Goalkeeper Articles

How Far Off My Line Should I Play?

By Michael Flynn, Director of Goalkeeping

Earlier this week I read and posted an article stating that Manuel Neuer was becoming the first “False One.” This was referencing how well he dominates the area behind his defensive line by aggressively positioning himself high off his line. While I never would have named his playing style such, though it is strikingly accurate, I have been saying for years that this playing style is the next evolution of goalkeeping. Over the past 15 years the goalkeeping position has almost been on a vertical upswing of change and this looks to be the next stop. And though no one will ever be Manuel Neuer, I feel that it has become a reality that for goalkeepers to be successful at higher levels they will have to incorporate this kamikaze-esque positioning to their games as more collegiate and professional coaches will be expecting it.

Quite often I am asked by goalkeepers how far they should play off their line. Over my 10 or so years of coaching my stance on this has evolved, though I have always leaned toward a more aggressive positioning. The way I have described this has gone from a concrete visual example to more of an abstract concept, taking the basics and injecting them with adrenaline. Instead of a “when the ball is here you’re here” it is more “look at the space in front of you and take as much of it as possible.”

While goalkeepers are developing they should be encouraged to play as aggressively and take as many calculated risks as forwards are encouraged to. Everyone on the field makes mistakes, that is inarguable, but during this developmental stage coaches shouldn’t say that a goalkeeper’s mistake counts for more than anyone else’s. A mistake is a mistake, some result in goals scored and some result in goals missed, but they all should be looked at as learning experiences. For whatever reason, namely coaches caring more about winning games that developing players, goalkeepers are taught to play it as safe as possible and be afraid of taking risks and making mistakes. How can you ever learn from mistakes that aren’t made? This is the time when goalkeepers should be pushing their limits so they know what they can and cannot get away with.

For years coaches have been pushing goalkeepers to be better with their feet. At this point, it is mandatory to be good with your feet to not just play college soccer but also to play at a high level of youth soccer. As an evaluator of goalkeepers I can say it is a massive knock against is a goalkeeper is not at least proficient with their feet. I can also say it is a massive check in the plus column if a goalkeeper is very good with their feet. Now in addition to being able to pass and receive the ball goalkeepers are being asked to have good vision to play an accurate and attacking minded pass. The trend is now moving toward needing the ability to dribble beyond a pressuring forward. This might be a bit off, but not that far off. That will be an expectation of goalkeepers within the next 3-5 years.

If you take all these things into account you have a more attacking minded player than a center back or even a holding midfielder. A player that is expected to be able to find and complete passes on the level of a central midfielder. And a position that is moving toward a player that is capable of dribbling beyond a defender like an outside mid, attacking mid, or even forward. Don’t forget their traditional responsibilities of shot stopping, winning balls in the air, organizing a defense, and putting your face where everyone else puts their cleats. Clearly, it is the most complete and demanding position in sports.

Young goalkeepers should be encouraged and allowed the room to develop their own style and find their own boundaries. It is shortsighted coaching to discourage this. They should embrace the process and offer guidance. Every decision a goalkeeper makes to go or stay is an opportunity to learn. Either they get to the ball and make the save or they don’t. If they are too afraid to commit to winning a ball there is no opportunity to learn. The issue can arise with the coach not understanding the difference or knowing how to correct a mistake other than to criticize the concession of a goal. The mistake is not always the decision to go after a ball, many times it is before they ball is played and where the goalkeeper chose to position themselves in relation to the play.

So I suppose the best way to answer the question, “how far off my line should I play?” is as far as you possibly can. If you are feeling comfortable go farther. Try to win more balls. Make a goal of getting 3 touches outside your area then 5 then 10. Continue to work on reading balls played over the top or on the ground. A very important component of being comfortable playing outside your area is being comfortable playing like a field player. Take the time in training while you’re doing footskills seriously. Become comfortable not just passing the ball when it is dropped to you, but also when you are under pressure or on the move. Learn one or two moves very well that will help you make some space when a forward is pressuring you. And, just in case you do make a bad call on a ball you think you can win, learn how to tackle. Learn how to tackle really, really well. Your goalkeeper training has already taught you about closing angle not just figure out how to go win the ball. Lastly, and this will come into play more than you may thing, become a proficient header of the ball. This will help extend your range of winning balls more than any other technique.

