uhlsport USA
"Outstanding keeper instruction. This is a must for goalkeepers and coaches."
—Ottawa Internationals S.C. web site, Ottawa, Canada

Goalkeeping Tips, Tidbits and Random Thoughts

An athlete talking to themsleves during competition is hardly a new phenomenon.... The talk does not have to be vocal. By merely thinking you are talking to yourself and sending a message.
   -- Tony DiCicco, Goalkeeper Soccer Training Manual

If you have a question, comment or rebuttal you'd like to see addressed here, send me email. I will post your mail to the blog at my discretion unless you specify otherwise.

Difficult when you dominate

Sometimes, the hardest situation to be in as a goalkeeper is when your team is dominating. It seems a bit counterintuitive, but having to make a diving reaction save or snuff out a breakaway after being mostly idle for 15 or 20 minutes is extremely hard mentally. The old saying about "98 per cent boredom, 2 per cent sheer terror" definitely applies to the job of goalkeeping. It certainly proved true for U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller in the second half of today's friendly against Venezuela. After the U.S. dominated in the second half, with Keller rarely seeing the ball, Kasey had to make a quick diving parry to his right late in the game to preserve the shutout.

And it can be critical if the game is close in spite of the lopsided run of play, as it often is in soccer. A quick counterattack goal by the opposition can let the other team back into the game or even give them the lead!

The way to combat losing focus when the ball is at the other end of the field for long stretches is to stay connected with your defense:

  • Stay at the top of the penalty area or even outside it and play sweeper/keeper. Be ready to cut out long balls over the top, and make yourself available to your teammates for backpasses. Make yourself part of the play.
  • Stay in communication. Don't stop talking to your defense just because there isn't and immediate threat. Make sure the defenders don't fall asleep as well and let an opposing forward go unmarked. At the very least, acknowledge them when they make a good defensive play in front of you.
  • Constantly scan the field and ask "what if?". Mentally prepare for counterattacks that look like they're developing -- try to read the play and determine where it might go in a worst-case scenario, and remind yourself what you would need to do in that situation. The play might never come through, but if you are prepared for the worst, you can't be caught off guard.


Last gasp for gloves

Here's a last-ditch way to make those old gloves last a little longer. If you are easy on your gloves (good technique, keep them clean) and have them around long enough, they will eventually start to lose their grip anyway as the softeners in the foam dissipate. Even after cleaning, they'll be slick and won't grip. If you want to get a little more use out of them, take a scouring pad (or even sandpaper or steel wool) and rub away the top layer of the foam. Decent gloves have foam several millimeters thick, so you can remove a fair amount without really damaging the glove. As the top layer comes off, you will expose the lighter, fresh foam underneath and regain a lot of the grip the gloves once had.

Obviously, the gloves will look a little worse for wear after this treatment, and you can only do it a few times. But it's worth it to get a few more weeks or months out of those expensive bits of latex.


Snow, snow, snow

Snow, snow, snow. So much that we can't even play indoors -- nobody can get to the arena! We have gotten a little over two and a half feet since Monday night, and the eastern half of Colorado is essentially shut down. I'm pretty hardcore about practices, and we play in the rain, in snow, in the cold. But today it's hard to walk to the street from your front door, much less run and kick a ball.

To keep this on topic, it is actually easier to train keepers than field players when there's snow on the ground. That's because the ball doesn't need to be on the ground; you can do lots of catching exercises. In fact, if there's snow around we will have some fun by trying to catch snowballs instead of soccer balls! It's a great way to work on cushioning (similar to using water balloons) -- can you catch a snowball without having it explode in a puff of powder? It also works on good hand position and getting two hands to the ball, so you can catch as much of the snowball as possible (rather than just catching half of it and having the other half hit you in the face).

Oh, and a tip for keeping your goalkeeper's hands warm on cold days: buy a pair of polypropylene glove liners, and wear them under your goalkeeping gloves. They are thin enough they won't make your grip too bulky, and the wicking material will keep your hands much warmer and drier.

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Unfortunately, the only goalkeeping highlights you usually get to see on TV and on the web are more like lowlights. So you can point out mistakes, but not good play.

An example is Pat Onstad's debut wiith the San Jose Earthquakes in the opening round of the CONCACAF Champions Cup against Municipal of Guatemala. San Jose went down 0-4 after 53 minutes, and two of the goals (at least from the short video clips available on mifutbol.com) appear to be blunders by the keeper.

Already down 0-1 in the 37th minute, Onstad sat back on his line and didn't attack what appeared to be an easy through ball. He ended up bobbling it right out to an attacker who buried the easy rebound. Coaching points -- don't wait for the ball, always be moving forwards toward it; focus and watch the ball all the way into your hands.

Just two minutes later, Municipal sends a long ball from their own half down the left side. As Carlos Figueroa collects the ball about 25 yards from goal (with a defender in hot pursuit), Onstad is already inexplicably 17 yards from goal. Figueroa has an easy lob over the keeper. Coaching points -- if you aren't sure you are going to get to the ball first, play it safe and stay on your line. If you do get into a true breakaway situation (and this wasn't, yet), don't leave your line so soon that you run out of penalty area (and the ability to use your hands!) before you get to the attacker.

And one final coaching point for unlucky Pat -- the game is over, so shake it off, recount what you learned, and be determined to do better the next time!



