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GOALKEEPER COACHING
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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.

The best?

There is a poll over at the BigSoccer forum asking "who is the best goalkeeper in the world today?"

It's interesting to note that after more than 1600 responses, "other" appears to be leading by a nose over Buffon. I guess he poll is perhaps a bit out of date as it was originally posted in 2005, and there are up-and-coming keepers who have become established since then, but there is still a good bit of current discussion going on.

"Best" is, unfortunately, a misleading term, as well. Best what? Best shot-stopper? Best at organizing a defense? Most wins or success (which is dependent on the team in front of them)? I don't think anyone can be "best" at everything. Focus on making your strong points stronger, and minimizing your weaknesses. Not everything can be a strength.

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Well, it's a soccer ball, anyway...

Only slightly to do with soccer and hilariously dated, but there is some "goalkeeping": The Commodores. Spotter's badge to Chewie over at The Glove Bag.

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More than football

To paraphrase Phil Jackson: There's more to life than football. There's also more to football than football.

West Ham keeper Rob Green went to Africa this summer for a charity that uses football to get its message across.

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The howling wind

Ever thought you played on an incredibly windy day? Try this.

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Great coaches are great communicators

Business guru Seth Godin writes:

"It's really easy to insist that people read the friggin manual. It's really easy to blame the user/student/prospect/customer/[player] for not trying hard, for being too stupid to get it or for not caring enough to pay attention. Sometimes (often) that might even be a valid complaint. But it's not helpful." (more....)

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Evaluating goalkeeping talent

How well do most coaches evaluate goalkeeping talent? IMHO, not very. Of course, it happens across the board, to field players, and athletes in all sports. The bust #1 draft pick, or the walk-on who ends up being the All-Star. It certainly is true of soccer players, as a poster in a thread over on BigSoccer notes:
Too many coaches cannot analyze the talent before them and as a consequence pick the wrong players, pick the wrong things to work on with the players they chose and pick the wrong tactics to use with theplayers they have.
...
Until we develop better coaches, coaches with the analytical tools needed and with the philosophical underpinnings necessary to understand the game we will not develop the players with these skills.
Two personal anecdotes lend credence to this for goalkeepers particularly. There are two girls I have trained for several years, both outstanding goalkeepers, solid fundamentally, smart, vocal, and strong. Both seemed mired in mediocrity in their clubs, being stuck on the 3rd teams, in spite of my opinion that they were the best keepers in their age group.

The first moved to another club when a coach who could recognize a good keeper convinced her to jump... and she promptly made the top team at this much larger club. Tonight I saw her play her first match with her new teammates; she was nervous and ecstatic at the jump in play, and I'm sure she will be up to the challenge.

The second keeper attended Star Goalkeeper Academy this summer where I was coaching. After the first day, the camp director invited her to join the Premier campers even though she wasn't signed up for the top group. Not only did she join them, she excelled, and the director told me he felt she was one of the strongest keepers there.

[Update, 18 months later, 2/9/08: The first keeper ended up winning State Cup with her new team... ironically against her old club's first team. Not only that, the victory was in a penalty shoot-out, and she was selected the game MVP! She is now playing Division I college soccer on a scholarship. The second keeper has moved up to the second team, and the first team coach has said he made a mistake in not choosing her. She will be the starting keeper for her high school team this spring as a sophomore.]

In both cases, these goalkeepers were overlooked by those who had no clue what they were looking at. Those with goalkeeping knowledge, however, got it right. What is it that you need to know? The BigSoccer poster (a coach and goalkeeper in his own right) summarizes it well:
I think most club coaches do not understand keepers. They do not understand the mental make up that is necessary; they do not understand that positioning is often as important as technique in catching and controlling the ball; and, they do not understand that distribution is as critical as being able to position players on defense.

In short, they can tell the difference between a shot blocker and a goal keeper.
Orignal post date: 8/10/06

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Brazilian

Brazilian. Almost every soccer player who isn't would like to be. Even if you aren't, you can at least give yourself a Brazilian-sounding name, with the help of BrazilName.

The Guardian used it to show how how soccer can explain the US elections, with the Democrats fielding Hillisco and Barildo, while the Republicans lined up with Giulianson, Huckerbea, Mccaincha, and Mildo.

I personally was christened Benjamão or Jeffrincha, but I prefer the Spanish transliteration of "Jefe", or barring that, just the one name "Jeff".