Posted by Administrator on Thu, 20 Nov 2014
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How Team Coaches Should Coach Goalkeepers

By Michael Flynn, Director of Goalkeeping

When it comes to head coaches interacting with their goalkeepers I almost always see one of two methods. The first is the blame all goals on the goalkeeper. In all honesty, this is becoming increasingly rare and that is a good thing. No player could ever be responsible for every goal conceded. This was much more prevalent when I was growing up and it stemmed mostly from a lack of knowledge on the coach’s part. As soccer in America has grown and players have become coaches the coaching knowledge has grown. The only caveat about this going away is more that people are just told to not blame goals on the goalkeeper ever.

This brings me to my second type of coach-goalkeeper interaction: the never blame the goalkeeper for anything. Sure, up front this sounds like a much better alternative to laying all the mishaps of your team on the goalkeeper’s shoulders, but there is something very dangerous with removing any accountability from a player or position. I hear this so much and it really, really bothers me. There is no other position that we say this about. Can you imagine if a forward missed a shot and someone from the sideline yelled, “that’s ok. 10 other people didn’t shoot the ball.” Or if a midfield player played a ball out of bounds and the feedback was, “It’s not your fault, 10 other people didn’t get into position to receive that ball.” It would sound completely ridiculous. That is what I hear every time someone tells a goalkeeper that the ball has to get through 10 outfield players to get to them. While that is technically true, the goalkeeper still has a job to do once the ball gets to them.

As a goalkeeper I am in no way condoning bashing your keepers. The position is extremely stressful as it is and when they make a mistake it is punished with a goal. But I think it is very important that there is a degree of coaching that goes on after a goal is allowed. There are a lot of situations where the goalkeeper can do everything right and the ball still goes in, it’s a cruel position. At the youth level there are at least as many situations if not more where if the goalkeeper had better positioning or technique they would have made the save. A very big portion of the goalkeeper’s development comes from decisions they make in games. If they make a bad decision and aren’t told that it was a bad decision, what a better decision would have been, or even that they did anything wrong they are robbed of that opportunity to learn.

Another issue is that when a player does not have to face the consequences of their play and are told that nothing they do is wrong and the blame is on all of the other players they lose some motivation for playing well. Part of playing on a team sport is not letting the rest of the team down. Playing as hard and as well as you can and caring if you make mistakes because you know that that is your responsibility. It is not easy to be motivated to play well, or even know what playing well is, when there is no downside.

I again would like to stress that I am not putting all of the responsibility for every goal allowed on goalkeepers. I am in no way a proponent of negative reinforcement or screaming at players. I also think that the vast majority of the responsibility for holding goalkeepers accountable for the appropriate things comes down to the coach. For coaches to accomplish this they have to become educated on the position. I understand that if a coach never played the position then the interest in learning more about it is very low. After all, it is just one position on the field, but is still a player on your team and you are still responsible for their education and development. I have been to a lot of coaching courses and, for the most part, the ones that were not goalkeeper specific hardly touched on the position at all. They also did not require coaches to coach the goalkeeping portion of the curriculum saying that it would be unfair for that coach. I think that it is unfair for that coach’s goalkeepers. If it were required for more coaches to learn or just get a better understanding for the position it would go a long way.

In my position at SuperKick I work primarily with goalkeepers and interact with them in a large part in one on one sessions. I always ask for updates on how their recent games have gone and depending on the goalkeeper’s age I get some good reports. Often I will hear stories about goals that they allowed or situations that arose that they did not know how to handle. In a lot of these stories there was some type of vague dialogue between the goalkeeper and coach where nothing was taught or resolved and the goalkeeper learned nothing. I understand that it is not easy for coaches who are not entirely interested in the position but if they get to know the position a bit more it will be better for their goalkeepers which will be better for their teams.

In the end it goes back to my last article which talked about the importance of having knowledgeable coaches training your players. This just goes beyond the basic knowledge and will show to a certain extent how dedicated a coach is at getting better at their job. Goalkeepers are such valuable players on the field it would serve coaches well to understand how to best interact with them and how to help them become better players by understanding and learning from their mistakes.

