Goalkeepers are commanded to command, but the specifics of what they should communicate, and when, is a subject of great debate. What the coach and goalkeeper need to understand is that the keeper’s commands should be purposeful and not a distraction. The big problem is that coaches demand that goalkeepers talk to excess, but they don't teach the specifics of when and what to say. The first thing I make clear is that when the keeper opens their mouth, it should be of great importance so that teammates learn that anything coming from the goalkeeper is of unquestioned significance. A field player has at least five to seven other areas of equal or greater importance upon which to focus: the ball, their position on the field, their immediate opponent, their immediate teammate, the other team as a whole, their team as a whole, and other factors like the officials, their coaches, the crowd, that are going to compete for a field players attention. The complaint of most goalkeepers is that their defense does not listen to them. I always ask them if what they are saying has any value worth listening or taking the focus away from the immediate areas of focus? It is nice to have a goalkeeper who is encouraging and/or demanding, but the sentiments of encouragement/demand should not muddle critical instruction and organization. To be simplistic, encouragement and criticism in important moments of a match become noise that a field player needs to tune out. Encouragement and criticism can be given in dead ball situations, at halftime or after the game is over and not interfere with critical/practical communication. In this area it is important that goalkeepers understand that during a high level club, college or professional match a field player is going to run between two to seven miles where a goalkeeper might move 200 to 400 meters, and very rarely at more than a jog or the occasional sprint. A goalkeeper who is shouting constantly at their defense will find resentment and a lack of concern for the goalkeeper and his needs. I go in more depth how to communicate with players effectively so as to not badger or inspire their ire. Other things to avoid are waste words (i.e. "Step!") or coaching field players in areas that are not a keeper's responsibility (i.e. "Shoot!" "Pass it to ..."). A goalkeeper has nothing of value to say to their team once the ball is past half field in their offensive half of the field. There are exceptions in regards to making sure people are marked correctly or the defense is in a proper shape, but as a rule, no talking when the ball is in the other half of the field. A goalkeeper is not the hands on director of play and should focus on what is their own responsibility. What is critical to teach is that THERE ARE THREE SPECIFIC TIMES WHEN A GOALKEEPER MUST SPEAK WITHOUT EXCEPTION. All other times are subject to specific conditions. Below you will find specifics in communication within those three areas that should be implemented and practiced like any physical and technical aspect of goalkeeping.
1 - WHEN ANY BALL COMES INTO THE 18 YARD BOX Whether the balls rolls into the 18 yard box and there isn't another soul within 80 yards of the ball, the keeper still needs to say one of these two commands. No matter how obvious, silence is unacceptable. Here are commands when a ball comes into the defending 18 yard box. These commands should be repeated loudly until teammates understand them. 1. Keeper – to let everybody know that he is going for the ball. 2. Away – to encourage players to clear the ball immediately.
2 - WHEN A DEFENDER/TEAMMATE HAS THE BALL These
commands that are mandatory for when the keeper is passing the ball to a
teammate or a teammate has the ball within 40 yards of the defending 18
yard box. These commands should be repeated loudly until the player
understands them. 1. Time – to tell the player that he has time to work with the ball. 2. Man On – to tell the player that he has opponent attacking him. 3. Turn – to tell the player that he can turn with the ball.
The commands that is mandatory for when the keeper has received the ball. These commands should be repeated loudly until the players understand them. 1. Open Up – to encourage players to go to empty space and demand the ball. 2. Move Up – to let the team know that the keeper will be sending the ball up field and to prepare to receive.
The commands that are mandatory when the ball is sent out of the immediate defensive area and the goalkeeper is organizing his defense. These commands should be followed to a specific area (i.e. “Up to the 18!” “Up to half field!”). 1. Step up/ UP – to push the defense line forward in order to provide support to the midfielders when we have the ball and close the space and increase the pressure when the other team has the ball.
