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Coach's Corner

Choosing The Right Pre-game Warm Up For Goalkeepers

In general, the goalkeeper is one of the most neglected positions during pre-game warm ups.   Very often the goalkeeper is not warmed up properly because neither the coach nor the goalkeeper, know how to do it properly.    Youth team pregame warm ups typically consist of players either in lines, or randomly placed outside the penalty box, dribbling in and shooting at the goalkeeper.    This may work well to help warm up the field players who are shooting, but it does nothing to help warm up the goalkeeper.   Most times, the players are not shooting to the goalkeeper’s hands, or near the keeper.   They are shooting to score goals, which they can do in abundance.  And as such, this doesn’t do much to warm up the keeper physically or psychologically.   Before the game has even started, the goalkeeper has already given up 15-20 goals, which can bring the player down psychologically, even before the game has even begun.   The goalkeeper may have already lost his/her edge even before the opening whistle.

The makeup of a goalkeeper is very unique. Not only does a quality goalkeeper need strong technical abilities, but more importantly they need to have a very strong mind. Goalkeepers are either the hero or the zero, and nothing else.  It takes a very strong minded person to handle this kind of black and white pressure.

So it is critical that a goalkeeper gets a proper warm up prior to the game, as this will lead to his/her ultimate success in the game.  First and foremost, the goalkeeper needs to properly prepare the technical side of their game.   This will only increase their confidence and focus going into the game.   If the goalkeeper does not get quality service during warm up, he/she will not be properly prepared, and this could lead to potential mistakes.  And mistakes lead to potentially giving up goals. Confidence through perfection is a key attribute for a goalkeeper.

The pre-game preparation actually begins days before, consisting of a proper diet, and proper rest, leading up to the game.  I also encourage goalkeepers, either the night before a game, or the morning of a game, to use mental imagery to help prepare the mind for the upcoming game.  I will have the player think back to different successful moments in prior games, where they made a great save, or caught a difficult cross.  This helps the player begin to prepare mentally for the game, by putting positive thoughts and “feel good” moments into their mind.   I also encourage the player to imagine they are actually playing the game and performing perfectly.  Everything is done correctly and with confidence. This mental approach stimulates their muscle memory to perform with perfection, just like the way they do in training.

Many goalkeepers and goalkeeper coaches have a variety of ways that they warm up properly prior to the game.   The examples I will give below are the actual warm up I put my college keepers through prior to a game.  My warm up is very well rounded, and touches every aspect of the goalkeeper position and game like scenarios.   And I personally warm up the goalkeeper that is starting that game.   The other two goalkeepers work with each other, as we all warm up the same way.

After our pre-game team talk, we take the field and the goalkeepers have a few minutes to themselves to kick the ball around or walk the field, before we start our actual pre-game warm up.  This is a chance for the player to get into the moment.   Feel the environment.   Visualize the field and the goal area.   It’s the first step to a proper mental warm up.   

When the pre-game warm up actually begins, the keepers will do an end line to top of the box dynamic jog.   This involves a variety of dynamic stretches while jogging back and forth.  One keeper is the designated lead, and the other keepers follow, so they are all doing the exact same dynamic warm up.   After about 5 minutes, the keepers will get about 6 yards apart and start one touch passing back and forth.   This begins the warm up of their feet, and the one touch passing back and forth over a short distance makes them focus on their technique and first touch on the ball.    After a few minutes, they separate about 18 yards apart and begin working on two touch passing.   We finish with one touch passing from 18 yards a part.    When that concludes, we move to the cones that have already been set up to work on their footwork and agility.   They choose their own patterns while going through the cones (4 cones in a line for quick feet and acceleration forward) and finish with a ball served firmly to their hands (no diving at this point).   The first sequence through the cones is coming straight forward.   The second sequence through the cones is done laterally with a turn at the end to face the server for a low ball service during this second sequence.   In between sequences, the keepers take a few moments for a static stretch

At this point their feet are warmed up and their hands have been engaged.   The next two warm up activities really focus on their hand/eye warm up.  I call these 10’s and 5’s.    The first activity is the 10’s.   The working keeper sits on the ground facing the server, who has a ball at their feet, about 2 yards in front of the working keeper.    The ball is firmly struck to the keepers left side, where the working keeper lays out to receive the ball to their hands.   The ball is immediately rolled back to the server and the keeper slightly sits back up until the next ball is played.  This activity is done at pace, but emphasis in on the server’s accuracy and the working keepers hand positioning and technique.   10 balls will be served to the left side, then 10 balls will be served to the right side.

