Every athlete prefers to win, but valuable lessons can be learned from a loss.  This is true for most things, not just sports.

After retiring in 2006, I began coaching young soccer goalkeepers, both as a volunteer and as the owner/coach of Just4Keepers of Western MA.  I complemented my years of being a goalkeeper by obtaining NSCAA Level 1, 2 and 3 goalkeeper coaching certificates and with hundreds of hours of viewing training videos.

A common theme was that while coaches should emphasize the development of skills, technique and self-confidence, the importance of young goalkeepers having fun was paramount.

The emphasis was on doing their best, not winning.  How does a coach accomplish this when most athletes equate success with winning? How could I adapt this approach without my young players being skeptical? What would motivate them to accept that making mistakes is essential to learning and it is a gradual process?

As I developed my coaching plans, I realized that winning had not been my primary motivation during my years as a competitive athlete in several sports. Although I always played to win, it was the joy of playing that mattered.

My weekly training sessions began with each goalkeeper discussing how their previous week went. Did they do their best and was it satisfying? What lessons had they learned? What did they need to work on?  Was it enjoyable?  If they mentioned any scores, it was usually an afterthought.

It was unusual when one young goalkeeper, who was normally not bothered by adversity, became visibly  upset about giving many goals in one game and did not consider it a learning experience.

I was not sure how to comfort him until I remembered a game during my junior year in college in which Lehigh had lost to Swarthmore 6-0.  Lehigh had a respectable team and although I did my best, I had never given up so many goals in one game before.

I was very disappointed, but then Swarthmore’s coach crossed the length of the field, shook my hand and said that it was the finest display of goalkeeping he had seen in his years of college coaching.

I asked him if he had been watching the same game that had just finished and he answered, “You may not have realized it, but you stopped ten breakaways.”

I realized that I had given it my best and had enjoyed playing despite the 6-0 loss.  I told this story to the young goalkeepers and hoped they would remember this whenever they gave up a lot of goals.

That evening’s session dealt with breakaways.  I had often told my students that mastering the breakaway was essential to being an excellent goalkeeper.  This was because it involved almost all the skills necessary in goalkeeping and required split second decisions.  If perfected, stopping breakaways was a major confidence builder. I mentioned that if an attacker broke in on me alone, my immediate thought was-“I got him!”

As the evening’s training session progressed, my disappointed young goalkeeper continually pointed out the mistakes he had made and what to do to correct them.

It is always reassuring when goalkeepers know that their coach understands what they are going through.

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