Posted by Administrator on Fri, 3 Oct 2014
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Training Properly to Reduce Injury

By Michael Flynn, Director of Goalkeeping

The importance of position specific training goes without saying. It is crucial for a goalkeeper’s development for them to get consistent goalkeeper training. Without it they are just working with blind instinct and, even in the most naturally gifted athletes, that will only get you so far. It requires proper training from knowledgeable coaches to get the most out of your training.

While getting the most out of your training time is important, preventing injuries during training is even more important. This is a big portion of where having a knowledgeable coach comes into play. The goalkeeping position is a dynamic and explosive one and players put their bodies on the line every time they are called upon to make a play. As a result, there is a certain amount of risk that is inherently there at all times. It takes experience and planning to keep from adding risk of injury to any training session.

At SuperKick, I work with goalkeepers of all ages. From 8 years old up to college and professional goalkeepers. From my experience all goalkeepers want to make saves. I know that sounds pretty obvious, but there is a difference in the kind of saves they want to make. The high level college goalkeepers and the professional goalkeepers understand that, for the most part, they will be making saves that are based off their positioning and if they do that correctly they will not have to dive. Most of these sessions are driven off of quality footwork followed by a technical handle. Very little diving is done when possible to reduce the wear and tear on their bodies. From the high school level down almost every goalkeeper that I work with wants to get in the goal and make dramatic, diving saves. Even though these young goalkeepers think that it’s a lot of fun, the fact is that many young goalkeepers do not know how to do even the most basic dives properly.

Good coaches should make sure that they simplify the diving technique when teaching it. When I teach goalkeepers to perform a collapse dive we begin from a sitting position, then move to kneeling, then crouching, and then take collapse dives from the feet in two steps. The first step is a ball that a partner is holding and is stationary. After the goalkeepers are proficient at all of these steps we then begin working on collapse dives from feet to a moving ball. This may seem like overkill, but the truth is that there are a lot of moving parts to a basic collapse dive and if you get any of them wrong you won’t just not make the save, you risk suffering a series of injury ranging from bruised ribs to a broken collarbone.

I see many goalkeepers when I am evaluating at things such as club or ODP tryouts that do not have a good grasp on how to dive and have no clue how to land properly. One of the most common mistakes I see when goalkeepers land is coming down on their elbow. You should never dive laterally and land on your elbow. This is the biggest cause of injury as well. Depending on how you land you could crack ribs, separate a shoulder, or as I mentioned earlier break a collar bone. Another common issue which is not quite as dangerous, but more of a wear and tear effect, is when a goalkeeper dives and lands on their hip. From a technical standpoint it is not correct, but from a safety standpoint this will get you really banged up. After a goalkeeper secures the ball on a dive they should have the ball be the first thing to contact the ground thus breaking their fall.

These things are red flags that let me know that a goalkeeper either has not been taught to dive or has not been taught to dive correctly. If I see this with a goalkeeper that is new to one of my training sessions I will pull them out and breakdown the technique for them. I’ll then make sure that the rest of their reps are much more controlled and predictable so that they can focus on their diving technique as opposed to making a save.

There are many people out there that do goalkeeper training. As I have said before, it is crucial for a goalkeeper’s development to get consistent training. If you are going to do this, however, be diligent and do your research on the trainer ahead of time. Try to find players that have trained with them and get their opinion on the coach and try to get an idea about what the sessions consist of. Also, try to watch the first session you send your goalkeeper to. Sessions should not just consist of players and coaches smashing balls at each other. Lastly, ask your goalkeeper questions. All coaches should be happy to discuss the session with you after. Also if your goalkeeper has complained of pain in a particular location after games or training sessions, your coach might know what is causing this and how to prevent it. These couple things can help goalkeepers get the most out of their training and part of getting the most out of their training is doing it safely. The safer you train, the more you will prevent injury, which means you will be able to train more frequently and at a higher level.

