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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Best keeper game ever

One of the all-time favorite keeper camp games we call Shaggers. Our version for keepers is as follows:

Field: Full-size goal with lines marked 6 yards out and 16 yards out. Two marker cones 22 yards from goal, even with the goalposts. There is a server at one goalpost with lots of balls.
Teams: Two equal teams of at least 4 players.* Each team forms a line behind one of the marker cones. Team A puts one of their players in goal to start as keeper.
Play: The coach servers a ball to the first player in the team B line, who must shoot first time from behind the 16-yard line on the Team A keeper. If the B player misses or the shot is saved, the A keeper leaves the goal and goes to the back of the A line, and the B player is in goal. Coach then serves to the first person in the A team line to shoot on the B keeper.

If a player scores on the first shot, they get a second shot that must be a header or volley from outside the 6. If a player scores both goals, the goalkeeper who was scored upon is out. The shooter then takes their place in goal.

Continue until one team is eliminated. *If you have fewer than 8 players, you can play with a single line of shooters and make it keeper vs keeper.

It's called "Shaggers" because of all the missed shots that have to be rounded up. After all, it is keeper camp, not striker camp.

Today's sessions were foot skills and receiving backpasses (the early morning session), collapsed diving, crosses, and distribution games. With the exception of diving, these are all areas where many keepers tend to be weak. Foot skills and crosses especially are two areas that separate the top goalkeepers from the rest. And crosses even more specifically are something that most goalkeepers do not get enough training on.


Focus, focus, focus

The campers came dragging out to the morning session today. The first day everyone was chipper, eager and working hard. Many of them had had a pre-breakfast session of footwork and plyometrics, and by the time they'd all digested breakfast and got back out onto the field the lethargy showed.

When you are tired, we all know the first thing to go is your brain. The coaches were disappointed with the effort and focus in the morning session on ball handling. Basic stuff—the meat and potatoes of the goalkeeper's job—but done far too sloppily. We rode them a bit, an it got better, but come on, it's only the second day!

You get out of training what you put into it. As Malcolm Gladwell puts it, "The people at the very top don't just work much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder."

The afternoon session on positioning was much better and the keepers really improved as it went along. And then for the evening (before the thunderstorm and the dorm fire alarm went off!) we played Shaggers: The. Best. Keeper. Game. Ever. Got to see some absolutely ridiculous saves.

I'll describe the game in a forthcoming post. And for those of you across the pond, get your mind out of the gutter... over here, "to shag" means to round up stray balls. Ahem.


First impressions

Our first two sessions today with a new group of goalkeepers. Lots of simple ball handling exercises: high balls, low balls, catching, serving. Who has the basics down, who needs work. Who is agressive, who is passive, who is a leader, who follows. It's a bit like a tryout, in that we are trying to sort the players somewhat so they will be training with players at a similar level for the rest of the week.

Why should you—or anyone—try to make a good first impression? Whether it's at a tryout, a camp, or an everyday team training session, shouldn't you always try to put your best foot forward? At the very least, show your strengths. Coaches will spot the weaknesses.. but of course, that's their job, right? To see the weaknesses and try to make you better.

But if you can show your strengths, the coaches can focus on the weaknesses, rather than having to take you through the basics that you thought you already had down.

That's why good habits are so important, in every training session. Because how you do things habitually, every time, without thinking, is how you are going to make the best first impression.


Camp notes

I'm busy gearing up for the first big camp weekend of the summer, coaching for Star Goalkeeper Academy. This is probably one of the most intense camps out there; certainly one of the few residential camps that are strictly for goalkeepers. Train, eat, sleep, train, repeat. With three (or even four) training sessions daily, it is a grueling but incredibly rewarding experience.

I always look forward to the first evening, looking over a batch of young keepers, some new, some returning. It's interesting to see the mix of players—ages, ability levels—and wonder how far we can take them in a week.

I be making regular posts this week on our progress.



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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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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Goalkeeper Fitness

Goalkeepers need to be in shape, just like the rest of the team. It's just that they need to be in a different kind of shape than field players.

