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.

Training attitude

Whew. Campers on their way home, tired and happy. And, I hope, with some improved skills. Overall it was a great group, solid skill-wise and willing to work hard. I hope the players enjoyed it as much as I did.
SGA Colorado 2009

During the last morning session there was one tense moment where there was a collision on a breakaway. Nothing intentional, but with players as tired as they were tempers got short. We took a quick breath and moved on, but it raised the point that if you want to get better, you have to train at full intensity... and if you go all out, there is the possibility of injury.

It can be difficult to get players to put as much effort into practice as into the real game. But if you don't provide your teammates the best opposition possible, how will anyone get any better? I once heard that Arsenal in England trains so intensely that players feel the game on the weekend is easier than practice! You need to be careful, but to help your teammates get better, you need the same focus, intensity and aggression in training as you do in the match.

We always end camp with a Keeper Wars session. Here are a few variations we've used:
  • Vanilla Keeper Wars, 1v1 for one or two minute matches.
  • Doubles, with two keepers in each goal and alternating serves. Make sure keepers are staggered one in front and one in back to prevent collisions.
  • Mini Keeper Wars, using poles or corner flags to make goals about 10-12 yards apart and only allowing underhand thrown serves.
  • Team Keeper Wars, you stay in goal until you either get scored on or miss the frame; then you get out of goal and your next teammate steps in.
  • 4-Way, with two pairs of goals forming a square. You only compete against the keeper in the goal opposite you, but any rebounds into the area can be finished by any keeper in any goal (first-time shot). It gets crazy with balls flying everywhere!
  • Use a few mini-balls mixed in as the "money ball" which scores two points.

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Ways to get recognized:

1. Do something extraordinary. Just once. Make the championship-winning save or score the game-winning goal. Bring in the big contract. Rescue someone from a burning building. Sometimes it is luck, but more often it is the result of preparation ("Luck is where preparation meets opportunity." —Seneca).

2. Do something for a very long time. Work for 35 years and get the gold watch. Toil as a starter—but not the star—for a 15-year career. You have to have the perseverance to stick it out for the long haul, be satisfied out of the limelight, and be a team player. You also have to be good enough they still want you around.

3. Do something extraordinarily well for a very long time. This, of course, is the most difficult of the three.

How will you earn your recognition?

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Losing builds character. Ever heard that saying?

It's wrong.

Losing reveals character.

What do you do after a loss? Use your emotion as a springboard for improvement, not an excuse to sulk. "Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it." —Lou Holtz


Pushing yourself

Last week I got a chance to hear Christie Rampone, the captain for the USA women's national team, speak at a tournament. One question she was asked was how hard it was to make it to the highest level of the sport.

Part of her answer was unexpected, but perhaps not surprising. Rampone tore her ACL in 2001 playing in the WUSA. She said one thing that really made her realize how hard she could push herself was doing the rehabilitation to come back from the injury.

Unexpected, because you don't expect someone to say an injury made them better. But not surprising, because if you've ever had to do it, you know that rehabbing a bad injury is far harder than anything you've ever done on the field.

I think the reason rehab really makes you push yourself is because you know where you have to get back to. You know the standard, and don't—can't— stop until you get there. If you are just training, you don't always have a good idea of how high you can go. And many set that invisible bar too low. If you get hurt, the bar is all too visible.

Are you really pushing yourself to be as good as you can, as a coach or as a player?


The next level

What are the things that separate the top goalkeepers from the rest of the pack? Here are a few:
  • Handling crosses. This is a key and not easily mastered technique. Timing and judgement are everything.
  • Ability to play with feet. When I see players in a game without keepers, I shouldn't be able to tell who the goalkeeper is.
  • Communication skill. Is the goalkeeper specific, commanding and organized?
And, most important of all:
  • Mental toughness and attitude.
It is mentality that separates the best from the rest. How hard you work, how you handle failure, and how determined you are.

Outstanding athletes? A dime a dozen. Good shot stoppers? Everywhere. There are incredibly talented players everywhere who never made it anywhere.

"How hard you work has a lot more to do with success than we ordinarily imagine. Ability cannot be separated from effort."
— Malcolm Gladwell



Seth Godin asks: Better?

"Are you better at what you do than you were a month or two ago?

A lot better?

How did you get better? What did you read or try? Did you fail at something and learn from it?

