Solid keepers need to be good communicators with teammates, coaches, and referees. Let me share some information on how to develop and strengthen relationships with teammates to increase trust and not be seen as an outsider.
[This post is part 1 of a 3 part series]
Communicating with teammates: the quickest path to success
A keeper’s main role as a communicator is to deliver tactical information to their teammates. For example, letting a defender know they have an opponent making a run, calling for the defensive line to drop, making sure everyone has marked up on corner kicks, etc. (for more about developing a specific team language to help with this, see the section on communicating with coaches).
However, the keeper typically should reserve their comments to those areas, and should not tell their teammates how to play their position or harshly criticize them for mistakes. A keeper should give tactical feedback, not technical feedback, to their teammates. Your job is to let them know what you see that may help them do their job.
In every case I can think of, a rational action is always more helpful than an emotional reaction, and a keeper who constantly gives accurate and timely information is more helpful to the team than one who constantly gives a subjective opinion about how their teammates are performing.
The keeper is an important team lookout that can see early signs of danger and then take rational action to communicate their observations to the team.
The way the keeper communicates will also change depending on the urgency in the run of play. For simplicity, I’ve broken them down into low urgency situations and high urgency situation.
Low urgency means there is no imminent threat of a goal scoring opportunity for the opposing team. Typical examples of low urgency are when the ball is out for a throw in, in the other team’s defensive third of the field, or a substitution is taking place.
In these types of situations, the keeper is a provider of specific, tactical information that doesn’t necessarily need to be acted on right away (watch back door, through run coming, numbers, etc.). The keeper's job is to direct the team to maintain good defensive shape and increase teammate awareness of things they can’t see. Great keepers are always prepared, and they always help their teammates be prepared, even when things are slow.
High urgency means that the opponent is likely to be in a position to put direct pressure on the goal. This can be free kicks on your half of the field, corner kicks, or counter attacks.
When urgency is high, the keeper needs to give specific, tactical direction that prompts an immediate response from teammates (drop, mark up, away, man on, step, etc.). The keeper's voice should change depending on the situation: the more urgency there is, the louder and more commanding the voice should be. Many times the keeper's voice can create urgency in others, resulting in quick action to stop an attack. In these moments, ineffective communication is one quick and frustrating way to give up a goal.
Whether the situation is tense or not, it is common for a field player to ignore a keeper they don’t trust or like, and this is a major problem for the team. This is one reason keepers should look for and take opportunities to praise their field players’ effort and skill both on and off the field, and specifically regarding their efforts to hold defensive shape or give extra hustle to play team defense.
By focusing on the good in each player, it’s more likely that the team will focus on the good in in the keeper. This results in team cohesion and trust, which will help the team to bend and not break in tight situations.
*Quick note to goalkeepers: don’t rely on the “praise your teammates” strategy alone to build trust. Let your team see you working hard and doing your best to be a great keeper they can rely on. As they see your growing skill and exceptional effort, they will trust you more quickly. Even better, they’ll soon trust you so much that you’ll be the only keeper they want to play with, and that is a wonderful feeling.
In the end, the most important job a keeper can do is organize their team through communication. This doesn't need to be bossy or harsh. In fact, the more kind and generous you can be, especially at the beginning, the better. Over time your teammates will come to trust you, and together you can reach great heights. Master this ability, and you'll be ahead of the vast majority of keepers out there.
Questions or comments? Drop us a line to tell us what you think.
Want more tips on communication? Check out our post on communication between coaches and keepers titled "Successful Keepers Communicate - Part 2 - Coaches". See you there.