The author “Raif has an NCTJ-accredited Journalism degree from the University of Sheffield and a keen football writer. As well as interviews and profiles, Raif will provide all the top tips you need to improve your game.”
Everyone has an opinion on goalkeepers. You can never escape the feeling that everything they do gets put under the microscope. From sticking to your near post to coming out for crosses, it seems very hard to have the perfect game between the sticks.
In a bid to change this, we went to footballing performance consultants Fuel for Football looking for help. To say these guys are experts in improving football performance would be an understatement. With a portfolio of professional players including Euro 2016-winning Portuguese striker Eder, Crystal Palace’s Connor Wickham and Ajax’s Matthjis De Ligt, it’s fair to say that your goalkeeping displays will be in safe hands with their tips.
Whether you want to get that clean sheet against your local rivals, or make the step up into professional football, here’s five brilliant ways to improve your goalkeeping.
Seems like an obvious one, doesn’t it? Inevitably, to improve you need to continue to practice and work on your game. Self-assessment is crucial in improving your regime, and making sure you are getting the most out of your time on the training ground.
“Pick out the key areas you need to improve.” Says Jolon Levene, Director at Fuel for Football. “For us, these can be exploiting strengths to a greater degree, or increasing proficiency in areas that need most development.”
Jolon goes on to give examples of how top goalkeepers – including the likes of Hugo Lloris – may be great “in terms of reflexes and acrobatic ability in making saves”, but you could pick out that their distribution and footwork needs some practice. No matter what level of football you’re at, there is always something that you can improve.
You do have to err on the side of caution with the amount of time you spend on improving your game though. Jolon explains, “to be an expert or elite in anything, regular practice is necessary. Football is not exempt from this rule. Where players generally take the wrong turn though, is by believing 8 hours of highly intense physical and technical work every day will result in success… Overreaching and overtraining will create more problems than it resolves, while undertraining will prevent the amount of growth you can gain from your regime.”
So there you have it, make sure you use your time on the training pitch wisely. Work hard, but remember it is quality over quantity that will improve your game.
From the right pre-match meal – which we will touch on later – to a good night’s sleep, your performance is not solely dictated by your actions during the 90 minutes. There are lots of things that you can do before a game to make sure that you are playing at the best of your ability.
Jolon tells us that you want to reach what he calls the ‘Green Zone’ before a game to be at an optimum level for the 90 minutes. But what is the ‘Green Zone’ and how can you reach it?
“First picture yourself playing well (this starts as early as the night before). Think about playing well and how you can be your best… continue this on the coach journey to the game. Now you have arrived at the stadium, take time to relax. Shut your phone down, then shut your mind off. Try to focus on the present and not on what has happened in your day or what will happen in the match. Do each task as it comes. During your warmup, focus on performing everything to the best of your ability. Again, once the warmup has finished focus simply on the task at hand – walking to the changing room, changing into match kit and then listening to your trainer’s instructions. As you walk on to the pitch envisage yourself playing well again one more time – this should instil that extra confidence in you.”
Fuel For Football provides an analysis service for players that can also help them prepare effectively for games. Chris Haigh, goalkeeper for Heybridge Swifts FC from the Bostik North, used the services and said “It helped me look at areas of my game that I can do differently and improve on, for example picking the right pass option to benefit the team more. It’s so important to create match realistic circumstances so that it’s easier to replicate into a game”.
Get the right diet
Your nutritional preparation for the big game should start several days before you step out onto the pitch. For a goalkeeper, it is best to focus on a high intake of carbohydrate and maintenance of hydration throughout the week. In the hours leading up to the game, you want to have a carb-heavy meal that will allow you to be full of energy for when the opposition striker is racing through on goal in the 90th minute and you need to rush out to meet them.
“The main mistake a keeper may make is not eating enough carbohydrate (below 1g per kg body weight) during the 1-6 h period before playing and then failing to consume carbohydrate during the game. Having a small carbohydrate meal helps players to rely more on blood glucose. This will not only give the feeling of greater energy physically, but should also aid your psychology, such as with maintenance of concentration”, says Jolon.
Hydration is key on matchday, too. “Ideally to counteract dehydration in-game, a keeper should consume 200-300 ml of water or a suitable carbohydrate solution 5 to 10 minutes before kick-off. It’s also useful to have a bottle in your goal that you can sip from during convenient times in-game.”
Remember the basics
Things get heated during a game of football. It’s inevitable. But to have a peak performance as a goalkeeper, you need stay calm and remember the basics.
Jolon spoke to us about 3 basic things all goalkeepers need to show throughout the 90 minutes. Luckily for you, they’re easy to remember too. The 3 C’s of goalkeeping – as we named them – are confidence, communication and concentration.
“Confidence is a key one. The Loris Karius example is something that we see all the time in football with goalkeepers. If they make one mistake, even if it is a small mistake that might not be totally their fault, you can often see that it is in their head. A lot of the time what we train players to do is have a little bit of emotion, because that can release adrenaline and a lot of other useful chemicals that can help your game but once you start going too much into your own mind and thinking too much about what you’re doing then you’re going to start making mistakes”, he says.
“Communication can also be key”, Jolon explains. “It is a lot easier to do prevention than cure. So, if you can arrange your defence by speaking to them and helping them stopping the ball get through to you then that is a lot easier than having to make a brilliant save each time the opposition get through.”
This can start even from the training pitch. It is crucial to work not only on your own game but also collaboratively with your teammates. During training matches, get a real feel for the players around you. Talk to them, learn what they are good at. Then, during a real match, you are more likely to judge defensive situations better.
Last but not least comes concentration. “It is the same with any position on the pitch” says Jolon, “but it can be particularly important for goalkeepers. All it takes is one lapse in concentration in the match and then you might let a goal in, you could cost your team a point – so you absolutely have to keep your concentration for the 90 minutes.”
Put in the hours at the gym
Although strength is not the first attribute that comes to mind for a successful goalkeeper, it is still very important. And what is the best way to build up your strength? You guessed it, gym work!
“From diving for saves to jumping for crosses, and everything in-between, correct use of the gym can have a major impact on a keeper’s game” says Jolon. “Being able to produce force quickly, in combination with locomotive game-specific speed, will transform your game massively”.
“Keepers should look to develop strength while maintaining their speed and power – i.e. greater strength at a lower weight. Often ‘bodybuilder’ regimes run on a cycle of bulking and cutting which isn’t effective for football performance, even as a keeper where the level of endurance needed is slightly less than for players outfield… Strength is very useful for grip work, shot stopping and coming out to claim crosses. Meanwhile, power is often seen when diving, sprinting out in 1v1s, and sweeping, amongst many other areas of the game. For players that are unsure which area should be their main focus in physical training we are always willing to offer advice through our social media and online platforms.”