December 2012

Goalkeeper Q & A: There Never Is a Silly Question

By Rob Walker, Head men’s and women’s coach, St. Martin’s University
& Director of Coaching Federal Way FC

By text, e-mail or in the parking lot after a game, there is never a bad time to deal with a question about goalkeeping. In this month’s article, we deal with equipment, apparel and several age-related performance questions.

Q: The weather is turning cold, any advice for apparel choices to help our goalkeepers stay warm?

A: I would start with layering. There are tons of great products in stores that should serve as a base. Materials that wick away moisture and help insulate are plentiful. A piece to cover the torso, hip and thigh area is a good start. Then, building the second layer with shorts and a cotton-poly shirt should come next, along with a good pair of socks (or two pair, for those so inclined). A rain shell and pair of polyester pants should finalize the layered approach.

There’s a saying that goalkeepers need to learn to “sweat” in their gear, so a good layering system will serve the keeper well in most wet, cold conditions. Some goalkeepers like to “peel off” their layers as they warm up and end up in just their second layer: shorts and a shirt! With wind, rain and puddles, this can be a tough environment over an hour or two of training.

On match day, a good approach is to layer as described above, then time the warm-up so the goalkeeper can change into a dry jersey and gloves before the start of the game.

Q: My goalkeeper came out on a through ball and as a part of the play came away with a bruised shin. Her technique is pretty good, but I think her shinguard is too small. Any recommendations?

A: Yes! This is a huge issue. In the last few years, small shinguards have become common amongst players. The small, light, 6-inch shinguard (I call them G.I. Joe shinguards, because they could have covered the leg of my G.I. Joe doll way back when) simply do not get the job done. I simply tell goalkeepers to get a shinguard that covers the shin from top to bottom and go from there. Several good goalkeepers I have known over the years have come out on the wrong end because of poor coverage in this area. While the outfield player may be able to rationalize the small guard, the goalkeeper should think differently.

Q: My son is 8 years old and loves to play in goal. When can he begin training regularly to play in goal?

A: It is my opinion that full-time goalkeeping should not begin until a player has had the opportunity to go through the normal growing pains of childhood and be well on their way through puberty and into adolescence. The physical, technical and tactical demands of the position really make the time to start at around 14-16 years of age. The training an 8-year-old should experience should be "play-based" and not based on any position. An 8-year-old can certainly tumble and dive around, but should play in a variety of roles in a small-sided game situation (6v6).

Q: I have one goalkeeper on my U-14 Division-I team. She's not bad, but what are some of the things I should look for in helping her get better?

A: A goalkeeper at this age (regardless of gender) needs to be well-grounded in the basics: catching, footwork, diving and kicking. Finding a way to give her some personalized attention is important while also making sure that she understands that the team depends on her to perform well. Since there may not be a second goalkeeper to put into action if the “No. 1” has a substandard performance, it is critical that the one-and-only goalkeeper is willing to put her best foot forward. She must be able to show the team she will always be willing to try to perform at her very best. Coaches must remember that no matter how talented a goalkeeper is at this age, mistakes are inevitable. What is critical is that the goalkeeper realizes that recovering from the odd mistake with great effort is what will be important in the long run.

Q: I have a hard time getting myself to concentrate during games, what are some hints in improving my ability to stay focused?

A: This is a pretty complex question. One of the first things to figure out is whether anxiety or stress causes a lack of "focus." Often, fear (of failure or of having to perform under pressure) can cause a goalkeeper to withdraw from a competitive situation (like staying "tuned in" during a game). Coaches and parents need to work with the goalkeeper to make sure that undue pressure does not come into play. Many times, a goalkeeper "freaks out" and withdraws from a situation only to hear from the sidelines, "stay focused!" The goalkeeper must be reassured that he or she is not being judged and that everyone involved in the team is confident of goalkeeper's ability to play. In training the coach needs to share some key things that the goalkeeper should be responsible for and include communication basics to make sure that the goalkeeper and the outfield players are all on the same page. Tying the practice keys to game performance (and being positive about the experience) is a good way to help the goalkeeper “stay in the game.”

Q: My goalkeeper struggles with his back-passes; any ideas to help improve this area of his game?

A: One of the reasons youth players should not take on goalkeeping at too early of an age is that they may not get the touches needed to become skillful in passing and receiving. Goalkeepers should take 1-2 times a week to work on their passing, long kicking and receiving. Working with another player, a coach or alone against a wall are ways to improve in this area. Making up competitive games or skill challenges is essential to building the self-motivation necessary to sharpen passing and receiving skills. All young players should play a ton of soccer tennis/volleyball to hone their touch and skill on the ball. As the goalkeeper ages, this player should be above average on the ball as a passer and receiver.

Washington Youth Soccer

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