If one’s idea of a fun time is standing and roaming an area of about 200 square yards for 80 minutes, look no further than being a goalkeeper on a soccer team.
For the Dixie Flyers (5-2-1), they have senior Ethan Poulton, the team’s net-minder and one of the Flyers’ captains.
In youth soccer, hardly anyone ever wants to play goalkeeper. Nearly everyone wants to score goals.
“I guess I was the exception,” Poulton said.
Despite common misconceptions about soccer being a boring sport and goalkeeper being a dreadful position, there’s a lot to it.
One minute, a keeper might be standing with his or her heels on the 18-yard box, watching his or her team control possession and get shots off left and right.
The next minute, that same keeper who’s had nothing to do for 30 minutes might be called into action on a counter attack out of nothing. Keepers need to be ready.
Instead of endurance training like the other players, keepers primarily train their reflexes and explosive ability so they can react as quick as possible to dive and stop a shot at a moment’s notice.
But Poulton says you have to keep training them.
“You can build them, but a lot of it is you either have it or you don’t. It’s one of those things you can lose very quickly,” Poulton said.
What else makes a keeper? Poulton and Flyers coach Burt Myers say mental toughness is critical.
“It costs games if (keepers) make mistakes, and so you’ve got to have a certain type of self-esteem, ego, confidence, all those things,” Myers said.
“The hard thing is definitely the mental portion of it, especially if you get scored on. If you get down after you get scored on, that’s going to reflect on everyone,” Poulton said.
Dixie’s defense isn’t as polished as it was during last year’s state-title winning season. Through the first eight games, the Flyers gave up four goals. Through eight games this season, they’ve given up 11.
Part of it is due to three of last year’s four starting defenders graduating.
The other part is Poulton learning how to be a leader with so many underclassmen on the team, which he says is the biggest change from last year.
Another part might be the fact that goalkeepers routinely have to stand in the way of head-size soccer balls traveling 40-plus miles per hour and either deflect or catch them.
British soccer commentators often use the expression that a keeper “must feel like he’s facing a firing squad” when opposing teams score a lot of goals or otherwise pepper a keeper with lots of shots.
There’s a lot of potential for a rough day without the instant gratification of scoring a winning goal.
The reward, as Myers says, is something along the lines of a First-Team All-State mention.
“Even if I don’t like it some of the time, I know this is what I was born to do,” Poulton said.
One look at Poulton and it’s not hard to imagine why he might make for a good keeper. Poulton stands at 6-foot-4, a good height to protect the 8-foot-high goal.
In youth soccer before he grew to his current height, Poulton already had a necessary quality for a keeper.
“I always hated getting scored on,” he said.