Field hockey is a game characterised by intense bursts of speed, the sudden development of explosive plays, and patient, careful, strategic teamwork. All these elements must come together to create a game that flows smoothly from start to end. While the strikers battle against the defenders over control of the ball and who will be able to go on the attack, there is another player of far greater importance to the final outcome: the goalie.
Just as in football and ice hockey, the goalkeeper plays perhaps the most vital role on the team: ensuring the opposing team never has the opportunity to score a goal. That's easier said than done, but before you can take up your position in front of the net to guard it with vigilance, you'll need the right gear.
As a special member of the team, the goalkeeper gets some different equipment, and your kit will necessarily have some variations away from those of your teammates. Are you planning to suit up and start trying your skills as a defender in this exciting game? You'll need to know what should go on your shopping list first. Here's everything you need to build up the essential field hockey goalkeeper's kit.
Choosing a helmet to keep your head safe
The helmet is one of the most essential items in your entire kit, and it's not difficult to see why. No one wants to take a blow to the head, especially not in the context of field hockey. To help protect against concussions and other head injuries, a helmet that fits properly should be one of your top priorities. The crucial piece of information that will help you select the ideal helmet is the circumference of your head. This measurement will allow you to select a helmet of appropriate size. Ensure that the protective bars on the helmet preserve enough of your vision to let you make the important plays.
When fitting a helmet, choose one that leaves no large gaps between your skull and the protective elements of the helmet. In this way, it is very similar to the way choosing a bicycle helmet works. Your chin straps should not cut into your skin, nor should you feel overly uncomfortable once you don the equipment. It may take several tries before you find a helmet that suits your needs and matches your preferred comfort level.
Fitting a mouth guard that's comfortable and functional
As important as a helmet is at protecting your head, it can't do much to protect your teeth from the jarring impacts you might experience as a field hockey player. While goalies are not as often in the direct line of fire from player to player impacts, it can happen ? and strikes from the ball are a hazard, too. That?s why purchasing the right type of mouth guard is an essential step in assembling your kit. What are the main attributes you should watch for as you shop?
First, choose guards created explicitly for field hockey. A mouth guard of this type translates to more impact protection for the front of the mouth, rather than the molars. If possible, choose a custom mouth guard. This will require a fitting session that may involve taking a mould of your mouth. While it is an extra step, what you gain in comfort and protection will be worth the effort. It can improve your game, too: some studies indicate that by creating a more relaxed position for the mouth, mouth guards can boost focus and allow you to get in the zone.
Basic body gear: from throat protectors to chest guards
As we move further down from the head, we start to enter the realm of gear that is truly adapted just for the goalie position. Taking a shot to the neck from an errant stick or the ball in play is probably not your idea of a good time. That's where a throat protector comes in ? it acts as a padded scarf that fits between your chest guard and your helmet. It should provide a snug, seamless fit but it shouldn't leave you feeling unable to turn your head or breathe comfortably.
Again, this is an item you'll want to spend some time trying on at the store. The chest guard can be tricky ? you want plenty of protection, which usually comes in the form of rigid foam plating sewn into the clothing. At the same time, you want to maintain the right level of flexibility to allow you to make saves when necessary. Balance these two elements while you make your choice, and recognise that a top-shelf guard may provide the best protection, but it could fail to deliver on mobility.
Pay attention to the fit and function of your girdle
Girdles for goalies can be a challenge for mobility, too. The good news is you won't often need to rush out to midfield to assist in a play; the bad news is that too much protection can still limit your ability to cover the goal. When you select your pants and girdle, choose something that provides support in the areas you need while also being close to your body. It should allow you to maintain proper movement, even with added padding. Look for girdles that have more foam plates and strike protection zones, as these tend to break up the padding into manageable sections. The result is protection that you can count on when you have to block shots with your body and the mobility it takes to get into position to make that play. Avoid girdles that do not cover your entire midriff ? you'll quickly find that you wish you had a pad there.
The legs need protection from tough hits, too
Leg guards belong in your kit, but you don't need to spend too much time comparison shopping. By and large, there isn't much innovation to be found in this item of equipment. You won't take many shots to the legs directly, and those that do should deflect easily off an appropriate set of leg guards. What you should focus on while protecting your lower body, however, is your feet. A good set of kickers to cover your shoes will go a long way towards staving off soreness and bruising.
As a goalie, try to invest in several sets of kickers to distribute the wear and tear they will experience. One bonus to choosing kickers that you love: they can really help improve your game as a goalie. Some on the market specifically advertise themselves as offering a "high rebound" ? which can be an important play in your arsenal of goalie tricks.
Don't forget the stick and gloves
As you choose a stick, remember that longer is better in a defensive position such as the goalie. A longer stick allows you better reach and the opportunity to make a play on the ball before it becomes a threat to the goal. One of the easiest ways to determine if a stick is the right length is to tuck it into the crook under your arm. How far down your body does the stick extend? It shouldn't go further down than the area around your knee. Be sure to choose a stick that gives you a good feeling of control.
Protecting your hands is essential as well. Thankfully, there is no big secret to choosing gloves ? just prioritise comfort and mobility as in other areas of your kit. You should feel confident in your grip while also avoiding unnecessary exposure for your hands. You can expect to take plenty of hits there, especially as you block, so an appropriate amount of padding should be on your shopping list.
Start building out your kit today
While most field hockey players take to the pitch without too much protective gear on, goalies get to armour themselves as if they were a tank. When you consider the threats that might come at them in a typical game, it makes sense! As you assemble your kit, remember that none of these items are truly non-essential. A throat guard, for example, can be uncomfortable to adapt to wearing at first. The first time it stops a shot from injuring you, and saves the goal at the same time ? you'll be glad you took the time to pick one. Review these items, make your shopping list, and don't forget to ask questions when you're picking out gear.
This article was written exclusively for Sports Fitness, where you can shop for a range of hockey gear including sticks, mouth guards and more.