Think about the motions of a soccer game. While field players are constantly jogging, then cruising at moderate speed, then sprinting five to occasionally 60 or 70 yards. Goalkeepers, on the other hand, spend a lot of time standing or walking, but then have to make quick 5-10 yard bursts and explosively jump and dive. Studies have shown that in a 90-minute professional match, a goalkeeper can travel up to 2 miles (3.2km), and much of that is going sideways or backwards.

Goalkeeping demands some aerobic capacity, but more quickness, agility and explosiveness. To be a top goalkeeper, you need to train these attributes. Going on a five-mile jog isn't the most effective use of your time. After building a moderate aerobic base, plyometrics, sprint training and strength training are where it's at.

More soon, but to get your started, a few great sites for keeper fitness are Keeper Skool (and the book available there, The G Code) and articles at Keeperstop.com. Also read this article at the Star Goalkeeper Academy site—coach Ryan Carr wrote a fantastic goalkeeper strength and conditioning manual available at Keeperstop.com.


The Basics

When starting training at a camp or clinic, or with a goalkeeper I haven't worked with in a while, we almost always start with basics: footwork, hand position, catching easy balls. This is the case even with advanced goalkeepers.

Why? Because all players need to have sound fundamentals, and the only way to make sure that they are sound and consistent is repetition. The 80/20 rule is in effect: 80% (probably more, really) of your saves are the simple ones, so that's where you should focus most of your effort. Of course, you need to learn how to make and train for the other 20%. But wouldn't you rather save eight out of 10 goals, instead of only two, no matter how spectacular those two are?


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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Four ways to get more and better keeper training

Four ways to get more and better keeper training in your team practice. Three are for coaches... or for keepers to ask their coaches about. The last is for the keepers... to tell their coaches to let them try.
  1. Let keepers participate in field player games as goalkeepers. It doesn't work for everything, but it will in many games. Playing keepaway? The goalkeeper receives and distributes with the hands. Place a time restriction on them as necessary; allow them to take the ball off the opponent's foot with their hands if you like.

  2. In games with goals and keepers, restart after any stoppage with the coach (or an attacker) taking a shot at the keeper, who distributes after the save.

  3. Play numbers up on attack in games with keepers, rather than always playing even numbers. You can put more players on the "attacking" team, if there's only one goal, or use neutral players to always put the attack a player or two up. This will increase the number of opportunities the keeper gets to make a save.

  4. Goalkeepers should stretch their range during practice. How else are they going to find out what their limits are? This applies particularly for things like crosses and breakaways--the time to be daring and aggressive is in training, then dial it back a bit for the match.
Coaches: can you implement the first three, and allow your keeper to do #4? Goalkeepers: ask your coach if they can help you by doing the first three, and make sure they know you are going to try #4.


Risk vs reward

Risk vs reward development: are you willing to take the chance as a coach or player?

Kevin McCarra over at the Guardian writes: "Tolerance of the blunders that might once have been endured as part of the education of a goalkeeper is at a lower level than ever before. Managers simply cannot afford patience while they are so dependent on results." While you can certainly understand this at the Premiership level, the attitude is all too prevalent at the youth level as well.

And since we won't take the risk there, how in the world is a young keeper to grow and learn through mistakes? Combine that with the fact that goalkeepers get less game situation practice than field players (often far, far less), it's no wonder that many top keepers in the EPL and world-wide are 30-something.

Coaches, are you willing to help your goalkeepers by allowing them to make mistakes (mistakes that might cost you a game)? Keepers, are you willing to take those chances in order to learn (and potentially anger your coach)?

One way to fix this: use more game-situation time in practice (full goals and free play), and allow your keeper to test their limits in practice. I often tell keepers in training to be aggressive and go for everything, as there's no real penalty in practice. In a game they can be more conservative if they like, but they must stretch themselves in training so they know what their limits are in the game. Both coach and player need to agree to this and be on the same page. In the long run, both will benefit.


The G-Code

There is a lot of myth and outright bad information out there about nutrition and training methods. Exercise science seemingly comes up with something new every day, either finding new ways to train or discarding old notions. How does a goalkeeper keep up?

Well, the folks at Keeper Skool have put together The G-Code: an e-book that specifically addresses the fitness needs of goalkeepers. Nutrition, stamina, strength, speed, explosiveness... it's all there, and specifically for goalkeepers! Worth a look. Look for a more extensive review soon.


