December 2014

The Goalkeeping Mailbag: Questions From the Mailbox, Inbox and Parking Lot

By Rob Walker

Soccer enthusiasts are renowned for their long talks in board rooms, parking lots and on the phone. Here is a Q&A that stems from some of those talks:

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 a ton 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 and the hip and thigh area is a good start. Then, building the second layer with shorts and a cotton-poly shirt, along with a good pair of socks (or two pair for those inclined to wear two pair). A pair of polyester pants and a rain shell/pants should finalize the layered approach.

There’s a saying that goalkeepers need to learn to “sweat” in their gear, so having 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 their second layer: shorts and shirt! With wind, rain and puddles, this can be a tough environment over an hour or two in training.

On match day, a good approach is to layer as described above, warm up and then time the warm-up so the goalkeeper can change into a dry jersey and even gloves before the start of the game. Many goalkeepers aren’t comfortable wearing pants, but they can really help manage comfort when its wet or just plain chilly!

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 commonplace amongst players. The small, light six-inch shinguard (I call them G.I. Joe shinguards, because they could have covered the leg of my Joe doll way back when) simply do not get the job done. I 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 180 degrees different.

Q: My son is eight 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 eight-year-old should experience should be "play- based" as opposed to position-based. An eight-year-old can certainly tumble and dive around, but should play in a variety of roles in a small-sided game situation (5v5 and 6v6 games).

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 improve?

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.

An issue in training is that it is easy to overwork the goalkeeper, especially in a shooting activity. Finding a way to work for one minute and rest for almost two or longer is important, as goalkeeper is a position that demands sprints and bursts of muscular activity. The repetition count in an activity has to be kept low (in relation to the reps of an outfield player) to allow for the goalkeeper to recover. Intensity of work is great, but the amount of rest needed to hold that intensity is even greater. This is why some teams will have a coach or field player stand in during a shooting activity so the goalkeeper can rest.

Q: I have a hard time getting myself to concentrate during games. What are some hints to improve 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 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 receive the touches needed to become skillful in passing and receiving. Goalkeepers should spend 1-2 times a week working 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 skill.

Q: We watch a lot of soccer at home. How can my boys, who both play in goal, benefit from all this soccer on television?

A: All players can learn from players they see live or on TV. Have each of your sons pick a goalkeeper or team they like and follow them for the season. Have them keep a journal of the best saves they see from their favorite goalkeeper. Also, taping games and keeping some of the best ones are great for self-instruction. Some players I know "scout games" on the Internet, and record the goals when they tape them on a delayed basis. Catching the "Goals of the Week" on highlight shows is another way to learn about goalkeeping.

Q: My goalkeeper has a hard time deciding when to come off the line. What are the big cues to help make this decision more assured?

A: Starting position is the first piece to the puzzle. The goalkeeper should always be connected to the back line so that a play on the ball is possible. The farther the ball is away from a goalkeeper’s goal, the farther away the goalkeeper can be from the goal. The goalkeeper may need to sprint outside the area and pass/clear a ball that is played through and behind the back line of the goalkeeper’s defense, or handle a ball at the top of the box; not being properly connected is the first step.

A second piece to the puzzle is as a through ball (or cross) is being played, the goalkeeper has to ask the question, “Can the ball be won?” and immediately follow with, “Where do I need to go to win the ball?” Finally, the last part of the equation is to determine if a teammate is already in place (or will be in place to defend the situation). Then, the goalkeeper should hold the position and allow the teammate to do the defending.

This is the short answer to a complex question, but that is the process.

Washington Youth Soccer

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About the Coaches

James Charette
• Washington Youth Soccer Director of Coaching Education
• Technical Director, Blackhills FC
• U.S. Soccer National Instructional Staff
• U.S. Soccer “A” License

Rob Walker
Director of Coaching, Federal Way FC & Head Coach, St. Martin's University

• Holds U.S. Soccer "A" License
• National Licensing Instructor
• Former GK coach for U.S. Men's Olympic Team
• Has coached at youth, ODP, college and National Team levels

Sunny Dulai
Director of Coaching, Washington Timbers

USSF National B License
• National Licensing Instructor
• RTC and ODP coaching veteran
• 15 years of club coaching
• Washington State staff clinician