From here the activity moves straight into the 5’s.    This is a series of 5 balls that are served to the keeper, again, working at pace.    The first 5 balls are served from the ground to the keepers hands.   As the keeper rolls the ball to the server (about 3-4 yards away), the server hits one touch passes/shots back to the keeper, so the activity flows.   Again, the accuracy of the server leads to the success of the activity (this is why I choose to warm up the starting keeper so the focus on accuracy is at a high level, leading to the starting keeper getting a proper warm up.  A goalkeeper’s technique is only as good as the service he receives.   So take pride in quality service each and every time you are warming up a keeper).   After 5 balls are served to the keepers hands, the next 5 balls are served to the keeper’s right side, where they have to make a collapse dive/save.  From the ground, the keeper rolls the ball back to the server and quickly rocks back up onto his feet to prepare for the second shot to the same side.   It’s a quick movement, so again, accuracy of the server is key.   After 5 balls are served to the right, the keeper stands again and the next 5 balls are served on the ground to the keepers feet, for a scoop save (no forward diving).   After those 5 services are done, the next 5 are to the keepers left side for a collapse dive/save.   Once those 5 are done, the keeper again regains his feet and the last 5 balls are slammed hard into the ground for the keeper to catch high balls above their head.   This is a very dynamic activity which is excellent at covering several aspects of the keepers game all within one quick activity.

From this activity, the starting keeper takes the goal and the other two keepers each take several balls out to the flanks to work on a variety of services/crosses into the goal box.   I will stand in front of the keeper in goal to be mild pressure and a slight obstacle.   The keeper must properly deal with each crossed ball (alternating sides with each service) as it’s played across.   Emphasis is put on making early decisions and the proper call, and then dealing properly with the served ball (good footwork, covering angles for balls called away, working around the proper side of the obstacle for hard driven balls into the goal mouth).  This activity typically involves 5-7 crosses from each side.   

When this activity concludes, the starting keeper will stay in the goal with a ball in his hands.  I will start on the 6 box.  The keeper will roll the ball out and I will strike first time shots back to his hands.   With each shot, I move a little bit further away, until I am just outside the 18 yard box.   At that point, I am striking hard shots directly at the keeper.   After 7-8 shots, the rest of the team is ready to start their shooting/crossing activity on goal.   By this point of the warm up, the starting goalkeeper has touched on every aspect of the position.   Footwork, low balls, high balls, collapse dives left and right, dealing with crosses, and dealing with shots on goal.   As the rest of the team starts their shots on goal, the starting keeper will stay in goal for 6-8 shots, then will move out and let the other two keepers handle the rest of that activity.   

At this point, the starting keeper will work with me on his goal kicks, long throws, and punts.   If there is still time at the end, the starting keeper will go back in goal to work with the second activity of crossing and finishing by the team.   Once that is done, our pre-game warm up is over.   

After reading everything that the goalkeepers do for their pre-game warm up, you may feel that this amount of activity will take forever to complete.   But the whole warm up, when done properly, takes about 20-25 minutes to complete.   And during this time, the keeper has touched every aspect of the game, and done so successfully because of the accuracy and pace of the service, and is now physically and mentally ready to start the game.   

Good Luck!

Coach Mark

Mark Litton 
Goalkeeper Coach US Men's National Futsal team
Technical Director Goalkeeping U.S. Youth Futsal




Playing off your Line: Extending the range of goalkeepers

Coach’s note: Dealing with this situation varies based on the age and level of the goalkeeper.   Please keep in mind while reading this article that the information I am sharing now would be more geared towards a high school or college aged goalkeeper.   All of this information can relate to younger goalkeepers as well, but from a spacing standpoint, my focus is on an older keeper.  

