As we approach the month of August and after a long two months of weekend tournaments I wanted to take the time and write my thoughts on goalkeepers that almost always punt after they make a save. My teams have just completed two months of weekend tournaments and I have seen over 100 matches of ages U9 though U17. One of the referees approached me after a match was over and commented at the fact that my U10 girls were passing the ball back to the keeper and the keeper would roll the ball out to the backs even if at times she was not making the greatest distribution roll. He said that he had not seen that kind of confidence in players to do that regardless if they made a mistake or not. They seemed poised even the times they did make a mistake. He commented on the fact that I as a coach did not blink an eye when they made a mistake. I thanked him for noticing that and said that I am a J4K goalkeeper director and our philosophy is teaching the goalkeepers to play from the back, read the game and make proper decisions on when to roll, throw or punt the ball. I told him that we teach them how to get their field players’ confidence to pass the ball back to them and then open up for a distribution ball.
The goal here is to maintain possession of the ball and as I see all the time from goalkeepers they punt the ball as far as they can. There was one match in particular that I was watching where the ball went back and forth 3 times from keeper to keeper. One keeper punted the ball so far that it bounced right in front of the opposing team’s defender, not even close to his forward, over the defender’s head and in the opposing keeper’s hands. That keeper without any hesitation or seeing his wingbacks being open, punted the ball just as far down the other end of the pitch. This time his forward tried to control it, had a bad first touch and the ball wound up in the other goalkeeper’s hands. And finally that keeper, before he even had a secured possession of the ball rushed to punt it down the right side of the field to his winger, where the ball took one bounce and as the winger was not able to control it the ball went out of bounce giving up possession once again to the other team. It was like watching a game of ping pong there for a couple of minutes with no possession and no attempt to control the ball. Just get it away from our goal as far as we can. Now, let me ask this question; Is it the keeper’s decision making that is wrong or the coach’s fear of conceding any goal in case the goalkeeper makes a mistake or his field players do not control the ball and lose it to the other team that may ultimately result in a goal?
Goalkeepers should be encouraged to roll the ball out or drop it to their feet and pass their way out of the back rather than punting it up the field. I’ve never coached my teams to play kickball so the suggestion that having the goalkeeper punt the ball every time is a form of kickball got me thinking. Why do goalkeepers punt? Most of the time it is to get the ball as far away from their goal as possible. Is that what we want our young goalkeepers thinking? I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for punting the ball. But how many of our goalkeepers realize they have another choice? When you watch the professional game you’ll see goalkeepers roll the ball out to a defender, throw it to a midfielder, drop it to their feet and pass it or punt it out. I think the reason coaches don’t encourage young goalkeepers to use these various techniques is that we’re afraid they’ll make the wrong choice and it will lead to conceding a goal. Unfortunately, too many of our coaching methods revolve around an avoidance of risk rather than a desire to teach players to make good decisions (ie: throws always down the line, goal kicks always hit long, defenders kicking the ball out when under any pressure, etc). I believe that we should give our players choices and teach them how to decide which one is correct given the circumstances. Will they make the wrong choice at times? Sure, but that’s how they learn. The only reasons to eliminate all risk and just have them make the safest play every time is because we’re afraid to lose the game. The irony is that teaching kids to make their own choices will help them be more successful in the long term. What are your thoughts?