If you got better faster, would that be a good thing? How could you make that happen?"


Practice until you can't get it wrong

My new favorite quote: "An amateur practices until he gets it right. A professional practices until he can't get it wrong." (Attribution unknown.)

That sums up why some people play (and work) at a higher level than others. It's all about consistency. The amateur is ecstatic when he makes that great play one time out of ten. The professional is disappointed when he misses the play one time out of twenty.

And at the heart of it, it's not even the spectacular plays that truly make the professional. The best of the best do the everyday, ordinary stuff--the 10-yard pass, catching the easy ball, taking a goal kick--perfectly almost every time. And that doesn't happen by accident.


Always make the effort

My newest saying, coined last week:

"Always make the effort, even if you don't make the save."

It amazes me how often in training a keeper will simply watch a saveable shot go into the net. That is what's known as an "eye save". A team (and coach!) will be down very quickly on a goalkeeper who makes lots of eye saves.

OTOH, keepers are often much closer to making saves than they think. Without video, all they know is the ball went into the net. They can't see that they just missed by a few inches, and that with a little sharper technique, a little more explosiveness, etc., they might have actually made the save.

Always make the effort. Even if you don't make the save this time, if you make the effort you just might make it the next.



Are you coachable?

It certainly is one of the things that coaches look for in players. Do they act on the advice and instruction from the coach? However, it applies to all walks of life... including coaches themselves. Coaches, are you coachable?



How do you with cheapshots? In general, crap like that is done with the intent of taking you out of your game. Retaliating shows your opponent they've accomplished their job, with the added detriment that it is often the retaliator who gets caught and punished.

Best to take the high road, and show you won't take any stick by your play in the box. Go hard--but legally. A good aggressive slide through a breakaway, or vigorous (and loud!) claim of a cross will go a long way. Finally, use good technique to protect yourself, facing the oncoming danger at all times and using arms and legs to protect yourself. You can't always fend off someone intent on cleating you, but you can at least minimize the damage.


Wishful thinking versus positive thinking

The Observer has a fascinating article on football team management and whether it's art or science: Can an American coach and a book deliver success in English football? It contrasts American sports and their environment with English soccer leagues.

In the second part of the article, there is a paragraph quite relevant to players and coaches of any stripe:

[Malcolm] Gladwell has written about this, when analysing the difference between Woods and Phil Mickelson. Woods works fantastically hard at his game, practises intensively and pays enormous attention to detail. That is why he has maximised his phenomenal talent, but it is also why, when his game goes wrong, he will have few positives to take out of the experience, having done all he can to get it right. Mickelson doesn't practise nearly so hard and relies more on feel and natural ability, which means that when things go wrong he can always tell himself that better times are around the corner. In this respect, Mickelson is the more positive thinker, but it is also the reason why he wins less often than Woods and has failed to maximise his own phenomenal talent. Woods's mental toughness is in large part a willingness to risk failure despite having done everything possible to guarantee success. The other word for it is doggedness, which is precisely the quality missing from so much of the pampered British sporting elite.

The message: don't confuse wishful thinking with positive thinking.


The ability to deal with mistakes is crucial

Malcolm Gladwell wrote:

Charles Bosk, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, once conducted a set of interviews with young doctors who had either resigned or been fired from neurosurgery-training programs, in an effort to figure out what separated the unsuccessful surgeons from their successful counterparts. He concluded that, far more than technical skills or intelligence, what was necessary for success was the sort of attitude that Quest has--a practical-minded obsession with the possibility and the consequences of failure.... "I began to develop what I thought was an indicator of whether someone was going to be a good surgeon or not. It was a couple of simple questions: Have you ever made a mistake? And, if so, what was your worst mistake? The people who said, 'Gee, I haven't really had one,' or, 'I've had a couple of bad outcomes but they were due to things outside my control'--invariably those were the worst candidates. And the residents who said, 'I make mistakes all the time. There was this horrible thing that happened just yesterday and here's what it was.' They were the best. They had the ability to rethink everything that they'd done and imagine how they might have done it differently."

Replace "surgeon" with "goalkeeper". No matter what you do, the ability to deal with mistakes is crucial. That goes especially for people like surgeons and goalkeepers, for whom a mistake can be oh so costly.