The days of a soccer goalkeeper just being a good shot stopper are gone.   The modern goalkeeper must be able to play just as well outside of his penalty area as he does within.   So having the ability to play higher up the field is becoming more and more important, if not expected, of good goalkeepers.  One of the most difficult decisions a goalkeeper needs to make is trying to decide how far to play off his line to deal with potential through balls and possible break away situations.   This is probably one of the most difficult decisions to make, since a lot of the decision making depends on several key factors:  The attacking style of the opposing team, the location and positions of other players on the field both defense and offense, and most importantly, the goalkeeper’s own confidence level and abilities.

First and foremost, the goalkeeper needs to have a good starting position in relation to where the ball is on the field.  The position of the goalkeeper should match the position of the ball on the field.   For example, if the ball is in the attacking third of the field (closer to the opposing goal), the goalkeeper should be out of the penalty box and within 20-25 yards of his backline (who are pressing up the field).   At times we call this “closing the gap” between the goalkeeper and the back line of defenders.  If the ball is within the middle third of the field, the goalkeeper should now be between his 6 yard box and the top of his penalty box.  When the ball penetrates the defensive third of the field (closer to the goalkeeper’s own goal), the goalkeeper should be closer to his goal line, as any ball in the defensive third of the field could now become a shooting or crossing situation.  If the goalkeeper plays too high off his line when the ball is in his defensive third of the field, he risks being beaten by a ball over the top.

Playing off your line goes beyond just having a good starting position.  There are other factors that come into play.   Body shape and anticipation skills are two key elements to consider. 

Let’s first discuss body shape.   Too many times a goalkeeperplaying higher off his goal line, tends to stand square to the ball (having their back to their own goal).   This is too much of a ‘relaxed stance’ for the goalkeeper, and doesn’t give the goalkeeper an advantage if they have to attack the ball forward, or retreat quickly backwards.  I prefer that the goalkeeper stands in a sprinters stance, or almost sideways.   If you divide the field in half, length wise, with a left side and a right side, this will dictate which direction the goalkeeper will be facing.   If the ball is on the right side of the field, the goalkeeper would be facing that side of the field.  If the ball is switched to the left side of the field, the goalkeeper would adjust his position to now face the left side of the field.   This is good body shape as it puts the goalkeeper’s feet in a good starting position for either sprinting forward to attack a through ball, or sprinting backwards to defend the space behind him.   We can consider this a sideways ready position.  The goalkeeper still needs to be ready, on the balls of his feet, able to move quickly in either direction instantly.

Probably the absolute most important factor, which can make or break the success rate of the goalkeeper, is how well he reads the game and can anticipate situations before they occur, giving the goalkeeper a slight advantage.   When I encourage and coach my goalkeepers to play higher off their line, one of the first things I tell them is to watch the opposing player on the ball.   For example, if an opposing player is dribbling in the middle third of the field, see what direction their body is facing, and more importantly, where their eyes are looking.   If a player with the ball is facing sideways, and their eyes are only looking for their teammate for the next pass, it’s a good indication that they are not looking to see where the goalkeeper is standing.   This is an advantage for the goalkeeper, as it gives him the ability to continue playing higher off his line.   But there are times when an opposing player has turned, and is now dribbling forward towards your goal.  This has become a more dangerous situation because the opposing player is now in a position to look up the field and possibly notice that the goalkeeper is off his line.   I tell my goalkeepers while watching the opposing player’s eyes, if they look at you, then you need to quickly retreat as to not get beaten by a long ball over the top.   Many times though, when the ball is in the middle third of the field, the opposing players are not yet in the frame of mind to look at the goalkeeper to see where he is at; they are more concerned with connecting passes.   In this case, the goalkeeper should take advantage of this and stay higher off his line.   This way, if a ball is played over the top into the space behind the back line of defenders, the goal keeper is in a position to respond quicker, and get to the ball first.  In this same situation, if the goalkeeper’s starting position is in his penalty box, closer to his goal line, this same ball now becomes a potential breakaway situation, because of the greater distance the goalkeeper is away from his back line of defenders when the ball is played through.   So if the goalkeeper has not yet learned how to read the game and anticipate situations before they happen, that keeper tends to play closer to his goal line.  This gives away the space behind his back defenders and potentially creates more chances for opposing teams to attack balls played through and into that space, resulting in more breakaway situations, and possible goal scoring chances.

