By Tim Mulqueen
My goalkeeper plays like a superstar in one game but gives up soft goals in the next. What can I do to help him become more consistent?
After a poor or nervous outing, recall what the warm-up and your pregame conversations were like. Likewise, after a stellar performance, ask yourself: What did we do before that game?
Keep a notebook that details your training sessions and reminds you of what you’ve been telling a keeper. This will help you find clues on what brings out the best in him or her.
In general, get to know your keepers. Ask them about their off-the-field life. Find out if they have any worries about family, school, and so on. Let them know you care about them.
If something is bothering your keeper -- maybe his girlfriend just broke up with him -- talking about it might help him clear his head and get ready to focus on the play.
Find out if your keepers have any issues with other coaches or teammates. The more information you gather, the easier it will be to get your keepers on the right track.
Remember also that an approach that may have inspired a previous keeper may not be right for your current keeper. Coaches must adjust their approach to the individual.
Some keepers might need the soft touch to get in the right frame of mind. Others might require a rousing pep talk.
Some keepers might fall apart if they are given a direct, honest critique without plenty of compliments to go with it. Others are fine with a harsh, straightforward assessment.
Observing your goalkeepers closely will help you figure out the appropriate approach.
How can I spice up my goalkeeper training?
Goalkeepers like exercises that involve the use of various kinds of balls because these exercises mix up the keepers’ training routine while offering them a chance to hone their skills and work their fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Have keepers catch balls of various sizes. Start by tossing a golf ball to the keeper. Then throw a tennis ball, which will seem like a beach ball compared to the golf ball. When you follow up by throwing a soccer ball, the ball will seem enormous to the keeper.
By throwing balls of any kind or size from close range, you can test and improve the goalkeepers’ reaction time and focus. You can also incorporate different sized soccer balls. Start with a tennis ball, then move to a size 3 soccer ball before going to the size 5 ball.
Their eyes and hands have to work with different sized balls while their reaction time is being challenged.
A coach can use tennis balls to play dodgeball with the keeper: The keeper stands in front of a fence or wall and tries to dodge balls thrown directly at him. The idea isn’t to peg the keeper in the face, of course, but to give him a chance to work on seeing the ball and reacting to it quickly. They're having some fun while developing reaction time as well as footwork.
(Tim Mulqueen, author of the "The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper: Techniques & Tactics For Stopping Every Shot," is a U.S. Soccer Federation coach and instructor who 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. Mulqueen is the head coach of Chargers SC’s U-13/14 U.S. Soccer Development Academy team and Director of Sports of the Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch, Fla.)
Send your goalkeeper questions to Tim Mulqueen via firstname.lastname@example.org.