Posted by Administrator on Sat, 27 Sep 2014
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Dealing with Imperfect Situations

By Michael Flynn, Director of Goalkeeping

In soccer, as in life, situations will arise that catch you off guard. They can range from relatively small like giving up an early goal, to larger setbacks like being cut from a team. What happens next is critical. How do you respond to adversity? It is one of the biggest factors in being successful or not. It can also be a great tool for growth and development as a player and as a person. When dealing with the smaller setbacks like not being named a starter. It is easy to think that the coach is wrong, or that whoever is starting is just better than you. It is a bit more difficult to look at yourself and really assess the situation objectively, but if you do you will get much more out of these situations. When I was playing professional soccer I encountered many times over the course of my career when I was not getting the playing time I thought I deserved, how I handled these changed as I played longer and my maturity level grew. I started playing professionally very young and had seen almost exclusively success. When I finally reached that level I wasn’t head and shoulders better than the other goalkeepers on my team and did not always get selected to play. My first year I really struggled with this. I felt like I was somehow getting overlooked and maybe my coach and I weren’t gelling or maybe that wasn’t the right club for me to play for. I continued going to training and working hard, training on my own like I always had, and studying game film when required. I finished out the year and was signed on for another season. I trained hard in the off season and came back more fit, stronger, and with a year of professional playing experience under my belt.

The next year started the way the last had gone and I was dejected. I had put in so much work to get better and I still was not getting the playing time I felt I deserved. For a couple of games I sulked, as there was a lot of time to feel sorry for myself on the bench. After several games of not getting selected I tried a new approach. I asked my goalkeeper coach where he saw the separation between my play and the starter’s play. I was few shy and doing this terrified me even though I had a great relationship with my coach. He sat me down and gave me a very honest assessment of why he and the head coach thought that I was behind my teammate. So I worked on those areas and started keeping a very open line of communication with my goalkeeper coach. One of the areas where I was told I needed to improve was on balls in the air so I would stay after training with a few teammates to work on that. A little over midway through the season I started seeing action and by the end was a regular in the line up.

It would have been so much easier to continue passing the blame to my coaches, but it wouldn’t have helped me at all and I don’t think I would have ever stepped foot onto the field. Even after finding out what areas I needed specific improvement in it still took weeks of putting in hours of extra work each week to break into the lineup. After breaking in it took another quarter of the season or so to become the number one goalkeeper. At any point in that three quarters of the season I could have become dissatisfied with the results I was seeing for the amount of work put in and just stopped, but my progression as a player would have stopped with it.

The next season, due to instability within my club (a common problem at that time with the USL clubs) I decided to sign with a new team. The new team had a well established goalkeeper but when the club was signing me they told me the job was opened. Through preseason I felt I had performed better and my numbers backed it up. The day before the season opener we were told who would be starting and I was not selected. Again, I was incredibly disappointed with not playing, but at this point I had grown considerably as a player and knew my own strengths and weaknesses, but wanted to get my coaches input as well. My coach gave me his feedback and I went on from there. The other goalkeeper and I had a great relationship and we would stay after training together to get in additional training. This was fantastic because we could push each other and help each other. I had also began studying game film neurotically to study specific situations. By the midway point in the season I was the regular starter, not to mention a much stronger goalkeeper.

None of this came easily and there were many instances of hardship along the way. There were many opportunities to stop putting in extra work, as it was we trained extensively. I could have waited for an injury or a string of poor performances by the other goalkeeper to get my shot, but that would not have done anything to make me better. I would not have learned so many valuable lessons from introspective to how to improve the areas of my shortcomings. These things served me so well throughout the course of my career and are still things I use any time I encounter adversity. The goalkeeping position is so mentally and emotionally trying that it requires a considerable amount of maturity to deal with the demands. I don’t expect youth players to be able to handle all of these things, but I do want them to be conscious of the tools that are out there to deal with them and begin cultivating their arsenal. If you look at yourself anytime you encounter a setback and think about where you have fallen short or what you could do to accomplish your goals you will put yourself in a much better position to be successful.

Posted by Administrator on Sun, 21 Sep 2014
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What Is the Best Sport Outside of Soccer To Improve Your Goalkeeping Ability?