The commands that are mandatory when the ball is approaching the immediate defensive area and the goalkeeper is organizing his defense. These commands should be followed to a specific area (i.e. “Hold at the 18!”). When communicating to a specific player, this should be done by always saying the defenders name and the number of the player to be marked or the specific area to be covered (i.e. “John, mark up #7!” or “John, cover the middle”). 1. Tuck In/Slide In – to help a defender close the empty space, provide support to other defenders, and keep the team shape. 2. Mark Up – to encourage players to mark an opponent. When communicating to a specific player, this should be done by always saying the defenders name and the number of the player to be marked or the specific area to be covered (i.e. “John, mark up #7” or “John, cover the middle”). 3. Goal Side – to help defender choose the right defensive position and stay between the goal and the opponent at all times. 4. Drop In – to encourage players to drop in and take defensive position. 5. Man to Man – to remind players to mark and stay closer to their man. 6. Shape Up – to encourage players to get to their position and maintain the team’s shape. 7. Pass Him On – to encourage players to exchange their marks instead of following them around the field.
These commands are important, but are not as important as those above. They should be instructed ONCE the keepers are showing complete use of the above commands. 8. First Ball – to encourage players to challenge the ball and get it before their opponents. 9. Second Ball – to encourage players to fight for loose balls. 10. Near Post – to encourage players to cover the first post (the post closer to the ball) 11. Far Post – to encourage players to cover the second post (the post farther from the ball) 12. Left/Right – to encourage players to move to the desired position.
The Dark Ages of Goalkeeping
If one goes anywhere in the world, there is a standard way in which field players are coached. The drills and personalities may differ, but the goal is always the same: education, intensity, repetition and improvement. When it comes to goalkeeping, one will get as many different opinions about coaching goalkeepers as there are people who coach them. This leads to a confusion/inconsistency in goalkeeping and goalkeepers, especially in this country. That is why it is so critical that a goalkeeper knows exactly what they should do and why.
The one area in which coaches hold to religiously when training goalkeepers is training with intensity and repetition, as field players do. I have observed, especially in this country, that the dirtier and sweatier the goalkeeper, it is believed the better the training. I marvel at the glee of parents and coaches as they tell me how the trainer they hired for their goalkeeper drives them so hard as if success for a goalkeeper is measured by laundry stains or early bed time due to fatigue. This attitude is why goalkeeper training and goalkeeping is in a “Dark Ages.”
The British Football Association did a study of every match played in professional football and did a statistical analysis of every aspect (i.e. How many goals scored left footed, how many defensive clearing headers per match, how often was the right midfielder involved in play etc.) over the course of one season. The study showed that goalkeepers were involved in (Take a guess now before I tell you. You will be surprised. I ask every keeper I train what they think the answer will be and no one ever comes close) 3% of the play. Factoring in the different level of play for younger boys and girls then the answer would be closer to 5% - 7%. So what does a goalkeeper do for 93% to 97% of the match? The answer is…nothing. The first thing I try to do with goalkeepers is to get them to think like a coach and not just about their own specific role. I ask the question that if you are coaching a team and your right halfback touches the ball 30 times and makes 25 horrible mistakes, but has the two goals and three assists and the team wins five to three, did they have a good game? The answer is that the right halfback didn't have a good game, they had a GREAT game!! I also ask that if a goalkeeper touches the ball ten times in a match and is world class perfect on nine of those chances, but makes one technical mistake and their team lose 1-0, did the goalkeeper have a good game? The answer is no, the keeper had a poor game. The standards, attitude and expectations for a goalkeeper are completely different from a field player and so should the standards, attitude and expectations towards training. This means that every activity and repetition for a goalkeeper should be treated with the utmost importance and care as it would in a match. When I see a keeper doing a session where it is a constant up and down, over and over, with the focus on intensity and speed of repetition (Which never happens in a match), I see a keeper having bad habits cemented into their brain and muscle memory, and the attitude that hard work is of greater value than quality work. These keepers make the same mistakes over and over and will never realize how to fix the problem because the people training them either don't know how to fix it or they don't want to take the time, which is long and sometimes monotonous, to get it consistently right. It takes a goalkeeper roughly 700 repetitions of doing something correct before their mind and muscle memory accepts it as how it should be done.
