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The Care and Feeding of a Youth Goalkeeper’s Psyche

Another week of goalkeeper training has passed by and we are getting ready for Sunday matches at the youth level. Here at just4keepers in New Jersey we had a couple of new keepers come to our sessions and see what j4k training is all about. We mandate all new keepers interested in joining the just4keepers school come for an evaluation not only to evaluate the keepers but to talk to the parents so we as coaches can get an idea what the parents views are as well as the parents to see how we train, talk to the trainers and get to know j4k’s philosophy on goalkeeping and then make an educated decision if it is a good fit for both sides.

One of my favorite questions to ask both keepers and parents always is: “so, how did you do at your last game?” The answer 99% of the time is: “WE WON COACH”. My reply then to both parents and keeper is: “I did not ask if you won or lost but how did you do, how did you play?” It is soon after that both parents and keeper proceed to tell me of all the great saves the young keeper made. Boasting of how great the young keeper is and how lucky his team is to have him. I listen to all the keepers’ accomplishments, which are centered on how great he did individually. No mention of his teammates other than to point out how they messed up or they do not listen to him and that is why they concede goals.

Once the evaluation session begins and the new prospective goalkeeper goes through it, he slowly begins to show his lack of proper technique and fundamentals. Upon proper instruction from my part on technique and fundamentals as well as seeing the other keepers around him, which have been training for a while with j4k, he begins to adjust and try to properly correct his technique. He is told and explained by me that as great as it is to make the flying awesome saves and have everyone cheering for him from the side lines, learning proper technique, fundamentals, and positioning in the goal will make the hardest saves look easy. And that is the mark of a great goalkeeper. As the training session progresses he is being exposed to exercises that require multiple keepers to work together as a group, communicate guide each other and rely on each other in order to make the exercise a success. Much like in a soccer game he is going to have to communicate, guide, help and rely on the players in front of him if the team will have any chance for success.

At the same time we want the goalkeeper to have a strong mental attitude about his abilities and self worth to the team but not be arrogant. We want the keeper to know his value to the team but not be pushy. Remember it is never just the goalkeeper’s fault that he conceded a goal. The ball had to go through the entire team before it got to the goalkeeper.

Goalkeepers are sometimes considered to be different, unique, crazy, and can be viewed by some coaches as a nuisance. A lot of coaches put the slowest or the weakest player in the goal and tell them to just catch the ball. No direction or though is given to them. When they make a mistake the goalkeeper gets yelled at. How does one expect for them to do something if they were never taught how? A great quote from some of the coaches is: “Well I have 14 players on my team and I do not have the time to train the keeper. All he has to do is just get in front of the ball and catch it” Is it that the coach does not have the time, the know how or just plain and simple does not realize the psyche the keeper needs to be able to play the position? It is very hard to sit in the goal have a bunch of players shoot the ball at you in point black range, and believe me I have been to enough team practices where the players are toeing the ball at the keeper, because they have not been taught proper shooting technique nor proper finishing technique, inside the six yard box and the coaches expect the keeper to make the save.

Plain and simple the keeper is being used as target practice. I have seen plenty of keepers get injured during those team training sessions, become very hesitant in making a save, going after the ball or just come off the goal and not want to get back in there. Does this sound familiar? Then the parents come the j4k trainings and ask: Coach how can I make my keeper not be afraid of the ball or be more aggressive in coming of his line? Do you think it may have something to do with that goalkeeper’s psyche?

Parent team coaches and goalkeeper parents need to understand that this special position calls for an individual to shoulder responsibility, cope with pressure, deal with failure and lead his/her team to success. Since goalkeeping also can be deemed as a position of failure, it is important to understand the mental makeup of a goalkeeper. We at just4keepers work daily on the goalkeeper’s psyche. It needs time to develop just like their fundamentals and technique. Maturity comes with age so do not expect an 8 year old to have the same mental toughness as an 12 year old a 17 year old keeper. Do not expect an 8-year keeper to be able to be aggressive off his line and talk to his team as a 17 year old does.

I will address more this psyche subject, as it is more important that most realize. Please check back for follow-ups on this.

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