Indoor training options

Today, for the first time ever, I had to cancel an indoor training session! We are in the middle of a fierce blizzard and the roads are closed, so nobody can get to the arena.

But even when the weather isn't quite as severe, it can be difficult to train in the winter when there's snow on the ground, it's extremely cold, or dark out. What's a goalkeeper to do? Here are a couple of generally available and reasonably priced indoor options that you might try. Both are at facilities for rental throughout the USA, and at a price that is reasonable for one or two keepers to use for an hour or so without completely breaking the bank.

Raquetball/handball court. Even though diving isn't recommended on a hard court surface, you can get lots of great footwork and catching practice. Use the angles of the walls to get some good reaction training on oddly deflected shots. If you are with another keeper, play goalkeeper handball: Rules as per regular handball, except that rather than hitting the ball with an open hand, the player must catch the ball (with good soccer goalkeeping technique, of course!), and returning the ball may be done via throwing, punting, drop-kicking or volleying out of the hands. It will take some great footwork if you are to forsake diving... or dive away, and use correct form so you don't get too beat up on the floor (padded pants & shirts recommended!).

Baseball batting cage. Indoor batting cages run 5-6 yards wide and 18-23 yards long, which is a good space to crank shots at someone and work on catching, cushioning and footwork. Some collapsed diving can be done, particularly in cages with an astroturf -type floor (again, pants and sleeve recommended to prevent getting torn up by the rough surface if you do this). Bring a medicine ball, mini-ball, or reflex ball for an even better workout.

While the space in both of these types of facilities limits what you can do, you can still get a lot done if you're the least bit creative. And it beats sitting at home eating holiday candy like I ended up having to do tonight.


Communication breakdown

Think you communicate well in goal? Try this exercise and see how you do:

The goalkeeper stands behind two defenders. In front of the defenders are three attackers with a ball. The attackers move only at a walking pace, passing the ball back and forth. If an attacker is not pressured, they may walk forward with the ball until confronted. The goalkeeper must direct the defenders to defend the ball and keep the attackers from advancing.

Sound simple? There's a catch--the defenders may not move unless the goalkeeper tells them to, and then must do exactly as the keeper says.

It is not nearly so easy as it sounds. I have watched experienced players stammer, freeze up and storm off in frustration after trying this activity. It takes constant decision making and quick, concise communication to pull off well.

Even with the attackers at a walk, the keeper needs to have a constant stream of commands: "Joe, step to the ball!" "Pete, drop back a bit." "Joe, slide left." "Pete, pressure ball!" "Joe, stay in the middle."

Coaching points:
  • Use a name for every command, so the defenders know who should do what.

  • Use explicit directions (forward, backward, right, left, middle, etc.) so there's no question about where to go.

  • Start at the ball and then work away. Pressure on the ball comes first, but don't forget to direct the cover and balance next.

  • Make sure the goalkeeper and defenders have a common vocabulary. If the goalkeeper gives directions the defenders don't understand, everything falls apart.


Professional training clips

Thanks to Nathan over at KeeperZone for finding this page of vidclips of Jens Lehman and Timo Hildebrand training at Torwart.de. The thing to note is that there is nothing fancy here. Basic warm-up & stretching, catching volleys from the coach, diving technique, taking a series of balls from close range, and various simple handling exercises. Obviously there is more work going on when the keepers are back in with the team, but even—in fact, especially—at the professional level keepers need to focus on the basics.


Why top goalkeepers tend to be fatty folk.

To which a KeeperZone poster replied: "Excellent news! Just cancelled my gym membership and ordered a pizza! Cant think of a better way to train if Im honest!!"

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Get into the game

IMHO one of the reasons keepers sometimes trail field players in tactical development is that goalkeepers simply aren't put into enough game-like situations during the team's practice. Sure, there's a lot of individual technical work that needs to be done, but to become a true goalkeeper you need to learn the decision-making: stay or come out, timing on breakaways and crosses, communication, etc.

My ideal training is to work the goalkeepers separately at the start on individual technique that is related to what the field players are doing, and then bring them all together for the final part of practice for related games. For example, the keepers might work on high balls and crosses while the team start in on crossing and finishing, then we play crossing games to end practice.