One, two... more than two

Some words of advice I had tonight for an inexperienced goalkeeper who was distraught at giving up a number of goals against a superior team:

  • Goalkeepers need to have a short memory. You have to forget the last goal conceded and focus on saving the next shot

  • Goalkeepers have to forget how to count. You need to be like the Yanomamo indians whose numbering system is "one, two, more than two". After three or four goals, they all look the same so don't worry about it. If that many shots are getting taken, chances are the keeper is not at fault on all of them.


Focus on the saves

It is easy for goalkeepers to get caught up in their failures. After all, a keeper's mistakes are obvious and public. But goalkeepers and their coaches need to keep up the morale, and a way to do this is to focus on the saves rather than the misses. This doesn't mean we ignore mistakes—they still need to be corrected. But one way to stay positive is to put the attention on the good stuff, which often goes by without much comment. To borrow the title of a book by Tony DiCicco, Catch Them Being Good.

A great example of this was my high school boys final game of the season yesterday. We lost in overtime when my keeper came out and didn't completely get his hands to a long shot. The ball dribbled under him and slowly rolled into the net. It was a heartbreaking loss. But after the game, I told him "No apologies." He made a dozen saves during regulation and overtime up to that point, including turning two high shots just over the bar, a breakaway save, and a couple of point blank dives. Without him, we never even would have made it to overtime.

In training, if I have a keeper who is struggling with their confidence, we will work on basic hands-and-feet exercises the entire time and count saves. We ignore the misses, working for milestones like 50 saves, 100 saves, etc. The misses don't matter if you get up and make the next stop. We may set a goal for the session (e.g. 150 stops) and simply work until we hit that mark. It's a great way to take the focus off mistakes and get it back on the good stuff.


Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom from paulee:

"Play every shot in training like it's your last.
Run every sprint like you stole something.
Take every cross like it's life or death.
The biggest difference between the successful athlete and those who fall by the wayside is their mental skills. Work on those, and watch your game take off."


The brain is a muscle

While at a keeper camp last week, I sometimes saw goalkeepers going through the motions of a warm-up without warming up the most important part of the goalkeeper's body: the brain. While we need to get blood flowing to the muscles and get stretched and limber, we also need to use the warm-up to get into the proper frame of mind. Warm-up is about focus and technical perfection, not just a physical exercise. A goalkeeper should zero in on perfect form on every catch, every dive, every ball in warm-up, whether it's for a pre-season training session or a championship match.

I addressed the physical part of the warm-up in previous blog entry, but how you address the mental side of the warm-up is just as important. Focus during the physical activities is key, but many keepers use other psychological methods to help prepare them: visualization, relaxation exercises or music, music or self-talk to help get pumped up. Every keeper has different needs. Work with your coach, teammates or fellow goalkeepers to help get you optimally ready for every soccer game or training session.

You can find more articles on goalkeeping warm-ups over at KeeperStop (just register—it's free—and go to the "Post to Post" training tips section), and a selection on the Decatur Sports goalkeeping drills page.


Mistakes are never easy to take

Shockers. Howlers. Blunders. Cock-ups. Screw-ups. There are plenty of imaginative ways to say "mistake", but some imply a bit beyond the ordinary, garden-variety mistake. We all make them, eventually. At the professional level, you can find yourself out of a job if you make enough of them, or at inopportune times (just ask Tim Howard). For many of us, on Sundays, we can laugh them off over a beverage after the game. Or, at least, we can try. The fact that we're just out there for fun doesn't make the gaffs any easier to take.

I had one of those games today. Strong cross-field winds (a steady 30kph and gusts up to 60 or so) didn't help, but I can't use that as an excuse. I found myself out of position on a decent strike in the first half, but with the game knotted at 1-1 I made an error like I haven't made in a long time. An opposing midfielder sent a curving ball into the box I should have easily handled. The wind caught it a bit, held it up then knocked it down; I hesitated and was lost. The ball bounced not two yards right in front of me and spun into the goal without me getting a finger to it. It was a mistake I'd expect to see from one of my 12-year-old players (thank goodness none were there to see it!).

Although it wasn't the winning tally (we would lose 2-4), it put us behind at a point where we were getting the run of play and the better chances at the other end. The mood of the team sank, and although nobody said anything I felt awful. It was tough to get my focus back, when to be honest it had not been good from the start. I'd been asked to join the team because of some very good play indoors, when we'd won a league title. But I have been off form and don't feel like I have helped the team much, and today I certainly hurt them.

