Goalkeeper Training

by Robert E. Friedman

How do you train youth soccer goalkeepers?

Coach A: “When the team practices shooting on goal and during scrimmages – I guess he learns on his own”.
Coach B: I ask a parent/assistant coach (who never played soccer) to toss and kick balls at our goalkeepers”.
Coach C: I played goalkeeper in college – but I’m too busy running practice to work with my keepers.”

Sound familiar? Youth goalkeepers often don’t get much training. Most coaches just don’t know how to train a keeper – even those who played soccer in younger days. And with just one or two practices a week, it’s tough for a youth soccer coach to give proper time to young keepers even if the head coach was a former goalkeeper.

The goalkeeper is a vitally important component of a soccer game with a privilege granted to no other player – the use of her or his hands. The four functions of the Goalkeeper, in order of importance are:

1. Guard the Goal
2. Direct the Defense
3. Support for the Defense
4. Initiate the Attack

This article describes a warm-up routine that goalkeepers can do at the beginning of every practice and during pre-game warm-up. It helps develop basic goalkeeping techniques, flexibility and agility needed for Guarding the Goal. Once the GK learns this routine, she or he can do it on their own. It’s not a substitute for learning tactical play but at least provides a way for the GK to work on key technical skills every session. I’ve used this routine with great success with goalkeepers at a variety of levels of play.

The following series of exercises and drills should be done every practice and especially before each match to prepare the GK for the demands of the game. In addition to these exercises, at practice the goalkeeper should be put through a variety of training drills to refine and further develop the technical skills and tactical knowledge needed to play the position. Of course, that depends on having someone who knows how to train the GK and can spend time during each practice with the GK.

The “ready” position for the goalkeeper will be referred to several times. When waiting to make a move the goalkeeper should stand in the “ready” position. Feet should be comfortably spread apart but not too wide; Knees should be bent; hands in front – palms out and facing down; eyes watching and analyzing play.

A. General Goalkeeper Warm-up (to be followed by the “diving” warm-up)
Stretch-Up – holding the ball overhead with both hands stand on tiptoes and stretch up as high as possible.
Figure 8 – with legs spread apart and knees straight, roll ball on ground with both hands in a figure 8 pattern around the legs.
Bouncing and Jumping – with two hands throw ball down to the ground – as it hits the ground jump up in the air, at height of jump catch the ball and throw it down again. Ball and body should move up and down together.
Bounce Ball Behind – holding ball with both hands, turn upper body to right, throw ball to ground behind, turn to left and catch ball. Repeat several times and then do it bouncing ball from the left side. In addition to working on flexibility, this helps develop reflexes to grab a loose ball to the side or behind a GK!
Toss Up and Catch – toss ball in air, jump up taking off on one foot and catch the ball as high in the air as she can, alternate taking off from right foot and from left foot.
Rolls with Ball – holding ball with both hands (not with arms) do several forward rolls and backward rolls.
Jumps over Ball – with both feet together (heels touching) jump over the ball forwards and backwards several times, then from side to side.
Kick and Catch – (with partner or trainer) toss and kick balls to each other at varying heights and speeds. Use outside of instep. Practice kicking with right AND left foot. While GoalKeepers will usually use their better foot in games, as with field players, there are times it is beneficial to use the other foot. To be able to do this, it’s important to practice with both feet and kick with the instep itself. Again, practice with both feet.
Punch It – (with partner or trainer) toss balls high and to sides for punching. Note: Make sure GK does not point thumb up towards flat top of fist where it would stick out and could get jammed. It should be tucked around to the side of the fist. Practice with a) two fists together, b) right fist and, c) left fist.
Punt, Roll and Throw – (with partner) punt, roll and throw ball to each other from short, medium and long distances. This distribution is a “pass” so the partner should trap rather than catch the ball. GK should try to make it easy for his partner to control the ball.

B. Diving Warm-up
A goalkeeper must be very comfortable with the process of diving. She should be so accustomed to diving that it becomes an automatic reaction. She should not have to think about whether she should dive. The best way to learn to dive is to practice doing so at every practice. The following is a “diving” warm-up for goalkeepers to go through as part of both the daily practice and prename warm-ups. Two or more GKs can serve balls to each other. With just one GK, an assistant coach will be needed to serve the balls. Developing the proper diving movement from seated, kneeling, and squatting positions enables the GK to learn to safely and softly land from a standing position. Tip: Find a spot with soft ground for the GKs to work on diving.

  • Seated (with legs spread) – “save” balls rolled and then tossed to the side.
    The keeper should “dive” for every ball by rolling on to her side.

Tip: Make sure the GK lands and stays on his side with his body as a barrier blocking the ball’s path to goal and does not roll onto his back.

