Catch, Catch, and Catch Some More
By Eric Vaughter
One of my pet-peeves as a GK Trainer is that GKs--of all levels--seem to have lost the art of catching the ball. I believe that this is because of a short-coming in our GK Trainers. It seems that now-a-days with the "juiced-up" ball technology, and bigger, stronger, and faster players; the GK has been told over and over...."Just keep it out of the net." While that is the primary job of the GK, I would advocate that we need to focus more attention on catching the ball--particularly from shots--in our daily training regimens for our GKs. After all, a shot on goal by the opposition is certainly a threat; but at the same time, it's an opportunity for us to regain possession of the ball. And the fact of the matter is that there is nothing like catching a well-hit shot cleanly and confidently to change the momentum of a match while at the same time disheartening the attackers from the other team.
Certainly there are the shots that any GK is content just to parry or direct around the posts or over the crossbar. The GK has to make that split-second decision. But if GK Trainer's are truly doing their jobs, then we need to spend far greater amounts of training time on catching the ball. Following are a few drills that will significantly improve your ability to catch the ball. Remember, catching is perfected like anything else in life....repetition, repetition, repetition. There are no secrets. It's just all part of good ol' fashioned hard work.
#1. Simple Volleys.
With your other GK, simply stand about 8 yards apart (the width of a full-sized goal) and volley the ball back and forth. Each GK should concentrate on a quality serve from hands to the other GK--aiming for your partner's chin and hitting the ball with fair pace to begin with. Each catch should be performed as if you are in the last ten minutes ('danger time') of a tie game. Nice, easy, relaxed body position; on the balls of your feet; knees slightly bent; leaning forward a bit and hands, arms, and most importantly elbows in front of your body's centerline. (This is crucial. If your elbows are behind your centerline, then you'll naturally be leaning back on your heels which makes cushioning the ball during the catching motion much more difficult. The less cushioning motion, the more difficult it is to take the pace of a speeding ball.) Your hands should "seek the ball". In other words, move them toward the ball, make contact with the ball using the "W" method for hand-placement, arms extended, upon contact take the pace off of the ball and absorb the velocity of the shot using your wrists and forearm muscles to guide the ball into your chest and "tuck-in" position.
You and your partner should do this exercise for between 15 and 20 minutes at the beginning of training and for about 10 to 15 minutes at the end of training. You can very your service by hitting half-volleys (drop-kicks), or serving the ball from the ground and 'clipping' it in to your partner with pace. As you both begin to get your rhythm and timing, increase the pace fo the serves so that you're getting some real training out of it, and not just "going through the motions."
#2. One-handed Catches.
This is one of my favorites. If you are not concentrating on the ball and watching the ball into your hand EVERY time, you will have trouble with this one. Serves are the same as #1. Start with simple volleys, then progress to half-volleys and served balls from ground.
Be sure to "meet" the ball with your out-stretched hand and arm, and again, absorb the serve as you "slow the ball down with your eyes". Good GKs will use their whole body to absorb the shot by flexing at their knees and waist as the ball arrives. (Be sure NOT to step backwards when doing this drill as stepping backwards during shots can lead to a horrible GK habit).
You and your partner can do this drill for about 10 minutes (5 minutes each hand), then if you have cones or coaching sticks you can set up a drill where you have to move laterally (shuffle) to catch balls served to either Right of Left. Again, even when you're moving, you need to take care to use your whole body to absorb the energy of the ball when catching.
When you get really proficient at one-handed catching; challenge yourself by catching the ball with the back of your hand, or with the top of your fist. At first this is a HUGE challenge, but as you develop your abilities, you'll begin to be able to "kill" the ball with proper contact--similar to what field players do when controlling balls with their chest, thigh, or top of the foot.
#3. Collecting Low, High and Crossed Balls.
Every training session should include time spent dealing with Low balls, High balls, and Crossed balls. You already know the proper technique for dealing with these balls. You've been preached at since you were a kid, "Get your body behind it, Catch with the 'W', Knee up on high balls to protect yourself"...etc., etc. The key here is to attack these drills with some intensity and try to catch each and every serve perfectly. Likewise, if you are the 'server', use this time to perfect your "playing with feet". Truly top-level GKs can "ping" a ball anywhere they want with either foot.
Spend about 25 minutes each in goal at this drill. If you can do this just two or three times per week, you'll be amazed at how quickly you become more proficient and confident dealing with any shot or serve the opposition can muster.
Obviously, if your Coach has other things planned for Team Training; you need to follow his/her direction. But if you have time to do some GK training on your own; one of the things I heartily suggest is perfecting your catching. Catching or collecting is a sure way to separate you from the "pack" in Training, Try-out, Camp, ODP, High School, College, or Professional settings. Remember, there are no secrets....it's just repetition, repetition, repetition.
Good Luck, and.......Catch ya' later J
All the Best--EV.
Eric Vaughter is currently the Goalkeeper Coach at Vanderbilt University (W) as well as the GK Trainer at Lipscomb University (M) in Nashville, TN.
Long acknowledged as one of the top GK coaches in the USA; Vaughter has trained GKs for success at all levels--Youth thru Professional. EV is the President and Managing Director of The NET performance Group, LLC--a Soccer and Education firm. Vaughter works as a product design and marketing partner for reusch USA as well as heading up the reusch USA NETwork of Coaches.
EV is also Executive Director and Head Coach of the Nashville Preparatory Soccer Academy. For additional information on EV's Camp and Clinic appearances, or for more GK dialogue; email EV at EVGoalkeeperGuy@Gmail.com