How to Become a Better Goalkeeper

Written by: Mark Phillips - Head Coach, Men's & Women's Soccer, Treasure Valley CC

Introduction

This guide has been designed to help you as a parent or a player understand how to improve your goalkeeper skills and abilities.

This guide was also written to help you gain improvement and knowledge alone. That is to say without having to rely on a coach to be there to train you or for you to have someone to feed you balls to catch or save.

The 6 parts of this guide are:

  • Fitness / Preparation
  • Rest & Recovery
  • Mental strength
  • Training within your team and outside of it
  • Studying the game and understanding the role of the goalkeeper
  • Goal setting and understanding where you want to go in the game

I hope that you enjoy using this guide and that it will provide some assistance as you continue to develop as a goalkeeper and will help you to structure your pre-season, in-season and post-season planning.

Part I - Fitness & Preparation

This is perhaps the most important element of a goalkeeper's arsenal. I have been coaching goalkeepers for over 10 years and have worked with all ages and abilities and the one thing that usually separates the very good from the exceptional is how quickly they can react to a situation that has developed in a split second. If you want to make the most of the skill and ability you have you MUST work on your aerobic and strength training fitness. I would strongly encourage your to speak to a fitness professional in your area and if you can afford it hire them to work with your player on a weekly basis to hold them accountable and to give them feedback on what training they are doing. There are 3 different training periods within a season they are:

  1. Pre-season (6-8 weeks before the first game of the season
  2. In-Season (the period where you are competing and playing games)
  3. Post Season (the period that follows the final game of the season and the period before preseason starts)

Your training and fitness workouts will change depending on what period you are in.

Pre-Season Fitness

Your pre-season fitness work will be heavily tilted to cardio and strength training work. As a player, you will need to get miles in your legs and strength into your quads and upper body. There is no set plan that I recommend for everyone as every plan I produce is tailored to the individual player and their needs and goals, as well as the time they can dedicate to training. This 6-8 week period however is the most critical time to get your fitness ready for the start of the season. If you are not ready to perform at your best by the beginning of the season it is very difficult to build this endurance fitness during the season.

A typical plan would include:

  • Running (soccer is a ballistic sport, especially for a goalkeeper) short distances no more than a mile at a time 
  • Squats with weight building the weight over the time of the 6-8 weeks
  • Shuttle runs (sprints working to improve the max out ability each week)
  • Lunges again with weight building it over the period

I will rotate the running and the strength training a day on day off with one day rest a week.

In Season Fitness

Professional goalkeepers have to work in the gym even during the season and so should you. At this point, you will reduce the running as that should be covered in your team practices with the warm-ups and exercises you will be part of in practice. Continue with the strength training but make sure that the weight you are lifting is manageable you are not trying to fatigue the muscles now you are working on maintenance.

I know that time is an issue for everyone nowadays and parents want to get home for dinner or homework but if you are not getting the fitness workout you need in the regular practice make sure you stay behind at the end and add in some shuttle runs and sprints remember as the goalkeeper you have to be able to cover 18 plus yards as quickly as possible and do it as

quickly as the forward does. So you will need to keep working on improving your speed and quickness and again a professional fitness coach can help you with improving your speed.

Post Season Fitness

The mistake most soccer players and parents make is thinking that as soon as the season is over they are finished with their fitness. That could not be further from the truth. Of course, you can take a week off of training to allow your body to recover from the knocks and tiredness that you should be feeling at the end of a season, but that is it. As soon as that week is over you will need to compile a plan for how you are going to be ready for the demands of the following season. What are you going to do in the off-season to be ready for the preseason?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure you are practicing your goalkeeper skills once a week
  • Swimming (laps in the pool is great for endurance)
  • Play another sport (basketball, tennis, or futsal)
  • Carefully control your diet and make sure you are maintaining weight and body fat percentage

Make sure that you have a plan in place so that you are ready to get the pre-season work done and that you aren’t trying to play catch up then as you will find it very difficult to do so.

Pre-game Goalkeeper Warmup

The pregame preparation is so important to the goalkeeper and is often overlooked by coaches and players alike. I am sure you have been to a game where you have seen the goalkeeper just stand in the goal while the outfield players fire shots at them. What good does this do the goalkeeper? Whenever I work with any aged goalkeeper I will put together suggestions for how they prepare for a game and it will never involve standing in the goal while outfield players take shots. The goalkeeper needs to be physically and mentally ready to play and to that end the pre-game preparation is critical. 

Have you watched NFL players go through their warm-up, they are listening to music, as they stretch, I have just started recommending this to my goalkeepers as they start their pre-game warm-up, music is incredibly powerful in changing a person's state so if you can play some uplifting motivating and focusing music while you are warming up I believe that your mind will be more focused on what you have to do in the warm-up and then the game. Turn the page to learn what a pre-game preparation will look like for me. 