A poster in this thread over on the FineSoccer forum had a good analogy to explain why latex foam goalkeeper gloves work better when damp:

posted by Kyle on 13-3-2003 at 02:16 PM:
the purpose of spit, as I've mentioned before is that the glove uses foam for grip. The foam has tiny holes, exactly like a kitchen sponge. The holes are small and brittle when dry, but when you get them wet, they expand and get bigger and softer (just like a kitchen sponge again). The tiny wholes[sic] then act as tenticles like an octopus has. Spit will do the job, but water is easier.

I agree that water is easier (and more sanitary) than spit. You should always keep a water bottle with you in the net.


Goalkeeper control vs possession

I don't address this in the Laws page, but the question of when the goalkeeper has control of the ball and whether an attacker may challenge for it usually opens up a big debate. Law 12, IFAB Decision 2, states that "The goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball by touching it with any part of his hand or arms," but in many ways that only confuses the issue. See what experienced referees have to say about the matter in this thread and this thread both about "Control vs Posession".


Common breakaway mistakes

I did some work yesterday with several U15 keepers on breakaways, and then saw a few of them happen during an adult men's friendly I played in today. I saw two common goalkeeping mistakes during breakaways in both situations that usually led to a goal being scored. This may be a bit of rehash from the breakaway page, but it deserves repeating.

The first mistake is going down too soon. Staying on your feet as long as possible is one of Tony Waiter's key considerations, and it certainly is central to the art of goalkeeping. A goalkeeper should only leave their feet as a last resort, and in a breakaway situation should only go for the ball when they're 100% sure they will get it. A keeper who goes down to soon is easy prey for a striker who will simply chip the prone keeper or pull the ball back and round them to deposit the ball in an empty net. England's Michael Owen scored just such a goal against Brazil in their 2002 World Cup quarterfinal match. Brazilian goalkeeper Marcos went down far too early, and Owen simply chipped the ball right down the middle to put England up 1-0.

The second mistake is getting too close to the shooter. Once again, a smart attacker will simply cut around the keeper for the score. After the initial hard charge out, the goalkeeper needs to begin slowing their approach 5-8 yards away from the attacker, and close to no closer than two arm-lengths away. This will put the keeper close enough to cover the angle and avoid being chipped, but still have enough cushion that the attacker can't easily dribble by them. My counterpart who took over for me in goal in the second half of today's friendly made this mistake, and was punished for it. (The game ended in a 2-2 draw, FWIW).

Remember that in a breakaway situation, the goalkeeper is the last defender, and a defender's job is to delay, not necessarily to get the ball. To delay effectively you have to stay on your feet and the proper distance in front of the attacker. That's why my first breakaway training session doesn't even allow for diving or sliding in. Teach them to stay on their feet first and you'll be much better off.


Quality of service

On Fridays, I hold the beginner (U11 and U12 competetive) goalkeeper training sessions for our club. I have 10-20 keepers to work with each session. So I often have them working with each other in pairs or small groups, and I move from group to group. But since I can't be working with them individually, one of the biggest problems I have in training this age group (and, obviously, U9s and younger) is quality of service.

Even with older kids, I have to remind them that we are not at keeper training to score goals... we are there to work the goalkeepers. The quality of the training they can get on any given technique is directly related to the balls served to them. Different types of balls work different skills, and the height, direction and pace of the serve must be correct if the goalkeeper is going to get anything out of it.

U12s and younger, even advanced kids simply don't have the skill to serve precise balls with their feet. The basic technical work is almost always done with service out of the hands, and even then it can be uneven. Especially with boys, who delight in trying to fake one another out and score in the corner, when all I want is a nice slow toss... roll eyes. I often insist that the serve be two hands, underhanded, with explicit instructions on where to throw it. Having the keeper being worked hold a hand out or up, or placing a cone, to indicate where the ball should be served is very helpful. Even then, I may need to step in and serve a few balls properly to help a young keeper get things right.

For example, for training the collapsed dive, have the keeper extend their arm straight out to the side they are going to dive to. The serve should be just beyond the keeper's outstretched hand and about waist high.

As the practice moves along and we get more into match-related exercises, kids can start kicking balls at the keepers, but again with instructions on how to serve it. It certainly adds more realism to the exercise. I may also step in, and make a lot of the serves myself with keepers rotating into goal quickly. If you can find an assistant or two who can accurately serve the ball, so much the better! The better the quality service, the better the training.


When to specialize at goalkeeper

A recent thread over on SoccerCoaching.net brings up, once again, the issue of when a goalkeeper should specialize in the position. There were previous discussions on the same topic, but slightly different scenarios, here and here.

In general, I don't think keepers should completely specialize until about high-school age, U14 or U15 and older. Keepers need to be able to play soccer, not just tend goal, and they'll never develop that if they're stuck in the net all the time. A quote from a keeper coach I read recently (I think in Tony DiCicco's new book, Catch Them Being Good -- which, by the way, I highly recommend especially if you coach girls) was that if he saw a goalkeeper playing a small-sided game with a bunch of field players, he didn't want to be able to tell which one was the goalkeeper.

If you have the luxury of having more than one kid who wants to play in goal, take advantage of it! Rotate them through. And when they're old enough to start specializing, make sure they want to play goal more. And on occasion, even if just in practice, have some field players step into goal. You might be surprised and find a diamond in the rough. Many goalkeepers (including myself) didn't even play in goal until a little later on, in their teens.


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