The Art and Science of Goalkeeping
Goalkeeping is a special position that takes a special individual to play. I should know – I have been playing it for 15 years and currently train goalkeepers with a local club here in the US and several camps throughout the year.
What most people outside of football/soccer do not understand is that to play the position of a goalkeeper takes extreme training and dedication. Just like you don’t become a good striker by playing up front, you don’t automatically become a goalkeeper just because you managed to emulate John O’Shea in a kickabout with your mates.
So what does it take to become a good goalkeeper? Here are a few things you should work on:
Learning the proper technique for punching, diving and sliding will bring out your best performance in the net and ultimately lead you to become a reliable goalkeeper.
Anyone who can make two fists can punch a ball, however it is the technique involved that makes this truly an art form. Bring both fists together into your chest, and push them out to meet the ball at the opportune moment to propel it away from danger.
However the situation sometimes arises that you can only use one hand to punch, this is alright but not recommended. Always use two hands to punch a ball, and bring one of your knees (whichever is facing the crowd) up to your chest to protect your body.
Regardless of how you slide you need to attack the ball. Hands out in front of you meeting the ball, bend your wrists inward to keep any rebound in front of your body and slide through the player. A keeper can not be afraid of contact!
A proper dive will have the keeper landing on their thigh, shoulder and upper arm. It takes a lot of practice to learn to land correctly, but you will be grateful once you have mastered this technique. Always keep your bottom leg straight, and bring your top leg to your chest for extra power on the dive and protection from players crashing the net.
When catching a ball out of the air, remember to utilize the ground as your third hand and pin the ball down. This will soften the landing as well as use the ground as another tool for not letting the ball bounce off out of your grasp.
It is crucial for a goalkeeper to be on the balls of his feet and ready to move at a moment’s notice. Goalkeepers do a lot of work on their reactions and response-time; if you are always ready opposing strikers can’t catch you off guard.
The objective of closing down angles while goalkeeping is to prevent you from having to dive all of the time, so if you can cut off a player’s angle to where the only shot he has is straight at you, you do not have to dive. Always use your near post as a guide to where you are and what angle you should take. Angles will greatly increase your performance before you even see another player.
Being the last player on the pitch gives the goalkeeper a tremendous responsibility to the rest of the team. The goalkeeper needs to communicate constantly with his field players. Constant communication will set your team at ease by knowing they will always have someone in their ear that can see what is going on. Not everyone is born with the communication gene, but in order to be a strong goalkeeper you need to learn to communicate on the pitch. Regardless of comfort level.
This is all about pushing your comfort level and finding what works best for you. I personally always stood with 3/4 of the goal in front of me with a defender on my back post, because it is easier to run forward instead of tracking back. A good rule of thumb is to find where you are too comfortable, then take away pieces to keep you on your toes. Experiment in training sessions and see what works for you.
PKs, depending on the level of play, can be nothing more than an educated guess. What I tell my goalkeepers is to go on reaction. DO NOT OVER THINK THE SITUATION! Go on your instincts, they are usually right. If you start thinking, “well he is right footed, so he’ll place it in the far corner. But what if he knows I’m thinking that? Then he’ll go near corner, or maybe…”, then you have lost the PK already.
It is said that as goalkeepers develop their skills they can learn to read players before they kick the ball. I believe this is true, but the keeper is already at a disadvantage with PKs, so my suggestion is to just go with your gut and guess.
The best advice for mental preparation is to clear your mind of all outside distractions. Many listen to music before a match, others sit quietly by themselves. Your choice, but clear the mind of everything but the game ahead of you.
Staying focused can be difficult, but it is necessary for a top performance and I would advise training yourself on how to stay focused by constantly thinking about the “What if” scenarios. Always think about the game while at the game, never stray away from those thoughts and always keep your focus.
Becoming overconfident can kill a career, not just a game. However becoming too under-confident can do the same thing. It is a delicate balance that must be obtained, and even the professionals struggle with this sometimes. Paul Robinson from England is a great example of how a lack of confidence can throw your career into a tailspin.
Having what I call a “Forgetful Memory” is a must in today’s game. You must forget the last spectacular save you just made, as well as you must forget the last goal that you feel you should have saved. No keeper will ever have a shut out for their entire career, it is just not possible, so every goal and every save needs to be forgotten (in the sense that you learn and move on, not dwell on your personal failure or success).
Training will only do so much to help you get ready for a match. You must study the opponents. Study their runs, their set plays, their passing tendencies, who takes the PKs, who takes the free kicks, what angles work best, etc. Rely on your training and abilities to make it through the match, but prepare for what you feel can beat you; i.e. set pieces and certain players’ habits. A good example is how opposing keepers prepare for Delap’s rocket throws or Leah’s mortal somersault.
Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Every goalkeeper will learn their strengths and weaknesses quickly. Find those weaknesses and improve them, find your strengths and utilize them more often. But never let the opposition sniff any hesitation if you have to dive on your weaker side or if you have trouble in coming out quickly enough. The opposing team needs to think you are great in all aspects.
Training with a team is vital and necessary for the development of the keeper. However you will not get nearly as much action with the squad as you will in specialized training. Find a goalkeeping coach to help train you, if you do not have one with your team then look around. There are a ton of old goalkeepers that are willing to share everything they know with new goalkeepers. This training will help you get to the next level of playing, whether that is college, professional or just the next level at your club.
I hope this information has been useful for any keepers out there. Please do not hesitate to ask me any questions you might have about the position or situations that might arise while you are goalkeeping.