As a parent or coach, even if you claim to know absolutely nothing about the game of soccer, more often than not, you will concede that you know one obvious and important rule — no hands allowed. Players must learn to control the ball with their feet (and other parts of their body, if they are so inclined) in order to attack the opponent’s goal and ultimately score. With a few basic helpful hints, any parents or first-time coach can practice foot skills with a young team.
However, there is a slight complication to this seemingly straightforward no-hands rule. Whether you are well-versed in the rules of soccer or utterly uninformed, you will probably be able to realize that soccer goalies represent an exception to this rule. Goalkeepers are allowed to use their hands inside the penalty area (better known as the 18-yard box). Unlike their counterparts on the field, goalies have different responsibilities, use different equipment, and ultimately, must practice different skills in preparation for games.
To play the position well requires training, special attention to safety and a knowledgeable coach. Many coaches at the youth level, however, find the position of the goalkeeper somewhat perplexing. Are there specific drills that teach goalkeeping? Read on to learn about goalkeeping equipment, the skills goalkeepers need and the drills that will help them improve.
Primarily, goalies are required to wear different colored shirts to distinguish them from both team’s field players as well as from the referees. Traditionally, goalkeeping jerseys are long-sleeved to protect the arms and elbows from scrapes. Some jerseys have elbow padding which can provide extra protection for the goalkeeper. At a very young age, the customary goalkeeping jersey isn’t a necessity. As long as you have one or two different brightly colored shirts on hand, your keeper will be well-suited, no matter what team you are playing.
Second, the unique demands of goalkeeping require special gloves for the job. Goalkeeping gloves are intended to protect the goalkeeper’s hands and wrists in addition to providing a better grip on the soccer ball. It is most important to check out the palm surface of the gloves for adequate grip on the ball. Usually smoother foam (latex foam) surfaces grip better than rubber surfaces or palms with grids or dimpled textures. The cushioning of the gloves is important, but make sure the foam isn’t too thick as to hinder the ability to correctly grip the ball.
Finally, in terms of the proper fit, be aware that goalkeeping gloves will naturally look slightly over-sized on the keeper’s hands. They should not fit tightly, but they also should not be too loose so that the hands can move around inside the gloves. Look for wide wrist straps that will provide support and that can be tightened securely. To care for goalkeeping gloves, it is best to wash them out with a mild liquid soap and rinse them thoroughly with water afterward. If you do this after every use and let the gloves air dry, you should have no problem with odor, and the gloves will remain clean for the next user.
Goalkeeping pants or shorts are purely optional. Some older keepers like the added support of traditional padding at the hips of goalkeeping pants that protects against hard falls and dives. At a young age, these specially designed pants aren’t necessary, but it is helpful to have a pair of long pants on hand in case of inclement weather or poor field conditions.
Contrary to what you may think, the goalkeeper’s foot skills are just as important as the field players’ footwork. Although the goalkeeper has the additional ability to use their hands, without footwork and quick feet, they won’t be able to get into position to block a shot and catch the ball. In order to appropriately block or catch the ball, proper positioning is required.
Footwork is the key to guaranteeing your goalkeeper gets behind the ball and positions himself between the ball and the goal he is protecting. Only then can they properly catch the ball and initiate the team’s counter-attack.
Drill One: With five to ten yards between both of you, stand and face the goalkeeper. Instruct the keeper to put their weight on the balls of their feet, not on his heels. Keeping their body weight forward will allow him to move more quickly. Tell them to bend his knees slightly, keeping their feet shoulder-length apart and their arms at 90 degree angles at their sides. Remind them to keep their eyes up looking at you, not down at his feet. This can be referred to as the “ready position.”
When you blow your whistle, the goalkeeper responds by tapping their feet lightly on the ground repetitively as fast as they can while standing in place.