So, enough crying in my spilled milk (to mix a metaphor). We all hit these patches at some point. How do you get over them?

I wish there were a simple answer. Everyone will have their own method. It may be putting in extra, intensive training time to get that focus back. For others, it might be some time away to recharge. If you're lucky, you will have a coach, trainer or mentor who knows you and can make suggestions, either on tuning your technique or how best to cope mentally.

For me, I think I've been more timid than usual, being with a new team in a new division. Today I wasn't focused and aggressive, and it cost me. That's the mental side. On the technical side, I have been playing indoor with small goals for several months, and need to work on adjusting my positioning for full-size goal frames. So if I can fix those two things--both small, and in my control--I'll be back on my way.

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You don't have to be big to play big

I got a recent email from a newly appointed keeper who was worried that "size matters". I have address this before, and yes, it does make a difference. But even vertically challenged keepers can be successful. My correspondent writes: "I only stand a bout 5'10 175lbs. The only thing I am worried about is my size the goal just seems so big. The original keeper was 6'3 and I nowhere near have his wingspan."

My response:

Actually, although taller goalkeepers are the rule, there are many your size who make it to the top level. Jon Busch of Columbus or Nick Rimando of DC United in MLS come to mind immediately, and Jorge Campos who played internationally for Mexico was
probably only 5'9" on a good day!

As a vertically-challenged keeper myself, you don't have to be big to play big. A few parts of your game to focus on:

  1. Work on being aggressive coming off your line to challenge shooters inside the 18. This might sound backwards at first. But if you don't fill the goal frame already, you need to "play big" by coming out and closing the angle the shooter has. If you come out quickly, you will be able to fill the attacker's field of vision and make the save or force a bad shot.

  2. Work on proper footwork for going back on high balls. See the "Punch and Parry" page on my site for more details. With good footwork, you can play off your line a bit more and still not get beat over the top. Yes, you will miss some a taller keeper could parry, and have to parry some a taller keeper would catch. That's just a fact of life. But just because you're shorter doesn't mean you can't get to those high balls with good technique. Practice, practice, practice.

  3. Be aggressive on crosses in training and try to carry it over to the game. With your hands in the air you are still "taller" than every other field player (until Yao Ming takes up soccer). One good, aggressive claim for a cross, and you will find attackers giving you more space. If you stretch your limits in practice it will help you in game situations.

  4. Use your voice to be "bigger". Loud calls for the ball not only communicate to your defense, but to the other team as well. And by loud, I mean play should stop on the next field over when you call for the ball! Using your voice is part of staking your territory.

To repeat, "You don't have to be big to play big." It is a mental mindset as much as anything.


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.


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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Two steps ahead of the game

It can be terribly frustrating to be a goalkeeper at times. The old cliche is that the ball has to get past eleven players to score, but any keeper worth their salt feels they should have a chance to stop just about everything. It might be by having made a better save themselves, or by having gotten the defense into shape before hand.

The goalkeeper has the entire soccer game in front of them, and often the chain of events leading to a goal is painfully obvious to them. They can see the unmarked attackers, the wide open passing lanes and the unprotected space. But once the goal is scored, there's not much to be done.

As much as the goalkeeper would like to be able to position his or her defenders like chess pieces, it won't always happen. The challenge for the keeper, then, is twofold: one, can they think one—or even two&mdashsteps ahead of the game and get the defense in shape before it even breaks down; and two, can they do it in a way that helps the defenders, rather than tears them down?

A positive goalkeeper, who corrects constructively and doesn't get down on their teammates, can go a long way towards building a team with confidence.

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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."

"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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The Mitake Ritual and dealing with failure

Goalkeepers have to be able to deal with failure. Often. It comes with the position, and not everyone is up to the demand. But even mentally tough goalkeepers sometimes need a way to shake off disappointing mistakes. Using a Mistake Ritual can help a player refocus after a difficult error.