A couple good ideas are an activity called "Team Trains the Keeper", and simply allowing a keeper to participate in a keepaway game as a keeper and use hands. Here are a few others:

"Shaggers": one of the most popular games at keeper camp, and strikers love it too (plus it gets those field players to see what it's like in goal for a bit!). Mark two lines, 6 and 12 yards out from goal. Two teams in lines 18 yards out, coach with balls at post. Team A keeper in goal. Coach serves ball on ground to first Team B player who must shoot first time from outside 12 yards. If B scores, coach serves a second ball in the air that B must volley from outside 6 yards. If B scores both goals, A keeper is out; if B fails to score either ball, the turn is over and... B immediately becomes the new keeper and coach serves a ball on the ground to next Team A player in line. Repeat the process. If a keeper is not scored on twice, they go back to the end of their team's shooting line. Continue until one team is eliminated.

"Make the Save": A keepaway game with one (or more) keepers on each team. A team tries to play the ball to their keeper, and the team receives a point if their keeper can make these saves in order: a rolling ball pickup, a collapsed dive, a high ball save in the air.

"Keeper Targets": Any small-sided game can use goalkeepers as targets. The objective is not to kick the ball past the keeper, but kick the ball to the keeper to score a point. The keeper then restarts the play immediately to the other team, and can act as a backpass option for that team as well.

"Pressure Cooker": Small field, about 30x40 yards with two full-size goals and keepers. Play 3v3 or 4v4, and encourage shots from anywhere.

Many of my training sessions are based on having a group, and the activities towards the end often utilize field players as well as keepers, so take a look there for ideas too.


Technique vs Tactics

Technique vs tactics. Many coaches want to spend their time on the tactical stuff: formations, systems of play, what to do and when to do it. But at the youth level, many of the breakdowns are technical. A style that requires 30-yard balls played in the air to a target forward breaks down if the players can't strike a ball well enough to get it 30 yards. A coach who can't teach the technique will get nowhere with the tactics.

However, for goalkeeper training we often get the opposite. We work in isolation on technical skills, over and over, but often we forget to work the keeper back in with the team so we can coach the tactical (decision making) part of the game with a real defense and real attackers in front of them. This may be one reason goalkeepers mature later than field players: they don't always get the coaching in game-like situations that field players get.

A good coach also not only has to identify the breakdown and fix it, but realize whether a mistake is technical or tactical. To use my previous example of a keeper struggling with breakaways, I could have spend hours on timing the shooter, when to come off the line, where to be positioned, and gotten nowhere. The problem was a technical one, not tactical. Can you tell which is which?


Spotting the critical flaw

Often what appears to be a "mental block" for a player in a certain area can be a very simple adjustment in technique. The poor technique makes it difficult to accomplish the task, and if the player or coach can't identify the flaw, the player soon believes the problem is in their head.

I spent quite a bit of time this season with my HS goalkeeper working on breakaways. She is fairly tall and has long legs and has difficulty going low, especially under pressure. She can make a breakaway save fine in a controlled coaching situation, but in a game situation really struggled. Because of this, she felt she had a "mental block" against going low and sliding through a ball.

But I noticed that on a game-like breakaway, she was always standing more upright, legs straight and bent over at the waist. That body shape is a tough position to get your hands low enough and makes it difficult to start the slide. We corrected her stance by getting her butt lower to the ground, knees bent deeply and head and shoulders up. Suddenly it became much easier for her to perform correctly.

That's where a coach, particularly a keeper coach, makes their living. Can you spot the flaws that are preventing the athlete from succeeding, and can you fix them?


All contact sports present a risk of injury. Goodness knows you can turn an ankle merely stepping off the curb if you're unlucky. But it's always horrible to read headlines like this: "Goalkeeper's kidney removed after clash".

Such incidents aren't unique to soccer. The NHL's Peter Forsberg had to have his spleen removed after a hit in a playoff game a few years ago. American football player Korey Stringer collapsed and died after a preseason workout. We can do everything in our power to prevent things like this, but some risk will remain.

