By Tim Mulqueen
Preventing goals may be a goalkeeper's foremost duty, but it's only part of the job. Once the ball is in the goalkeeper’s hands or at his feet, the keeper becomes an orchestrator. That’s why coaches should stress that goalkeepers are soccer players who happen to have the privilege of using their hands.
Many times during a game, the goalkeeper is the player who initiates her team’s attacking approach with her distribution of the ball. The keeper has myriad options for distribution, and to take advantage of all of them, the keeper must master every technique for getting the ball to a teammate.
Goalkeepers must be able to launch an attack with a punt, drop kick, or sidewinder -- and they must be able to do so while minimizing risk. They must also be able to throw or roll the ball to their teammate, never failing to reach their target.
Being good at distributing the ball enables a goalkeeper to help determine the tempo of the game, to give his team an offensive edge, and to make it more difficult for the opponent to launch another attack.
Distribution skills also play a key role in how coaches choose their starting goalkeeper. The keeper who can pass, punt, throw, and roll the ball accurately to teammates will get the nod over the keeper whose distribution enables the opponent to quickly regain possession.
Because they can start with the ball in their hands, goalkeepers have more options than field players do for how they can relay the ball to teammates. Three types of kicks start from the hands: punts, drop kicks, and sidewinders. A goalkeeper should be able to master at least two of these three. Preferably, the keeper will master all three! Each type has different technical requirements and is used for various tactics.
Punt: Height and Distance. Punting enables the keeper to send the ball a long distance upfield and with height. The punt is not as accurate as the drop kick or sidewinder. In fact, the punt often results in a 50-50 ball. A punt may even give an edge to the opponent’s players because they are facing the ball and can run into it, sending it back the way it came.
The punt is used when a keeper wants to buy time for his team and gain some territory, especially if his team has been under pressure. Keepers also use this technique if the surface that they are playing on does not allow for a safe drop kick.
Drop Kick: Speed and Accuracy. The drop kick is a half-volley strike. The keeper drops the ball from his hands and makes contact with his foot after the ball has taken a quick, short bounce off the ground. The drop kick is a more accurate way for the keeper to advance the ball up the field than the punt.
Precise drop kicks enable teams to launch quick counterattacks. They are valuable offensive weapons when the keeper quickly and accurately gets the ball to a teammate before the opposition has time to recover and organize their defense.
Sidewinder: Swift Counterattack. The sidewinder kick is the most difficult of the three techniques but can be the most effective. The sidewinder requires the keeper to perform a side volley to distribute the ball to a teammate.
The keeper throws the ball slightly to the side, turns his body to that side, and brings his hips in line with the height of the ball as he strikes it. Optimally, the ball rockets toward a teammate at about hip height. When done properly, the sidewinder drive sends the ball upfield much faster than a ball on the ground and more accurately than a punt. The sidewinder drive is also easier for a teammate to control or to run on to than a lobbed pass. The sidewinder is the most difficult distribution method to master, but it is well worth the effort.
The sidewinder has been made popular in Central and South America, but keepers all over the world are realizing just how effective this form of distribution can be because it’s an excellent method for launching a counterattack. The sidewinder can send the ball into the path of a player sprinting upfield. A toss or a punt, on the other hand, gives opponents much more time to track back and defend. The sidewinder also provides an element of surprise if the keeper unleashes it quickly.
Teams will often keep a fast player forward so that once the keeper catches the ball, the keeper can launch a deadly counterattack with this technique. When done right, the sidewinder is also extremely accurate and allows teams to keep possession higher up the field. Keepers who perfect sidewinders become a valuable part of a team’s attacking arsenal.
From the Hands. The biggest advantage that goalkeepers have over field players is their ability to use their hands. They must exploit this advantage!
One of the biggest flaws of many goalkeepers is poor distribution from their hands. They are careless with their technique or reckless with their decisions when the ball is in their hands. When throwing the ball, keepers should be able to precisely deliver the ball to a teammate. If keepers have a lack of concentration when performing this skill, they deny their team of a significant weapon.
Keepers should throw the ball so that it is easily controlled by the player receiving it. This may require throwing the ball directly to the player’s feet or chest. The ball needs to arrive with the proper pace to make it easier for the keeper’s teammate to gain control.
Whenever a goalkeeper gives up possession with a throw, it’s time to work intensely on that skill. The keeper should never lose possession when throwing the ball. A throw from the goalkeeper must be at the proper pace and height to allow the receiver quick and easy control of the ball.
Rolling the ball is the perfect method for getting the ball to a nearby teammate. The keeper bends to roll an easy-to-control ball with the proper pace and without a bounce. Although this is not a difficult maneuver, care should be taken. Goalkeepers can become lazy or careless, and they may roll a ball out with bounce. The ball then becomes difficult for the receiving player to control.
The primary objective of rolling a ball out is to retain possession. Usually the keeper gives the ball to one of the defenders. The keeper needs to make sure that the player receiving the ball is not under pressure.
(Excerpted from “The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper” by Tim Mulqueen with Mike Woitalla courtesy of Human Kinetics.)
(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 served as goalkeeper coach for U.S. national teams at the U-17 World Cup, U-20 World Cup and 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.)