A Mistake Ritual is a physical act that acknowledges the mistake, but reminds the player that it's okay to make mistakes, and the next course of action is to fix the error and then get on with focus on the game. Such rituals have been used by many teams, but the concept has been codified by the Positive Coaching Alliance, and is outlined in founder Jim Thompson's book The Double-Goal Coach : Positive Coaching Tools for Honoring the Game and Developing Winners in Sports and Life. It serves as a metaphor for getting rid of the mistake and moving on. Examples of Mistake Rituals are "Flush it!", with a symbolic hand gesture of flushing a toilet; "Wave it Goodbye" with a symbolic wave of the hand, and "No Sweat" with a symbolic wiping of the brow. Be creative and have your player or team come up with their own Mistake Ritual. A Mistake Ritual can be initiated by either the player or the coach, but both parties should acknowledge the process.

The Mistake Ritual is accompanied by this thought process: "Fudge! Fix it. Re-Focus." "Fudge!" is the acknowledgement of the mistake. The player needs to vent—let it happen. Once that happens, the player or coach can determine what needs to be fixed so the mistake won't happen again. (This step can also be "File it"; if the player or coach doesn't have a solution at that moment, file it away for re-examination later.) Finally, the physical Mistake Ritual reminds the player that the mistake is over (flushed, thrown or wiped away) and they need to re-focus on the task at hand.

A Mistake Ritual can be a powerful psychological tool, especially for goalkeepers who deal with catastrophic failure more often than other players. But if you coach a team, don't hesitate to use this technique with all your players. Make it a part of your team culture and watch how it helps your team.


Individualized warm-ups

A goalkeeper's warmup is very important. But every goalkeeper's warmup needs are different, especially once you move to higher levels. I had an entry a while back on warming up a goalkeeper, but by the time a keeper is high-school age (U15 and up) they probably already have an idea of what they personally want in their warmup. As a coach, you need to ask your keeper what they require, and as a keeper, tell your coach!

I ran across this with my new school team this year. One of my goalkeepers plays much better with a hard, focused warmup and lots of shots. But I didn't know this, and let him kind of go easy warming up with the other keepers while I focused on the rest of the team. As a result, he had felt unprepared for the games he played in. (It didn't help any that we are a struggling team and he was seeing heavy game action.)

I only found out from an overheard comment about the situation. Had I known earlier, we could have implemented a more rigorous warm-up. So last game I focused on warming him up in goal and let the captains run the team warmup. The result? He made probably his best save of the season to help us to a 1-1 draw.

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Hard work beats talent...

Tryout season for next year is winding up around here, and I am always reminded of a saying: "Hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard." There are always very talented players who don't make the squad because of a poor work ethic.

No matter how talented you are, never underestimate the value of hard work if you want to advance. All else being equal, the player with the good attitude and work ethic will win... and sometimes the less talented but harder working player will even get the spot. No matter how much talent you have, don't take it for granted. LA Laker's coach Phil Jackson has said he needs his best players to be his hardest workers. If you put the two together, you'll be unstoppable.


Are we having fun yet?

Those games I officiated on Sunday put me in a sour mood for the rest of the evening. I wondered: if you're not having any fun, why even be out on the pitch? After all, soccer is a game. Whether we're a player, coach, referee or spectator, we're at the park to enjoy ourselves and have a good time. And sometimes we need to be reminded of that.

From a player's and coaches point of view, there are additional benefits. If you're having fun, you will probably be more relaxed and perform better. Nothing is more detrimental to athletic performance than "tightening up". Athletes who are "in the zone" tend to be relaxed and let things happen as they come; external factors seem to disappear.

Personally, a few seasons back I had a poor season as a goalkeeper. I mishandled a few balls and turned what could have been wins into draws, draws into losses. I simply wasn't having any fun. So the next season out, my big adjustment was to remind myself to relax and have fun out on the field. Guess what? I had one of my best seasons ever, and we won the league! Just by remembering that soccer should be fun.


No whining

I spent four hours on the soccer field yesterday and didn't have much fun at all. How could that be? I was wearing a striped shirt and carrying a whistle or flag, instead of playing or coaching. Why wasn't it any fun? Because the teams I was officiating seemed determined not to have any fun either.

The whining in both games started from the opening whistle. Whining at teammates, opponents, and the most convenient target, the referees. Three red cards and numerous yellows later, nobody walked away happy.