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Goalkeepers vs Shot-Stoppers

Goalkeepers vs shot-stoppers. Which are you? More importantly, which one are you training to be?

All goalkeepers are shot-stoppers. It's the core of our job on the soccer field: keeping the ball out of the net. But not all shot-stoppers are good goalkeepers in the broadest sense of the word. A true goalkeeper is a communicator, an organizer, a leader, a general, an attacker as well as a defender.

Take time in training to develop other aspects of your game beyond just shot stopping. Work on communicating with your teammates clearly and concisely so you can organize and lead. Study the game tactically so you can be a "general" on the pitch. Work on your distribution skills so you can help your team attack as well as defend. Train to be a real goalkeeper, not just a shot-stopper.

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Three things you need for coaching success

I run my own training business, so I read some business stuff as well as soccer stuff. Seth Godin just made a blog post on small business success that made me go, "Wow"... and then I realized it applied to success in coaching as well. It's short, so I hope he doesn't mind if I quote it here:
Three things you need:
1) the ability to abandon a plan when it doesn't work,
2) the confidence to do the right thing even when it costs you money in the short run, and
3) enough belief in other people that you don't try to do everything yourself.
If you're a coach, just replace "money" in #2 with "wins".

Coaches, how many of you have all three things?

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Safety first

As well as being a keeper coach, I am a referee. Now, as a player and coach I see plenty of poor referees as well, so even if the referee doesn't see something or doesn't make a call, you need to know how to keep yourself safe. BTW, that does not mean threatening or taking cheap shots at opponents. That's just playing down to their level. Here are a couple things you can do so the referee is never an issue:

1. Catch the ball cleanly! I know it's not always possible, but goalkeepers who always fumble and bobble the ball are opening themselves for challenges in a dangerous situation. Often (ref hat on here), I have keepers bobble the ball and then complain loudly when it gets knocked "out of their hands". Well, if the ball is being bobbled around on the ground it's not under control and subject to being challenged. As a ref, I am the first one to protect the keeper once they've secured the ball, but it it's loose I can't help you. Make a clean catch and you won't have to worry about it.

2. Learn proper technique for dives and especially breakaways. Lead with your hands, protect your face and midsection, stay square to the field, go forward through the ball and past the pressure. Doing these things will not only help you keep the ball out of the net better, but help keep you from being injured in situations where the ref either makes no call, or it is a 50/50 challenge and there's no call to be made.

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Hardest shot ever

How would you like to be in the net facing a shot of 80 miles per hour? 90mph? Over 100 miles per hour?! The Guardian gives us The hardest recorded shot in football - ever: 114mph (183kph) by David Hirst, Sheffield Wednesday, in 1996.

Good thing it hit the crossbar.

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Snowmobiles and canoes

Not goalkeeping related, but with the blizzard here shutting everything down for a day or so, I saw an unusual sight today. While I was out shoveling snow, a guy on a snowmobile drove past down the middle of the street.

The only thing more incongruous was almost 10 years ago when we had a flash flood, and we were paddling a canoe around in the front yard.

I live on a nice residential city street. Not the kind of place where snow machines and canoes are regular types of transportation.

Oh, and happy solstice everybody!

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Even the pros make blunders

Down after having a horrible match? Even the pros make blunders. Watch this series of goalkeeping blunders to make yourself feel better.

Poor clearances, mishandled backpasses, and just plain butterfingers by the best in the world: Lehman, Kahn, Barthez, Buffon, Schmeichel. They're all there, and they're all too human.

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Tips for coaching courses

Taking a USSF or NSCAA coaching course any time soon? As posted on the and-again.com forum, here are my top five tips for passing your practical coaching session.

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Most-used books

Every coach has, or ought to have, a library of books, video tapes and other resources that they draw on. Whether it's learning about new tactics, getting drill and game ideas, or trying to motivate their players, there are experts out there who have knowledge to share. Here are my top five most thumbed-through coaching books:


  • Soccer's Dynamic Shortsided Games, Caruso
    An outstanding collection of games (not drills) from top coaches at all levels.
  • Soccer Goalkeeper Training Manual, DiCicco
    A top-notch treatise on goalkeeping with info on penalties, psychology and college soccer as well as technique and tactics.
  • Coaching Women's Soccer, Stokell
    Not just for coaches of females, Stokell's book offers a different approach to training through the use of the freegame and restrictions.
  • Training Soccer Champions, Dorrance
    Again, you don't have to coach females to get a lot out of this book. The North Carolina Women's Soccer legend gives his insight into coaching psychology and a look at the "Competitive Cauldron".
  • Positive Coaching, Thompson
    An outstanding book on coaching youth applicable to any sport. The ideas in this book eventually sparked the Positive Coaching Alliance.

