goalWA.net is pleased to share the debut column from Clean Sheet Goalkeeping. “Between the Posts” will feature goalkeeping insights from Mauricio Sanchez (Wenatchee Valley CC, Evergreen State College, Oly Town Artesians, Wenatchee FC) who has founded his own goalkeeper training service right here in Washington.
Thinking Outside the Box
by Mauricio Sanchez / Clean Sheet Goalkeeping
There is an evolving position in soccer that is unlike any other position you’ve ever experienced in the game. It is a privilege in disguise, standing between glory and defeat. Turning from a hero into a villain in a matter of seconds and having the courage and audacity to continue to stand in front of and protect the main target of this game. This is the art of goalkeeping.
The goalkeeper position is the most psychologically demanding position on the field. Youth coaches tend to encourage their players to try all positions including playing in goal. Playing this position can be shattering for young players when getting scored on and being set up for failure in a position they might not want to be in or have not been trained for. I utilize my training sessions to allow these players to get motivated and interested in playing the goalkeeper position. In all levels of soccer, developing the “modern goalkeeper” has evolved significantly in recent years, with keepers now expected to be all-round-involved in every phase of the game. Goalkeepers are expected to develop their feet as good as their hands and, in some cases, to be good at defending in open play as they are at shot stopping. I teach goalkeepers the side of staying psychologically aware and mentally agile to adjust to all game circumstances.
My goalkeeper training does not consist of a routine as the game of soccer changes all the time and keepers must learn how to adapt. All of my training sessions are often related to issues and mistakes from previous games and at times training sessions are based on the next opponent or certain situations that the goalkeeper may face, for example weather conditions, field conditions etc. I make sure there is communication between myself and head coaches in order to find out what they have planned for their session, and I’ll try to work in conjunction to their philosophy of the session so everything can relate (and vice versa). Example, if the team is focusing on working on building out of the back, then there’s no point to train goalkeepers on shot stopping, so the focus may instead be on distribution. My training sessions are not “typical” sessions, but rather sessions with a motive, plan, and execution.
The goalkeepers I intend to develop are those who are comfortable with the ball at their feet and with the ability to retain possession in the back. There are three other qualities I focus on. One is their character, referring to OFF- the-field behavior. Second, is their personality, referring to ON-the-field behavior. The final and third quality I focus on is their mental ability. I believe you cannot be mentally weak and expect to play at a higher level or develop as a goalkeeper. When working with goalkeepers it is relatively easy to work on passing, first touch, and positioning. The challenge comes when teaching the process of decision-making. As a goalkeeper it is about being able to make the right pass to the right player at the right time in a game, all while being constantly under pressure. It is very difficult to replicate that pressure in training, not only in terms of execution, but in terms of consequences when making poor decisions when in possession.
There are ways to work with your goalkeepers to enhance their decision-making; one is by working one-v-one with pressure when playing a ball back to them and having a moving target up the field in order to replicate game situations. Another way is to play your goalkeepers as a center back during training sessions. This allows the goalkeeper to be exposed to a far greater pressure and decision-making process than what they would normally face playing in goal.
I make sure they work well outside the goalkeeper comfort zones and, should in theory, enhance the goalkeeper’s development and become the 11th attacking field player with gloves in hand. You may ask, so how do we help them develop this mindset? The best way to achieve it is through trust. It is important for goalkeepers to understand the concept we propose as coaches and more importantly, to understand why we want those movements and the position adjustments they create. Keep in mind that it is more difficult to implement this theory in games because these are young keepers we are talking about and their general tactical knowledge is not a level that a much older and experienced goalkeeper would be at. It is always a “where and when” type of issue, where we are able to get the players to reflect on their traditional position and begin to think about when they need to provide a supporting role to the players in possession or under pressure.
There is a negative mindset to the tactical movement/positioning of the goalkeeper, which is always a “what if!?” But we as coaches need to think outside the box and start looking at it the other way around by saying “why not!?” If I am developing the modern goalkeeper, it is my responsibility to challenge traditional thinking in reference to each teams playing style. If we want more possession of the ball, more numbers higher up the field, and the goalkeeper is trained to help keep the ball and get it higher up the field, then we can start to ask questions about whether it is easier to recover defensively when we lose possession 50 yards from goal, or 20 yards from goal.
I invite coaches to add your goalkeepers into small sided games-keep away. The more touches on the ball the better. Don’t just focus on traditional “shuffle here, step there, the ball will be served here, and make a save” training methods. This does not replicate anything that might happen in a game. Coaches, train your keepers to learn the technical aspects of goalkeeping…yes! But train your keepers to learn the sport of soccer in order to develop smarter, better, and more specific types of goalkeepers that suit your club’s playing style and your coaching philosophy. It is important for soccer coaches to constantly be challenging the status quo-mentality. In this case, quite literally, thinking outside the box.