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.

Action bias among elite soccer goalkeepers

Action bias among elite soccer goalkeepers: The case of penalty kicks. Huh? What in the world does that mean?

A forthcoming study shows that most goalkeepers will pick a side (based on reading the shooter, gut feel, or just plain guessing) and dive there, when in fact the optimal strategy is to stay in the middle and react—as I often advocate, especially for younger players.

So why then do goalkeepers pick a direction and dive? That's the title of the article. There is a bias towards "action": i.e., doing something. The thought is that if you're going to get scored on anyway, you might as well get scored on while trying hard than just standing there doing nothing. Certainly, a keeper who never moves while the ball goes into the corner of the net doesn't usually provoke a positive reaction from teammates or coach.

However, almost 30% of the 286 penalties included in the study were struck to the middle third of the net, and the goalkeeper's chance of saving such a shot is about 60%, versus about a 25-30% chance of saving a shot hit to one side even when the keeper dives the correct way. So why dive to the side at all? Because "an identical negative outcome (a goal being scored) is perceived to be worse when it follows inaction rather than action." In other words, keepers are biased towards action.

The upshot of all this? I think it supports my theory of stopping penalty kicks: don't guess and dive, read the shooter and get a feel for where you think the shot will go, get prepared to go that way, but don't go too soon and leave yourself some ability to react after the ball is struck. That strategy works quite successfully for me, and I've saved more than my fair share of penalties struck down the middle.


A simple training tool

I find many more dropped balls are due to problems withe the eyes than with the hands. Often, keepers will take their eyes off the ball a split second before the ball is actually secured, leading to a bobble. Perhaps they are looking up to distribute quickly, or are worried about an onrushing opponent. But there is a simple practice trick to get keepers to focus their eyes.

Take a ball you will train with and get a permanent marker. On every panel, write a large capital letter. Most balls have 32 panels and there are only 26 letters, so to make up the difference also use the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8 (make sure to make your "one" and "letter i" look different).

Now, every time the keeper catches the ball, they must say aloud the letter facing them. This keeps the eyes locked in on the ball until well after the catch is secure.

This patented "Alpha-Ball" (not really, but I expect credit—and a small royalty—if you make a lot of money off this idea!) is a simple training tool for encouraging proper focus on the catch. Get your keepers into a good habit using this and I can almost guarantee fewer dropped balls.

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