Integrating Goalkeepers at Training – Lisa Cole


Lisa Cole was the head coach of the Boston Breakers in the WPSL and NWSL leagues and won a national championship with them. She helped coach a national champion U23 club team with Tony DiCicco, and several college teams, including Mississippi, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Florida State. As a player, Lisa was a goalkeeper for Pacific Lutheran University. She holds the A license and Premier Diploma, and helps teach courses including the NSCAA Advanced National Goalkeeping Diploma.

What distinguishes a college level goalkeeper from a professional one?

A lot has to do with consistency – they can maintain concentration and make their expected saves, then come up with something big every once in a while. I also think their distribution is generally at a higher level. In the modern game they do more with their feet than with their hands so their technical ability has to be close to that of an outfield player.

How important is it for goalkeepers to be getting specialized training for their position? It seems like in a lot of cases it is the position most coaches are least comfortable coaching.

If you look around the game right now you see more professional goalkeepers who started as field players. Hope Solo on the US Women’s Team played out until college, Manuel Neuer at Bayern Munich played until he was 13-14. Goalkeepers do need specialized training but if you take them entirely out of the team training you will be in trouble. They need to be soccer players first and goalkeepers second. I think we need to have more intentional training for them so they get more practice in goal. Many of the specialist sessions I see the trainer has them diving all over the place but the demands of the game don’t match that. We need to get the training sessions to more closely match the demands of the game.

If you are a coach of a youth team, how can you increase the quality of your session for the goalkeepers, while still being fair to the other players?

I think you can do games where they switch in and out of goal. Maybe after a certain time you rotate, or when a goal is scored. That way everyone gets to try it. At the club I am in we are starting at 8-9 teaching a specific goalkeeping session that everyone participates in. We teach how to catch the ball, how to move and the basics of distribution. When we have a travel team and they need a goalkeeper later on maybe someone will raise their hand who otherwise wouldn’t have. We teach the position first then see who wants to continue with it.

Are there specific fundamental coaching cues that they should be prioritizing?

One thing we don’t put enough time into is positioning. We see youth goalkeepers standing on the goal line and not moving across the field with the ball. If you think about a good holding midfielder the ball just finds them as they shift with it laterally across the field. Goalkeepers should have a similar movement pattern that we can teach. That way they make the save almost by accident when the ball hits them. I think that should be the first thing we teach them – if the ball’s over here, where should you be? And so on. Secondly they can give cues on how to distribute. They won’t be able to punt or throw the ball very far at a young age, so you can also organize the team to stop the ball coming right back as soon as they play it out.

They can learn the four basic handling techniques too: –

  1. The basket or scoop for when the ball is low or on the ground, with hands down, fingers pointing to the ground, pinkies close together, putting the ball in the basket of your arms;
  2. The W or Contour Catch that you are catching right in front of you with your chest high;
  3. The Side Contour, which you are reaching for to your side that usually leads to a collapse dive; and
  4. The High Contour, for when the ball is high above the player.

The key to all of the contour catches is that the ball remains in front of you and your hands are in front of your forehead so you can see through the ball. If you break down the game, talk about the technique of the catches and learn the accepted words for them you will be more useful for your players as they develop.

Female players seem to struggle with high contour catches, even at the professional level. Do you have an explanation for why that would be?

Part of it is to do with their motor development and hand eye coordination. If you have a young boy you throw balls at him and he develops that coordination from a younger age, which allows them to make better judgments of distance and movement. I don’t think we do that as much with young girls although we are starting to as a culture. There is no reason why it couldn’t be fixed with better teaching from an earlier age.

Do you have any suggestions for making goalkeepers better communicators?

In training sessions I will put them in charge of keeping score instead of the coach. If they are playing a game with dead ball restarts I will have the goalkeeper play it in and they have to keep track of which team gets the ball now and communicate it to the players. They become the player dictating the pace of the activity in that way. I’ve even done that with my professional players when they come over from their specialized goalkeeper session into our team activity. I’ll even put them in activities where they are not playing as a goalkeeper, but they are working on their leadership – so maybe as a target in an end zone or leading a counter attack. They can lead the warm up and cool down for the practices as another option.

For clubs with goalkeeper specialists we often see significant focus on shot stopping and less on tactical work – dealing with crosses and playing with their team. Do you see that?

