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Goalkeepers and Field Vision
by Lawrence Fine
Awareness of where all players are on the field is critical
The attacker is advancing the ball through the middle of the field, and the goalkeeper's concentration is laser-sharp on the point of attack. The ball is struck toward goal, and as it arrives at the keeper, an unseen opponent slides in from the side, making contact with the ball and the keeper at the same time. Many parents and some coaches would call for a foul - after all, isn't the keeper's job to focus on the ball, and shouldn't the referee
protect the keeper from this type of tackle?
While at first it would seem that this would be true in terms of concentrating on the ball, the reality is that a keeper is responsible for all of what is going on around the field. Too often keepers focus solely on the ball and forget about their surroundings. This becomes obvious when a ball is played across the goal mouth and the keeper thinks it will go wide, only to find an opposing player at the far post open for an easy finish. When this happens, it always
seems unfortunate and it's not unusual to see the keeper start yelling at the defenders for not doing their jobs properly. The truth is that it's the keeper who isn't doing his or her job in this situation. It's the keeper's responsibility to know where all of the players on both teams are at all times and to ensure that each opponent isproperly marked.
Keeping track of all the players is a difficult task, but one that is necessary to succeed as a keeper. The best way to learn how to do this is by playing as many games as possible, preferably starting with very small-sided games. On every pass, reassign each mark. This doesn't mean the players have to go to a different mark; instead the keeper should recommunicate these assignments. Even if this is being done in a 3 v. 3 game, a keeper can develop the vision
and communicative abilities that gradually will transfer to a full-sided match. Be very specific in your assignments and say only what is necessary. Don't become a cheerleader -- players tend to tune them out. Instead, say what is important. You also can work on offensive leadership skills, since the field would be very small, which should keep you more involved in the game from a mental aspect.
Gradually, work up from 3 v. 3 to 4 v. 4 and all the way up to 11 v. 11. Be consistent in your communication and be confident in your calls.
This type of communication and reading of the game is one of the things that separates the levels of play of goalkeepers. It is also the reason that the top keepers around the world on the men's side traditionally have been in their mid-30s. Becoming proficient at reading the game and leading it as well comes from experience. Youth players who think they can develop this ability while training twice a week are suffering from a grave misperception. It gets
even worse when these training sessions involve a lot of standing around or even pure shooting drills. Small-sided games with restrictions and a purpose can accomplish as much, if not more, than any drills a coach can devise. Good drills followed by small-sided games are the best way to get better.
There is another way to start developing the ability to read the game when the opportunity to train with a team is limited. Get a tape of a soccer game (either a high level game or at the very least a level about where you compete) and watch the game as if you are the keeper. At random times, stop the play and on a sheet of paper or white board, draw where all 22 players are on the field. Even if the game was still on, you wouldn't be able to see all 22
players, but based on what has been happening you should be able to "guess-timate" where they all are. Once you are confident that you have this correct, see if you can anticipate what the players in that game will do next. Don't try to say what they should do; instead, based on what you have seen, taking their strengths and weaknesses into consideration, see how accurate you can be. When you get to be consistently correct in your positioning of the
players and in their next couple of passes, next see how many passes you can anticipate before things break down in your reading of the game.
This will help you learn to watch games better. The truth is that watching games and giving directions is a large part of being a keeper. Watching games is not a substitute for playing or training, but it can be an effective way to supplement your training. This is also a great way for coaches to improve their ability to understand the game.
Editor's Note: Lawrence Fine produces FineSoccer.com, an online resource for a variety of tips, ideas and newsletters related to soccer coaching. A member of the NSCAA Website Development Committee, Fine also serves as volunteer assistant coach for an NCAA Division I men's team.