When you signal to the right with your arm, the goalkeeper responds by shuffling in that direction as fast as they can, knees bent slightly and arms still extended at their sides. A signal to the left instructs them to shuffle left, and signal behind them instructs them to move back, etc.
You may blow your whistle at any time to instruct them to return to the ready position while tapping their feet continuously.
Do this for 15-30 seconds at a time for younger players and up to a minute for older players who are better conditioned. This drill will improve the goalkeeper’s quick foot skills, building important leg muscles and reducing the time it will take for them to react to a shot on goal.
Drill Two: This drill takes place in front of the goal. The keeper should be in the ready position, standing in front of the goal. Standing five to ten yards in front of them, hold a soccer ball in your hands. Roll the ball to one of his sides at a steady pace. The goalkeeper’s task is to move in the direction of the ball as fast as they can. They should pick up the ball with both hands, making sure his body is always between the ball and the goal. In addition, instruct the young goalkeeper to call out, “keeper!” when in position to pick up the ball. This assertion lets their teammates know that he is in control of the ball. Finally, remind the goalkeeper not to move backward during this drill. He should step up to the ball to control it and never take steps back. Moving backward increases the risk of being scored against.
This drill can be modified by kicking the ball as opposed to rolling it to the sides of the goalkeeper. Be sure to moderate the pace of the ball so the keeper is warmed up before you kick more difficult shots. In addition, this drill may be used for the goalkeeper to practice shots in the air.
To make it easier for yourself and to ensure good practice for the keeper, you can hold the ball in your hands and lightly punt the ball to the sides of the keeper. When working with the proper catching technique, coach the goalkeeper to practice forming a “W” with their hands on the ball (open palms, hands slightly angled outward). Remind the keeper to keep up their footwork in order to get into position behind the ball to catch it.
The drills mentioned above represent excellent ways to instill good goalkeeping techniques. After the keeper feels comfortable with the basic skills required for goalkeeping, you can incorporate him into drills with the field players. Small-sided scrimmages will give the goalkeeper more opportunities to be active on the field, and game-like situations will allow the keeper to get accustomed to communicating with other teammates. As you proceed with less individualized drills for the keeper, such as the ones mentioned above, it is important to keep a few things in mind. Here are a few final suggestions for coaching the goalkeeper.
Primarily, when selecting a goalkeeper, it is best to choose those players who volunteer. Some players may not be interested in playing or may be somewhat frightened of the position. These players are certain to be unsuccessful in goal if they are forced to play the position. In the off chance that no one feels comfortable playing, practice goalkeeping drills with everyone on the team, and a rotation system is recommended for the season. Break up the goalkeeping responsibility among every member of the team so that each player plays goalkeeper once or twice during games throughout the season.
Every soccer player needs an adequate warm up, and the goalkeeper is no exception. Whether it is practice or game time, begin with easy drills and build up to incorporate more powerful shots on goal. This progression will boost the goalkeeper’s confidence, and if the goalkeeper isn’t prepared for more intense game-like situations, the safety of the keeper may be in jeopardy.
In addition to the importance of getting behind the ball to catch it, it is essential for the goalkeeper to stay square to the ball. In other words, he should never twist or turn his body sideways while trying to block a shot or catch the ball.
Encourage the goalkeeper to communicate with their teammates, especially the defenders. Even at a young age, a vocal goalkeeper can remind defenders to mark up and keep the ball out of the center of the field.
After the goalkeeper has control of the ball, their distribution of the ball is the beginning of your team’s counter-attack. It is advisable to coach your goalkeeper to deliver the ball to the sides, never through the middle of the field. When the ball is played to the middle of the field near your own goal, the risk of a turnover and an attempt to score is imminent.
Finally, as a coach, remain positive at all times. When credit is due, commend the goalkeeper for a good catch or blocked shot, and when goals are scored against them, encouragement and support are in order. Remind the field players to support their keeper as well. If you and your players believe in your goalkeeper, he or she will be confident and will protect your goal to the best of his or her ability at all times!