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Watch as many games as you can

A while back I made a post about how you should watch a soccer game. But that doesn't do any good if you aren't watching any games at all. If you want to improve as a coach or player, you should watch as many soccer games as you can, either on television or live.

I've thought this for a long time, but it hit home with this brilliant post over on BigSoccer.

A problem with American players is that they don't, or can't, watch a lot of high-level soccer. As a result, they often fail to see the "big picture" of the game. Unless you get cable, you are limited to a very few games on TV, and even basic cable (ESPN and ESPN2) only gives you a few more games during the MLS season. More and more people have access to channels like Fox Soccer Channel or GolTV, but even lack of opportunities should be no excuse. You should be craving games to watch, and seeking them out wherever and whenever you can. If you think soccer is "boring" to watch, you are not seeing a big part of the game. Look for the patterns, the big-picture tactics, and—especially live—watch what happens away from the ball. Try to predict what will happen, or should happen, two to three passes from now. Then try to take what you've learned out on the field with you.

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Measuring effectiveness

How do you measure the effectiveness of a goalkeeper? In a sport like soccer, there aren't a lot of stats anyway, so it's harder to get some objective measure of a player. Even with goalkeepers, where you have objective stats like Goals Against Average and Save Percentage, there are other factors that can affect these numbers. How good is the defense if front of the keeper? How many of the shots faced are routine versus difficult to save?

If you're statistically minded, there's an interesting thread on the subject over at BigSoccer in the "Statistics and Analysis" board: Making Sense of Save Percentages. It discusses how you can try to take these other factors into account to get a "true" objective measure of how good a goalkeeper really is. I doubt you'll ever get there (for example, the ability of a keeper to deal with crosses is critical but never factors into shot statistics at all), but it's a start.

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Campeones!

Gotta have some championships on your resume, even if it's just in your local coed indoor league. We managed to pull of the league championship tonight with just five players:

Tremors, League Champs

What's the big deal about just five players, some of you might ask? Well, it's a six-a-side league, so we played short-handed the entire match. We had to play smart, and even in goal I handled the ball with my feet more than my hands, which was a key to keeping possession and controlling the tempo of the game. Keepers, work on those footskills too! I actually only played in goal half the time, and finished the season with six goals (in just 4-1/2 matches worth of field time) and three assists (all while in net).

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Look ma, no hands!

While many different types of players can become successful goalkeepers, I suppose there are some physical limitations that might make it difficult to play in goal:

In the Bleachers by Steve Moore (from www.ucomics.com)
7/5/05

In the Bleachers 7/5/05

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What the game is all about

We all know why we play the game of soccer... the grit, the glory, the delight at a well-turned move or brilliant pass, the emotion, and just the fact that it plain feels good to kick or catch a ball. But what satisfaction is there in being a coach, or even a referee? People in those positions do just as much, if not more, work than the players, yet get less recognition and more grief (especially in the case of the ref). There is an old saying that a coach never gets enough credit when a team wins, and too much credit when it loses.

Tonight, some of the reasons I coach and ref were apparent. I was reffing a game that featured a number of players I formerly coached. It was great to see them still playing—and playing well—and I had the best seat in the house to watch a very good soccer game. When the players came up and thanked me after the game, I was pleased to have been a part of the match. The players truly were grateful I was there, and it feels good to be able to help the sport.

But the coaching payoff was yet to come. One of the young ladies I used to coach came up to chat for a few moments after the game. I had coached her for one year and saw her rise rapidly through the ranks, playing for very good teams both in club and high school. I hadn't coached her for three years, yet she made it a point to tell me she thought I was the best coach she'd had, and that she still remembered and used much of what I'd taught her.

That is a compliment of the highest order. I think... I hope... every coach strives to make a difference, to make an impact on a player's life. Anson Dorrance talks about his joy at being invited to former players' weddings, to be included in that person's world. Whether it's on or off the soccer field, we all want to be remembered. And when that happens, there's no greater feeling. That is what being a coach is all about.

