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Struggles of a NEW Goalie - By: Farrah Westfall

I didn’t grow up in a lacrosse hotbed in fact, lacrosse was not a school sport, unless you were at one of the fancy private schools. There were small local teams whose coaches came to elementary schools to teach about the sport, generate interest and attempt to recruit more players. I was exposed to lacrosse in fifth grade when one of these coaches came to my school -I played as a soccer goalie but was looking for something new to do and thought, ok this looks like fun- I asked my mom and the next week I went to my first practice. Because of the low numbers, the team was compromised of 5th-8th graders from numerous school districts, all put together to form a team. At the first pre-season tournament our goalie blew out her knee and we didn’t have a backup. Coach asked “ok, who wants to get in goal?”.  Nobody speaks up, but in my head, Im thinking it looks like a cool position, I get to wear cool gear and I don’t have to run cool… “count me in” I said. I get all dressed up, put the helmet on, get this huge stick and go into the cage. We get our butts whipped 22 to 0.

 

After the game coach says, “good job, you really stuck it out”, but everyone else walks off the field and ignores me. We drove home and I thought about what I did. I was taught that allowing 1 or 2 goals in as a soccer goalie was bad… detrimental. I felt terrible about my performance. This is where my anxiety starts …. I’m not good enough, I allowed way too many in. This anxiety controlled me. And to this day it still does.

 

The next practices while coach works on teaching offense, my job is to get in goal. Stand and wait. Take shots. Be target practice. I would go home covered in bruises, and I didn’t talk to anyone because my job was to stay in “goalie world”, I continued to try game after game …but we had a losing season, and no one would talk. Our end of season team party I’m awarded the overall MVP …. Yes. The fifth grader goalie who can’t make a save is awarded the MVP for staying in there and trying, the coach said without me, we wouldn’t have even been able to have had a season. The seventh and eighth grade girls roll their eyes. Nobody’s happy. “Why does she get to be the MVP?? She sucks….”. I overheard this and I began to question myself and my self-worth.

 

The following season was the same. There were no specific goalie drills. Nobody is talking. It’s just a beatdown, every game. I would come off the field upset at myself, my team wouldn’t talk to me, and I wondered why can’t I be better? Why is this a team sport if we are not going to act like teammates.  We finally got our first win. I felt like I was on top of the world. I made a few saves, but it was my offense who finally started scoring. I didn’t realize that 50% save rate was good! So, I started counting each ball I miss and save, I calculated in my head each game, shooting for at least that 50% save rate. I would be angry at myself if I didn’t achieve it, I would snap at my teammates because they didn’t listen to me on the field. No matter how I tried to speak to them, they ignored me. I was moody, I was mad when I walked off the field. If you’re angry, nobody talked, we just got dressed and all left.

 

I wasn’t good enough. I suck. I couldn’t make a save that meant anything. I could have 70% saves and It wasn’t enough to win. doesn’t matter if they scored or not, I wasn’t winning. I wasn’t making all the saves and it made me crazy because it’s what I wanted more than anything. This is how it was for the next couple years. Again, why am I here? What am I doing this for? I love the game, but the team morality was toxic.

 

At the end of eighth grade. I joined a club travel team playing with girls from all over the Houston area, including fancy private schools. Man did they have skills. I was one of two goalies, and the next thing I knew, the other goalie quit. OK, it’s just me, here we go again. My teammates were awesome and really, really good, but I still felt like the pressure was all on me to make that save. I was the last line of defense and even though I was getting faster and making some saves, I still felt intense anxiety to perform perfectly.  

When I got to high school there was a high expectation to perform and to lead, the previous goalie had helped lead the team to the playoffs and made all state, so my coach expected that I would do the same. But I was a freshman and had no idea how to lead this team. And there was no incentive from my teammates or coaches to help me get there. It’s almost as if they felt that I should do it alone, and often there was no support from the team. My first game we got crushed 15-2. It was tough walking off the field with my coach looking so disappointed in me. Even my older teammates seemed angry. And I wanted them to like me, but it felt like if I didn’t perform, they wouldn’t talk. What sucks about being a goalie was everyone would see it if I didn’t perform well. I internalized this feeling. I lived in my own head, I was timid; I was afraid. afraid of what they thought. I was angry all the time, confused why am I here doing all this giving my all and it’s not enough. It’s never enough. It was a vicious cycle. I lived in this for years.

