Effective Goalkeeper Communication -- Coaches Must Teach It

By Paul Grafer

How goalkeepers communicate with their teammates is a big part of their development.

Personally, I struggled with communication as a young goalkeeper, especially as it related to helping organize my teammates. I was frequently frustrated when coaches would tell me, “Paul, you need to talk more!” I was at a loss as to how to improve mostly because of the challenges of making sense of the chaos in front of me.

That experience serves me well now as a coach because I understand that simply telling young goalkeepers to “talk more” will do little to improve them.

A coach needs to listen to what is being said -- or not said -- to understand their starting point and personality.

Have conversations with the goalkeeper to learn how they think about various aspects of the game. Based on their personality and knowledge of the game, provide specific, age-appropriate advice to support them as they face the challenges of the position. Lead them through a series of questions related to various situations that they and the team face to help them recognize possible solutions.

Spending some time with goalkeepers during training, watching games on TV together and doing video are all opportunities to have conversations about the many scenarios in a game that repetitively occur and that a goalkeeper may be able to influence through communication. Ultimately, supporting the goalkeeper’s growing understanding of the game and discussing potential methods to prevent dangerous situations by working with their teammates will result in more knowledgeable and communicative goalkeepers who don’t simply yell or cheer-lead ineffectively.

Helping a young goalkeeper make sense of the game, read it, and communicate is a huge challenge for a coach. But, when you help them to do so, it can be one of the more gratifying moments. Not only are you helping the goalkeeper become a better soccer player, but you are also providing them with leadership training for life.

Here are some key points to keep in mind when helping keepers interact with their teammates:

* Patience is crucial for the goalkeeper, field players and coach. Supporting the development of a goalkeeper’s ability to communicate effectively is a long-term effort.

* Don’t expect sophisticated communication from a player with limited understanding of the game and/or team tactics, but don’t settle for cheerleading or simple screaming either.

* Communication should mostly provide information to put out fires before they happen. However, there are definitely times when no communication is appropriate.

* Communication should be about executing the team’s tactics effectively as a group, not about the goalkeeper showing off. Monitor what goalkeepers say, how they say it, and even their body language to ensure its usefulness.

* Communicating loudly is fine. But yelling at your teammates rarely results in positive outcomes. Most of the time, concise, proactive, and relevant information is required.

* To avoid constant blaming, goalkeepers should be coached to think how they could have organized better to avoid the danger (as well as why they weren’t able to save the team in the end). Was your information clear enough? Was it early enough? Was it loud enough? Was it accurate enough? Why didn’t it work? What could you have done better?

* The majority of goalkeeper communication should be defensive-oriented. Even when their team is in possession of the ball, goalkeepers should be thinking mostly about, and possibly communicating how, the team may be vulnerable in transition.

* Credibility is important. If a goalkeeper in older age groups is holding a teammate accountable, they should be sure their house is tidy as well. No player wants to be criticized by a goalkeeper who is not fulfilling his or her own responsibilities first.

(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.)

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