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Pig Ball

'Pig-Ball' Soccer Match Staged in Russia. My only question is, how do mashed carrots affect the grip of goalkeeping gloves?

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Evaluation and treatment of injuries

Well, the hamstring is recovering slowly. Rehab still sucks. But during some discussions the other day, somebody raised the issue of dealing with injuries on the field. As a coach or player, how do you evaluate or treat an injury?

First of all, realize there is very little you can do without professional training. Evaluation is limited and there is really only one course of treatment you can prescribe (which does make life less complicated!).

Injury Evaluation

Observe the injured area. Is there any obvious sign of injury such as swelling, bruising, or blood? Ask the player what they experienced: twisting, impact, or something else? What were their symptoms and pain? Once the player is to the sideline, test for return to play by finding out if they can put weight on the injured limb, then walk, jog and run. If the player's gait or movement is at all hindered, better to play it safe and keep them out. Note: if there is any suspected head or neck injury, DO NOT move the player! Call emergency services and wait for an ambulance.

Any injury that does not improve within a couple of days should be evaluated by a physician, as should any injury that severely impairs function. Don't skip out on this! An untreated injury can get worse, especially if it's not what you think it is. My therapist told me about a guy who thought he just had a "knee bruise". When he finally got it looked at a couple of weeks later, it was so stiff and swollen that his torn ACL was misdiagnosed, and it was months before they figured out what really happened and got him into surgery. By then, his chances of every being back to 100% had greatly diminished, and he probably had reduced function in that knee forver. Is that worth saving a few bucks on a visit to the doctor?

Injury Treatment

There is one course of treatment that will help almost all injuries to an extent, and not cause harm for any. It goes by the acronym RICE:

Rest: take the injured part out of service for a while to let the heading process start.

Ice: icing the injured area will help control swelling and pain. Apply ice for a period of about 20 minutes, 20 minutes off, apply ice again for 20 minutes, etc.

Compression: wrapping the injured area also helps control swelling. Elastic bandages or neoprene sleves can be used.

Elevation: get the affected area up above the level of the heart, to decrease initial blood flow and again help control swelling and fluid buildup.

Beyond that, you can take over-the-counter NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen to help relive pain and some swelling. One thing to avoid immediately after an injury is heat. Do not apply heat except at the direction of a doctor. Any further course of treatment should be presribed by a physician.

The bottom line when it comes to injuries: be cautious about returning to play, use RICE, and see your doctor!

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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".

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Academy Awards

With the Academy Awards come and gone, perhaps we can look forward to a few upcoming soccer-related movies getting an Oscar next year. Hollywood is finally waking up to the appeal of the world's most popular sport, says the Guardian.

Let's hope we get a better goalkeeper role than Sylvester Stallone in Victory.

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On the cover

The Mail has a great toy on their Football on Sunday page. "Brighten your day and wind up your mates with results and stories the way you want them to read this weekend," it says, and allows you to make up a front page with your favorite Premiership team, your own headlines, your own game score and story. And with a bit of Photoshop skill on the back end, you can really personalize it for your favorite keeper:

Football on Sunday

Okay, the lighting doesn't quite match, but not bad for a quick hack. Lots of fun!

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Point guards and shortstops

I have heard it said that if your team lacks a goalkeeper, recruit a point guard or shortstop. Both positions, for basketball and baseball/softball respectively, require good hands, quick feet and a sharp mind. Shortstops also have no fear of diving for balls. Well, I got to see that old saw put into action tonight.

My high school JV team was playing indoors and the normal keeper likes to get some field time too. So another girl volunteered to play goal for a half. This girl also plays softball, so I asked her what position. "Shortstop," she said. "Perfect!" I replied. She did an excellent job in a difficult game where we were overmatched. The only disconcerting thing was seeing her scooping up a rolling ball as if she had a baseball glove on. I must say the goalkeeping technique is a bit different....

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Inside the lines

If you ever pop over to The Guardian Unlimited's soccer pages, you may notice a regular feature called The Gallery. People do PhotoShop-ed send-ups of various soccer figures each week. Goalkeepers, of course, don't get off the hook. There are galleries of Oliver Kahn, Jens Lehman, Fabien Barthez, David James and David Seaman along with those of players, coaches, owners and even referees.

