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11 Suggestions for Improved GK Training

Authored by Charlie Inverso, USYNT GK Coaching Staff


Soccer has changed quite a bit in recent years, and we as coaches must constantly keep pace with the changing times with our goalkeeper training. Keeper training is more advanced than ever, and far be it from me to critique how anyone coaches their goalkeeper. However, listed here are 11 suggestions to be considered for keeper training, and I hope they might help improve your keeper’s performance.

1) Situational Goalkeeping Training - Situational Goalkeeping means taking a crucial play that occurs in a match and recreating it repeatedly in training.

Some examples of Situational Goalkeeping Training would be:

  • Dealing with the ball played behind the defense/ 1 vs 1. Vary the situations. There should be through balls from a short distance, from longer distances, with pressure from a chasing defender, balls that need to be dealt with from outside the box, etc.

  • Dealing with Crosses in a crowded penalty area.

  • Recreating situations where the goalkeeper must deal with traffic on a corner kick. (Place 3 attackers and 3 defenders inside of the six-yard box. Give repetitions of corner kicks)

  • Saving free kick shots from over a wall or free kicks from just outside the corner of the penalty area (diagonal crosses).

  • Saving point-blank shots and saving shots that come from within 12 yards away

  • Penalty Kicks

Situational Goalkeeping plays often win or lose matches. The coach must recreate these situations so the GK develops experience and instincts and that these plays begin to look like replays to the keeper. The team that wins the battle of these situational goalkeeping plays listed above very often wins the match. Putting the GK in these situations that eventually look like replays keeps the GK coach from giving too much information or information overload to the keepers.

2) Field Players - For many years, we have been exposed to the expression, “The goalkeeper is just another soccer player who is allowed to use their hands”. This is very true, but few goalkeepers can recreate a real attacking play as well as “field players” can. Therefore, if your GK training does not involve using “field players,” the keepers may not be getting the full benefit.

“Field players” can cross better; they can get shots off faster and have more deceptive body language than goalkeepers. They hit better first-time shots, bend the ball, and head better.

Getting ‘field players’ involved with being an integral part of the session is one of the biggest improvements you can make to your goalkeeping training. It takes planning, but it is well worth the effort because without a ‘field player’ presence, the session may not always be 100% realistic.

3) Think like the enemy - I recently had the opportunity to talk with a former major league pitcher about the mentality and mind games involved with pitching. He told me that his career really began to blossom when he began hanging out and talking with the hitters. He explained that it taught him how to “think like the enemy”. We must teach our goalkeepers to figure out what the opponent is thinking. As mentioned above, we also need to utilize field players in our sessions and get feedback from them. When the coach asks the “field players” questions such as “Why did you shoot it to the near post or Why did you shoot it first time it provides invaluable information and wisdom for our keepers.

Note: When I speak about using “field players,” I am talking about the time when the GK coach works specifically with the keepers in goalkeeper training.

4) Shoot a moving ball - The timing of the set position is crucial to saving a shot. Hitting a still ball at the keeper is not wrong, but the GK needs to see a ball that is passed or dribbled before it is shot. Using this condition in training gives the keeper maximum experience towards improving the timing of their set position because they are forced to move their feet before getting set. The GK should see shots that come after a lateral pass, after a forward pass, and off the dribble before it is shot. This is especially relevant in the intermediate stages of GK development because a bad set position is a hard habit to break.

5) The need for the GK to see first-time shots and bending/curving balls - These days penalty areas are very compact, and attacking players are combatting this problem by shooting more first-time balls. First-time shots are not fun for goalkeepers because the GK has a difficult time getting set. Today's Keepers are also taller and more athletic than ever, so attackers shoot, bend, and curve balls often as a first-time shot.

The GK coach must give the keeper a steady diet of first-time shots and bending/ curving balls in training so they can adjust and time their set position better to make saves off these very difficult shots.

6) Pragmatic Teaching

* Don’t criticize mistakes too harshly in training. Mistakes ultimately lead to great learning experiences.

