After 10 years of playing professional, 4 years of division one college soccer, and another 12 years playing competitive youth soccer; I've learned a bit about the goalkeeping position. I put together this list of five tips that I think are important for goalkeepers of any age to be successful. I've learned from some of the best goalkeepers and goalkeeper coaches the game has to offer, now I want to share my knowledge with YOU!
1. Be mentally prepared
Goalkeepers will hear this and say "duh, I am mentally prepared" without actually understanding what I am saying. Mental preparation starts way before you step on the field to compete. For some, mental preparation starts the moment you wake up. You have to figure out what gets the best out of you. Whether it is a training day or a match day; what is the best mental routine that will have you focused for the task at hand.
A big problem I notice, specifically for younger goalkeepers, is the massive gap between their mental preparation for a game as opposed to goalkeeper training. Mental strength isn't something you simply turn on or off. Your mentality is something that has to be trained and developed just like your weak foot or your diving technique. Both of those can fail if you aren't properly trained and prepared mentally. Failing to prepare for practice properly will lead to inconsistent performance.
One of the best ways I found success with my mental training was to set short-term and long-term goals for myself. My long-term goals were typically what I wanted to achieve at the end of the season. My short-term goals were daily or weekly targets that I wanted to achieve in order to reach my long-term goals. By doing this, I found a renewed sense of focus every day in training. I knew what I wanted to work on every day and I had an idea of how it would help me long-term. Having that mental focus every day was key for improving my performance on a consistent basis.
Knowing this, and having gone through the experiences throughout my career, was one of the main reasons why I started Prime Focus Athletes . I understand the importance of mental training and getting the support you need to reach the level you want to be at. The Cerebral Athlete Training Program is a collection of knowledge that I gained over the course of my ten year career that helped me develop the right mentality to be successful as a goalkeeper.
2. Train like it's the game
Mentality is such a big aspect that determines your success as a goalkeeper. If you show up to goalkeeper training with the right mindset, you are much more likely to achieve the things you want. The phrase "train like it's a game" is used pretty often by goalkeeper coaches but what exactly does that mean? Oftentimes, in sessions that I've seen, it means work really hard and push yourself to your limits. That's not what I mean when I use the phrase. I want goalkeepers to utilize training as an opportunity to see as many game-like situations as possible. From distribution to movement to shot-stopping; put yourself in a position to replicate in-game actions as much as you can.
I know what you are thinking right now, you don't control the sessions so how can you do this? By controlling what you can control. Having conversations with your goalkeeper coach, to discuss what your needs are and how they can be met on a consistent basis, is important. Taking advantage of every opportunity in training to improve. One of my biggest pet peeves when training youth goalkeepers is when we work on passing for twenty minutes and then go collect the balls and they kick toeballs all over the field. Building habits as a goalkeeper is KEY.
Hab-it : a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
It's hard to build the habit of consistently good contact on the ball if you are constantly switching off in training and reinforcing bad habits. Take advantage of this down time by reinforcing a positive technique that will hopefully become ingrained at some point. It may seem like a small thing, but the little things add up to become really important.
Treat the "easy" stuff as if they are the most important reps of the day; because they are. The more you can hammer in the basics, and they become natural to you, the faster you will start to see improvement on a regular basis. Don't ignore the simply volleys at the beginning of training. Don't slack off on the footwork during warm-ups. Don't get lazy during crossing because there isn't any traffic. Every rep you take in training should be focused on maintaining or improving your technique; no matter how "easy" you think it is. If you don't want to bobble a shot hit right at you in a game, then focus on clean handling as often as possible in training.
3. Pace yourself
This part has a number of different meanings so I need you to pay attention. I work with goalkeepers at every level of the game. The 9-year olds that are just starting out and figuring out how to catch a ball; and the professionals who want to stay sharp and push themselves to the next level of the game. This first piece of advice is for my younger goalkeepers. SLOW DOWN! There are too many middle school and high school goalkeepers out here expecting themselves to be the next Manuel Neuer and completely ignoring the long road it took for him to reach that level.
Goalkeepers at every level have to learn how to respond to setbacks and mistakes better but especially younger goalkeepers. You can't expect perfection from yourself as a 15-year old goalkeeper. I don't expect it of you as a goalkeeper coach and it is unrealistic to expect it of yourself. Pace your development. Stop trying to to be the best goalkeeper in the world and simply focus on being the best goalkeeper you can be. Set realistic goals and expectations for yourself. Accept that you are going to fail and make mistakes. Figure out how to learn from them and move on. Whether it's the next training or the next game, your best moments are ahead of you.
To go along with this idea of controlling the pace of your development; understand that goalkeeper training is oftentimes more about quality than it is quantity. There are so many goalkeepers and parents out there that think just because their child is sweaty and exhausted at the end of a goalkeeper training session then they got some really good work in. That may be the case in some instances, but not always. I tell my young goalkeepers all the time, "THIS ISN"T A FITNESS DRILL!" You have to learn how to pace a goalkeeper session so that the work you are doing is beneficial for you. Doing 15 reps when you're exhausted doesn't mean you're getting better; it actually can be more detrimental than anything.
Know your body. Understand what is beneficial for you. Push yourself but don't overexert yourself to the point of injury. Don't be afraid to ask for a break. Hydrate and rest when needed. It's a marathon, you can sprint sometimes but you also have to know when to ease up.
4. Compete but learn
Is goalkeeping easy? NO, but it's called the goalkeeper's union for a reason! You have to able to lean on the people around you for support. Too often, the union can cause more harm than good. When you get to the higher levels of the sport, you're now competing with the same 2-3 goalkeepers every day for the one spot in the starting lineup on gameday. It can be hard. It can be mentally exhausting. It can cause anxiety. Welcome to the union! How do you balance the relationships within the group with the level of competition necessary to push everyone to get better?
You first have to understand the position you signed up for. Not everyone gets to play. It isn't always fair. The best goalkeeper doesn't always get the opportunity. But that shouldn't stop you from competing and it shouldn't stop you from having healthy relationships with the other goalkeepers around you. Those will be the people you lean on when times are tough. No one understands the goalkeeping position quite like another goalkeeper. Learn from their mistakes and use their support to propel you forward.
Throughout my ten years as a professional, I always performed my best when I had a really good group of goalkeepers around me who were performing at a high-level every day in training. We competed with each other but we also taught each other a lot. Whether it was small bits of technical advice or just conversations on how to be a better teammate, the relationships you build in the #GKUnion are important.
5. Enjoy what you do
I know it sounds simple but it really isn't. When you're at club soccer practice on a Friday night instead of at a high school party with your friends, it's not easy. When you've got practice sandwiched in between class and study hall in college, things don't seem as fun as they used to be. When you're six months in to a long professional season, it can be hard to find the motivation to perform at your best day after day. Just remember, you don't always have to be at your best. But being able to find the joy in why you're there will help you to continue to show up and continue to succeed.
I didn't love every day of goalkeeper training in my 25 years playing soccer. I wasn't always excited about putting my goalie gloves on. But when I caught that first volley or struck that first pass, I knew I was in the right place. Embrace the "boring and monotonous" aspects of goalkeeping. Find joy in the simplicity of the game and the position. There aren't many out there that can do what we do. Revel in the fact that you're one of a few, the special kind of person that can be a goalkeeper.