The most recent contest was a goalkeeper again, Roy Carroll. At the risk of trouncing all over professional courtesy towards my fellow goalkeeper, I submitted a Carroll spoof that I thought was quite brilliant. And the Guardian agreed! My entry won a prize!



"If Roy Carroll can't keep things inside the lines, why should I?"

(With all due respect, I'm sure I've made many more howlers than Carroll. Mine are just a little lower profile.)

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Analogies to other sports

Analogies to other sports are something I use when coaching. Basic athletic techniques from many sports share much in common with soccer—especially goalkeeping. Stance, balance, sprinting, and catching are common elements. I have several analogies I use regularly.

  • Going back on a ball hit over your head is done much like a baseball outfielder would do it. You go back using a crossover step and keep your head and shoulders as square to the field as possible in order to see and track the ball.
  • In order to fully cushion the ball when catching, the keeper needs to have their hands out and ready, arms extended, to meet the ball and draw it in using the elbows to take the pace from the ball. This is a bit like the reverse of setting up for a tennis or racquetball stroke: the racquet must already be back and prepared before the ball arrives to transfer the power to the ball effectively.
  • When coaching dribbling to field players, space must be exploited quickly when it opens up. The dribbler must "explode" through any gap or past defenders, much like an American football running back must "hit the hole" hard in order to get past the first line of defense into the clear.
  • Field players need to learn to be dynamic in front of goal in order to get open to score. I encourage slashing, diagonal runs, especially from deep and checking to the ball carrier. The basketball equivalent is the "cut to the hoop", creating a passing lane and then receiving the ball and driving towards the basket.

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Favorite quotes

Every coach develops a "library" of their favorite sayings. They might be little mnemonic devices to help remember a particular technique or tactic, bits of advice, or motivational quotes. Some will be ones the coach has come up with, others might be from famous coaches or other famous figures. Here are a few motivational quotes I particularly like. I will stick one on any handouts I give players, or perhaps use them with individual players when they seem appropriate.

"Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."
—John Wooden

"One hundred percent of the shots you don't take don't go in."
—Wayne Gretzky

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
—Aristotle

"It's not the will to win that matters -- everyone has that. It's the will to prepare to win that matters."
—Paul "Bear" Bryant

"If you can't get out of it... get into it!"
—Hurricane Island Outward Bound slogan

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Welcome to coaching

" 'This is fun,' said Coach Moises, standing with arms crossed, next to Coach Mikey. 'But they arenít doing anything that I told them.'

Yeah, well, welcome to coaching."

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Magic gloves

There's a thread over on BigSoccer where someone asks, How do you make playing keeper cool????. Actually, with the younger set, it's not that hard... they all love to dive and roll and tumble. But I liked Roush's answer best:

"Magic Gloves..."

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Old school

Old school, circa 1979I was going through some photos the other day, and found one that is definitely old school. It's circa 1979 or 1980. Shaggy hair. Short shorts. Gloves? My first pair of Uhlsports with the rubber ping-pong paddle grip were still months away. Special keeper jerseys? Not on your life, just shiny adidas polyester long-sleeve shirt with a wide collar. The white boots completed the look.

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Crazy? No more injury-prone than anyone else

Everyone thinks you have to be a little crazy to be a goalkeeper. They see keepers going for a cross in traffic, or diving at the feet of an onrushing attacker, and figure it must be more dangerous than being a field player. I disagree. In my opinion, goalkeepers are no more prone to being injured than anyone else on the soccer field.

My personal experience bears this out. I have been injured just as much playing the field as when playing goal. My most serious soccer injury ever (concussion and broken wrist) came as a field player. And considering the number of minutes I've played keeper over playing field, the comparison isn't even close.

Why would this be so, when goalkeeping is seen as such a hazardous position? A few reasons. Number one, only two players on the soccer field are goalkeepers, versus 20 field players. And the number of times a goalkeeper handles the ball during a game is far less than a field player. So statistically, goalkeepers have many fewer chances to be injured. Number two, goalkeepers are not subject to many types of dangerous challenges, especially tackles from behind, that occur on the field.

But the most important, I think, is that dangerous-looking challenges are not really so hazardous... for a keeper with proper technique. This is key! Goalkeeping technique is designed to keep the goalkeeper safe, as well as keep the ball out of the net. A technically sound keeper not only will make more saves, but has less likelihood of being injured. This is why I wince when I watch many untrained youth goalkeepers. Not only do they fail to save goals, but they put themselves in harm's way and risk being seriously injured.