I was told over and over that the goalies should lead their defense. We see the bigger picture on the field and know what’s going on. I tried to be more vocal to communicate clearly. But the more I spoke up, the less the defense listened. In practice there was no defensive or goalie specific training, so the team didn’t understand how to work with an assertive goalie. I became quiet in the cage and often felt isolated from the team because of it. I needed to be able to rely on just myself and I turned to wrestling. I joined my high school wrestling team. At first I saw lots of improvement and everyone was supportive. We were a small group of girls who stuck together. But this is where more issues began to arise. In wrestling you MUST make weight. I became obsessed with this. It gave me an eating disorder that I still deal with today. I was obsessed with the numbers, and I dropped 50 pounds in 3 months. I looked my best, but I felt the worst. People were praising me despite the negative consequences. I got slower not faster, I had no energy, often finding myself lightheaded and faint.

I wanted to get better. I was eager to get better, I found an eye hand coordination Goalie Coach in Houston-an hour drive away. She was a soccer goalie at a large D1 school and played lacrosse because they had started a new program and needed a goalie. She was awesome. She was my mentor. She gave me confidence that I was good enough. She worked on my visual acuity skills. She also told me that I had to eat to perform and that starving myself wasn’t the way to do it. We worked on neuro-eye-hand training. I got in goal 1:1 with her. She taught me about explosion. I went from 0 to 60 in two months and my performance improved dramatically. My confidence started to build. I felt like, Ok, I can do this.  

But, just a few short weeks later Covid hit. Everything stopped. I couldn’t go to practice, our season was cancelled, school was now online and to make it all worse, I couldn’t interact with people. There was only so much we could do and it just wasn’t the same. My bad eating habits creeped back in. I refused to eat. I was depressed, lonely and the only control I had was with my food.

When we were finally allowed to come back, our coach had left as had many of our teammates. This began the cycle of coaches, every year there was a different coach, making it hard to adjust to their expectations and coaching style. And because of covid, no one wanted to join any new sports, so our team had a hard time finding new people to play, and when we did, they were inexperienced. I felt very frustrated because I wanted to win. I played to win. Winning was everything to me because if we lost, that meant I failed my entire team. The cliques on the team stuck to each other and I felt isolated. I thought they didn’t like me because we didn’t win. I’m not important to them or the team. But in actuality, I was angry at myself and projected my own thoughts as if it was theirs.

When I got to my senior year, I was finally able to accept that what I was doing was important for the team, even if it wasn’t recognized by my teammates. Then this year when I came to UAH, I learned a lot about myself and this sport. I learned that there are some things that I just can’t handle alone, that I can’t control, but I can at least count on my teammates to have my back just as I have theirs. My coaches are amazing and very easy to talk to. They allow me to be me. They allow me to talk about my insecurities and why it was so important to spread the word about Goalies Matter. Because, we do! We may be “weird” or “insane” to the field players, but that’s what makes us even more awesome. We are different and there is nothing wrong with that!

There are so many things that I could talk about from what I learned as a goalie. But what I really learned from being a lacrosse goalie is that not everything is on me. It took me 7 years to learn that there are 11 other girls on the field and that I can only control what I can do. Lacrosse is a team sport, meaning that we win and lose as a team. If we lose, it’s because there were multiple things that went wrong and it cannot be placed on one individual.  

Bad days will happen. Bad practices will happen. Bad games will happen. It’s okay to not be 100 percent sometimes, we all have days where we struggle, we doubt ourselves and we feel like we are stuck. That is universal. But what is so special about Goalies Matter is that there is a network of goalies just like me who can identify with these struggles, and I know I am never alone.



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