  • Kneeling – with hands in “ready” position and holding ball in front of body, fall to each side landing first on thigh, then on hip and then the side of upper body in a rocking motion. This enables a soft landing compared with keeping the body straight and landing like a flat board – Ouch! Make sure the GK does not try to land on the elbow which could risk injury.
    Tip: When first learning this exercise, have the GK do it without the ball several times – just with hands in ready position. Then add the ball. This (no ball) can also be done with #’s 3, 4, 5 & 6.
  • Squatting – same as above (landing first on lower leg, then thigh, etc.).
    Squatting – save balls rolled and then tossed to side, first near and then far.
    Standing – (in “ready” position, with knees bent) holding ball in front in hands as if just caught, fall to each side. (again – landing first on lower leg, then upper leg, then hip, then side).
    Standing – as above (holding ball) but first take a side-step and then fall to ground to each side.
    Standing with legs spread – bend down, roll ball through legs, turn and make diving save. GK should alternate rolling the balls to the left, center, and right first softly for a near save and then with more force requiring a longer dive and stretch to reach the ball.

The keeper should be able to go through the preceding exercises on his or her own as part of a pre-practice or pre-game warm-up. They are designed to help prepare the goalkeeper to fulfill the GK’s first tactical function.

C. Guarding the Goal – The coach and keeper must keep in mind this is not her only tactical function. Guarding the Goal she does by herself. The rest are performed in cooperation with the other players on the team. Thus any tactical training for other players should not exclude those elements of interaction that occur between the goalkeeper and the field players.

D. Directing the Defense – is a very important and under­utilized goalkeeping activity in youth soccer. Many goals are scored when a pass or loose ball has found its way to an unmarked attacker and who, by skill or accident puts the ball in the net. Unmarked perhaps because the defender wandered a little too far away or because a forward or halfback slipped into the space unmarked. A shout to a defender to pick up the open player may prevent a dangerous situation from developing. A goalkeeper has the best view of the field and he should make use of it by constantly talking to and directing his defenders. This includes telling them what to do when they have the ball too (“Pass it outside”, “clear it out”, etc.).

The goalkeeper is often not utilized as a Supporting player for the Defense to whom a pass can be given. The keeper’s skills to receive a pass with the feet, control it, and make a good short or long pass to a teammate must be kept in mind. Ideally the goalkeeper should have good ball skills with the feet and is always available and ready to receive passes from teammates. At youth levels, passes back to keepers should be towards the side of the goal lest a bad pass go into the goal. The keeper should wait until the pass has been made before moving out from in front of the goal. Play with 11, not 10. At lower levels of play, common sense must be used. If the GK or his teammates don’t have sufficient ball skills, especially in the younger age groups, this may not be appropriate to implement.

Whenever the keeper has possession of the ball she becomes an attacking player. That’s right the goalkeeper is an attacking player! She Initiates the Attack by deciding whether to immediately distribute the ball for a quick counter attack or to hold the ball for a moment, run out to the 18 yard line and distribute the ball so the team can slowly build up its attack. Rather than the typical undirected long boot downfield, the distribution should be a directed pass to a specific teammate. The GK’s tools include a long directed punt, short/medium directed punt, or a short throw – thus the need to practice punts of varying distances aimed at teammates. Her decision whether to distribute the ball to the right, center, or left or long or short should be made by thinking how she can best initiate a penetration of the opponents’ defense.

The above material provides an outline of the tactical functions of the goalkeeper and gives a goalkeeper warm-up, including a diving warm-up that will help develop flexibility, agility, and technique for soccer goalkeepers.

As a parting note, the goalkeeper should be an active participant in the game. The GK should:

1. Actively talk to the defense – organize them – take charge
2. Come out of the goal
3. Take supporting passes from the defense (as skill permits)
4. Be an offensive player – initiate the attack
5. Stay involved

Bob Friedman Earned a USSF “A” coaching license in 1977 and served as Head Coach at the Girls National Team Training Camp in 1984 and on the Girls Eastern Region ODP staff for a number of years. His coaching experience includes Head Coach of the Charles River Women’s Soccer Team in Boston Ma, Goalkeeper coach/Assistant Coach of the Harvard University Women’s Soccer Team (1979 Eastern AIAW Co-Champions; 1978, 1979 Ivy League Champions), and boys Coach at Columbia Grammar and Prep in NYC. He served as President of the Massachusetts Senior Soccer Association before moving to California. As Chair of the Intercollegiate Soccer Association’s Women’s Soccer Committee, he initiated the National and Regional Ratings for collegiate women’s soccer. He has also served on the Referee Instruction staffs in Massachusetts and California. In recent years he was an assistant coach for his daughter’s Class IV team.

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