I strongly maintain that proper training is one of the best ways to help keep a goalkeeper from injury, although of course even the best training cant prevent everything. With proper technical training, goalkeeping is no more dangerous than playing field, in my opinion.


Rehab sucks

I'm sitting here writing this with an icepack under my left leg. The workout wasn't that hard: 30min on the exercise bike, a little work with a piece of Theraband (elastic webbing) and some stretches. Not too rough, right? Wrong. It was excruciating after I tore my hamstring a week and a half ago. Rehab is probably more difficult than any training session you'll ever go through.

The Sunday after my last entry, I went back out to the field determined to make amends for my awful game the week before. But just 15 minutes in, on just the first shot on goal, I went to make a relatively routine save and "pop!" went the hamstring. I stayed in a minute more, seeing if I could walk it off, but when I tried to jog out to collect a rolling ball I just about collapsed. I knew I was done for a while. Right now I'm hoping to be back to light play in another 2-3 weeks.

Anyone who has ever played seriously knows about training hard. It is mentally and physically exhausting. On paper, a rehabilitation workout looks physically very simple... and that's exactly the reason it is so mentally difficult. It ought to be easy and it's not. It extremely frustrating to fail at doing even the simplest task. Add to that the constant mental reminders: can't bend to tie your shoes, or even walk at a quick pace, get up and down stairs.... You have to push harder mentally to recover from injury than you may ever have pushed during training.

But listen to your doctor or therapist and do it, as if your life depended on it. Your playing career certainly may. You hear about professional athletes coming back from injury very quickly, but it is often too quick. An improperly healed injury can bother you for the rest of your life. A few years ago I broke my wrist, and the therapist I went to often worked with pro athletes in the Denver area (Broncos, Avalanche, etc.). She said they seldom completed their course of therapy because they had to get back to playing. But she also said they suffered the consequences later, in further nagging injuries or some loss of use of that part of their body. Sound like fun?

If you play the sport long enough, you will eventually get injured and have to go through rehabilitation. It's no fun, but you're a goalkeeper because you're mentally tough. Apply that to all of your training, whether it's stopping shots to the upper 90 or coming back from injury.


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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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.


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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Team trains the keeper

Today at practice we ran a drill sometimes called Team Trains the Keeper. It's very fast paced, and shows the importance of a goalkeeper staying focused on one thing at a time. It's essentially 3v2+K in the penalty area, with shots and crosses coming in every few seconds—lots of action in a short period of time.

My goalkeeper (and field players too, for that matter) would get so hung up about a great (or not-so-great) play on the previous ball, and fail to get into position and ready for the next ball and either make a mistake or get lucky the attackers didn't score. Add confusion about where the next ball was coming from, and you saw lots of plays the goalkeeper was completely unprepared for.

The dynamic reaction exercises in my Reaction Training session can be used to help a goalkeeper with this. The goalkeeper needs to focus on one thing at a time: find the next ball, get into proper position quickly with good footwork, focus on the ball and the save or other play that needs to be made, make the save or the ball goes out of play, then forget that ball and find the next one. Break it down into its component parts. For example, it's almost always better, after a rebound, to get fully to your feet first, then track down the ball. It is very difficult to corral a moving or bouncing ball from your knees or rear end; you stand a much better chance of safely covering the ball if you are on your feet very quickly and mobile.

This type of focus is critical to goalkeeping and has to be practiced.


The other side of the ball

I'm a strong believer that goalkeepers should get a chance to play in the field—before the age of 13 or 14 keepers should not be in net exclusively, and even after that they should get to play other positions when the opportunity presents itself.  In particular, goalkeepers should try playing striker.  Even if it's just in a summer league, indoor, or a pickup soccer game (with full goals and someone else in net), it can give a keeper great insight by being on the other side of the ball for a change.

In fact, I think that good strikers and good goalkeepers have many common characteristics:  the ability to be calm and composed in high pressure situations in front of goal, the mental makeup to deal with failure and move on, and an attitude that "the ball is mine".