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Play soccer with Pele

The folks at 360 Soccer dug up a copy of an old book written by Pele in 1976: Play Soccer with Pele. It's an interesting read, particularly the chapter on the goalkeeper.

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Goalkeeper parodies

I find the Guardian Unlimited Football site a good source not just of soccer information, but soccer humor. They have a section entitled The Gallery that features reader's visual renditions of various soccer stars. While goalkeepers don't get that many notices (probably a good thing!), here are a couple of goalkeeper parodies I found particularly amusing:

David James

Fabien Barthez

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Indoor goalkeeping tips

There's not much soccer happening outdoors around here right now, but indoor soccer is getting underway. There are a number of variations on the indoor game. The "official" world indoor game, sanctioned by FIFA, is futsal, played on a basketball court. In the United States and Canada, many facilities offer a brand of indoor soccer played in a hockey rink that has had turf carpet laid down, and the ball can be played off the boards and glass.

Futsal goals are 3m wide by 2m high, and arenas with walls typically have goals of about the same dimensions. For goalkeepers, the smaller space, closer proximity to attackers and smaller goals means some adjustments in the way you play. Here are a few pointers on being successful in the indoor game:


  • Low and Lower. With a goal only six feet high, only the youngest and smallest goalkeepers need to worry about getting beat over the top. Many shots are from close in and along the ground -- the goalkeeper needs to cover as much of that area as possible. Keep the knees bent, hands down and wide, and the head up. This is the same position you take up once you close down an attacker on a breakaway.
  • Be Patient on Breakaways. The penalty area, where the keeper is allowed to use their hands, is much smaller indoors than out. If you leave the line too soon, you'll run out of space and quickly become stranded. Time your run to meet the attacker a yard or so inside the top of the area.
  • Use Your Feet. The small penalty area also means that the keeper needs to leave that area more often to sweep up stray balls. Don't sit on the line! Use the opportunity to get involved and work on those footskills -- clear long balls, be available for backpasses, and be part of the game.
  • Coordinate with Your Defense. Due to the lack of an offside rule, you will face many more breakaways and 2v1 situations. Make sure you and your defense are on the same page -- if there are two attackers and only one defender, should the defender take the ball carrier or play the pass? Personally, I prefer to have the defender cover the pass, since I feel indoors I can cover the entire net and stop the shot. This is the opposite of what I ask my defenders to do outdoors. Which way you go is personal preference, but make sure you talk about it first.

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Improving your coaching skills

I just got an envelope in the mail with results from the USSF licensing course I took back in August, and I'm happy to report I can update my bio to say I received my National "C" license.

I'm thrilled to have passed, but at the same time I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't get a bit better score. This is especially true since some of the items I needed to be better on (particularly talking less and getting the practice going again) were items I know I needed to work on, and were emphasized during the instruction. But that brings home the point that improving your coaching skills takes the same effort and time that it takes a player to improve their playing skills, and the process is very similar. It's one thing to intellectually know you need to work on something, and another thing altogether to turn it into a habit on the field.

We all see it with our players -- we pound a subject into their heads, whether it's stepping forward on a dive, or not tossing the ball up to punt it, or slapping the ball away instead of catching it, and sometimes we feel like we're pounding on a brick wall. But then, days or weeks or even months later, you notice all that pounding actually had an effect. Sometimes it's immediate -- you can all but see the light bulb go on, and the player instantly is better. Other times it's more subtle -- they start to have more "on" days than "off" days, and the lapses become fewer and farther between. We have to give ourselves the same latitude to improve as coaches. I need to work on making my coaching points more succinct, and I can guarantee you my players will be happier for it when it finally happens!

Just like playing skill, coaching skill takes knowledge, feedback, and the time and focus to put that knowledge into action. Gain knowledge however, you can, whether it's USSF, NSCAA, UEFA, FA or your own local or national federation educational programs, getting feedback from more experienced coaches, reading books or web sites. (And don't forget the closest source of feedback of all -- your own team and players!) Then push yourself to work hard and focus on your coaching skill just like you ask your players to do. Getting the piece of paper with the license on it is just the first step -- it's what you do with that paper that counts.