By Michael Flynn, Director of Goalkeeping

At this point, everyone should be on board with the idea that kids should play multiple sports while they are young. Studies show that the ability to develop motor skills reduces drastically at the age of 12 or 13 so the more that are developed by that age the better. An activity such as rock climbing has been shown to have applications for many sports with things such as special reasoning, body control, and, worst case, learning how to fall properly. Obviously, these things are great for general development, but what about when an athlete reaches their high school years and they have picked a sport to focus on? And within that sport a specific position, like goalkeeping for example. What is the best sport outside of soccer for goalkeepers to play and why? You will hear varying answers to this question, basketball and volleyball which are both great options, but as far as I am concerned tennis will help the most. There are a few reasons why I feel tennis offers the most benefit to goalkeepers, the first of which is the footwork required to be successful. It closely replicates the footwork of a goalkeeper and is primarily short explosives steps, but occasionally requires mid-distance sprints. The vertical and recovery movements closely mimic those of playing in goal and have to be done with the same sort of speed and intensity. Both tennis and goalkeeping require the same type of pre-shot preparation and reading of the situation in the game. In between each shot you hit and each ball returned you must adjust your feet and positioning to get yourself into the best possible positioning to be able to return your opponents shot. As in goalkeeping the quicker you can move yourself into your desired position the more time you will have to react to the ball being struck at you. In goalkeeping the earlier you can get your feet into position the better your timing will be for the save and the more likely you are to be successful. Reading the game properly is of paramount importance in both games to give yourself the edge. Being able to see where you hit the ball, the angle your opponent is taking to it, forehand or backhand, and amount of time they have all factor in to the ball that they will return to you. This is very similar to a forward with the ball at their feet and if they have defensive pressure on them, where on the field they are, do they have support players, or which foot the ball is on relate to the type of ball that you will be required to save; shot, through ball, or cross.

These are all very important things for goalkeepers and are very closely replicated in the game of tennis.  And while it is a great way to improve upon them, especially in a different environment than between the posts, I find tennis to be the best alternative for a different reason.  The reason that I think tennis can help you so much in improving as a soccer player is because of the mental toughness that is required to do well in the sport.  Tennis, singles tennis, is a sport played by yourself.  It is a sport largely played within yourself.  You are completely responsible for every point that is won or lost.  You are solely responsible for winning or losing.  At this point you’re probably thinking, “none of those things are true in soccer.”  And you would be correct.  Soccer is played with 11 players and in theory the team is responsible for good and bad results.  I have played excellent games, kept a shutout, and my team tied because the rest of my team could not break through at the other end.  The result did not reflect my play, but that’s how soccer works.  How the mental side of tennis correlates to goalkeeping is how it requires you to only focus on you.  The more that you can focus on doing your job the better the job you will do. 
The other piece of the mental toughness puzzle that tennis provides is how you deal with mistakes.  Goalkeepers that go on to play at a high level have a lot in common about their game.  They are technically sound, they have the ability to make great saves, they can play with their feet, have quality communication and distribution, and they have incredible mental toughness.  The last quality is what separates the goalkeepers that go on to play at that high level and the ones that do not.  Tennis makes you deal with your mistake very quickly.  It is up to you how you deal with it.  If you let it continue affecting your game, you’re probably going to lose.  If you identify why you made the mistake and then move on to the next point you have a good chance of getting that point back.  This is very similar to playing in goal.  Mistakes will be made, there’s no way around that no matter what level you play at(ex. Iker Casillas in the last World Cup), but it’s all about what you do next that will define you as a player.  Where tennis and goalkeeping differ is that in goalkeeping if you make a mistake you might have a long stretch of time to get over it before you need to make another save.  In tennis, the next point is coming immediately.  That’s where the toughness gets pushed into hyperdrive.  Do you want to win the next point?  Get over the last one and get going.  That’s what makes it such a great way to work on so many important goalkeeping properties.
I am not saying tennis should take the place of training.  Goalkeeper specific training is and will always be the best way to improve as a goalkeeper.  The most important thing about training is training consistently.  I am saying that if you want to add a different tool to your training regimen, tennis is worth looking into.

Posted by Administrator on Fri, 12 Sep 2014
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