Up front, you get to see keepers making mistakes and learn how you, as a striker, can take advantage of them.  You can also see good goalkeeper plays and how it affects the attacker.  For example, last night I got to play up front in my coed league game.  If I can brag a bit, I scored a hat trick in our 3-2 victory.  But my first two goals, early in the first half, were almost identical.  The goalkeeper stayed on his line, and that was all the additional time I needed to 1)  pick my spot and measure the shot, and 2) shift the ball to a more advantageous position to make the goal.  Both times I was coming in from the left side of the goal. Positionally the keeper was sound, taking away the near post and making it difficult to go far post with the ball on my left foot.  But by his staying back, I had just enough time to switch the ball to my right foot.  This put the ball a yard or so towards the center of the goal.  Now, instead of being perfectly positioned between the ball and the goal, he was now a yard out of position and my shot was much easier.  A couple of quick flicks with the outside of the right boot, and we were up two to nothing.  Had he come out, he would have made that one-yard shift in ball position less harmful, but might also have prevented me from switching feet at all and forced me to take a left-footed shot or nothing.

I guarantee you, if I were a timid keeper and saw how I could take advantage of another timid keeper, it might encourage me to change my game a bit—a lesson much more powerful than any coaching point.

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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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Integrating the goalkeeper into team practice

So just how do you go about integrating the goalkeeper into a team practice? Often, if there is a goalkeeper trainer at all, the keepers go off and do their own thing for a while, then suddenly show up just as the team goes into a full-sided game and hop into goal. More usually, the keepers train with the rest of the field players and then hop into goal with no keeper-specific warm-up or instruction at all. Both of these approaches leave the goalkeepers somewhat isolated: either apart from the team, or separating from the team to face shots on goal.

It's not an easy problem to solve unless the team coach recognizes the goalkeeper as an important part of the practice from the start, and designs practice sessions with that in mind.

All kinds of games and warm-up activities could be tweaked to include a goalkeeper, and the sooner full goals and goalkeepers are integrated into team games, the more soccer-like the activities are (and the more fun the players have to boot). Here are a few tings you can to in your team practice to include a goalkeeper:

  • Passing/receiving warm-ups: Allow goalkeepers to participate and receive balls with their hands (focusing on good ground-ball pickups) and distribute via throws.
  • Keep-away games: Add keepers as neutral support players outside the grid, and allow them to field balls and distribute with their hands. Variation: passes to the keepers must be lofted so the keeper catches the ball above the waist.
  • Directional small-sided games: Rather than shooting at goals, players must pass the ball to a "target" goalkeeper over the goal line. You can restrict scoring to balls hit to the target keeper at a certain height (ground, chest high, chips higher than head height, etc.). Allow back-passes to the keeper, who can then distribute from the hands.
  • "Handball"-type games for the whole team: Obviously the keeper will get more benefit from games involving hand passing, but these types of games are a lot of fun and a good change of pace for the field players as a warm-up or to teach younger players ideas about space and movement.

And of course, if you have access to full-size goals, make use of them as often as possible and get your keeper into the net!


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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How to warm up a goalkeeper

Somebody asked about how to warm up a goalkeeper over on the Forum at and-again.com.

Goalkeepers do need a warmup different from the team. About the worst thing to do is have them run a lap and then set them in the goal to face unopposed shots from 16 yards out.

After the basic physical warm-up with the team (jogging and other wise loosening up and getting the blood flowing), keepers need to separate and get their hands warmed up with some catch. A coach can do this, or (better yet) have your goalkeepers learn to warm each other up.

I'd start with simple catch, focusing on good catching technique and footwork to get the body behind the ball. Contour catch, then knee-high for basket catches, high balls, and rolling balls. Then do a simple diving progression: sitting, kneeling, squatting, standing. Go from easy collapsed-dive distance, and finish with a few extended dives (but not too many!). I then like to add some quick-hands drills (keeper tosses ball to server who punches it back at them) and a few "mock" breakaways to get the keeper comfortable with coming off their line.

As for punting, I'd leave that up to the individual keeper. Do, however, make sure they have their hamstrings thoroughly warmed and stretched. Finally, if you have a team activity that requires a keeper to face live shots, put them in for a bit.

The training sessions have some activities that can be used for game-day warmups. For example, footwork mirroring and the sit/kneel/stand/squat progression can be found there.


Snow, snow, snow

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

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

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

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Quality of service

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

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

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

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

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


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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