I do. I think we have to realize that if we want goalkeepers to be where field players are then we need to include them in what we are doing. There may be issues that we can’t work on unless I have a back line or forwards to recreate the situation. We created a methodology within the NSCAA that includes three phases in training: –

  1. Goalkeeper with Coach – which most people train in most of the time;
  2. Goalkeeper with Field Players – where field players provide service of balls and other situations, building to live play. If you think about doing functional training for crossing, it’s not just about the field players serving the ball and forwards finishing, it is also about the goalkeeper learning what to do and getting repetitions; and
  3. Goalkeeper with the Team – where they are part of a team playing against another team and have to learn the communication, movement and tactical understanding of the position.

If coaches start to train their goalkeepers in all three of those phases we will start to see better players being developed for the game. In many cases now you see players who are great at shot stopping in the technical training, but then in the game they are not as good because they are less sure about what they are doing. Challenge the goalkeeper specialist to ask for eight extra players at their session, to cross and receive balls or whatever they need for their topic. That way you can at least get them to the second phase on a more regular basis.

To see a copy of the presentation Lisa gave at the 2015 NSCAA convention that includes the methodology, click here.

If 82% of the game for a keeper is distribution, should this increase as a priority?

I think you can adapt activities so that whenever the ball goes out of bounds they restart with a goal kick. That way you train that restart. Sometimes I see us playing balls back to the goalkeeper when it isn’t appropriate because they are already standing on their end line. Can we make the spaces bigger so it makes more sense for players to play it back to the goalkeeper, who has time and space to practice distribution?  So you could play 8v8 in a large grid, but have a +1 behind you that you can play the ball to, which is the goalkeeper. That way if I get stuck I know I can play it back. Maybe one opponent can pressure them. Generally though you can do little things like that to activities you already have that will address goalkeeper distribution.

How can goalkeeper coaches improve their tactical understanding?

We try to get them to watch a ton of games. In the US it is still an issue as players don’t watch as much as they do in other countries. We always hear how much you can learn from the game, but in the past that has been difficult for players here as they haven’t had access to it. The kids today don’t have that excuse so they should be able to emulate the players they see. The more they watch and become a student of the game, the better they will be. You see a lot of former goalkeepers go into coaching and I think part of that comes from them spending a lot of time watching the game and being aware of what needs to happen. If you don’t know the score, how can you manage the game?

Should the defending of set pieces be the job of the goalkeeper and their coach?

I think it is something the goalkeeper will have to do later in life at the higher levels, so they should be learning how to do it in the youth game for sure. You also have to prioritize though – maybe have them decide how many people should be in the wall first and have them yell out. Over time you can build to other components, but you shouldn’t throw it all at them from an early age. On corners can you get the marking organized and the posts covered? Can you then build to greater detail?

At what age should players start to specialize as goalkeepers? Should they still rotate?

Initially I would like to see the pool of goalkeepers remain large so we have lots of young players learning the basics of the position. Not everyone will want to do it, but it will help to keep interest higher in the position for a longer time. There are going to be goalkeepers who decide at 9-12 that they will be goalkeepers as they fall in love with the position. We don’t want to take that away from them but we do want to make sure they are still getting the outfield training they need to be the complete player. Most are not going to specialize until 13-14 though and I would encourage it around that age. Maybe then they go to specialized training, but I don’t want them to go too early if it means missing out on technical training.

The stereotype is that the coach sticks the tall or the overweight kid in goal. Does that give the position a negative image for players?

I think we are getting away from that and in some cases now the goalkeeper is the best athlete on the team. Penn State right now the goalkeeper (Meghan Kaminski) is a great athlete. So I think we are getting away from those days, which will continue to help the position.

I feel like goalkeepers rely heavily on confidence and have to deal with a lot of pressure at times. How do you train them for that and when should it start?

You should always be trying to develop confidence with young players. We need to recognize what kids are capable of though – they are not going to be able to do everything, but can we have them do specific things and then be proud of them when they do? The way we talk to kids is very important. If you look at the top level goalkeepers they didn’t always like the position. Tim Howard hated playing in goal at times as a kid and part of that comes from getting the blame when a goal is scored against them. You are young and the ball goes through your hands, the ball is bigger than your hands… The important piece is encouraging them when they make a big save, but when the ball goes in the back of the net we don’t lay the blame on that kid. If that’s your experience you’re not going to want to keep playing there.

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