of the swimmer who’s coming at you. Trying to elevate the body with your legs. Just maintain that focus on the ball. Usually it’s just one huge explosion from there.

“There’s so much time before you’re going to make your move. With a normal shot, you’re just reacting very quickly from a pass to a shot. But on a breakaway, you see them swimming at you and you have all this time to think … so you’re thinking and thinking and thinking, and then you narrow your focus and then you block the ball … and then it’s just this huge adrenaline rush that goes from wherever the ball hit your hand throughout your whole entire body and then it leaves.

In team handball, there is less time … no one is swimming or controlling a ball with a stick … they are running and running fast.

“If you save one out of 10 you’re doing really well,” said Van Houten. “It’s such an easy thing to score on. The person on offense can jump outside the six-meter line and fly through the air and almost just dunk the ball in the goal. They will most often jump and wait until you make a move, so it’s a waiting game.

“I’m just trying to wait, wait, wait until the shooter makes a move, then center myself on the ball and get as big as I can … spread my arms and legs and take up as much room as I can, cut off the angle, so I might get a piece of the ball. When you do, it’s exhilarating.”

Positioning, angles, great reflexes, courage, intensity, focus, craziness, sacrifice, flexibility … these are all common traits of a great goalie … but on a breakaway, sometimes all of those things go out the window.

“You have to pick up the pieces,” Storrar said. “You’re the last person there. You have to know what you’re doing or it’s going to be behind you.

“I try to read their speed and match my speed attacking them. I want to keep them to my strong side. So I set my body up to keep them to the right and then I just say, ‘Get the ball!’

“I love it because you can see it happening. A lot of times I’ll say, ‘Oh, here it comes. I can see it.’ You have about 25 yards before they get to you. A lot of times I’ll have those basics … then my mind’s blank and I just … get the ball…

”And I get it.”

This article appeared originally on usolympicteam.com.
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