Introduction to the Four Pillars of Successful Goalkeeping
Andy Veilleux has coached soccer competitively for over a decade. He was an assistant coach with Cambrian College’s men's and women's soccer programs for two seasons and the head coach of Greater Sudbury Soccer Club’s U-21 men’s program.
He has written for the Canadian Press, the Telegram, The New York Times family of newspapers and Sudbury Sports Magazine. He has made broadcasting appearances on Rogers TV, Leafs TV and CBC.
Training modern goalkeepers is not an easy task, especially for a coach without any background playing between the sticks.
There is nothing more deflating for young goalkeepers – or even more experienced 'keepers – than showing up to practice just to have your teammates rifle soccer balls at every corner of your net without even having time to properly get into the flow of things.
Unfortunately, this is the norm for soccer practices and games if you're a goalkeeper. Some coaches tend to avoid giving goalkeepers proper drills or work, and teammates rarely ever warm up their goalkeeper. Hopefully this neglect will end with you.
Goalkeeping is a crazy and spectacular position. A goalkeeper can make or break the best teams, and make D-class teams look A-class. Goalkeepers are the last line of defense.
So how do you train a goalkeeper?
There are four pillars of goalkeeping that every successful goalkeeper, coach or trainer must address regularly:
Each of these pillars is integral in being a proper goalkeeper, and it is critical that none of them are ignored.
It is typical for lower-level teams to not focus on coaching their goalkeepers, but it is necessary for a goalkeeper to be well-trained if they are expected to perform their role properly.
Throwing a goalkeeper in the net for finishing practices that result in them being lit up by their teammates is not the same as goalkeeper training. Goalkeeper training must be specific, focused and intentional.
Hands/Skills refer to a goalkeeper's overall skill set. This includes everything from proper diving technique to ball distribution, from how to parry a shot to how to catch crosses and everything in between.
Mastering this element of goalkeeping is seen by most coaches as the essential pillar, although a good technical goalkeeper is still not complete without other tools.
Reactions are a goalkeeper's instincts and ability to make impulse saves and movements to prevent goals. This skill set is incredibly important on breakaways, surprise shots and when a goalkeeper is recovering after an initial save.
Goalkeepers who excel in this area can often wallpaper over their poorer technical skills in less competitive settings, but it is critical that any serious goalkeeper master all pillars if they hope to be a star.
Positioning/decision-making is the most difficult skill set to teach, and probably also to learn. This skill set is based on a player's ability to problem solve and 'think on their feet.'
Is it necessary to rush out in case that striker rounds my centreback in this battle?
Is that through ball close enough that I can dive and intercept it before the striker gets onto it?
Is this cross close enough that I can jump and catch it before an opposing player can get a head to it?
These are the sort of critical questions goalkeepers must answer quickly.
Fitness is self-explanatory, although it is worth making a few notes.
Fitness is not about having players take to the field and run a million laps. Modern players, especially young players who are just beginning to learn the game, are not interested in doing laps.
Soccer is a beautiful game, but stuffing never-ending, old-school fitness into every practice is quickly going to make things ugly.
There are thousands of drills for goalkeepers to do without having them run laps, although road work – that is, jogging, working out and generally seeking to improve their fitness away from the soccer field – is mandatory for any serious athlete.
Stay tuned for the next part in our goalkeeping series, which will feature lots of instructional tips and drills that goalkeepers can use to maximize their potential!