Soccer goalkeepers guide to communication and mental toughness

As well as teaching positioning, how to save shots and start the next attack, you must teach and encourage your goalkeepers to communicate with the rest of the team.

Silence is definitely not golden

Good, timely communication is a habit that needs to be formed early in your goakeeper’s career but don’t expect seven, eight or even nine-year-olds to be able to organise defensive walls and warn team mates that they’ve left an attacker unmarked.

Spotting when a defender loses track of an attacker, when defenders are watching the ball instead of watching opposition players or when they are leaving big gaps that forwards can run into requires experience that can only be gained by playing lots of matches.

You should, however, encourage even very young players to claim the ball by shouting “KEEPER!” in the loudest voice they can muster when the ball rolls into the box and they are in a position to pick it up.

As she gains experience, your goalkeeper should also be calling “KEEPER!” when the ball is crossed into the penalty area and she should also be telling her defenders to get the ball by shouting “AWAY!” when the ball is in the box and she can’t get to it.

By the time your players are 10 or 11, your goalkeeper should be telling her team mates – loudly and specifically – where to go at corners and be able to organise a defensive wall.

The key words at this age are “loud” and “specific”.

It’s not much use whispering “mark up”.

If your ‘keeper doesn’t shout her instructions in a loud voice, the likelihood is nothing will happen but if someone does hear her, they will just look around in confusion. Instead, defenders should be told – by name and in a very loud voice – “ what to do. E.G. “CHLOE – watch the player on your left!” or “JOE – mark the number 9!”.

How to practise

Good communication can be encouraged and ingrained in your goalkeepers by playing short 4v4 matches in which they are given the objective of giving two or three instructions to team mates.

What to say to your goalkeeper:

“Tell your defenders what to do.”

“If you want the ball, shout ‘KEEPER!’ in a very loud voice.”

Mental toughness

Goalkeeping can be tough, especially on young players who are just starting to learn the skills they need.

They will make mistakes and they will let in shots that, next season, they will save easily.

That’s if they are still a goalkeeper next season. The pressure on children to give up the position of goalkeeper is hard to resist if they are criticised by their team mates in their first few weeks or months.

So you have to make sure that your players know that criticism of team mates is not allowed. We all make mistakes – it’s part of the learning process – and to have a go at any player because they miss a shot, mistime a tackle or fumble a save is unfair and unkind.

At the same time, tell your goalkeeper(s) that you expect them to make mistakes, that no one expects them to keep every shot out of the net and when they do make an error they should try to forget it straightaway.

If they are allowed to dwell on what’s just happened they will probably make another mistake… and another.

But it’s just as important to make sure your ‘keeper doesn’t blame her team mates for allowing the other team to shoot at her – if she gets into the habit of blaming others when the team concedes a goal, she can come to believe that goals are never her fault and she doesn’t need to improve.

What to say to your players:

“Goalkeepers never let goals in, it’s the team that concedes a goal.”

Coaching very young goalkeepers

Four and five-year-olds can practise the basics of goalkeeping by playing throwing, catching and kicking games.

Simple games like Sit Down are ideal:

  • Put your players in a tight circle and toss the ball to each other.
  • If a player drops the ball, they kneel on one knee. If they can catch the ball next time it comes round, they stand up again but if they drop it for a second time they kneel on both knees. Catch it next time and they stand up but a third drop means they have to sit down.

There’s no winner, just play for a few minutes and congratulate everyone.

There are plenty more games for young goalkeepers on footy4kids.

Who’s in goal today?

While I suggest you get all your players to have a go at being in goal during practice sessions, putting the more nervous or younger players in goal during matches may be a step too far for some of them.

If a player really don’t want to go in goal, don’t make them. An unwilling ‘keeper won’t do much except stand on the goal line hoping the ball stays at the other end of the pitch and when they do get a shot to save, they will probably freeze and watch the ball hit the net. And that’s no good for anyone.

Finally, please remember that young kids have a short attention span and may be watching a butterfly, a bird or even a worm while the ball is rolling into the back of the net. Don’t let this bother you.

“Hey coach… I want to go in goal!”

You will find it much easier to find a player who wants to go in goal if you make the job of shot-stopper a desirable one by:

  • Buying smart goalkeeper playing kit.
  • Making the time to deliver dedicated goalkeeper coaching sessions.
  • Allowing goalkeepers to play outfield – in a position of their choice – several times a season.
  • Making sure all your players – especially your ‘keeper – know that the position of goalkeeper is the hardest one on the team.

For more soccer coaching tips and products visit Soccer Coaching Club.