As a referee, let me tell you that whining about calls or trying to "game" the ref seldom gets you anywhere. In fact, if the ref gets annoyed at the constant badgering, do you really think he's going to give you the benefit of the doubt on a 50-50 challenge? Or if you "cry wolf" on every little knock, he'll see it differently if you really do get cleaned out? This goes all the way up to the pros: look at the reputation that FC Porto, the Champion's League finalists, have earned themselves.

Griping about the ref takes your focus away from the game. Whether they are good, bad or indifferent, referees must be considered part of the field conditions. You adjust to them the way you adjust to sun, wind or rain. (A referee instructor I had put it this way: "The ref is part of the field. The field is made of dirt. Therefore... referees are dirt!") The team that focuses on playing soccer and adjusts better to the referee that day will usually come out on top... and yesterday, that's just how it happened, by a scoreline of 4-1 in both games.

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Accept the things you cannot change

There was a KeeperZone thread a while back titled, "I had a crap game", which really is a complaint about the referee, with several followups complaining more about referees. All of which has nothing to do with how the goalkeeper played.

No matter what position you're playing, you have to let go of things you can't control and focus on things you can. There's no use getting upset at a referee any more than getting upset at rain, howling wind, sun in your eyes or a lumpy field. Referees are considered part of the playing conditions, and players need to learn to treat them as such. Make your adjustments and move on. It's like the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." The only things you can change are your play, your effort and your attitude.

Are there horrible referees? Of course. I am a referee, and although I always try my best and like to think I usually do a good job, I've had games where I didn't do so well. Referees make mistakes just like players. But I've also officiated games where the teams seemed determined to blame me, no matter what else happened. Just remember that the referee didn't let that ball slip through their hands, sky the shot over the bar with an empty net, or turn the ball over in the penalty area. If your focus is on your own play, what you can control, you will always be better off.


Isolate the components

When you're learning a new skill, whether it has to do with soccer or not, you usually don't get good at it right away. At first, you have to think hard about what you're doing, so the skill doesn't come naturally or fluidly at first. It's only after you've worked on that skill, and gotten the brain pathways set and the muscle memory activated that you really master things.

One way to work through the difficult part of learning a skill is to isolate one component of that skill to focus on. Ignore mistakes in other parts of the skill for a while and work on getting that one element right.

I often do this with keepers who are struggling a bit with new stuff. I present a lot of information, and it's difficult to do everything at once. For example, let's say I'm introducing diving to young keepers. The key coaching points are step forward into the dive, catch the ball with both hands, ball to the ground first, land on hip and shoulder, and pin the ball to the ground with one hand on top of and one behind the ball. Lots of stuff to accomplish in a half second! So if a keeper isn't getting the step, I might tell them: "Let's focus on making that step forward for the next few minutes. I don't care if you catch the ball or not, or about how you land -- just make sure you take that step!" Then, once the step is ingrained, we can move on to the other aspects of the dive.

You can apply this technique to any soccer or non-soccer skill that you are teaching someone. It allows both player and coach to break the skill down into small, easily manageable pieces that the player can succeed at.

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Focus on the process, not the outcome

On the Guardian Unlimited Football site, a recent article discusses which goalkeepers have given up the most goals in the English Premier League. Of course, the keepers listed are all top-notch. Conceding goals is as much a function of the team and defense in front of the keeper as well as the quality of the competition.

This is what makes goalkeeper such a mentally tough position. No matter how many spectacular saves the keeper makes, one mistake will be remembered. And the ball will eventually end up in the back of the net.

Thus the importance of focusing on the positives and on process goals, not outcome goals. Outcome goals are typically out of the control of the player: Did they score? Did we win? Process goals look at the details and what is in the control of the player: Was my footwork solid? Did I take that step and dive forward at the angle? Did I use the correct hand to parry the ball? Even if there is a correction to be made, focus on that correction rather than the fact that the goal was scored. And give the keeper credit for the positive things they do as well as correcting the negatives.

Of course, this positive approach should be used with all players. But it's especially important for goalkeepers, who play a position where failure is a regular part of the regimen.


Not as fast as you can't

One more maxim: "Go as fast as you can, not as fast as you can't".

The meaning here: you want to push yourself to the edge, but not over it. If you are attempting a skill and have trouble performing it, back off a bit until you can perform it successfully. Slow down, make the bar lower whatever you need to get some success. Once you can accomplish that, make it harder again -- speed up, raise the bar. Stay on the edge, but not so far over it that you are not longer successful.

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