Get After It: Mistake Management And Troubleshooting In Youth Goalkeepers
By Mike Idland, for No.1 Soccer Camps
In the second installment of a three part series, No. 1 Goalkeeper Director Mike Idland tackles mistake management and troubleshooting common reactions to technical and tactical mistakes by goalkeepers.
For any educated fan of soccer, it is understood that goalkeepers make mistakes regularly and at all levels, including at the very highest professional and international levels. And sometimes the mistakes at those levels can be very embarrassing and magnified by the thousands of fans watching and the fact that the backup is also a professional and ready to take your spot the first chance he gets. So, how do these goalkeepers continue on?
Never let one goal turn into two! This sounds like common sense, but it is one of the most important points to emphasize with your young goalkeepers. When goalkeepers concede goals – especially “soft” goals – they can be haunted by them for long periods of time. Needless to say, this can have a devastating effect on their performance for the remainder of the game, and sometimes even in the games to follow! It is all an issue of ego and the goalkeeper must be taught at a young age to put it in perspective. A very logical conversation with the goalkeeper goes a long way here. “It stands to reason that to do your best in a given situation during the game requires your full concentration, doesn’t it?” you might pose to your goalkeeper, “Well, if that is the case, then you can’t have your attention divided on the present and the past – especially since you cannot change the past!” When a goalkeeper is caught in two minds: one in the present and one in the past, she is likely to make mistakes that she normally wouldn’t make were she focused exclusively on the present. This is how one goal turns into two!
Another very simple adage I use over and over again with my goalkeepers is Always the next ball. If during the periods between action, the keeper’s frame of mind and focus is always on the next ball, then she will give herself the best chance possible to perform to her full ability at all times. This must be the approach whether she has just made the biggest blunder of her career or the greatest save of her life: Always the next ball. The maturity that this requires does not usually come to goalkeepers on its own until they are quite old and the development of humility, as a natural piece of their personalities, comes to be. But, it can be taught at a relatively young age under the following conditions: the goalkeeper has an open mind; the goalkeeper coach knows and understands the goalkeeper as a person; the goalkeeper coach knows and understands the type of goalkeeper with whom he is working; and the keeper trusts her coach (and her team). Before going into more depth on types of goalkeepers and mistake management, it is worth stating something I think everyone in the goalkeeper’s sphere (the team, the coach, the fans, and the keeper herself) will agree on after a mistake: everyone wants to get the next play right, so everyone will be happy if the goalkeeper is able to is able to bounce right back into the game and get the next ball! Big time goalkeepers such as the professionals and internationals mentioned before understand this, and this is what keeps them playing at a high level even after they let up a howler.
Troubleshooting Reactions To Mistakes
Needless to say, the goalkeeper’s psyche can be fragile at times. At young ages, the very serious goalkeeper is often very technically oriented. Technique is often their measurement of success or failure. This is both a blessing and curse for the goalkeeper coach. The positive side is that the keeper will pay great attention to detail in training and during play and will make technical progress at an exciting pace. On the other hand, this keeper is often in danger of becoming a player who plays strictly by the books. They often lack the creativity to make an unorthodox save when called upon to do so, and some of them – when they do make this type of save – will even regard it as a failure because they are technically incorrect. For this type of goalkeeper, mistake management is a very difficult task.
Fear of embarrassment is usually a major concern for highly-technical goalkeepers, as they often have a misconception as to how their mistakes are perceived. They often feel very silly doing the scrambling and floundering for loose balls that is sometimes required of the keeper in emergency situations. And the keepers feel like everybody sees their mistake, which they most certainly do not. For example, a goalkeeper might misjudge a flighted ball, come out to meet it, and have it hit only her fingertips and fall awkwardly behind her into a crowd of players. The game now asks the goalkeeper to do something unorthodox to solve the problem: she has to go backwards and she may have to dive on top of the ball to cover it and protect it from the players in the area like a football player recovering a fumble. Again, they will often feel ridiculous doing this because it is not necessarily an accepted and established technique. You may see this goalkeeper “give up” at this point, and this must be addressed immediately but carefully by the coach. (More on that to follow.)
Similarly, when the very technical goalkeeper is beaten for a goal because of a technical error (for instance, a breakaway is scored under her hands because they were not positioned low enough), the goalkeeper may have a very tough time “shaking it off” because she holds herself to technical perfection as a standard. Again, this is wonderful on one hand, but a real problem on the other, as technical perfection is not realistic at a high level of play. The coach, of course, must understand this keeper’s orientation toward her game and help her through it with the objective of engendering a perspective more balanced between the technical and tactical in the goalkeeper. i.e. The keeper should strive to execute technically correct at all ties, but the top priority must remain to solve the soccer problems posed to her in front of the goal in order to keep the ball out of the net.
Let me return for a moment to the phenomenon of the highly-skilled, highly-technical goalkeeper “giving up” in the middle of an awkward situation such as a scramble in front of the goal. It is easy for the coach to jump to the assumption that the keeper doesn’t care because of her actions, and that is an understandable reaction. But, this scenario is usually a bit deeper than that and understanding the inner workings of this problem for the goalkeeper will go a long way in helping her and, consequently, helping your team in the long run.