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Size matters

As much as those of us who are vertically challenged wished otherwise, and those of us who coach U-littles lament, the fact of the matter is that size does matter when it comes to goalkeepers.

Nowhere is this point proven more than in the women's game. I've seen numerous goals scored in the Women's World Cup and the late WUSA that would have been saved -- some easily -- had the goalkeeper been 6'2" (188cm) tall rather than just 5'8" (173cm) tall. In fact, that's the average height of starting goalkeepers in the United States' MLS men's league and the WUSA this year.

Brianna Scurry is one of the best female goalkeepers in the world at going back and parrying high balls over her head. But at just 5'8" (or 5'9", depending on which web site you believe), she has to be.

When you're dealing with youth, there's often not a lot you can do except wait for kids to grow. A full size frame is awfully big for even the tallest 10-year-old. And smaller goalkeepers can have advantages too, so don't go strictly for height on your youth team -- go with the best goalkeeper! But as you advance in age and level of play, the height factor will eventually become a factor.

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Academics come first for college

Immediately after tryouts and my team's final tournament, I left for a two-week vacation, so no posts. It was an eventful season on several fronts, with my men's team taking our league championship, and my U14 girls team making it to two tournament semi-finals after a disappointing regular season.

I am moving on to coach a new team, but many of my U14 girls are going on to play high school soccer, and perhaps eventually play in college or beyond. These girls all had lots of support from their parents, unlike the main character in the movie Bend It Like Beckham. But there is a scene in the movie that is very important to any player who wants to continue their soccer career after high school (WARNING: movie spoiler ahead).

There is a brief scene where Jes, the protagonist of the movie, and her parents fervently pray before opening a small envelope that has arrived in the mail. The envelope contains the results of Jes' A-level tests -- without good scores, Jes won't be able to attend University. Jes gets her good results. It is a short scene and easily overlooked. But what goes unstated is that without passing her A-levels, Jes probably would not have gotten an offer to play for Santa Clara University, no matter how good a player she was.

Bottom line: academics come first when applying for college, even if you want to play sports. Don't skimp on the classwork!

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How to evaluate goalkeepers in limited time and space

It is tryout season here. And speaking of tryouts, I have some ideas about how to evaluate goalkeepers with limited time and space.

In the past, I have simply lined up prospective keepers and kicked balls at them, made them dive, and run them through a simulated breakaway. This really didn't work very well, and it was also very demanding of the evaluators or staff to serve all the balls. And most importantly, it didn't let you see the players in a game-like setting. Field player tryouts are often scrimmages, from small sided 3v3 up to 11v11. So how can you do this for keepers, given the limited number of touches they might see?

The answer is a "pressure cooker" field, about 30-40 yards long and 25-30 yards wide (like I use in my training sessions) with two full-size frames. Play 3v3 or 4v4 in the middle, with instructions to shoot early and often, from anywhere on the grid. Players in the middle can be other goalkeepers waiting to rotate into net or true field players, and if you like another evaluator can be looking at the field players while you're watching the goalkeepers.

Now we've got our keepers in a game-like situation, but one where they will see lots of action with varied shots, mini-breakaways, and defenders to work with. I find that 8-10 minutes per "game" allows me to get a good general idea of the capabilities of the two goalkeepers. With large numbers of kids at lower age levels, I can get useful goalkeeper information to coaches on about 20 kids in a 2-hour session.

Obviously you can have the goalkeepers in net longer than that, and you can adjust the game to see other aspects of a keeper's ability. For example, put a field player out side each touchline, who is available to either team for a free cross. This will let you evaluate the strength of a keeper in the air.

Tryouts are always a difficult process, but having the right framework in place will make it easier and better for everyone involved.

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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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Maxim continued...

"...and a top-class goalkeeper doesn't have to make a save at all."

Communication! Goalkeepers who communicate with and organize their defense can prevent shots from being taken in the first place!

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Good goalkeepers and great goalkeepers

Here is a maxim I use with my goalkeepers all the time: "A good goalkeeper makes the first save. A great goalkeeper makes the second save..."

Recovery time is key. The more quickly you can get back on your feet, the easier it will be to make the second save if there's a rebound or deflection. Peter Schmeichel is great at this. If he gives up a rebound, he is instantly on his feet again and ready to challenge the shooter.

I share this with my beginning keepers, but for more advanced players, there's a third part to the saying that I'll go into next time.

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