Two main areas that encompass “tactics” in regards to goalkeeping are:

  • Decision Making
  • Command of the Penalty Area

Decision Making – Decisions need to be made in a split second without hesitation. Making a wrong decision more often than not results in goals being scored as the goalkeeper is the last line of defence.

Distance off their line – The goalkeeper needs to have a good relationship and balance between the back line and their self in order to intercept balls, either with their feet or hands, when balls are played in behind their defence. The starting position of the goalkeeper is determined by the location of the ball on the field and who is in possession of the ball (your team or the other team).

Text Box: Angle Play – The goalkeeper needs to position their self between the ball and the middle of the goal. This will allow the goalkeeper to cover as much of the goal on either side (left or right) of their self. Next, the goalkeeper needs to position their self off the goal line in order to cover both sides within a few steps and using a dive if necessary. The further away from the goal line will cut the angle down and make the goal look smaller, but allows for shots over the goalkeeper’s head. Too close to the goal line enables the goalkeeper to cover more space above their head, but will leave too much of the goal open for shots. There needs to be a balance of how far out to go without compromising shots over the goalkeeper’s head. This is determined by the goalkeeper’s size, capability, and experience.

Reading the flight of the ball – Once positioned correctly, the goalkeeper needs to determine the flight or trajectory of the ball. Questions the goalkeeper must ask and decipher in a split second.

Is the ball too far away to reach? Is the ball travelling too slowly to reach? Can I reach the crossed ball before the attacker does? Is the ball going to bounce over a player’s head?
Shot Stopping – As the ball is shot on goal, the goalkeeper must make a decision on which technique to use to save the ball (i.e. “Scoop”, “Cup”, collapse dive, etc). The next decision needs to be catch or punch/deflect. Is the ball travelling too fast to catch it safely? Is it only possible to get 1 hand on the ball thus punching/deflecting it? Can the ball be caught safely with no rebounds? Securing the ball either with a catch or by putting the ball in an area on the field that will cause the least amount of danger are decisions that need to be made instantaneously.

Communication & Support- Undoubtedly the goalkeeper has the best view of the field of play, particularly in his own half. The keeper therefore must be encouraged to communicate with their defenders and midfield players. We have already seen how a defender can make a call of ‘time’ to their keeper, and in this way the relationship is dynamic and players should be communicating with each other constantly. This communication should always be positive. Constructive analysis must only come from the coach.

As with all game situations, a player who wants to control the ball should call for it, and this is no different for young goalkeepers. They will be encouraged to call ‘keeper’s ball’ for any ball that they feel they can control (both in practice and matches). This is a real safety issue as a player that does not call for a ball he is going towards risks getting run into by another player.

Having every player in practice, call for every ball that they want to control, as well as every ball they want to receive from a teammate, gets them learning good habits from an early age. The goalkeeper will learn this too, and also to give instructions for the defence to go wide, come in, or to a specific player to hold position or drop back to cover. This develops trust and will eventually be used to take advantage of the opposing team’s weaknesses and break down an attack.

The following are some key points for several important tactics a goalkeeper must know:

Handling Corners-Key points for handling corner kicks: Anything within the 6-yard box in the air should belong to the keeper! Older players should be able to extend their range even beyond this. We train keepers in traffic so they will have the confidence to collect corners and crosses in their goal box. Always position a defender on the near post, shoulder right up against it and facing the corner. This player is there to clear away hard driven shots to the near post that the keeper can’t get to. For balls hit over the head past the far post, track the ball, leave it late and either punch it wide or be ready for a shot or deflection from the far side. Some goalkeepers or coaches like to station a player at the far post to handle these, similar in duties to the near-post defender. It is preferable to have this defender marking rather than standing at the far post.

Setting a Wall- If the opponent is given a free kick within 10-20 yards of the penalty area (or an indirect kick inside the penalty area), the standard defence is to make a “wall” of two or more players the minimum 10 yards from the spot of the kick. This wall serves to block part of the goal from the shooter so the goalkeeper only has to worry about guarding a small portion of the goalmouth. However, if the wall is not properly positioned, it may actually do more harm than good!

The wall must be set up quickly, following these basic guidelines:

One defender must identify themselves as the outside “anchor” of the wall. Make sure everyone knows who this is; they should raise their hand and make eye contact with the keeper. Some teams may wish to identify this player ahead of time, even in practice sessions.

The player will learn they must choose how many players will be in the wall. The more extreme the angle, the fewer players. Two players are sufficient for a ball close to the end line; the keeper might want as many as five or even six in the wall for a straight shot. The exact number will depend on the situation and how much goal the keeper feels confident covering.

The goalkeeper sets the “anchor” just outside a line between the football and the near post. This covers the near part of the goal with a little overlap to prevent balls from bending around the wall. The keeper will usually dash over to the near post to sight from the post to the ball to make sure things are positioned properly. While doing this the keeper is way out of position, so speed is essential! Some teams prefer to free the keeper of this duty by using a forward, who lines up the wall by sighting from behind the ball back towards the goalpost.

The other players line up against the “anchor” player to the inside of the goal. Players need to be right against one another so no ball can slip through the wall. Once the wall is set, the goalkeeper moves to cover the space between the inside of the wall and the far post.

Handling Back Passes- The goalkeeper will learn to sometimes make themselves available as an outlet for a defender under pressure. However, if done incorrectly, a backpass to the goalkeeper can result in tragedy – an uncontested giveaway in front of the net or even an own goal.

Here are key points for back passes to the keeper;

  • The goalkeeper must ask for the ball.
  • The keeper who is making themselves available must move away from the goal and outside the near post.

The passer must pass with good pace and outside the near post. Many defenders who passed inside the post and miss connecting with their keeper, score “own goals”.

Once the ball is received, the keeper must clear it quickly, preferably with one or two touches. Switching fields is often a good option to get the ball away from pressure. This is a skill that must be practiced!

Command of Penalty Area – The goalkeeper is the “leader” and “eyes” of the team as the entire field (your team, opposing team, and ball) are all in front of the goalkeeper. They can evaluate and “control” situations with proper communication that will eliminate many potential dangerous situations.

Two (2) key factors of communication are:

  • Tone/Voice – Strong, loud, concise and decisive instructions given to teammates.
  • Types of Commands – Examples include: “away”, “keeper”, “push-up”, and “close the ball”.

Situations that arise, such as, crosses, setup for restarts, tracking of runners, etc will make it necessary for the goalkeeper to use the correct command their teammates are familiar with and understand the purpose of the command. Enhancing your decision making and command of the penalty area can be achieved through small sided games (5v5), larger scale games (8v8), and full size games (11v11).

Game Management – Many situations come about throughout a game and season that will dictate what is necessary for the goalkeeper to do when they are in possession of the ball. Is your team behind and needs the goalkeeper to speed up goal kicks or play quickly out of the back? Is your team ahead with 5 minutes to play and playing out of the back would be too dangerous? Is your team playing away from home and needs a draw to advance to the next round of a competition? These are a sampling of questions and situations that need to be evaluated by the goalkeeper to facilitate the flow of a game.