By Tim Mulqueen
Goalkeepers react in various ways after they get scored on. Some keepers whack the ball in anger. Some fall to their knees, head in hands. Some scream at their teammates. And some hang forlornly on the net.
Whether the keepers realize it or not, these immediate, emotional responses are more than personal reactions. These actions speak loudly to the keepers’ own teammates and to their opponents.
So what’s the best way to react? Keep your composure. Your teammates don’t want to see you falling apart as if you’ve lost all confidence. They certainly don’t want to be berated. If they were at fault, they most likely already know it. If they weren’t, they’ll resent being blamed. If something needs to be discussed, it should be discussed concisely and without drama.
What should you do with the ball in the net behind you? Don’t embark on a long sprint, carrying the ball to midfield to speed up the kickoff. That implies panic. Don’t boot the ball like a madman. If there’s no defender around to grab the ball out of the net, calmly retrieve it yourself and pass or toss it upfield.
Body language that conveys a negative frame of mind -- such as a slouch or a sulky grimace -- sends a depressing message to teammates and an inspiring one to opponents. And such gestures only delay the keeper’s own recovery.
Keepers need to assume a poker face after conceding a goal -- and they must put the setback out of their mind, whether or not the goal was scored because of their own error.
However, the keeper who has given up a goal should not become shy and stop communicating with his teammates to help them organize the defense. The team still needs the direction of the keeper. In addition, focusing on the upcoming play will help the keeper put the conceded goal out of his mind.
During a game, the goalkeeper coach can play an important role in helping the keeper bounce back from a setback. One approach is to point out the positive: “You let that goal through, but you did save two point-blank shots.”
Another approach is to remind the keeper that errors are a part of the game at every level. Struggling keepers need to put out of their mind what they did wrong. They should think about what they did well and how they can continue to help their team.
Afterward, the keeper coach will have a chance to address the errors and the good plays with the keeper. Keepers need to learn from their mistakes, and they can build confidence from recalling what they did well. When a keeper has just had a tough outing, I often tell the keeper to look at the overall performance:
“You didn’t play your best game, but you gave your team a chance to win when you stopped that breakaway and kept the score within reach.”
Sometimes I don’t even bring up the mistakes. If the keeper made errors but we’ve recently had some really good training, I leave it alone. There’s no sense in bringing up errors if the keeper is training well. I may just touch on it and say, “Hey look, you know what? That mess is behind you. Look how good you’ve been at training.” And I leave it at that.
Goalkeepers have to develop a short and somewhat selective memory, and the keeper coach can help them do that.
The time and place to examine and correct errors and to rebuild confidence is in training. Good training instills confidence. It’s the best way to get the keeper sharp again.
(Excerpted from “The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper” by Tim Mulqueen with Mike Woitalla courtesy of Human Kinetics.)
U.S. Soccer Federation coach and instructor Tim Mulqueen has been goalkeeper coach for U.S. national teams at the U-17 World Cup, U-20 World Cup and at the 2008 Olympic Games. He’s been a goalkeeper coach in MLS, for the MetroStars, and the Kansas City Wizards when they lifted the 2000 league title.