February 2015

Mission Possible: Building the Small-sided Stages of a GK Practice

by Rob Walker

The “Mission Impossible” theme music cues inside the head and the famous introductory message plays: “da-da-dum, da-da-dum … Good morning, Coach. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to build a practice plan that brings the goalkeeper into the game via a small-sided game and an expanded small-sided game ... Da-da-dum, da-da-dum." Mission Possible!

Stage One: The Warm-up
The first stage is easy: get the goalkeeper moving through “the basics.” Begin with the nuts and bolts of the position: catching, footwork, some angling and diving. Get the goalkeeper working with a partner goalkeeper and have your assistant work with the goalkeeper, too. At the same time, get the players ready for a session where they are going to goal. Maybe you finish your warm-up with a shooting/goalkeeping activity so the “juices” are properly stirred for the rest of the session; standard stuff.

Stage Two: The Small-Sided Game
Coming out of the warm-up, pick a small-sided game (SSG) that allows the goalkeeper(s) to deal with shots, angles and organizing/communicating with teammates. The exercise shown here is a 4v2 game between the Reds (in attack) and the Whites (who are defending). The Reds try to score on the big goal and the Whites score goals by “clipping the ball” back to the server (2nd GK). For every three balls played to the server by the Whites, one point is scored. The Reds attack with the same group for four serves and the White defenders “shuttle” in and out every two serves. Teams change ends every four minutes. The White team uses the top of the penalty area to defend from, and the “top of the box” is the offsides line.

What to Coach?

  • The Goalkeeper’s starting position on every ball: able to be “in line with the ball” and also get off the line.
  • The quality of movement by the goalkeeper as the ball moves in front and to the sides of goal: making small adjustments constantly and giving information (pressure, cover and recovery demands to the two defenders).
    • When penetration occurs, where is the goalkeeper? Moving out to narrow an angle, getting set (time to coach the “nuts and bolts” from the warm-up!
    • When the goalkeeper in the big goal is in possession of the ball, what is the best decision regarding “where” to play the ball? Do the Whites pull wide and receive short, or does the GK play long to the server (GK)?
    • A key psychological component is “on the next ball.” Does the goalkeeper “re-set” him or herself for the next ball? This activity takes concentration. Asking the goalkeeper to tell the coach (behind the goal) “what do you ‘see,’ what do you ‘say’,” is key to get the “team” organized for the next ball.

Stage Three: The Expanded Small-Sided Game
The next progression builds a back-four and a covering midfielder (a No. 6) into the game, which is played again between the Reds and Whites in a 7v6 format (Reds play with a “midfield three” and a “front three” while the Whites play with a “back-four plus one). The Reds attack the big goal and the Whites counter to two counter goals (6x18 goals work well) which are covered by one goalkeeper (dotted lines show coverage). Games are played in four-minute “bouts” and substitutions are made. After 8 or 16 minutes, teams switch ends.

What to Coach?

  • With more players added to the game, more information from the goalkeeper is necessary to organize the entire back four. Being consistent with clear communication (the “A-B-C’s”: audible, brief and clear/consistent) come into the game. Do covering defenders (including the GK ) say, “show out,” or do they say, “show right/left?” This is “same page” stuff that needs to be straightened out.
  • The game can begin with the penalty area being used as an offside line. Another approach is to push the back four higher and create a line farther upfield where offsides are called. When this happens, the Reds get more space to attack behind the Whites, which means the “connectedness” of the White GK must be present (this means they may need to take a higher starting position as opposed to when the White line was taken up at the penalty area).
  • When the White goalkeeper is in possession of the ball, can the back four get shape to go forward, with the No. 2 and No. 3 getting wide and high and the No. 4 and No. 5 pulling from central to wider positions as well? Can the No. 6 pull away properly and then “target” correctly to come back and receive the ball?
  • The White GK must support the play out of the back and make a key distribution decision to start the play (play short or deliver a long pass to the No. 2 , No. 3 or No. 6 to catch the Reds out and score.

Mission Complete
The last stage of the practice is to play a full game, with all “lines” on the field represented. The purpose of the small-sided game and the expanded small-sided game is to get the inclusion or the integration of the goalkeeper into the game. Much of what the goalkeeper must do to develop is to spend hours outside of the team practice to refine the skills that are specific to the position. The purpose of this article is to create a “mission possible” picture of integrating the goalkeeper into the game with a couple of games.

When there are break-downs in the goalkeeping performance, those breakdowns might be due to an issue of integration, decision-making, communication, etc., or there may be a breakdown in a “nuts and bolts” piece that needs remediation in specific goalkeeping training outside the team practice. The key is to bring the goalkeeper into the team with a specific purpose and integrate the goalkeeping role so that it is seamless and transparent. Mission accomplished!

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

Niki Taylor
• PacNW Girls Coach
• Washington EPD Staff Coach
• USSF "A" License