The vast majority of goalkeepers and coaches I see zone out technical details and accept what physically comes natural to the keeper. What physically comes natural to a goalkeeper is poor goalkeeping (i.e. diving backwards, slapping at the ball, not getting set before the shot, poor stance, poor footwork, guessing, misjudging the ball, poor positioning, poor angles to the ball etc.). It is also a huge detriment to technical improvement when parents and coaches, not understanding the requirements of goalkeeping, are discouraging technical training because it lacks the excitement of more physically oriented training.
I observed a team session with one of the older and better keepers in the club where I was the Director of Goalkeeping. The focus was on shooting. I watched for the first twenty shots as he flopped around in goal with great energy and showmanship. Parents and the coach were encouraged by his physical effort and loudly praised him. Balls went underneath him and into the goal as he flew over them. For these shots, he could easily have taken one step and scooped. He deflected balls into the goal while diving backwards. Balls shot at his body would be smacked away for corner kicks or rebounded out in front of the goal. He was bouncing around on his feet and not getting set until the ball was almost by him. He had his hands at the worst possible position where he would be slow to shots anywhere above his shins and deflect the rest backwards (Usually into the goal). Eighteen of the first twenty shots that should have been saves became goals, easy rebounds or corner kicks. I then pulled him aside to correct him and he was very teachable and desiring to learn. I walked him through where he was making mistakes and he immediately applied it. The next ten minutes was a different story with him getting set, in a better stance, getting his body weight forward, not trying to be so physically spectacular and saving about 95% of the shots he received. The young man’s father later approached me and told me he didn't want me coaching his son because I was doing things different then their trainer. Apparently, my style of training was not physical enough. Should we blame his trainer for the player making mistakes? Maybe, but we would all be in for a lot of blame as coaches for our players’ lack of perfection. What was disturbing was that the young man told me that my instructions (Proper stance, getting set before the shot, stepping into the ball, diving to the ball and not backwards, proper footwork so he wouldn't dive backwards etc) were things he had not heard before. Now, I am not so arrogant to think that I am the only one to ever know or tell him these basics and I am sure he may have heard these things more than a few times before, but failed to remember. We all have had our instructions forgotten by a young person and it will happen again and again. It is part of coaching. Why this whole incident was disturbing was that anytime I had dealings with this young man, the topic of his never being taught technical details to any extent was brought up every time by him. He also explained that the majority of his private training was physical. His father explained to me that the reason he did so poorly at the beginning of the session was because he had just come from a private session and was tired. When I asked what he did at that session he said, “He did 300 dives, up and down, over and over with little or no stopping. It was great training” I asked if his son ever had that type of situation in a match and the father said no. I asked if the trainer did much in the way of correcting his son’s technique and he said no because he was focusing on intensity and fitness. When I asked if that type of training could reinforce bad habits his son exhibits currently, the father refused to answer and walked away upset. Welcome to the Dark Ages, Dad.
Technical details are far more crucial to goalkeepers than they are to any other position. To have a successful keeper, physical ability is great, but it will only go so far. A physically average keeper who is technically excellent can exceed well beyond a physically excellent keeper who is technically limited. My rule for training goalkeepers is that they should make errors of commission and not errors of omission, if they make any errors at all. When I am being interviewed for any job as a goalkeeper coach, I make it clear what my goal will be: The goalkeepers may or may not be ABLE to be great, but they should KNOW what to do to be great.
