As athletes advance in their sport, it becomes crystal clear how
influential the mind can be in altering performance.
-- Caroline Silby, Games Girls Play
The position of goalkeeper is one of the most psychologically demanding
on the soccer field. Mistakes are final. The glory is usually
reserved for the players
at the other end of the field. It's not a position for everybody. You
can't be stupid and play goal, but perhaps you must be a little crazy.
A coach must, of necessity, be a part-time psychologist, and nowhere is
this more important than for the goalkeeper, where confidence is key.
I am not a sports psychologist, nor do I play one on TV, but here are
a few ideas I have found a coach can use to help a goalkeeper's mental
toughness and attitude.
- Only play those who want to play in goal
In youth soccer, everyone is encouraged to try all positions. However,
I would not include goalkeeper in that category, at least in game
situations. It does no good to put someone in the box who simply does
not want to be there. It can be shattering for a youngster to be
scored upon. If you must, try everyone in practices, but
limit game play to those who want to be (or at least, don't mind being) in net.
- Stay positive when goals are scored
It can be tough to be positive, especially when a simple lapse has just
let in the game-losing goal with seconds to play. Goalkeepers need to
be able to put mistakes behind them quickly and recover, so try to put
a positive spin on things:
- Credit the shooter. Sometimes the opposing team has just made a
great play; give them credit - it's not always a mistake by the keeper
that lets a goal in.
- Don't dwell on it. Help the goalkeeper shake it off quickly, make a
fast coaching point if necessary, and move on once the kickoff has been
taken. You can cover problems in more depth at the next practice.
- Look for the technique that needs improvement.
on the skill that needs work, not the fact that the goal was allowed.
Very often it's just basic footwork or catching that needs brushing up.
- Give credit for other than direct saves
A keeper can keep the soccer ball out of the net in more ways than making a
direct save - forcing a missed shot gets the job done too. Aggressiveness
goes a long way here - by making the shooter decide too early, a keeper
can force a miss or a pass on an otherwise open shot. A goalkeeper who
can get into the heads of opposing forwards early has a huge advantage.
- Don't panic after a save
This applies to both coach and goalkeeper. Give the keeper time to
internalize the save (builds confidence), calm down,
give field players time to
recover, and look upfield to restart the attack.
Six seconds is plenty of time to do all this. If you stay calm, you're
showing that you have confidence in the keeper's ability to control
the ball and the game.
- Help the keeper develop good habits
Teach them good technique, then hammer it in with repetition. Don't allow
any lazy or sloppy technique, even when they're not officially doing drills
or playing. Good habits will show themselves in games just like bad
habits. Repetition is the key;
it right every time (consistency) is
what separates a good goalkeeper from a great one.
- Don't allow less than full effort, every time, every shot
Every shot deserves an attempt at a save, even if it seems futile. Eventually,
the shots that seemed impossible to stop before will start coming into
range. If the effort is there, the results will start to come.
- If things aren't going well, pull the goalkeeper with care
Many coaches will pull a keeper if they are getting shelled, but be
aware of the repercussions of this. Some players will take this as
a sign you lack confidence in them, and only go downhill. Make sure
you stay positive, and point out you're not pulling them because they
are a poor player or person, just that it's not their day.
- Encourage additional training
There isn't always time to properly train a keeper in normal practice
sessions, especially when that player needs to develop foot and field
skills as well. Encourage them to attend club or private training
sessions, goalkeeper camps, rent or buy books or videos, or visit
this and other web sites. A player who is serious about goalkeeping
needs all the extra training and practice they can get.