  • Being a successful keeper requires a rested body and a confident, relaxed mind. Coaches need to learn the difference between working the GK hard and overworking them. They also need to make sure they do not overload the keeper’s brain with too much to think about or what is commonly referred to as “paralysis through analysis”. If we lock the keeper into absolutes or give them all of the answers, we impede their decision-making process and restrict their ability to develop instincts.

  • Many keepers don’t like to think too much in training, and they would much prefer to make reaction saves and be bombarded by shots. Developing a winning goalkeeper, however, requires them to be in an environment where they are constantly forced to think and make decisions.

  • Identify if your GK has a low attention span and if their confidence fluctuates. It is the responsibility of the GK coach to identify these two areas of mentality and find the right buttons to push in order to correct this problem.

7) The Show - Goalkeeper training is often flashy, fun to observe, and exciting to participate in. Because of this factor, it is very easy for GK coaches to get caught up in “The Show”. It is also very easy to try to create the newest jargon, drill, or concept. Every goalkeeper coach, including myself, has been guilty of this. We need to remember that goalkeeper training does not have to be “eye candy”. It must be about creating a better and smarter keeper, not about us.

We need to teach how to play the position and develop instincts because It is a relatively simple position played in a simple game.

8) Teach Communication skills and use simple terminology - Winning begins with leadership, and leadership in soccer often begins with the goalkeeper. The keeper must be able to communicate in simple terms, and these simple terms must be consistent throughout the team.

The goalkeeper’s terminology must make sense, and it must be

communicated in a quick, timely fashion. Two suggestions to improve communication from the goalkeeper are:

1. Have the GK coach stand behind the goal during training and organize the defense with the goalkeeper. This will give them an idea of what to say, when to say it, and the tone of voice to use.

2. I suggest a glossary of terms for the entire team that uses consistent terminology.

9) Did you finish your homework? - Realistically many coaches only have their goalkeepers alone for a short period of time, twice a week. GK coaches cannot cover everything within such a limited time frame.

Catching, athletic enhancement, and attacking/kicking skills can be improved in creative ways by giving the goalkeeper homework. Regardless of how the GK coach chooses to utilize their limited time allotment, giving the keeper homework assignments is economical and insightful coaching.

10) Athleticism - As just mentioned, many coaches only have their goalkeepers for 20 minutes twice a week. They should use these precious 40 minutes not to develop athletic ability but to teach keepers how to play the position. Athleticism can be developed in venues away from the training area through weight training, footwork, agility, etc.

We need to take advantage of the GK coach's knowledge and wisdom and the presence of field players while it is available.

Regarding athleticism, the US has a plethora of great young athletes who are not playing soccer, especially between the ages of 10-14. Our national and state coaching license courses should emphasize the recruitment of young athletes to be a goalkeeper. Some athletic kids may not want to at first pass or dribble a soccer ball (although if they become a keeper, eventually they will have to), but they almost certainly will be intrigued by the skills required to be a keeper.

Catching, jumping, and diving will bring joy to kids who excel at these skills. It is only natural to think they would enjoy becoming a goalkeeper. We need to identify and inspire youngsters with special athletic talent to become goalkeepers.

One final thought, just because you, as a coach, did not play goalkeeper does not mean that you cannot be an effective goalkeeper coach. As a ‘field player,’ you have a lot of insights, and if you are willing to put the time in to

learn, you can be extremely beneficial in the development of your goalkeeper.

11) Develop an evaluation system for yourself and for the head coach - Very often, what the head coach sees in a GK in terms of evaluation is different. The head coach's top priority for the GK is often building out of the back. This is not completely wrong, but there needs to be a healthy balance between attacking and keeping the ball out of the net. It is also very easy to fall in love with a goalkeeper's kicking skills and “eye candy (size, athleticism, etc.). The GK coach needs to develop a sound evaluation system that entails all of the essentials that they believe are important. This system will very much clarify what are the most important qualities a GK needs. A sound evaluation system can create solid bonding and understanding between the head and GK coaches.

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Aug Week 2 2023 Article Charlie Inverso 11 Observations GK Training PDF
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