By Tim Mulqueen
During training, goalkeepers should be dressed for maximum protection: long pants, long sleeves, and shin guards. I prefer that keepers always wear shin guards at practice, not only to protect them from injury, but also because they have to wear them in games and should be used to them.
Long pants are especially important at the lower levels of competition, where practice fields can be hard and rocky. There’s no reason to risk scratches and scrapes that can be prevented by covering up the skin. During games, keepers can wear shorts if that’s what they’re most comfortable in. But if the game is on artificial turf, the keeper should use long pants.
Some goalkeeper jerseys and pants come with padding. These may be good options if the padding does not constrict movement and if the keeper feels comfortable wearing them. Fortunately, the technology has advanced in recent years, and padded wear (e.g., elbow and hip protection) isn’t as bulky as it used to be.
For the most part, any equipment that prevents injury and doesn’t impede a keeper’s movement is beneficial. You can let a young keeper wear elbow pads at practice if it makes her feel more confident. However, knee pads really don’t offer much protection. In addition, allowing keepers to wear knee pads can send the message that it’s OK to fall on the knees, encouraging a technique that is not only improper but may also lead to injury.
Keeper gloves are a necessity, and various types are available. In general, keepers should look for gloves that help kill the pace of a hard-hit stinging ball without giving up mobility. The modern foam palm provides shock absorption without causing the keeper to lose a feel for the ball. How thick a glove the keeper wants is a matter of personal preference.
The average youth keeper will probably be fine in a relatively thin glove. Goalkeepers often switch to thicker gloves when they reach the highest levels, where shots fly much faster.
A club or a keeper coach may have various types of gloves that keepers can try out. At a store, keepers should try out the various gloves and have someone toss some balls to them—while doing as little damage to the shop as possible!
After determining how thick a padding you like in the palm, what matters most is the right fit. The gloves shouldn’t be too tight. Fingers in a glove, like toes in a shoe, need a little bit of wiggle room in front. But there shouldn’t be too much room between the fingertips and the end of the glove. The extra material gets in the way and can impede the keeper’s ability to get a good grip on the ball. If there’s so much extra fabric that it can be bent back or folded over, this indicates that the glove is too big.
The choice of what kind of cleats to wear depends in large part on the playing surface. For higher-level keepers who play on nice grass, screw-in cleats are the best option.
Goalkeepers cannot afford to slip when they take those few crucial steps before getting to the ball. Because keepers don’t have to run all over the field, they can afford to wear screw-in studs even when the field isn’t perfectly soft. And they need the extra grip that the screw-in studs offer. Younger keepers, who often play on fields that are harder than elite-level fields, will usually find that molded cleats suffice. But they should never wear flats or artificial turf shoes when playing on real grass because this will result in a loss of traction.
Without good traction, the keeper won’t be able to dig in and get a good push toward the ball. The keeper will also have difficulty trying to explode off the line or change direction quickly and jump.
Because teams play on various fields throughout the season, a keeper may want to own more than one set of soccer shoes: molded for hard grass, screw-ins for softer fields, and artificial turf shoes. (Molded cleats can work well on modern artificial fields, which have more give than the older synthetic turf fields that were more like carpets than grass.)
The bottom line is that keepers can’t risk slipping or falling. I always have my players come to the field early so they can test their cleats on the game field before the warm-up. This gives them plenty of time to change into the best shoes.
(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.)