The most neglected player on most soccer teams is the goalkeeper. Even very good coaches will forget about their goalkeepers. In fact, many former goalkeepers who coach a team will forget about their goalkeepers!
In a previous post, I laid out the unfortunate reality that most goalkeepers are not properly developed because most coaches neglect or do not know how to best develop goalkeepers.
So how do we fix it? Here are 7 ways we can improve how we develop our goalkeepers:
1. Get educated about goalkeeper coaching
Before we can help our goalkeepers get better, we need to know what we’re talking about. Most coaches – because they never played goalkeeper – are not educated about the position. Step one is learning about the position.
And for all those coaches who did play goalkeeper, there is a difference between knowing about the position and knowing how to coach the position (especially if the coaches we had were contributors to the Goalkeeper Epidemic). To get better at coaching goalkeepers, go watch well-respected goalkeeper coaches during sessions. Talk to them and get suggestions. Or better yet, take some goalkeeper coaching courses.
2. Incorporate goalkeepers into the team session
When planning a team practice session, consider the goalkeepers and how they can be involved. If you are doing a passing-oriented session, rotate the goalkeepers in and have them use their hands instead of feet. The same goes for a possession activity: goalkeepers can play as any other player, but they can use their hands when receiving, defending, and distributing. You can even incorporate goalkeepers in a dribbling-oriented session by having them do coordination or handling exercises with their hands (i.e. bouncing the ball, doing figure 8’s between the legs, or dropping the ball to themselves and making basic saves).
3. Conduct a team goalkeeping session
At the younger age groups, we often have many of our players rotate in as goalkeepers in addition to playing on the field (or at least we should). In this circumstance, we must hold a team goalkeeping session so that our players know what to do when it is their turn to play goalkeeper. This is not a waste of a session, as some coaches may think. Even if we have several players who do not regularly rotate in as goalkeeper, this session may be exactly what they need to realize that they like it and/or give them the confidence to try it in a game. We may also discover that one of them is brilliant at it! If our players are going to rotate into goal, they need to practice it. And of course, these sessions can incorporate the field-playing aspects we’ve been working on as well.
4. Coach the goalkeepers during sessions
This may seem obvious, but many of us fail to do this regularly. And even if we think we do it, are we actually coaching them, or just waiting until they make a mistake and get scored on to correct something? Why does the goalkeeper only get attention when they make a mistake or get scored on?
If we are working on defending, the goalkeeper is vitally important to the process. Don’t forget to get them involved in the session – even if they are simply standing behind the defenders helping organize them. If we are in an activity during practice that involves goalkeepers, we must keep in mind the positioning and organizational roles our keepers play and help them. We can also correct them (or better yet – praise them) after they are involved in a scoring opportunity or a save.
5. Coach the goalkeepers during the match
Again, this may seem obvious, but many of us neglect to do this consistently. How often, when coaching in a match, do we glance over to the goalkeeper and make sure they are in the right position and/or helping organize the team? How often do we pay attention to their positioning, movement, and decision-making as an opponent’s scoring opportunity develops? Do we ever address them at halftime or before the game? What about giving them guidance on distribution or being involved in the attack?
6. Develop a club-wide goalkeeper program
Any good club has a club-wide curriculum. Better clubs also have a club-wide goalkeeping curriculum. Each club’s resources differ, but they can all have a goalkeeper curriculum that works hand-in-hand with the general curriculum, then integrate it appropriately based on their resources.
If a club has a goalkeeper-specific coach or trainer, this service ought to be offered to as many players as possible, and mandated for players who specialize as keepers. Sessions should be tailored to what is appropriate for each player based on experience and ability, and work along the gradual progression laid out by the curriculum. The goalkeeper coach can also attend the team practices on occasion and work directly with the keepers in a team setting. Additionally, these goalkeeper coaches can attend games to assess and help coach the goalkeepers in a match environment.
If a club does not have a goalkeeper-specific coach or trainer, it can still work with team coaches to implement the club-wide goalkeeper curriculum using points 1-5 above.
7. Incorporate goalkeeper-specific training into the team session
If we are lucky enough to have a goalkeeper-specific coach for our team (as many college and even high school programs may have), we must incorporate their activities into the team activities.
The goalkeeper session must progress to become more realistic with each activity, just as a team session does. If the goalkeepers begin practice separately from the team, they can warm up with no pressure and go through some basic activities. But as the session progresses, they need to have more realism involved, such as attackers trying to score, ball movement before a shot, defenders on their team, and/or a counter-attack option. The team coaches and goalkeeper coach must coordinate the sessions so that the goalkeepers can progress to more realistic activities - just like the rest of the team - so that when they reach the final scrimmage or other match-like games, the goalkeepers can have more success and learning by having properly progressed a step at a time.
Additionally, it helps if the team practice topic is related to the goalkeeping topic. For instance, if the team works on playing in wide areas, the goalkeepers could work on crosses. If the goalkeepers need to work on breakaways, the team can work on penetrating with through balls or counter-attacking.
And finally, the goalkeeper coach must continue to coach the goalkeepers as the session progresses to the scrimmage or match-like activities, rather than “checking out” because the keepers have joined the rest of the team. It helps to stand behind the goalkeeper and coach in the flow of play, so the goalkeepers can make adjustments during live play and experience the results of such adjustments in real situations.