Goalkeeping: More than just shot stopping
By Eric Vaughter
In the United States I have seen many goalkeepers who are very good shot stoppers when training --- making spectacular flying saves. But when they play in actual games they struggle --- conceding many goals. One reason for this decrease in performance could be psychological --- the pressure of being the last line of defense causes them to have costly mental lapses. Another explanation is that they lack the tactical skills to work together effectively with their teammates or to resolve the complex situations that present themselves in games. I believe both of these problems are the result of the type of training most goalkeepers do in the United States. A lot of goalkeeping training sessions in the US are conducted separately from the rest of the team and are entirely technical, focusing on how to catch the ball. Or when the goalkeepers do practice with field players they do so in situations that are not game realistic. For example, the goalkeeper may face a single field player who dribbles and shoots; or they may just scrimmage 11 v 11, where the goalkeepers rarely and randomly get the opportunity to do something.
The key to improving goalkeepers performance in games is therefore to try to incorporate a lot of functional game related situations into the practice. There are a lot of ways to make the practice functional towards the needs of the goalkeeper. One of the simplest is to play Small Sided Games (SSG) with big goals (it is also a lot of fun!). Here the goalkeepers will face a lot of game related situations that frequently repeat --- shots with defenders and attackers obstructing their view, defending numbers down, break away situations, back passes, the opportunity to initiate counter attacks, etc. This gives goalkeepers the opportunity to improve their decision making (when to come off their line, their positioning for shots and crosses, which technique they use to distribute the ball, etc.) and allows them to practice communicating with, and organizing, their defenders effectively. Preferably they should team up with defenders that they play games with, so as to improve their understanding.
The coach can then help the goalkeepers by analyzing situations where mistakes are being made and provide feedback. As important situations repeat so frequently in SSG, the goalkeepers will have lots of opportunities to practice what the coach has taught them. SSG with goalkeepers can also be easily adapted to create more of a particular type of situation. For example, the coach can assign two extra wide players if they want the goalkeepers to have to deal with more crosses. Similarly, the coach can a make the field smaller if they want the goalkeepers to have to save more shots, and larger (maybe with the variation of mid/offside line) if he wants the goalkeepers to face more tactical decisions.
Eric Vaughter is currently the Goalkeeper coach at Vanderbilt University (W) as well as GK trainer at Lipscomb University (M) in Nashville, TN.
Long acknowleged as one of the top GK Coaches in the US; Vaughter has trained GKs of all levels--Youth thru Professional. EV is the President and Managing Director of The NET performance Group, LLC--a Soccer & 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.