Ask yourself if your keeper’s behavior under normal circumstances (in training, match play, off the field, etc.) ever really indicates that she doesn’t care? If the player has any integrity and heart, the answer is probably no. And if this is the case, then it is probably fair to say that her lack of effort is not because she doesn’t care. More likely, for this type of goalkeeper, it is because she either doesn’t know what to do or will feel extremely embarrassed doing it. When this problem is left to fester over time, the goalkeeper may actually be more comfortable with the goal against than making the awkward effort to solve the emergency. This is a major problem that must be corrected immediately, but it must be done through calm and logical conversation with the goalkeeper.
Shouting at her without contextualizing the problem will do the coach no good. Ask her some questions. Let it come out in the open both that she cares and that she is grappling with the feeling of the unorthodox solution to the problem. Let her know that you understand but also that this “giving up” is unacceptable. After all, this is supposed to be a player with very specialized expertise, but if she doesn’t try for a ball, any field player could be thrown in goal and do the same job if not better! It will go a very long way to make absolutely certain the environment is 100% comfortable for the goalkeeper when training to resolve this issue. There must be a perfect trust between the goalkeeper and the goalkeeper coach because the goalkeeper must feel okay to embarrass herself in front of him, and, if working in a team training environment, in front of the team too. This is no small task!
The goalkeeper will start out with the same problem, no visible effort, and the coach should start coaching by stating the obvious: “Christina, you are not moving to get the ball; I can’t see any effort. Our first step is to show some effort.” Little, by little, the goalkeeper may chip away at her comfort zone and begin scrambling and “making plays,” instead of just counting on text book techniques. Needless to say, you should commend these efforts and tell her how happy you are to see her working so hard to keep the ball out of the net: it is a very positive message to both the coach and the team.
In the old days, the goalkeeper coach would berate the goalkeeper in this situation, demanding that she make an effort and perhaps even kicking her out of training if she persisted in failing to make an effort. This approach has its place, but things have changed, and it is not usually the best first course of action, as this gets the goalkeeper to perform chiefly based on either fear or anger, neither of which allows for the keeper to be well focused. You may reach your boiling point with a goalkeeper – I know I have several times – and explode on her, and this is understandable because you are only human. But, patience and restraint are very precious virtues when coaching a goalkeeper. All it may take is one outburst out of the blue (in the goalkeeper’s perspective) to lose the young player’s trust. She may feel almost as if you have just been hiding your anger with her all along. Now, every long-term working relationship between goalkeeper coach and goalkeeper will require the coach to scold his goalkeeper on occasion; that is just the nature of the coach-player-performance relationship. But, knowing your goalkeeper well and knowing, consequently, which chords you will strike with which actions, or with which words, is paramount to your effectiveness as a coach. You may shout once or twice a year at the most dedicated goalkeepers, and that will most likely be very effective. Then again, you may have a goalkeeper who needs to be under your wrath constantly. More power to you if you can work with a player under these conditions. For me, this goalkeeper is not worth my time, as her motivation is almost exclusively extrinsic, and I am interested only in intrinsically motivated goalkeepers.
The Tactical, Play-Making Goalkeeper’s Mistake or Goal Against
All together a horse of a different color, the less technically-oriented play maker has different concerns regarding her mentality and her mistakes and goals against. In contrast to overthinking situations and beating herself up over technical deficiencies, the play-making goalkeeper tends not to think enough about the technical solutions. Because this goalkeeper often handles the same situations differently each time, consistency is a problem. This goalkeeper’s game is a bit undisciplined even though she may have the best intentions at heart. An example of the problems one could face with this kind of goalkeeper might be on low balls to the goalkeeper’s side. Whereas the technical goalkeeper is likely to low-dive every single time for this ball, the renegade play-maker may low dive for this ball one time, scoot over and stay on her feet the next time, forward dive the following time, and make up some other kind of dive all her own on the next one! So, when the ball is mishandled or goes past the goalkeeper for a goal, this keeper rarely says to herself, “which part of the dive did I get incorrect?” because there is no technical standard by which she measures herself. Instead it is just, “I should have gotten that one!” This goalkeeper, however, does not get as embarrassed on the technical stage in the same way as the more technically-oriented keeper, which is a great quality to have in emergencies. As a result, this goalkeeper will usually do better in awkward situations, but she will lack consistency in more “routine” situations.
Needless to say, the best goalkeepers are not at either polar extreme, they rather have a healthy balance of technique and play-making awareness. So, how do we, as coaches, go about developing the goalkeeper with the best balance and where do we start? Next Installment: Technique and Training Mentality
Mike Idland is the Head Coach for the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford Women’s Soccer Team and Goalkeeper Director at No. 1 Soccer Camps Elizabethtown College location. A former No. 1 camper, Coach Idland played collegiately at at Suny Cortland. He became a staff coach at No. 1 in 2000 and went on to become a Regional Director in 2004. Idland will be the Goalkeeper Director at No. 1 Soccer Camps Elizabethtown College location from July 26-30st.
Also by Mike Idland: Understanding The Youth Goalkeeper Mentality Pt. 1 and Out Of Your Mind Breakaways