Pre-game Preparation

I insist my players get to a game 45 minutes before kick-off and in this time the goalkeeper will do the following:

  • Get themselves dressed (shin guards in, cleats and gloves on) 
  • 10 minutes of stretching making sure that the legs are properly warm before anything else happens 
  • 3 minutes of individual ball work (this is where the goalkeeper is working the ball around their body and making sure their grip on the ball is good and their hands are warm) 
  • 10 minutes of dynamic movements without the ball (jogging, lunges, high knees, squat jumps, groin stretches, shoulder rotations, side to side steps building the speed, butt kicks, and more) make sure every muscle and joint is ready to go. 
  • 15 minutes of ball work with the coach outside of the goal working on ballistic movements to the ball. Everything we do here is designed to build the goalkeeper's confidence. 
  • 7 minutes of goal kicks and punts to specific targets usually the assistant coach.

Part II - Rest & recovery

Sleep plays a critical role in the development and growth of young people, it is where all of our growth occurs and our body and mind can recover from the day's exertions. If we are not getting enough rest and recovery time it will lead to fatigue and that in turn will lead to injury.

I understand that kids and parents want to experience as many sports as they can and it is great to do cross country and soccer in the same season, however, is that the best choice? I have kids that turn up to my practices having just run a 5-mile cross country race at school. Do you think they are in a peak state for the practice that is about to happen?

Remember soccer is a ballistic sport with short movements, running, jogging, walking, sprinting, and jumping. There is no need for a 5 mile run in soccer preparation as you are never going to run 5 miles in one go. If you wanted to do running track running short distances would be much more beneficial. 

I also recommend a day a week where there is no soccer activity so that the player's body can recover from the requirements of the week's practices and the demands of the game.

Part III - Mental Strength

If you want to be a goalkeeper on a competitive soccer team you had better be mentally tough – period. I do a lot of work with my goalkeepers to improve their mental strength and their acceptance of a mistake you have to have instant amnesia to be a goalkeeper because if you don’t you end up dwelling on the mistake as the training session is still going on or the game is and you CAN NOT live in the past you have to be present at all times. 

This one area of the game will make or break a goalkeeper so don’t be dismissive of it. I see talented goalkeepers beating themselves up mentally because they have just conceded a goal and it doesn’t do them or their team any good at all. When I work will a goalkeeper I explain that mistakes are part of the game, everyone makes them all over the pitch from the striker that misses the goal to the midfielder that gives the ball away to the opponent to the defender that loses his mark. 

EVERY MISTAKE A GOALKEEPER MAKES IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN SOMETHING.

I work incredibly hard in my practice sessions to give the goalkeeper some useful feedback that will help them improve immediately after they make a mistake, this way they have a learning opportunity instead of just a mistake.

The other thing I see from goalkeepers is a physical manifestation of the mistake after it has happened. Watch the next time your goalkeeper makes a mistake what is their reaction to it?

For some it is a subtle look to the heavens, for others, they will thump the turf in frustration, for some, it is a clap of the hands whatever it is they will need to get rid of it. There should be no reaction to the mistake at all that way you are not anchoring your emotional state or memory to the mistake, if there is no physical reaction to it you are far more likely to forget it and move on.

The only way a goalkeeper can become aware of this is if it is brought to their attention immediately after they do it. You have no idea how many goalkeepers I see do this and when I ask them what did they just do they can’t tell me, that is because it has become so ingrained into their subconscious that they don’t even know they are doing it. They are reinforcing the mistake with a physical reflex or impulse and that keeps them dwelling on the error and they have no idea they have even done it. This MUST be changed immediately so that your player can improve their mental toughness.

Part IV - Training

The goalkeeper position is the most complicated and difficult position to learn on the soccer field because you have to be able to do everything an outfield player can do - Control the ball, Pass short and long, Make quick decisions in and out of possession, even make tackles. Then you have to learn the goalkeeper skills with your hands.

I insist that all of my goalkeepers join my practice sessions as outfield players so that they can develop their ball-handling skills with their feet, when the back pass rule changed over 20 years ago it changed goalkeeping forever, now goalkeepers couldn’t pick the back pass up and had to play it with their feet. It changed the soccer landscape overnight, now there was premier goalkeepers that could play too. This is the case with youth soccer the goalkeeper that can play out of trouble and can find an accurate short pass or an accurate long pass is more valuable than the goalkeeper that can’t.

Part IV - Training

My training/practice sessions are usually 90 minutes in length and the goalkeepers will not usually get any time within that session to work on their own skills unless it is incorporated into a team exercise for instance if we are doing a session on defending the goalkeeper will be involved as a goalkeeper.

