Developing well-rounded goalkeepers: Field play is crucial

By Paul Grafer

How goalkeepers are treated at the youngest ages will have an impact on their long-term development, which is why it behooves a club to provide direction for coaches at the introductory levels.

I'm a huge proponent that at the very youngest ages everyone gets some exposure to goalkeeping at the expense of specialization and even immediate results. And, even once a youth player moves into the next stage, the early teens, goalkeepers should continue to get experience in the field as well.

Getting time in the field adds to the goalkeepers’ general knowledge of the game, which is so valuable to their soccer development in general, and as goalkeepers. It integrates them into the team training as opposed to segregating them, which has numerous benefits on a variety of levels. And, it keeps their touch sharp, which is so necessary.

The ratio between touches with feet vs. touches with hands when you're playing goalkeeper can be as high as, or higher than, 7 to 1 in a game.

By rotating goalkeepers at the youngest ages, coaches ensure that the kids who are potential goalkeepers for the higher levels are getting the foot-skill training they need to be successful goalkeepers, while learning to read the game.

Rotating keepers also gives the coaches a chance to evaluate which ones are suited to the position, while providing young soccer players a chance to self-select. In my experience, it is much more likely that young players will continue playing the game and reach their personal potential if they enjoy their role within the sport.

The selection process needs to evolve beyond the one or two players who don't seem to be doing well on the field -- or the ones who, at first glance, subjectively appear to be best suited for the position.

The coaches will also, as they observe various kids in the position, discover which players really enjoy the position and have many characteristics that make it a good fit. Attributes that are deemed weak for the position can be worked on over time.

Two qualities will stand out while rotating youth players into the goal: Eye-hand coordination and courage. When you add the third quality -- when you observe that they're enjoying it -- you can start giving them more opportunities in goal to develop their natural skills.

(A USSF "A" licensed coach, Paul Grafer has served as a FIFA Instructor, helping design and implement the International FIFA Goalkeeping Program. He served as U.S. U-17 boys national team in 2007-2012 and Chivas USA assistant coach in 2014. As a player, Grafer was an all-American at William & Mary and spent six years in MLS with the Rapids and the MetroStars. Grafer is professionally affiliated with SAFE-Skills, LLC and Athletes Helping Athletes.)

4 comments about "Developing well-rounded goalkeepers: Field play is crucial".
  1. stewart hayes, April 27, 2015 at 11:17 p.m.

    It is interesting to get your point of view on this. I found when working with the U8 and U10 players their reluctance to play in goal was due to lack of exposure and resultant fear of dealing with shots and the inevitable 1v1's. Many of course also could not punt the ball so this became a major fear factor. I found that when we did 1v1 shooting games with players, separated an appropriate distance for their ages, they soon developed confidence and a desire to catch the shots and try out the position. Some players were rooted and did not react to shots others had terrific reaction to shots. It was interesting to see those talents that I would not have otherwise noticed. We spent time in practice feeding balls into a gk with strikers streaking in late at first and then not so. The players rapidly learned how to come off the line and developed great confidence sweeping up at the back. The final stage was teaching them how to fall and deal with the 1v1 confrontation safely. We changed gk's each half and rotated half the team through the position during a season, but only when they were ready and wanted to give it a go. I would never put a player in the position without the preparation. Most kids wanted to give it a go once they learned how to fall and catch the ball, especially after their more adventurous friends did it and loved it. When this same group reached the U19 age we had 7 players who could step into the role if necessary, though they may not have relished it, I did call on them from time to time.

  2. Seth Tennant, April 28, 2015 at 8:42 a.m.

    Yeah, Paulie! Go Tribe!

  3. Raymond Weigand, April 28, 2015 at 12:20 p.m.

    At U10 - It is nice to rotate the kids ... the kids enjoy it ... the parents are not so helpful. As if 15 minutes on a Saturday - one game out of three - is going to prevent their little super star from being awesome.
    During practice ... the kids have to score to be keeper and it gets quite competitive ... kids want to find the back of the net for themselves and prevent their friends from doing the same.

  4. Bill Owens, April 30, 2015 at 12:10 a.m.

    Paulie started writing this article in college. I am glad it was finally published 10 years later.

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