Are your goalkeepers in the “cool” group?

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Are your goalkeepers in the “cool” group?

A goalkeeper article sent to me by one of my goalkeeping parents. Not sure who wrote it. I have added to it and commented where necessary.

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, [as proved in the article on takeaways from the United Soccer Coaches Convention] when they do 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 defense, 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 or she can use hands. This is pointed out in the article [The Goalkeeper as the Quarterback] As such, the Goalkeeper 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. There are of course benefits of outfield training for goalkeepers but for the goalkeeper to be getting the dedicated practice they need, they need to be incorporated into the practice the right way.

An example of this is 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 their 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 them a two-footed player, coach them to receive on the back foot and always thinking first of changing the point of attack when they receive the ball. Practice always has to be tactical, and for goalkeepers, it is not an exception.

Dedicated goalkeeping training typically implies taking the keepers away from the team to do “keeper practice”, often at a different time and location. Specialized training is always needed, and keepers do need to train in the goal. There needs to be some thought in how this is done by both the goalkeeper and the coach in order to keep the goalkeeper looking good in front of teammates.

First – The goalkeeper should also attend team practices if their goalkeeping practice is on another time/day so that they get the benefits of being around the team

Second – The coach should not send goalkeepers off with comments that portray that  “those are the odds guys’

A key feature of a good goalkeeper is the ability to command & organize the 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?

Coaches need to empower the goalkeeper at practice. Here are some ways to do so.

  1. Make him or her the leader of the warm-up, or the cooldown. Teach them to lead the group.
  2. Always involve the keeper in the tactical discussion, they must be able to correct problems in the field. This leadership training is a critical part of goalkeeping education.
  3. Make the goalkeeper in charge of tidying up – Not tidying up, but getting them to delegate and organize.
  4. Make the goalkeeper Captain, therefore helping to get the respect of teammates if you see that it may be waivering.
  5. Praise the goalkeeper before the game or at half time. Especially in decision making or communication.

Typically we 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 and nurtured.

A coach once told me, at the age of 13: “If you don’t yell at your defense to organize it, I will yell at you. You choose.” He was right. I slowly lost my fear to give orders to my defense, and we all benefited.

Goalkeeping is a mental game. Coach the keeper’s mind. Make them part of the team. Make them feel good about themselves. Make the rest of the team feel good about them. Make your keeper mentally strong.


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January 31, 2018at 4:51 am

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Kylie Closson

April 7, 2018at 12:26 am

This is a really great article!!! It is not only well written but touches a lot of nerves for a keeper…and the parent of one! Made me a little misty eyed! Good work here, Coach Leon! Thank you!

David Carioto

August 14, 2018at 2:55 am

Great article!

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