If a goalkeeper is judged on a different standard then a field player and that anything they do could be game altering, then what is the goalkeeper’s goal when playing and training? Whether they attain it or not, the goalkeeper’s goal is perfection. What is perfection for a goalkeeper? Ask a goalkeeper what constitutes perfection and one is likely to get numerous answers: “A shutout, a lot of great saves, any game your team wins, doing your best, when you make your coach, mom and dad proud and happy etc.” The key to understanding the correct answer is to get a goalkeeper to not think as an individual player, but as either a coach or from the team’s point of view. The answer to what constitutes a perfect game for a goalkeeper is when a goalkeeper does nothing. Every coach dreams of a game when the ball never comes within sixty yards of their own goal and their goalkeeper is trying to not fall asleep. Is this unrealistic to expect? Perhaps, but doing nothing, or as little as possible, should be the goal for training and playing. If a keeper can prevent themselves from being involved in play by communication and organization, then instructing the best way to communicate and organize should be a priority. If a keeper must touch the ball, then instructing them how to do it without creating more opportunities for the opponent is a priority. Most of the keepers have a hard time catching harder shots. That is not so much the problem as what is done with the ball when it is not caught. Most keepers either smack the ball away for corner kicks or knocking it back in front of the goal, but out of their reach. The first session I do with every keeper was to teach how to “Catch over the ball” so that if they are not able to handle the ball then the ball will drop right in front of them where it will be easily gathered. Lower shots are scooped up. Wide shots are “Caught around the ball.” Is this doing nothing? No, but it makes the keeper focus on not creating more work for themselves or their teammates.
The biggest area where goalkeepers can greatly reduce the amount of problems and work is by improving in my three laws of goalkeeping. Any mistake made or goal allowed specifically by a goalkeeper can be reduced down to three technical areas:
1 – How was their stance when the ball was crossed, played or shot? Watch when the ball is shot. How is your keeper standing? Are they too upright? Is their weight back on their feet? Are their hips in front of their upper body? Are their hands down at their sides or behind them? How far apart are their feet? Are they up on their toes, almost like a ballerina? The proper stance can make a goalkeeper almost 40% quicker to a ball. I would say many of the goals given up could have been prevented just by improving how the keeper was standing when the ball was shot.
2 – Were they set and ready before the ball was crossed, played or shot? Another huge area of importance too often ignored. I have seen too many times that our keepers are still moving around the goal, trying to get into better position or bouncing up and down on their feet when a ball is shot and then they are late getting to ball. If a ball takes one second to get from the top of the eighteen yard box to the goal (On average for a high school age player) and three to five tenths of a second are spent by the keeper stopping their bouncing motion and resetting their feet and body so they can move to the ball, then our keepers are reacting to balls after it has traveled half its distance. As we know, most shots at goal come from a lot closer than eighteen yards away (Mostly off of crosses) and that means the time the ball travels is much less, but that three to five tenths of a second to reset a keeper’s body to react to the shot does not change. The only way a keeper saves a shot when they are not set is if the ball hits them. You may say this is an exaggeration, but I have videotape of almost all the keepers in our club doing this. I make it clear that getting set BEFORE the ball is shot is more important than being in the correct position. One need only look at the US National Team in high level play and see we have lost critical matches because our keeper was not set before or even as the ball was being shot. Siri Mullinex in the 2000 Olympic finals was not set when a long shot came at her at the end of the gold medal match. Once she finally stopped bouncing and reacted to the shot and got her hands out from her sides, she was only able to dive backwards (A byproduct of a bad stance and not being set) and deflect the ball into her own goal. Brad Friedle (Who had a great tournament) in the 2002 World Cup quarter finals were caught bouncing on his feet with his hands down at his side when a quick German header beat him ten inches to his right. Because the ball was headed from so close that Friedle was caught unable to react until the ball was past him. This is a critical area of goalkeeping and no matter which one of our goalkeepers I ask, none of them seemed familiar with this concept.
