An article sent to me by one of my goalkeeping parents. Not sure who wrote it.
Is your team coach helping your goalkeeper be part of the cool group?
The role of the goalkeeper is never well understood – except by other goalkeepers. Goalkeepers are lonely specialists, put in a position that is mostly a setup for failure. They rarely touch the ball, when they do it they have all the spotlight, saves are expected, and mistakes are very costly. It is the mirror image of strikers, who are always involved, mistakes are expected, and their goals – and even their good misses – are always celebrated. No wonder goalkeepers are paid less than strikers, and they very rarely win any awards.
Why therefore would anybody want to be a goalkeeper? Because it is a beautiful place to be. You see the whole game, you command your defence, and you can save your team. You are in charge. But is this something that coaches understand, especially at the youth level?
The modern goalkeeper is the last defender, with the advantage that he can use his hands. As such, he is part of the spine of the team – the keeper, the central defender, the holding midfielder, the playmaker, the striker. The best players must play in the middle, and the keeper is one of them. So goalkeepers need to think both as a player and as a keeper. It is a much more complex task than what the average field player has to accomplish.
However, despite this difficulty, goalkeepers are typically an afterthought for the coaches. Watch any practice, what do you see? Plenty of drills where keepers are just another player, with very little – if at all – dedicated attention to them. For example, just a simple question: a standard drill, 4v4 with two targets. Where should the goalkeeper be? In most cases, they are just another player, depending on the color of their jersey. Really? Do goalkeepers play in midfield surrounded by other players? How does the goalkeeper contribute to the game with his feet? As a target player, in fact, always being the last resort for a back pass. Integrate the goalkeeper in the drill in his position, and coach it properly. Make him a two-footed player, coach him to receive on the back foot and always thinking first of changing the point of attack when he receives the ball. Practice always has to be tactical, and for goalkeepers it is not an exception.
Here is another example. Dedicated goalkeeping training typically implies taking the keepers away from the team to do “keeper practice”, often at a different time and location. Specialised training is always needed, and keepers do need to train in the goal. But what kind of message does this send to the team? Essentially, the message is “those are the odds guys’. Yet a key feature of a good goalkeeper is his ability to command and organise his defense. Do you treat the odd guys in social groups with respect? Think of high school cafeteria dynamics – are you making the keepers look like the nerds, while they should be with the cool group? Change this dynamic and make up for their absences. Empower the goalkeeper at practice. Make him the leader of the warm-up, or the cool down, for example. Teach him to lead the group. Always involve the keeper in the tactical discussion, he must be able to correct problems in the field.This leadership training is a critical part of the goalkeeping education. We typically see goalies in the field as those guys in the goal scared to rush out of the goal, scared of telling anything to their teammates. They are mentally weak, and that is a recipe for failure, no matter how athletic they are in goal. A good goalkeeper must be a strong leader, and that must be trained. A coach once told me, at the age of 13: “If you don’t yell at your defence to organize it, I will yell at you. You choose.” He was right. I slowly lost my fear to give orders to my defence, and we all benefited.
There is another key difference with respect to field players. A keeper will let goals in with probability one. He must learn to deal with them, not see them as failures during the game, he must understand that goals are a fact of life. Don’t allow goalies at shooting practice to get upset because they let an easy ball in, each ball must be a new one, regardless of what happened before. Teach them to handle failure in a positive way.
Goalkeeping is a mental game. Coach the keeper’s mind. Make him part of the team. Make your keeper mentally strong.