The article below was written about 2 years ago for Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches. I believe that everything in this article is still vital to good Goalkeeping.
Have We Forgotten how to CATCH?!?!?
By Eric Vaughter, Goalkeeper Guy
Everyone knows that a Goalkeeper’s first—and most important—job is to keep the ball out of the goal. That’s a given. But, have we lost the art of catching the ball?
I spend a great deal of time with my Youth and College-aged GKs on catching. Why? Because a catch is a ‘perfect tackle’. Now WE have the ball. Now WE can begin an attack through possession. I always tell my GKs, “It’s a fairly simple position. Keep the ball out of the Goal however you can. If at all possible, CATCH the ball. Once you’ve caught the ball, try very hard not to give it back to the other team—cuz we worked so hard to get the ball!”
And I always get the argument, from GKs and Coaches, even; “But EV, the players are bigger, faster and stronger. The ball is ‘juiced’ and moves all over the place, and the ball is coming in REALLY fast. It’s hard to catch.” I agree with ALL of the aforementioned. However…….(Get ready for the ‘EV Rant’)
We play soccer with a round ball that decelerates when flying through the air. NFL and College level American Football players play with a ‘pointy’ ball that doesn’t decelerate as fast. Any top level Quarterbacks can zip a ball just as fast as a hard hit shot….AND they throw to a guy running across the middle of the gridiron who, after catching the ball, could quite literally get killed by a Linebacker’s tackle. Think about that…..the Linebacker is trying to hit the guy so HARD that if the receiver died……it would be legal. (We of course hope that NEVER happens, but just for example purposes, I’ve ‘gone there’). Now, if those receivers can hold on to a ball cannon-ed into them and then get WRECKED by a tackle and STILL hold on to the ball….why can’t GKs be expected to catch a rapid, swerving, dipping ROUND and decelerating soccer ball? I’ll tell you why…..we don’t train at it much.
Sidenote: I always watch other sports train. And I always try to pick up ideas, concepts, techniques from these other sports and implement them into GK training. NFL and College receivers spend HOURS in front of Jugs ball serving machines catching ball after ball after ball. So, when game day comes—it’s 2nd nature to these guys. Hockey goalies spend hours saving pucks that are coming in at a hundred miles per hour through multiple bodies “screening” them in front of the net. Baseball catchers spend hours dealing and corralling ‘wild’ pitches. Tennis players spend hours learning to return 130 mph serves. So, I ask you Coach……can we improve our GK’s catching? Yes, we can. Here’s how.
If the average soccer training session is 90 minutes, have your GKs do catching and handling exercises. A simple and useful warm-up is volleying at each other for 15 to 20 minutes from 24 feet apart (width of the goal). Stress to your GKs the importance of ‘clean’ catching. After that, have the GKs work on moving and catching, diving and catching techniques for about 20 minutes. (So, counting Team warm-up, you’ve used about 45 minutes of training time). For the final 45 minutes, use your team to train the GKs. NOTHING is better for GKs than small-sided games (5 v 5, 7 v7). Put some restrictions on your GKs that if they don’t catch balls deemed ‘Catchable’ their Team owes “Beach Work” at the end of training. Oh, Beach Work? What is it? It’s physical exercises that have very little to do with soccer…but make one look MARVELOUS in their bathing suit. You know…push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, bear crawls…you get the idea. Believe me, there’s nothing better to sharpen a GK’s concentration than peer pressure. And if the Team is having to do Beach Work after training because the GK was satisfied with just keeping the ball out of the goal and not “stealing possession” by catching……believe me, your GKs will begin hearing about it from their teammates and you will see a marked improvement in GK concentration and catching the ball.
NOTE: Not every ball is catchable. Some shots—particularly in small-sided games are best parried or tipped away. So, as the Coach, be sparing with what you deem catchable and not catchable. Remember, keeping the ball out of goal is ‘Job 1’ for the GK. But if we have a chance to make the perfect tackle by catching—we need to be looking for that chance!
In closing, remember that catching is an art. It requires lots and lots of practice. As John Wooden says, “The eight laws of learning are explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition”. Don’t expect your young GKs to become catching proficient overnight. It won’t happen. But if you can make a catching a primary priority of your GKs, you may find that by the Playoffs, your GK is stealing possession and your team has the ball A LOT more! Good Luck and Good Keepin’!
The Goalkeeper’s Prayer:
May the ground beneath my dive be soft. May my goalposts be 3 feet wide. And may the opposition shoot everything right at me.
All the Best--EV
(Thanks for the photo, Google!)