Successful Keepers Communicate - Coaches

Solid keepers need to be good communicators with teammates, coaches, and referees. Let me share some tips on how to develop and strengthen relationships between keepers and coaches that will decrease misunderstandings and elevate the chances of success.

[This post is part 2 of a 3 part series] 


Coaches, here are two “don’ts” and one “do” that will help your keeper on their way to success (and will reduce your own stress too). They refer to specific situations in games, but the underlying principles will help you interact with your keeper in a mutually beneficial way. I’ll be blunt here for clarity. And keepers, even though this is directed to coaches, read on. You'll find some useful information here as well.

Don’t #1: Giving in to the urge to yell criticism at keepers during games or trainings.

That doesn’t mean don’t give direction, just don’t be belligerent about it.

The position is one of high pressure, and keepers are almost always the first to realize when they’ve made a mistake. Don’t compound the problem by embarrassing or belittling them in front of everyone in earshot. The position is nothing if not psychological, and you can help them stay in the moment and be valuable to the team by practicing restraint. The middle of the match isn’t the time to call out a keeper for what you perceive to be poor play. Be constructive, be direct, do what you feel will get the best out of your keeper. But don’t disparage, don’t sabotage their psyche by letting your emotions get the better of you.

The long and short of it is, if you let them know you doubt them, most keepers will begin to doubt themselves, which isn't good for them as a player or a person.

In short, if you disagree with the way they’re playing or the decisions they’re making, keep your cool in the moment and find a way to get them the resources they need to improve. This could be training, reading a book, or participating in an online goalkeeper course. There are plenty of resources out there for keepers to turn to.

Don’t #2: Calling your keeper off their line to collect a ball

Coaches, please never, ever call “keeper” when you think your keeper should come off their line to win a ball. The time to coach that technique is in training, and yelling it in a critical moment isn’t helpful at all.

I’ve seen the results of this mistake played out over and over: a coach yells “keeper” because they think their keeper should be coming off the line to collect a ball. On hearing this, the defenders stop pursuit, and since the keeper wasn’t planning on leaving their line (or not leaving right at that moment), space is created between the keeper and the back line for an opportunistic forward to fill, win the ball, and force a 1v1 situation. That’s not what you meant to do as a coach, but it’s not an uncommon result.

Not to mention that you’ve just hijacked the relationship between the keeper and the defender by taking on yourself a responsibility that belongs only to the keeper. Frankly, it’s not your job to call the keeper to the ball. 

Sometimes it’s best to let the mistake happen and then correct it in the next training session, because the alternative is to create a whole new mess that’s more problematic and harder to solve by inserting yourself where you shouldn’t. Your keeper starts relying on you to make that call, and your defenders lose trust in the keeper’s ability.

Teach your keeper correct principles, or send them to a trainer who can, and then let them decide how to implement in the game. If they don’t do it how you prefer, remind them when you can, but not in a critical moment during the run of play.

Do #1: Help your keeper and your team by choosing a consistent vocabulary for in-game communication

When it’s time for the team to move forward after a cross has been cleared from the 18, should the keeper yell “out” or “up” or “step”? When it’s time to mark up on a corner, should the keeper direct the players to “mark up” or “find a man”?

Deciding on a specific in-game team vocabulary may seem trivial, but it can add a significant boost to team cohesion and consistency. Getting everyone on the same page will minimize the possibility for misunderstanding and mistakes.

This can be especially helpful for goalkeepers who don’t organize because they don’t want to be seen as a bossy know-it-all to their teammates. If everyone is using the same language, the idea of directing teammates becomes less scary.

When the game is on the line and there is little room for error, you will be glad you took the time to figure out your team vocabulary.

*Quick note to goalkeepers: Be patient with your coaches. They want you to succeed. They want you to play your best and be an important part of the team. They want to help you in your efforts to be better.

But the reality is that most coaches don’t know that much about goalkeeping. And that’s not their fault.

Even a close study of the position can’t really substitute for the experience you get through years of training and playing in games, so it’s hard for a lot of coaches to really understand what it’s like to be a keeper.

One of the best things you can do is to communicate clearly with your coach. Did they criticize you for something you did during the game? Talk to them about it, and together try to determine if you actually did make a good decision (notice I don’t say the “right” decision), or if you need to make a change. It’s possible that you did make a mistake, and you should take ownership of that and express your desire to get better.

If you can identify why you made a certain poor decision, at least you have somewhere to start from as you try to get better. The only thing better than an honest effort is an honest effort that is deliberate. Don’t let uncontrolled emotion or unintentionally hurt feelings get in the way of a good relationship with your coach.

Coaches are trying to do a good job just like you are, and they aren’t perfect, just like you aren’t. So even if they occasionally bother you or hurt your feelings, try to not let that get you down. Be a good communicator, and do what you can to nurture your relationship with them.

If your experience is anything like mine, you will find that your coaches today will become some of your best friends and wisest mentors in the future.

Coaches, am I right? Is it tricky to know how to coach a goalkeeper? Let us know, we'd love to hear about your experiences.