By Tim Mulqueen
What should goalkeepers do when they're on break, such as over the winter holidays?
Staying active is the first thing. You can step away from the game, and I think that's a healthy thing to do. I think sometimes kids get too locked in to just playing soccer. But you can jump in and play some basketball or racquetball, which are great correlations to goalkeeping -- the eye-hand coordination, the quick reactions, the footwork.
Skipping-rope also helps. Working on plyometrics -- the ability to get off the ground quickly, coordination, agility.
Going out and throwing a ball off the wall and catching it -- using a tennis ball, a soccer ball, all different types of balls -- improves your catching.
The mixing it up allows you to get fresh again. To look forward to getting back to playing soccer. I don't think you should ever walk away and say, OK, for the winter holiday I'm not going to do anything for the 12 days off from school, or the several weeks that college kids take off. You don't ever want to drop your fitness level that way.
Playing these different types of games -- basketball, racquetball, skipping rope -- all help keep you sharp and fit, and still keeps you away from the grind of playing all the time.
If you do have a chance to play some small-sided or pickup soccer over the break, what I recommend to goalkeepers is to jump in as a field player. Don't play in goal at all. Playing in the field is a great way to increase your knowledge in reading the game, because you start to think like a field player. And you certainly get to work on improving your touch with your feet, which keepers also need to master.
How can you train goalkeepers to "keep their eye on the ball"?
I like to call it "reading the ball" -- and I have them do it literally.
When they catch they have to read the panel. If they see "Made in China" -- they have to read it to me. I put numbers on the ball so regardless of where they catch it, there's a number on the panel, and they have to recite that number to me.
We warm-up with tennis balls that they have to catch with one hand, and look it all the way in. I number the tennis ball as well with different numbers in quadrants. That gets them into the habit of following the ball all the way into their hands.
For sure, one of the most common blunders occurs when goalkeepers take their eye off the ball before they have it under control.
Catching is our advantage as a goalkeeper. Goalkeepers better be able to catch, and at the higher levels to hold shots of all different kinds of pace, whether it dips or skips.
Catching with your eyes, to me, is the significant piece to truly catching. You have to follow it all the way into your hands. You have to read the ball.
(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 Director of Sports of the Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch, Fla.)
Send your goalkeeper questions to Tim Mulqueen via firstname.lastname@example.org.