To become more successful at playing off your line, and feeling more comfortable playing higher up the field, the keeper most have all of these key elements mastered:

  1. A good working relationship and understanding with his back 4 defenders.
  2. Good communication skills when directing the defenders in front of him.
  3. Good positioning and body shape while playing higher up the field.
  4. Good speed, quickness, and foot work, to be able to handle playing balls with his feet outside of the goal box.
  5. The ability to understand and read the game.   Knowing what to expect.
  6. Exceptional anticipation skills.  Being able to accurately predict what the opposing player may do with the ball based on his position on the field, and the positions of his teammates.
  7. Courage and commitment.   You must eliminate hesitation when coming for a through ball.

It has become increasingly important that a keeper now plays higher off his goal line to support his back defenders and win potentially dangerous through balls before they become breakaway situations.  The only way a keeper can become comfortable playing higher off his line is through practice.   The more confident a keeper is with his technical abilities and footwork, the more comfortable he will become at playing higher off his goal line.  The new job of the modern goalkeeper is to actually spend more time outside of the goal area and becoming a more active and productive member of the team. He will turn potentially dangerous situations into advantages for his own team. Most importantly, he will begin to eliminate goal scoring opportunities before they happen, turning ties or even losses, into wins for his team.

Good luck!

Coach Mark





 Goalkicks: more than just booting the ball up the field
One of the most neglected areas of training for young, developing goalkeepers is the goal kick.  It’s more than just kicking a ball up the field.  It's about concentration, technique, power, control, accuracy, consistency.  There are several key components that go into the actual technique and performance of taking a goal kick.   I have addressed several areas of the goal kick below.  Adding these dimensions to your training or game could and should enhance your abilities to take goal kicks properly and more effectively.  


A.     Even before the ball is kicked back into play, the goalkeeper has to be in the right frame of mind.  If you 'think' you are going to struggle with your kick, then you probably will.  The mental side of the goal kick starts here.  You must visualize where you want to put the ball, visualize making clean contact with the ball, and visualize the ball reaching its destination.   Of course, all of this must be done according to age and abilities.   A 12 year old goalkeeper may want to kick the ball all the way to the opposing team’s goal box, but physically, that may be impossible.   So envision realistic targets and distances to aim for.  Where the mind goes, the body will follow. 

B.      Envisioning good contact is one of the first components of a good goal kick.  But to accomplish that, good ball placement must come first.  Most keepers don’t have the luxury of playing on plush, well groomed fields.   Many times they are playing on fields with worn down goal areas.  So good ball placement is crucial for good contact on the ball.  Make sure you place the ball on a smooth area, with enough room for the ball and your plant foot.   This will only enhance the success of your contact with the ball.  

C.      Approach and foot placement are the next areas of concentration.  After looking up field and picking the spot that you plan to kick towards, you now need to shift your focus to your approach and contact on the ball.    First and foremost, you don’t need a long run-up to the ball.   It only adds to throwing off your timing.  Backing up 3-4 steps typically is far enough to get good power on the ball when you strike it.  The most important step in a goal kick is the last one.  Where you place your plant foot.  To drive for height and distance, your plant foot should be about an entire balls length behind the ball, giving your performing foot enough space to drive the ball up and away. The plant foot should be pointing in the direction you wish to kick the ball.   With shoulders slightly back, and head down (looking at the ball), the actually movement of striking the ball should be smooth and fluid with a good follow through. 

D.     None of the previous steps will matter if you do not go out and practice your distance kicking technique as often as possible.  Eventually, training your brain to understand the technique will help you successfully kick every ball well without thinking.   It will become automatic.  One of the practice techniques that help to develop your concentration and focus (after your technical approach to the ball has been figured out) is to work on trying to hit the cross bar from various distances from the goal.  This will help you develop accuracy, kicking power, and consistency, while giving you a visual target to aim for.  Once you have developed the technique in your brain to pick out and aim for a target, it will automatically decide how much power needs to go into the kick, based on the distance needed to hit the target.  And the amount of power decided on, will dictate the pace of your approach to the ball.  Everything is connected once the brain and body are properly trained together.  All which takes time and practice, and are needed for taking successful goal kicks.   Good luck! 


Good Form is key to a great Goalkick.
David Stevenson is a Pro in England and this youth player is 11.   Good goalkicks start with consistent technique, the 11 year old will want to kick it farther than his body will allow, but by having great technique and good form- his kicks will continue to improve with age.



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