That is why it is so vital that a goalkeeper seeks out additional practice time with a dedicated coach to work with them. As a club team coach my practices don’t allow me to peel off and just work with my two goalkeepers I have 13 -15 other players that I am responsible for developing.

Whatever you decide if you want to make sure your goalkeeper is developing as much as possible you will need to seek out dedicated goalkeeper training as a priority so that a goalkeeper-specific coach can put together sessions that will challenge and stretch your goalkeepers skills.

Part IV - Training

The best piece of advice I can give you as a young goalkeeper related to training is to work hard on your foot movement. The quicker you can move your feet and get them set the better chance you are going to have of making a save. I spend a lot of my dedicated practice sessions working with my goalkeepers and training them to move their feet quicker and react to the ball faster.

If you watch the very best in the world their feet are always moving their positions are always adjusting to the position of the ball in relation to the goal and they are capable of unbelievable saves because they got themselves into the position to make the save in the first place.

Part V - Studying the game

Part of being a professional is studying the game, learning from what others are doing so that you can either work hard to emulate it or figure out how to stop it.

At the youth level it is no different. As a dedicated goalkeeper you should be watching game footage every single week and studying what the best goalkeepers in the world are doing in relation to their teammates and individually. It will help your personal development if you see what a goalkeeper you admire is doing.

You don’t need to have a cable subscription (although if you can afford it you should get it for the premier league and German league coverage) you can study games on YouTube by simply typing in your favorite goalkeeper and then watching the footage recorded there. 

Every opportunity you get you should be studying the game, perhaps you are a young goalkeeper and have access to professional soccer in your area, go to a practice session with your parent and watch the coaches working with the goalkeepers, you can learn a lot from watching a professional at work in how they apply themselves and how they work on the practice field.

Part V - Studying the game

If you do not have access to professional soccer practices in your location perhaps you have a college program nearby you can go and watch? I highly recommend you go and see the local highest level of soccer you can and see what you can learn from it, remember to just watch the goalkeeper and learn what they are doing. 

As I mentioned in the training section the very best in the world are capable of moving their feet to get them in position to make a save, when you study film or live games watch the goalkeeper's feet and see how incremental their movement is and how it allows them to be constantly engaged in the game.

Part VI - Setting Goals

Goal setting is something you are doing subconsciously every single day multiple times a day without even knowing you are doing it. For instance when you decide that you need to go to the bathroom you stop what you are doing and you get up and you walk to the bathroom. Your

goal was to go to the bathroom and you successfully got yourself to the bathroom before you had an accident. Do you do this with every single task you undertake why would your goalkeeper training be any different? So what goals should you set? This is very personal and will depend upon the dedication, commitment, fitness, and desire of your player. This MUST be driven by them as they are the only on that can do the work. You can support them and encourage them but don’t be the parent that is living their life through their kids' experiences.

Part VI - Setting Goals

I have a dad on my U13 girl's team who is extremely committed to basketball having coached the game at a high level, he insists that his daughter plays basketball and if there is a conflict with anything else basketball is the priority for him, but it isn’t for her, she would rather play

soccer over anything else but she isn’t permitted to make the choice. I encourage you to sit down with your goalkeeper and ask them what their goals are for their game. It doesn’t have to make it to the professional level or even college it could be to simply commit me fully to my

practice and games in order to help my team get positive results. It could be to make sure I attend every training session this season, or make sure I am the first-choice goalkeeper for the coming season.

Whatever you and your son or daughter decide is the goal have them write it down in their own handwriting and put it somewhere they will see it every day. Make sure the goal is specific for instance “go to every practice session regardless of what else comes up” make sure it has a timeline “this season” and where possible add a reward “I will earn a new pair of AGK Pro goalkeeper gloves”

Part VI - Setting Goals

Make sure that you set a goal that is achievable and isn’t related to performance or outcomes for instance don’t set a goal of “5 clean sheets” (that means the other team doesn’t score a goal in 5 matches). Remember you can’t control outcomes. 

All you can control is your:

  1. Effort & commitment
  2. Your attitude
  3. Your ability to learn from the experience
  4. Your ability to have fun

When you set goals set them around these internal processes because there isn’t anything you can do about your teammate slipping at the critical moment, or giving away a penalty with a minute to go or the highly talented striker on the other team that no one on your side can keep up with. I recommend you pick a weekly, monthly, and season goal and review them constantly to make sure they are still stretching your goalkeeper and they are relevant.

Full-time

Thank you for your time in reading this coach's guide to goalkeeping. I really do think that the information on these pages will help your goalkeeper to improve their skills, their preparation, the training, and their enjoyment of the game that I have loved for over 40 years and know will always be a part of my life.

I wish you the very best of luck with your soccer goalkeeping journey and hope that your experience in this sport teaches you as much about life as it has taught me and brings you as much joy and happiness as I experience.

Written by Mike Poledna

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