In goalkeeper training, the importance of a good warm-up is undeniable. Preparing the body for intense physical exertion through gradual progressions of physical activity that increase in intensity enables the muscles fibers to fire at their maximum potential when called into action come game time. Most warm-up routines involve stretching the muscles and putting the body through a range of dynamic exercises in a variety of movements of low to moderate intensity to “get a sweat on” and to increase heart rate and blood flow. The body is then prepared to do battle!
But what about the brain? How do you prepare the brain for the multitude of information that will be coming its way during a game? Just as the body is put through its paces in handling, jumping, diving, throwing, and kicking exercises, so too should the brain in managing a variety of simple to more complex tasks, during the warm-up. The mind is then prepped and ready to hang out in “the zone”!
In my last year as a head coach, I had a squad of 22 players, 14 of whom had some kind of learning difference. Often, simple drills that involved movement and passing, or advanced progressions that involved patterns, were not effective as the players were not able to execute the skills effectively. This wasn’t due to poor technique or skill deficiencies, rather it was due to the slower speed of processing the that many players had when given an abundance of information simultaneously. Their brains simply could not process all of the information all at once. If we were to be successful at executing the more advanced plays, I had to engage their brains right from the warm-up and increase the complexity of the information. But how?
I use the techniques that I found to be most successful as a part of the goalkeeper training at Just4Keepers. Sometimes, players become so fixated on trying to perform a certain task or skill well that they ultimately fail because of frustration when they can’t quite do it. A goalkeeper had trouble performing a crossover step, slipping into a carioca step (not good for goalkeepers in a game, fyi!). His frustration blocked his ability to make a cognitive connection, as his mind was so focused on the “I can’t do this” rather than on the actual crossover technique itself. To remedy this disconnect, I had the keeper perform crossover steps between two cones spaced 10 yards apart. He asked how many times he had to do it, to which I replied “When you get to zero, counting backwards in your head from 10”. We increased this to 20, and then to 30. He made no footwork errors in the last 2 repetitions. His brain was occupied with counting rather than the footwork!! I then asked him to get as many crossover steps in as he could between the cones and back, and then as few crossover steps as possible. Again, no footwork errors! Combinations of color recognition, reversing simple to complex instructions (right hand, left foot becomes left hand, right foot; blue, yellow, red becomes red, yellow blue,…), and short burst intervals of activities that deal with processing a great deal of information in quick succession all aid the keeper in getting switched on right from the start!
Most of the warm-up activities that are performed in the Just4Keepers goalkeeper sessions are intended to give a goalkeeper a variety of information to process, whether with hands, feet, movement, direction, spatial awareness, proprioception, distribution, or all of them!! By actively engaging the brain in the warm-up, a goalkeeper will be more able to handle the situations that arise in a game more effectively, as well as making better and more efficient decision making. Here are some simple activities that help to get the keeper mentally sharper and the neurons firing right from the first activity:
A one handed cushioned catch with the opposite leg coming up. This can be performed while counting backwards, repeating color or number sequences, or performing simple math equations!
This progresses into more information to process by adding a simple collapse save. The leg that was up on the one handed cushion stays as the top leg on the collapse from a cross body serve. Watch how the “non-working” keepers also have to remain switched on, as they are giving two different kinds of service:
Other activities involve the use of playing with the feet in a certain combination (receive left, play right), and focusing on direction of movement. Here we see an L shaped passing pattern in which the working keeper has to receive and play quickly and then move around the cone behind them on the same side as the foot that they last played the ball with. The extra bonus here is that the mind will initially be occupied more with which direction to go in after the pass than focusing on taking a good first touch and making a good pass, so the touches are actually sharper and cleaner than if they were the keeper’s main focus!
Goalkeeper training at Just4Keepers involves the expanding of peripheral vision and a recognition of space, distance, and location of other players are during activity. Here is a warm-up that incorporates strength, playing with the feet and turning the same side as the foot that played the ball, reactions, and handling. In returning the ball, the keepers were asked to take a quick mental snapshot of where the keeper who rolled the ball is standing when they turn to miss the ball, trying to return the caught ball back to the keeper WITHOUT looking!
As a last example of the benefit of actively engaging the brain from the first activity, patterns are more easily recognized by the keeper as sessions progress. Their speed of thought becomes seamless with the abundance of information that they have to deal with. This is especially effective in goalkeeper training drills, but it also enables a keeper to recognize the patterns of play that occur during match situations. Here is a final example of a Just4Keepers student absolutely dominating a drill in which there is only one ball used with 3 different servers in different service locations. The fluidity of the drill would certainly have been more erratic should the keeper have been mentally disengaged from the first activity.
With the brain being occupied with another activity (counting, colors, songs, breakfast cereals, synonyms and antonyms,…), the skills are being performed WITHOUT ACTUALLY THINKING ABOUT THEM! As coaches, we create training situations in which keepers have to “act or react without thinking” in an effort for an response to become instinctual, and this is a simple way to reach that goal.
Activate the brain in the warm-up during training and as a pre-game routine. Get in the zone, right from the start!
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