3 – In what position were they when the ball was crossed, played, or shot and what angle were they taking to get to the ball? This means basic positioning and angle to the ball. This is an area that takes time with keepers. We all see how the keepers want to stay inside their six yard box when the ball is in the other half of the field. We see how every keeper immediately takes at least two steps forward towards a high ball or cross and usually ends up having the ball go over their head. We see on corner kicks how keepers naturally want to stand perpendicular to the goal. We see how keepers end up with their heads back towards the goal and their feet towards the field after diving for the ball. We see how the keepers need to know how to position themselves as second defenders when the ball is within 20-25 yards of the goal and not set on the goal line. The process of fixing these things takes time and requires time during practice and go over and over the basic principles of position. Positioning can be taught in a goalkeeper specific session and it can be drilled in a goalkeeper specific session, but it cannot be learned unless it is reinforced during game conditions.
A perfect example of excellence in my three laws is the 2002 World Cup. The MVP of that tournament was Oliver Kahn. He was voted the best goalkeeper of the tournament and also the best player of the tournament. He carried an average German team into the finals. The German strategy was built around Kahn being able to protect any lead. In what was arguably the greatest display of goalkeeping at the highest level (Some would argue Buffon in 2006, Kopke in the 1996 European Championships, Banks in the 1966 World Cup and Yashin in the 1960 European Championships, but those four had superior defenses to the 2002 German team), Kahn proved that great goalkeeping does not require aerobatic goalkeeping. What was significant to notice about Kahn’s performance was that he rarely left his feet for anything other than high ball/crosses. His stance was always correct with his weight forward and his hands in front of his body. His feet were always set before the shot. He was near flawless in his positioning. Because he did the basics so well, he didn't need to fly around the goal. He showed that if a keeper does all the mental and technical things correctly then the physical aspects become far less important or necessary.
In closing, it is important to understand that goalkeeping is first a science and second an athletic endeavor. Hard work is a key element to great goalkeeping – and the best goalkeepers are often the hardest workers – but without a scientific focus on the physiology, psychology, technique, angles, strategy, and intellect of goalkeeping, a goalkeeper will be limited in their performance and potential. High intensity training with the occasional correction that is not reinforced on every repetition will only lead to “cementing” poor and inefficient habits. Focus should be on trying to achieve perfection on every repetition or using every repetition to progress towards perfection. If perfection is not achieved, then at least excellence can be attained.
Too often the warm-up is overlooked for a goalkeeper. This is a great mistake, especially when many college coaches don’t have the time to watch goalkeepers in matches, but will closely observe their warm-ups with regards to a goalkeeper’s recruitment. A warm-up can vary depending on the time and space allowed. The biggest factor is whether the keeper is allowed on the field a half hour before their match. Here is a whole warm-up and then you can adjust depending on time and place.
This can be done before the game or before the end of the half on the sidelines 1 - 20 volleys to hands (Chest height) 2 - 20 volleys to waist (Between knees and chest) 3 - 20 volleys to feet (On the ground) 4 - 6 high ball tosses (3 with the left knee up and 3 with the right knee up) 5 - 6 easy collapse dives (3 to the right and three to the left)
Once in goal: - I start at the top of the 18 yard box with a couple balls. This can be done with one other person, or ideally, two people. All the shots need to be on goal. Kicking them wide does no good. Also, the idea is to not score, but be on goal. 1st person hits a shot and then moves 5-7 yards to their right on the 18 yard box. The 2nd person shoots and then moves 5-7 yards to their left of the 18 yard box. The first person shoots and then moves right another 5-7 yards. The other person does the same, but moves to the right. Both shooters make an arc around the 18 yard box until both are on the end line. From there the servers alternate taking about five or six crosses from each side. - With one player at midfield, take about six goalkicks and six punts. - One player at midfield and one at the top of the 18 yard box. The player at the top of the 18 yard box passes the ball back to the keeper and the keeper hits three first time strikes with the left foot, and three with the right foot, to the person at midfield. If you have time, this can be repeated, using two touches. - If there is time left, the person at the 18 dribbles in to goal and the keeper takes the ball off the player's foot. This can be done from different angles. - After this, if the keeper wants more work then field players from the team should take shots or crosses.