uhlsport USA
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—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.

Good habits

My entry on indoor play prompted several emails. I'll state for the record that a page on indoor goalkeeping is on my To Do list. There are lots of variations (with hockey-style boards, futsal, and all kinds of one-off configurations of pitch and goal sizes. I haven't played them all, but I will try to provide general pointers for small-sided games. It'll come eventually, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

One writer says, "...it isn't always a bad thing to use your knees to save... like anything else, it is situational." This is certainly true. At the end of the day, your job is to keep the ball out of the net, and if you do that successfully very few will care how you did it. The writer says he plays indoor almost exclusively, and continues, "I find myself facing ALOT of close shots at full pace... sometimes, even in a good stance, the easiest way to make the save is to make a wall by dropping to my knees." Easy, yes. Best, probably not. There are lots of situations where you can take the easy way out, but it is far from the best technique (diving backwards comes to mind immediately). In a good stance, with feet staggered front-to-back keeping the five-hole closed, and hands low and wide, you should be able to stop just about any close-in shot without going to your knees, IMHO.

My other objection to this may not concern this correspondent if he doesn't play outdoors. Going to the knees indoors will develop bad habits for the 11v11 game outside. On a full field, where you have a larger goal to cover, going to your knees can put you in a bad situation in a hurry. Better to use techniques like the front smother that are more appropriate. Develop good stance and good habits that will serve you in any situation.


Jekyll and Hyde

One last observation about the other night's indoor game. Somehow I find myself behaving differently when in goal than when playing the field.

When goalkeeping, I tend to keep a very level head. I almost never celebrate big saves (although I imagine that might change if I ever stopped a PK to win a Cup title). I almost never say anything to the referee. I stay calm, cool and collected.

By contrast, I am much more emotional on the field, especially when I play up front. Celebrating big goals, the occasional regretted outburst at a ref. It's not quite a Jeckyl and Hyde thing, but I do feel different.

I think the difference is the responsibility of the position. As a keeper, you simply cannnot let anything rattle you. You have to be the rock of the defense. Your job is to settle, organize, and lead. You can't lose your head. And while it's not a great idea for a striker to get overly emotional during the game, the consequence of errors is much less. You can take risks, fly around, do the occasional stupid thing and get away with more.

The striker gets the glory for a game full of mistakes but one moment of brilliance. The goalkeeper gets the shame for a game full of brilliant saves but one soft mistake.


No knees

One flaw I see in many young or inexperienced goalkeepers is the tendency to drop to their knees to make a save. In fact, the goalkeeper of the indoor team we played last night did this a lot. He almost played hockey-style. That might be okay for a small indoor goal, but even so I think it led at least indirectly to all three goals he gave up. Outdoors, of course, getting stuck on your knees can be a disaster. And poor technique can be dangerous not just to your goal, but to yourself.

The keeper was athletic but technically poor. Just a few minutes into the game, he slid low to make a save. I went to jump over him, as soccer etiquette demands. But he "prairie dogged" on me and popped his head up and I just about took his noggin off. I tried to tell him, as he distributed the ball, what just happened and that if he went low, I'd go high, but I'm not sure he understood.

Then there was the knee business. On the three goals that I scored, he was on his knees before I took my final touch. That made him unable to move and react as well as he should have, and his armspan wasn't enough to cover the whole goal quickly enough.

In general, I find that going to your knees often is a sign of poor stance. Either your weight is back on your heels, you are too upright, or a combination of both. If you have your knees well bent and your weight forward, your hands should be in front and low where it's easy to collect the ball off the ground and stay on your feet. If it's a hard, turf-burning shot, a front smother is the recommended technique.


Goalkeepers are soccer players too

I just got back from a coed indoor match, and figured I'd blog some impressions while I wind down. And it will take a while, because I'm pumped from scoring a hat trick in a 3-0 win. We were short on guys, so our female keeper Michelle played goal and kept up her end of the bargain with a clean sheet. I got to make the most of my field time. Some of my teammates remarked they were surprised how good a field player I was. Well, I'm not that good, the brace of goals tonight notwithstanding. But I do work on my footskills, and take pride in demonstrating that goalkeepers are soccer players too. And even if you only play goal, good footskills are crucial for today's goalkeeper.

Nothing can help your defense out more than having an "extra" defender to provide support and drop passes. If your teammates have confidence they can pass to your feet, it opens up many new options. As a team, you also need to practice handling backpasses.

I also think a keeper should take a turn at playing striker. Getting to see the other side of the equation can really open your eyes to what sorts of things goalkeepers do to stop shots and make the attacker's life miserable, or the mistakes they make that you can exploit.

For example, even though my team dominated possession and shots in the first half, the opposing keeper did a good job and it was still scoreless at the break. I thought the keeper was getting a clear look at almost every shot we had, and suggested we get somebody in front to screen him a bit. Michelle commented that I was thinking like a keeper—knowing what keepers don't like and then doing it as an attacker.

Well, it worked on my second goal. I had the ball run on me a bit, so I just unleashed a vicious toe poke at the net from outside the area. There was traffic in front, and sure enough the keeper finally bobbled one and it slipped into the net. By all rights it never should have scored, but I think he saw it late and couldn't react.

So, keepers: whenever you get a chance, join a team with another goalkeeper so you can play field at least part time. See life from the other side. Coaches, especially of younger players: let your keepers play field regularly if at all possible. We need to work to develop soccer players, not just "goalkeepers".


The psychological side

The Guardian just loves goalkeepers! More this time on Chelsea stopper Petr Cech, from Marcus Christenson. Another reason for Cech's success is his ability to focus for 90 minutes, despite often not having very much to do. For keepers, the psychological side of the game is as important, if not more so, than the physical one.

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Been there, done that

It's been busy around here as the spring season gears up and I try to get my team and goalkeeping clients ready for their first games. Although I coach at one high school, I also train keepers for several other high schools. High school soccer teams seldom have a dedicated goalkeeper coach, or even anyone on the coaching staff who knows much about goalkeeping at all. But having a keeper coach you trust is a great asset for a netminder. Back at The Guardian, Gordon Strachan notes that "Struggling goalkeepers need to be saved by one of their own."

One of the key points in the article: "Most goalkeepers are big strong fellows who are mentally strong, but they need to be advised by someone who's been there and done that. Someone who can strip them back down to basics, practise the simple things and get them over the mental block."

It can be invaluable to have someone who knows what you're going through, somebody you have a relationship with, who you can call late of an evening to get something off your chest or talk you through a slump. Team coaches need to be aware of this, and don't begrudge your keeper the opportunity to seek outside help. In the long run, your goalkeeper—and your team—will be better off for it.


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