Lin Powell played club soccer in Texas, earning a scholarship to Hardin-Simmons University as a goalkeeper. He played four years and was the first male soccer player inducted into the university athletic hall of fame. As a coach, Lin worked in Florida before coaching with FC Dallas back in Texas. He still coaches for them, as well as coaching teams at independent clubs. Lin coached high school soccer in Texas, winning district titles and tournaments. He has his USSF A license.
Many youth goalkeepers seem to struggle with balls in the air and coming off their line on crosses. Why is that?
I think one of the first things is that younger kids tend to have trouble judging the ball in the air. Knowing when and where it is going to come down is something that takes a while to develop. I notice it more with girls than boys too. The other part is when a young goalkeeper sees a crowd of players, they don’t want to go in there to get the ball. The have a fear of getting hurt, or getting knocked over and not being able to hold the ball. They don’t realize that they have a distinct advantage of being able to use their arms above the heads of the other players.
It seems like many coaches focus more on shot stopping than training dealing with crosses.
I agree with that. Firstly, they often don’t have players who can consistently serve a cross for the goalkeeper to train with. So unless the coach is doing it, they don’t get as much training. Secondly, the coaches don’t spend enough time training just their goalkeeper. So unless you have a specific goalkeeper coach, they might be missing out on practicing certain moments of the game.
If you were running a training session on defending crosses for them, what would it look like?
There are a few good training sessions that I use. I start with a technical warm up which might just be a couple of goalkeepers hitting crosses at each other – working on collecting the ball at its highest point, getting their knees up to protect themselves, bringing it down to secure the ball right away, etc. You can progress to a small-sided game that is similar, but with an additional attacker and defender in there – serving crosses and collecting them in a small area with a little bit of pressure. Then you get to a game with a goal at each end of a half field with 4v4 inside the field and players on the flanks. The goalkeeper plays it wide and the field players are moving in the opposite direction to get on the end of a cross at the other goal. Then the repeat the other way if the defenders get it. This is more game-like and challenging for the goalkeeper to deal with more traffic and organization. It’s also a good activity for the field players to practice quick transition and trying to score from crosses. From there you can go to an 8v8 scrimmage where teams can only score from a crossed ball.
Are there specific words you like your goalkeepers to use for crossing/corner situations? When should they be saying them?
If they are coming to collect the ball they need to shout “goalkeeper” or “keeper” – not yelling “I’ve got it” because that could be any field player. Shouting lets the other defenders know that the goalkeeper is coming, but it also makes the opposing forwards look for you and cringe a little bit to avoid being hit. So sometimes there is some intimidation factor to it. If they are not coming I want them to shout “clear” or “away” so that defenders know exactly what they are supposed to be doing. The challenge is getting them to say it early enough: hesitation is a killer for goalkeepers. I tell them if they are coming they are yelling immediately, so they know early enough to get out of your way. Starting shouting in the warm up (even when no one is pressuring them) gets them into the habit of doing it.
Where is the starting position and body angle for the goalkeeper? Where do they need to be looking and aware of?
A common mistake that I see is when the ball is on the flank, the goalkeeper has their body turned entirely to face the ball out there. When they do that, they miss what is happening in front of them. I prefer for them to be angled to see both the ball and what is coming down the field towards them. This could be both defenders and attackers. Starting position depends upon age. For younger players they might be closer to the near post because crosses are unlikely to get further across the goal. As they get older the goalkeeper shifts back. They still protect the front post, but if the ball goes towards the back post they need to be able to come out at an angle to claim or punch the ball away. I see goalkeepers cheating out 3-4 yards to be ready for the cross. The problem with that is the miss-hit cross or attackers intentionally shooting instead of passing. The first responsibility must always be to protect the goal.
What should player footwork look like? How do they decide how far they can come out?
As a general rule, anything inside the goal area has to be the goalkeeper’s responsibility. Depending on how much loft the ball has on it, they might have to be willing to come out 7-8 yards out. I will tell my goalkeepers to take a couple of steps back, then as the cross comes in they can gauge it and run forward if necessary. It is much more difficult to run backwards to get it. We work a lot on footwork. I will put down cones and integrate a weave into their movement. Teaching them how to move sideways, shuffle and move in other directions when they have to react to the ball.
Typically now opponents will try to limit the movement of the goalkeeper by putting a forward in their way. How do you deal with that?
I always tell them they have two choices: they can take a couple of steps back to see if the opponent will come with them, or they can cheat instead the goal mouth or out of it to make sure you can see the flight of the ball. If you have to move a little bit it is more important than maintaining the initial starting position. From that I teach them not to be afraid of having to fight up in the air for the ball. One of the advantages of the game is that referees tend to favor goalkeepers in those moments so you need to be aggressive at winning the ball. If the first time you jump your knee is in their back, the next time they don’t want to stand there again. I’m not saying be a dirty player, but part of the game is the element of physicality.
Once they have possession of the ball, what are the first priorities for being the first attacker?
When you collect it from one side of the goal, I teach my players to look first to distribute it to the opposite side. I will train my defenders and midfielders to peel out wide in anticipation of that pass. So firstly the goalkeeper gets on their feet, move to the edge and look to distribute it quickly to the other side. If that is not available, they look centrally to loft it over opponents or roll it out if possible to a central midfielder on the run. Third option is a quick counter with a punt if you can drive a low punt to the forward. If you see a 1v1 up there you could have a great moment to take advantage of the opponent overcommitting.
What different techniques do you teach for ball distribution? How do you do them in your training sessions?
One of the first things I try to teach is the correct way to throw the ball. Using a straight arm, cradling the ball between your hand and your wrist, coming straight over the top so you’re really throwing it from high in a downward motion. Ideally you want it to be landing at their feet rather than arriving high in the air as this is more difficult for them to control. A lot of kids will throw it like a baseball, which has less control and tends to have sidespin as it leaves their hand, curving away. We also work on rolling the ball the proper way so that the ball is at their feet but gets there quickly. Decision-making with distribution is very important – if there is a defender in the way they need to know to throw it instead of trying to roll it and risk interception. Finally they need to be comfortable punting the ball. It is very difficult to learn the driven punt that gets there quicker from a lower trajectory.
What coaching points do you focus on with punting technique?
With younger kids I want them to connect solidly, and generally I’ll tell them to wait longer so they kick it from a lower position. Often you will see them punt it almost straight up in the air, which is not effective. As they get older you can teach a drop kick, where it bounces first – further helping with the concept of trying to drive it low from a low position. You can also teach the side volley technique that you see professionals doing, but if that isn’t hit correctly it will pop up in the air or top it and watch as the ball drives straight into the ground. There are benefits to it, but it takes lots of practice to become automatic and comfortable. Players can pair off and work on it in the warm up phase of training.
If the ball is played back to a goalkeeper, where and how would you like them to be receiving it?
We often play the ball back because I want my team to be comfortable playing the way they are facing. If a defender receives the ball under pressure they should be happy to play it to the goalkeeper. During technical warmups I have the goalkeeper doing all of the same footwork as the outfield players so they are comfortable receiving, dribbling and passing. Ideally you want to pass it wide of the goalmouth, but that isn’t always possible. Play them a ball on the ground so that if they need to clear it first time they can. Alternatively, though, if they have time they should be comfortable getting their head up and looking for a penetrating pass.